Pre-flight checks…

Wing-flapping exercises

wing flapping 302

The main nest osprey chicks are eight weeks old this week! This week, the fortunes of the young male osprey have turned about; he has been the underdog of the brood for much of his growing life. He was regularly last in the queue to be fed by Mrs O, so much so that he learned to hang back instead of lining up with his more powerful sisters.

This week started off with much the same pattern, but a change slowly began to unfold. The first and most notable behaviour change was how 302, the young male, became the most advanced at the art of wing-flapping. He became an ardent wing exerciser compared to the more laid-back sisters, and sometimes while they were being fed, he would be flapping and doing small bunny hops to lift off fractionally and then drop back down again.

301 Feeding herself

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301 feeding herself on the right

On Saturday 20, the female chick 301 began feeding herself in the nest while the other two preened their feathers. This is a new development for the family as they hurtle towards independence, learning the crucial talent of handling a prey item, manoeuvring it with talons and stripping chunks off with the beak to eat. These are survival skills needed for adult life, when she begins to catch her own fish.

Alarming behaviour

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Mrs O is alarmed and the three young play dead in the nest

On Sunday morning all three chicks were lying flat in the nest, playing dead, while a very agitated and distressed Mrs O was up on the post above them, sky watching and calling in alarm. She was dropping her wings and flicking them in a defensive pose and giving her piercing alarm call. Something overhead was intruding upon their home and she was not happy.

Luckily for them SS must have seen what was going on as he approached with a large fish in his talons, and landed on the nest. The young remained flat and Mrs O continued her distress call, crouched and ready to defend her young.

SS abruptly launched himself into the air again to deal with whatever the cause of alarm was. Having just caught a fish can have its drawbacks, when it comes to defence. It’s not so easy to just let go and put it down. The fish was hooked onto his talons and spicules, so any skirmish he may have involved himself in would have involved a large wet fish too.

Begone, you cad lest I strike you with wet fish!

SS arriving with big fish

SS bringing in the fish

SS returned quickly, but the threat had still not passed, and Mrs O remained on guard. Eventually, she dropped down into the nest to be with the young and once again, as SS took off into the air, fish still in his talons.

Assertive 302, the underdog no more

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302 shows his assertive side and seizes the fish from Mrs O

Once all the alarm was over, SS returned with the fish. Mrs O took it from him and was readying herself to begin the feeding regime for her young, when 302 decided to show his newfound assertiveness. He pushed himself forward, hooked a talon into the rear of the fish and proceeded to pull it away from his mum.

A brief tug of war ensued, until she backed off and he claimed his prize, mantling over it and defending his catch from the others. It took him a while to get a good handle on what to do, holding it in his talons and tearing small chunks off to eat. Mrs O left him to get on with it and retreated to the perch.

301 decided to have a go at taking it from her brother but received a good peck to warn her off. Persistence on her part paid off though and once he was full, she managed to take it from him. 303, the largest of the young, was the last to feed on this occasion, and it was mum that fed her once SS returned with a second, headless fish later on.

We’ll be flying soon

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Three lovely youngsters

Sunday concluded with three happy, well-fed osprey young, all advancing towards their goal of independence rapidly. All three will likely be flying by next week.

New nest stars

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The Environment team visited another nest in the Borders this week. A new nest built by an osprey pair this season, it is home to two very large and healthy looking young. The two young ospreys were ringed and found to be one female, which was fitted with Darvic ring 330, and a male, fitted with ring 331.

We do not know the identity of the adult birds. The nest that they have built was found to be robust and in a very tall and densely branched tree. An unhatched egg was found in the nest also which was removed for analysis by the raptor study group.

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Volunteer Stuart Blaik with one of the young birds at the new site that he has been helping to monitor for TVOP

Names for the chicks?

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I need a name not a number!

We have had a few suggestions for names of the main nest osprey young, but not many! If anyone has any suggestions, please let us know. This year’s brood consists of two females and a male. It will be the two females that we will be tracking once they migrate, so it would be nice to refer to them by a name not a number.

Highlights from the nest this week:

All the action from the nest this week was caught on camera – take a look, click the image below!

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Click the image to watch this week’s highlights

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Seven weeks old

A surprise visit

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Tiny chaffinches on the tree above the right hand branch

The young ospreys on the main nest were treated to a surprise visit from a delightful family of chaffinches this week. At least seven young birds flocked into the branches to the side of the nest and were busy preening, unphased by the presence of three young but large predators sitting in the nest next to them. The ospreys seemed happy enough preening their own plumage too.

They soon moved on as a little roving forest party, chattering between themselves as they flit across the branches and disappeared from view.

Lazy day

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Just a little stretch

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Having a lazy me day

We have witnessed a few lazy days of the now seven-week-old ospreys lounging in the nest in the sunshine, occasionally stretched out to reveal the full length of those admirable and impressive wings which will soon be ready for flight. The parent birds are not always present in the nest with them anymore but, judging by the direct stares to camera, Mrs O likes to sit on top of the camera pole – her young looking up towards her.

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Looking up at the camera

hi there

Hi Mum

Exercising and stretches

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When the young birds do stand, it’s usually to exercise their wings. There’s lots of flapping, stretching and also a lot of feather preening. The nest is now covered with white, downy, fluffy feathers; particularly noticeable when Mrs O speedily flew in, wafting a storm of white over the nest. She was carrying a large stick as she clumsily landed, leaving it draped across the shoulders of her son 302. 302 had to wriggle from underneath and move across to the other side of the nest.

The young birds perform a stretch whenever they’ve finished resting – tilting their heads down and forward, sticking their rear into the air and opening their wings to their full extent, before bobbing back down into a standing position.

Pecking order

dinner time

Gather round trout delivery

waiting his turn

Two largest feed first with mum and the third stands alone

There is a clear pecking order in the feeding regime. The two females, 303 and 301 – the largest and most developed of the family – being fed first. The male chick, 302, doesn’t even bother pushing into the line-up anymore, now accepting he is always last to be fed. He always gets fed eventually but usually after the other two are finished. Only occasionally does he manage to