Author Archives: dianetweedvalleyospreys

Tweedledum and Tweedledee – Tagged and ringed

Tweed Valley’s favourite chicks are ringed and tagged

Eve and tagged main nest chicks

Eve climbing back down the tree after replacing the tagged and ringed ospreys LL7 and LL6, who will be known as Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

The main nest chicks were 6 weeks old last week and so it was time for them to be fitted with their leg rings and the GPS trackers. Of all the ospreys in the Tweed Valley Osprey Project area it is the main nest chicks that tug at the heart strings the most, due to the connection via the live camera link. These youngsters have been watched and their fortunes followed since they first broke out of their eggs, and their life stories link back even further. We have followed the relationship between the two parent birds, Mrs O and SS, since they first got together last year.

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SS has a fish for his family

A Proud Dad

They have proved to be fine parents/ SS, the proud dad, is now 19 years old and these two youngsters bring his total number of chicks raised to adulthood to date to 29. This is his first brood of chicks with first-time mum Mrs O. In 2015, one of his chicks FX9 was fitted with a tracker, but the bird vanished after only a week from fledging and the device never transmitted any further signal.

Tags sponsored by Forest Holidays

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Dave Anderson fits the GPS Tracker

This year’s two special chicks will be the first of his extensive osprey offspring that we will be able to track. Forest Holidays have very kindly sponsored the tracking of these two chicks, and have paid for the data subscription for the next three years. This will mean that we can follow their migration journeys and their lives up to the point where they settle and begin to breed as adult birds. Two representatives from Forest Holidays (Pauline Lynch and Margaret Turner) were invited to watch the juveniles being fitted with their rings and trackers.

Eve Schulte climbed the nest tree and lowered the chicks to the ground to Tony Lightley, who fitted the blue coloured Darvic rings with digits LL6 for the female chick and LL7 for the male. Then Dave Anderson fitted the GPS trackers. This team from Forest Enterprise carried out the procedures under special licence from SNH and BTO as part of the ongoing monitoring of the ospreys for Tweed Valley Osprey Project.

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The fitted tracking device – a GPS Tag

Tony and Forest hol staff

Tony Lightley with Forest Holidays staff Pauline Lynch and Margaret Turner, with the osprey chicks

Naming the birds

Forest Holidays invited members of the public to name the two chicks via an online vote, and the names selected are Tweedledum (LL7) for the male and Tweedledee (LL6) for the female. The names reflect their origins within the Tweed Valley, while also bringing to mind the curious little characters from Lewis Carroll’s book ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass.’ In fact, Carroll did not come up with the names – they were first penned in a poem by John Byrom, highlighting the petty squabbles between musicians. We have witnessed some squabbles in the nest between the two siblings, and now as soon-to-be adults, we hope that this pair will make a smooth transition into adulthood. We await their first tentative flights soon.

Handsome young male also tagged

A further young osprey from Tweed Valley Osprey Project area has also been fitted with a tracking device. This single chick in the nest identified by leg ring LK8 has been reared by parents who had three eggs in total, but two didn’t hatch. The un-hatched eggs are most likely attributable to the very hot summer leading to dehydration. This is the first osprey from this nest site to be fitted with a tracker, and it will be interesting to follow his progress and compare his life story to the main nest chicks from the same year as him.

LK8

Handsome LK8 will be tracked this year to monitor his progress

Releasing Tawny owls into the wild

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Eve releases a young tawny owl

Across the district, some young orphaned tawny owls have been released recently into vacant owl territories. The owls were rehabilitated by the SSPCA, Fishcross Centre, and Forest Enterprise staff Tony Lightley and Eve Schulte. They monitor the owls in the Forests, and were able to select sites for their safe release into the wild where previously occupied owl nest boxes had become vacant.

It was amazing to see these young birds make their first flights to freedom and into the wild. We hope that they manage to grow strong and establish themselves into their new territories, and maybe take up residence to breed in the boxes next year.

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Tony watches a young tawny owl fly to freedom

 

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Ringing the chicks

Main nest chicks

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Twinnies – the osprey duo

This week has seen rapid development of the chicks in the main nest as they become more like little ospreys. Their plumage is now covering them in gorgeous spangled brown and white feathers over much of the body, head and wings. They have white bellies, whilst their head crest is white with brown streaks, and a ginger patch at the back, with a distinctive dark eye-stripe. Their plumage is really beautiful and much more attractive than the adult birds with their plainer colouration.

The chicks are noticeably stronger and can fully stand up on their sturdier legs, stretching their wings and flexing their muscles as they sit in the nest. Their parents have definitely done a good job rearing them so far! They will be six weeks old this week and will be capable of flight in another two-or-so weeks’ time.

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Testing out those wing muscles

Intruder alert

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Mrs O and SS on high alert berating an aerial intruder

The parents have protected them well, including from repeated intrusion by a nosey osprey. Mrs O called out in alarm and held her wings outstretched across her young offspring, while SS stood behind her also calling out in high pitched alarm. SS didn’t feel the need to give chase though, choosing to stand his ground and join in the slanging match between family and intruder. This was enough to send the invader packing and shows the experience of the older bird SS, who knew not to waste energy on an aerial attack – especially on a bird who was probably just being nosey!

Mrs O shield

Mrs O shields those chicks and SS stands firmly behind his family

A so – so year

Further afield in the Tweed Valley Project Area, at least three nest sites have been unproductive, with birds not returning this year and others not finding a new partner.

Ringing the chicks at a Tweed Valley nest site

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Three juvenile female ospreys in premium condition

The successful sites which have produced chicks have been visited under license and the birds have been ringed with the unique BTO identification ring on the right leg and the large coloured Darvic ring with letters and numbers on the left leg. Volunteers from the osprey project were lucky enough to be invited to see the ringing take place at a nest site deep in the Tweed Valley Forest Park on 12 July.

The osprey parents have chosen to build their own nest and not use the artificial platform which was installed for them. They chose a really windswept and spindly larch tree for their home, and have built a substantial structure on the top, commanding a lovely clear view across the valley. Eve Schulte from Forest Enterprise had the daunting task of climbing the tree to lower the chicks to the ground to the waiting Tony Lightley and Malcolm Henderson, who hold the licence to ring birds and train the new members of the team for ringing in the future.

Trio of Females

DSC00078 3 females Lhpe cropThere were three superb large juveniles in the nest; all females. They were an impressive size and really beautiful birds. They were fitted with blue Darvic rings on their left legs, the fitted rings for each bird were LL0, LK7 and LK9. The birds were weighed and their wing lengths measured and recorded. This data is collected and used as an indicator of the sex of the birds.

Females tend to be over 1500 grammes with a wing length of more than 300mm, while the males are smaller and lighter. These females were a really good size and weight, with one being 1850 grammes, with a wing length of 340 mm. The other two were very similar. They were returned to their nest and soon settled back down. During the ringing procedure one of the parents had flown close by the site and would have returned to the young once the team left.

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It will be a very short time before all three of these magnificent lady ospreys take to the skies. It was a privilege and a joy to see them.

Osprey chicks are growing up

Chicks have changed over the past few days

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The chicks at the main nest have grown considerably in a matter of a few days. The changes in them are noticeable in the amount of feathering that is beginning to cover their bodies. Their heads now look more like little osprey heads, and they have the distinctive eye-stripe and white feather crest, with a ginger patch at the back of the neck indicative of juveniles.

Their wings and tail are still stubby in terms of any proper feather growth, and they are still quite wobbly in their movements around the nest. Their bellies are quite pronounced and after feeding a full crop bulges below the neck. These areas are still covered in the grey downy insulation, but they haven’t got the layer of true feathers on top of it yet.

Seeking shade

20180708_12-24-56 Mrs O and chicks 8th July

Their days are mainly spent following mum around the nest to find shade, and she has been very obliging. Thankfully at around 4pm the sun comes around, and shade is created by the conifer tree behind them, so they can all take a break and mum can sit out on the perch and preen her feathers, to keep in condition.

A tidy nest

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Mrs O wants that stick gone from the middle of the nest

Mrs O has become quite the domestic goddess and has taken to nest tidying with zeal. Sometimes a wayward stick in the nest will take her attention, and she will endeavour to remove the unwanted trip hazard even if it is embedded deeply into the structure. She was seen pulling and tugging at a stick jutting out of the centre of the nest, but she couldn’t pull it out; it was half way out and lying across the back of one of the chicks. The other chick tried to be helpful and assist mum to remove it, but without success.

Eventually they gave up and left the stick alone, but throughout the week Mrs O went on a stick mission, collecting mossy branches from one side of the nest and moving them to another side. Still not satisfied, she would begin the removal process again, sometimes building up the sides and sometimes grabbing messy moss and removing it.

Taking turns

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SS has been bringing in plenty of fish for the family, and has been seen feeding the chicks himself with a curious Mrs O looking on. The feeding regime remains the same, with one chick fed first until it is full before the second chick gets fed.

The chicks are stretching and more mobile in the nest. There is some wing flapping beginning to happen, which the chicks do to begin strengthening the emerging flight muscles, but this is just gentle exercise so far. The chicks are curious about their surroundings too, and were peering over the edge of the nest, looking down to the forest floor with the whole family standing together in the top left hand side of the nest. We couldn’t see what had got their attention but it wasn’t causing them any alarm.

chicks 6th July

The Tweed Valley Project area has had mixed fortunes for ospreys this season so far, with a number of nests that have failed or not been occupied, so we are really lucky that the main nest pair and their young are doing so well. We hope that they will grow stronger, and they are just a few weeks off from fledging from the nest.

Disturbance

Some nest sites have been visited this year by people wanting to get a closer look and take photographs. Please be aware that the law regarding the protection of these birds is very strict. Any disturbance, intentional or not, can carry a fine of up to £5000 or a six month jail sentence. They are only visited for the purpose of monitoring, ringing or tagging, which is all done under special licence.

Summer shines on ospreys

Mrs O is a mobile sunshade

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In the scorching heat at the main nest, Mrs O is acting as a mobile sunshade for her two youngsters. Wherever she stands on the edge of the nest, she casts a shadow. Two little osprey bodies just about fit inside of it, keeping out of the glare of the sunshine. They have been seen panting in the heat, and one of the chicks was lying on its side motionless for a worryingly long period of time, which caused concerns that it had been overcome by heat stress. The other chick seemed to be dizzy at times, and stumbled about. It cannot have been comfortable sitting in the hot nest in direct sunlight in last week’s intense heat.

SS has been dutifully returning to the nest with large fish, and both chicks are now being well fed. The food also provides some much needed hydration for the pair. In one comical scene at the nest, Mrs O had fed the chicks and taken a good portion for herself, when SS, who had been dozing at the side of the nest, decided to have his share. Mrs O had to grudgingly give it up to her partner.

Intruder osprey photo-bombs domestic scene

superdad SS sees off intruder

The domestic scene was rudely interrupted during feeding time on 27 June when a cheeky male osprey flew onto the nest perch, causing alarm to the whole family. He had no leg rings, so we couldn’t identify him. He was calling, and dropping and flicking his wings, so SS immediately moved to the side of the nest below him, adopting a defensive posture and flicking his wings in agitation. SS then launched into the air towards him and chased the unwelcome guest away from the nest.

Mrs O casually resumed feeding of the chicks and seemed more than happy that SS could deal with the gate-crasher. It is good to see that their partnership is one of teamwork in their endeavour to raise their young.

Sibling bashing

sibling bashing

The chicks are growing well and there is now a substantial covering of emerging feathers, although they are not insulated enough to protect them from being too hot or too cold yet. They are both well fed, but occasionally if the parents leave them alone for a few minutes one of the chicks invariably squares up to the other one and viciously pecks at it. It was really pulling at the skin on its sibling’s back and was being quite brutal, until Mrs O returned and the squabble was instantly squashed.

Stinky nest

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The nest has been very messy, often strewn with fish debris after feeding. This has attracted scores of flies which can be seen constantly buzzing around the nest. To address this problem, fresh nesting material has been brought in, and dried grass was added to the bottom of the nest. Mrs O brought in fresh pine shoots and proceeded to have a tidy up and move sticks around. Presumably the pine scent would mask the fish smell and not attract the flies as much – an osprey air freshener minus the aerosol.

Home return

There has been a sighting of a returning Tweed Valley bird with ring number PW3 on 28 June. PW3 was seen flying in the Yarrow valley, near to Dryhope, and then on to St.Mary’s Loch. This bird fledged from a nest in 2016 in the Tweed Valley Project area, and it was spotted on migration just south of Paris on 10 September 2016 during the first migration to leave Scotland. This is the first we have heard about the bird since. It is really good to know that as a returning two year-old, this young osprey has chosen to come home to the Borders.

Pair bonding at the back up nest

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We are pleased that at back up no.2 nest, FK0 has paired up with an unringed female. and hes been seen bringing fish for her. They are bonding and have tidied the nest and scraped some of the grass away that had started growing on the top of it due to its vacancy as an unoccupied site this year. FK0 is another returning Borders bird and his partner is an unringed female, quite possibly the widow of the late 8C, as this was her nest site last year.

FK8 is a mum

And finally, saving the best news until last!

FK8 CHICKS

It has been confirmed that FK8 is nesting up north in the Dornoch area and has two chicks. This is the satellite tagged female that fledged from Tweed Valley back up nest no.2 in 2014 and was fitted with a satellite tracker. She spends her winters in Portugal and this is her first brood of chicks. Her chicks will also be fitted with trackers and for the first time we will be able to follow a mother and her offspring.

Changing fortunes

Struggling to find fish

The early part of last week was a difficult time for the osprey family at the main nest, as the aftermath of the wild and stormy weather had left the rivers in spate. SS had clearly been struggling to fish for his family. On Wednesday 20 May there were no fish brought in for the family to feed on. Mrs O seemed distressed, with the chicks were begging for food she could not provide. The chicks, at not much more than a week old, were feeble looking and weak. They had little in the way of down covering on their bodies, and their progress seemed to be in jeopardy.

Just in time

By Thursday morning (21 June), the weather had taken a turn for the better, with the start of the heat wave which has affected much of the UK over the past week or so. Here in the Tweed Valley, the rivers had begun to clear again, and ponds were settling after so much silt laden water had washed into them from the feeder burns. This gave SS the opening that he needed to get back on top of his game, and he did his family proud, returning to the nest with a large, gleaming trout at 10.47am.

Feeding time

Mrs O took the trout from SS and began to feed. In between mouthfuls for herself, she tore off strips to feed the stronger and larger of the two chicks. She fed this little one until it was full and sleepy, and then with still so much fish left, she turned her attention to the smaller chick and began to feed it. Eventually both chicks were full and restful.

SS took his portion of fish after his family were fed and satisfied. Later that same day, SS returned with more fish, and he was certainly making up for lost time – he began to feed the youngsters himself, while Mrs O took time out for some preening. The chicks were visibly stronger and more energised than the day before. After the first chick was full, it lay down on its side. The other chick fed and when it had had enough to eat, chick number one got up and come back over for seconds.

Don’t do it!

The week progressed into warm weather and scorching sunshine. The chicks ranged from being sleepy and still, to being far too adventurous – toddling about the nest using their budding wings as little stilts to enable them to clamber around. These little excursions led them to venture far too close to the edges on occasion. The doting parents had to use fish for a distraction, tempting the chicks back to safer footing. The mature birds began to pay more attention to their nest construction, moving sticks around and building up the edges into little safety barriers to prevent anybody toppling over the edge.

A sad loss

Sadly, for one osprey family in the Borders, two chicks did fall from the nest during the recent high winds. Thankfully, Mrs O and SS seem to have metaphorically ‘red taped’ the danger zone.

By the end of last week, the young ospreys had grown stronger. Their fluffy down coats are forming, with the onset of fully-fledged feathers not too distant. They no longer look feeble and weak, and their fortunes have rapidly turned around since the fish supply has picked up.

The journey’s end for PX1

We finally have news of PX1 whose satellite tracker alerted us to the fact that he had died in the north of Scotland near to the Helmsdale River. The carcass and tag have been recovered and it seems that his neck was broken. We believe this happened when he collided with newly erected deer fencing along the side of a new forestry plantation.

It is such a terrible shame to lose this wonderful, healthy, two year old male osprey. Jeremy Paxman was very saddened to hear of the loss of his bird, and we are very grateful to him for his interest and support for the Tweed Valley Osprey Project. Paxman has agreed that his involvement will continue in the future, hopefully through the tracking of further ospreys.

Volunteers watch goshawks being ringed

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Photo taken by Rhona Anderson. Goshawk male chick before ringing.

The volunteers for the osprey project were invited to attend the ringing of goshawk chicks this week in Tweed Valley Forest Park. They were privileged to witness them being fitted with red darvic rings with white letters of JP and PL by Tony Lightley, after Eve Schulte climbed the fir tree to lower them to the forest floor.

Delightful pine marten family in the Borders

Rhona Anderson took some great photos of these magnificent birds and she has also been continuing to film the pine martens in the forest. The captured footage of the whole pine marten family together and the antics of the three little kits with their mum and dad can be viewed at the following link: www.flickr.com/photos/borderslass/28099626057/in/photostream

Mrs O eats her dead chick

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Mrs O feeds the young

Hunger Games

This has been the first week in the lives of the newly-hatched osprey chicks and it has been a case of mixed fortunes for them. The incredible Storm Hector brought down trees across the Borders, and lashing rain sent the Tweed into a raging muddy blur – not great for osprey fishing.  SS must have struggled to fish in the windy conditions and murky waters, and the chicks were visibly seen to be hungry at the nest, with a frustrated Mrs O mock-feeding at times with no fish.

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Mrs O feeding the young chicks

Feeding time

mrs o eats dead chick from egg

When SS did arrive with fish, she took it from him and proceeded to feed in great gulps for herself, tearing off strips that were just too big for the little chicks to swallow. When she did master the portion size, she concentrated on the liveliest chick and the feeble one seemed to have only a tiny morsel by comparison. She seemed to be quite clumsy in her feeding attempts to begin with. She stood quite far back, staying apart from the youngsters and then lunged in to aim fish pieces into the open beak of the waiting chick.

Mrs O with dead chick watched by the two

Mrs O with the dead chick in her talons watched by the two chicks

 

After some time and when her own hunger had abated, she seemed to relax more and control the feeding with greater precision. The chick receiving most of the fish seemed to grow stronger as the mouthfuls began to fill the young osprey’s tummy. Mrs O then turned her attention to the other chick and began to feed the little one in earnest too.

The fate of egg number 3

Mrs O with dead chick watched by the two
Mrs O continued to incubate the third egg, and was seen settling over it with the two chicks beneath her after feeding. In one of the video clips, it looks as though the egg had a crack right down the shell, and there were lots of flies around the nest too. On Friday 15 June, Mrs O stood off the egg and peered down at it, in much the same way that she had done prior to the other two hatching. It was hoped that this was going to hatch but it didn’t.

Saturday morning started off with a very hungry Mrs O and two hungry chicks on the nest, and the only food there was the tail end of a fish. This was torn into stringy strips and offered to the youngsters but was barely satisfying. Mrs O was so hungry that she forced the tail fin down her own beak, struggling to swallow it. There can’t have been much nutritional value in the fin but she was obviously very hungry. SS was absent from the nest, presumably out hunting for his family.

Later, while volunteer Robert was on duty chatting to visitors in the osprey centre, a young girl watching the nest suddenly called out that the osprey was eating the egg. He quickly dashed to the screen to begin recording and was astonished to see Mrs O with her beak plunged into the cracked-open shell. She pulled the fully-formed dead chick out of the shell and proceeded to eat it. The two chicks saw that Mum was eating, and they crawled over to her and began begging for food but she didn’t comply. She eventually gave up on the lifeless form, went back over to her young, and settled them down beneath her.

Stoats about

That wasn’t the last excitement for the day in the centre. As soon as the cannibal episode was over, there was a visit from a very curious stoat, who decided to come in and run around the building, confronting Robert (who has had an exciting week).

Robert gave chase to ‘shoo’ it back outside but the canny mustelid darted under the big cupboards behind the wiring for the screens, and scurried out of sight. Robert went for help but no one was available, so he returned to the building. The cheeky stoat came out from his hiding place and made for the front door, and trotted towards the café “as if he owned the place,” according to Robert, before disappearing beneath it. A final word from Robert: “This must easily be my best ever day on duty!”

SS brings home some fish

A hungry Mrs O recommenced demolishing the corpse of the dead chick  later in the day, and this entertained the two chicks watching her. SS finally appeared with a headless fish, which Mrs O took from him, able to feed her two offspring at last. A  happy ending to a somewhat gruesome week in the Tweed Valley – talk about nature, red in tooth and claw!

Good news and bad news…

PX1 has died in Scotland

Jeremy Paxman with PX1

We have great news this week, but also some very sad news about the ospreys of Tweed Valley. The sad news is that we are certain that PX1, best known as Jeremy Paxman’s osprey, is dead. The data received since he was last tracked in the north of Scotland is consistent with a static bird on the ground.

He was doing so well previously, touring and exploring Scotland’s flow country. We are very sad to lose this bird, as he had spent two winters in residence at the gold mines in Sanso, Southern Mali after leaving the Tweed Valley nest site. He returned to Scotland this spring, but unfortunately, it seems he wasn’t destined to make it home.

The tale of his family is a sorry one, as the nest he was raised from stands empty this year. His father drowned on returning to Scotland this spring, while his mother (we think) was driven away from the nest site by the very dominant Mrs O.

PX1’s brother. meanwhile, died 100 miles south of Paris on his first migration trip. The male osprey reared by his parents last year died in Switzerland, and the female was last tracked in Spain. His nearest surviving close relative is FK8, who had the same father, yellow 8C, but a different mother, green DN. Both those adult birds are now dead.

FK8 is nesting

FK8 nesting

FK8 data reveals clusters of points where she is in one place for long periods of time presumably incubating eggs.

The known surviving family member, FK8, is believed to be nesting this year – the data that her tag is giving us shows that she remains in the same location with just short, brief trips away. This would indicate a bird at a nest site incubating eggs and just taking a few stretches away from the site. We hope that she does well. and can bring some genetic continuity to this branch of our osprey family.

Benefits of long term species monitoring

The revealing tracker data shows very clearly that the need for continued, robust, conservation of these magnificent birds is far from over. The breeding success of more than 200 chicks raised in Tweed Valley lulls us into a false sense of security, giving the impression that the species is beginning to thrive. It is only when we track the birds further and find out the survival rate of dispersing birds that we can see that numbers are not increasing as we would have liked or expected, and that fatalities are high.
The value of monitoring over the long term is vital to identify trends in their population dynamics, and to identify threats to their survival.

Mrs O and SS – Parents at last

vlcsnap-2018-06-12-22h25m30s103 Proudparents of two chicks

Two chicks hatched on 11 June

On to happier news! This week, Mrs O and SS became parents at last! The first chick hatched on 11 June after 39 days of incubation. Later the same morning, egg number two also hatched, after a period of only 35 days of incubation. The warm weather must have played a part in the advancement of the incubation period for the second egg.

Mrs O was very restless prior to hatching, and kept stepping away from the eggs and peering down at them, turning her head backwards and forwards as though listening. She could perhaps hear the tapping inside the eggs, and the cheeping of the little ones as they pecked their way out into the world. Some forage of the new arrivals can be seen below.

We are just waiting for news of the third egg now, and we are beginning to wonder if this will also hatch earlier than expected. Both adult birds are very settled – SS brought in fish for Mrs O and she fed the two little ones. She is currently moulting, and some of her feathers are on the side of the nest. A bold chaffinch hopped onto the nest and took a few of the downy feathers away for his own abode… Recycling at its best, avian style!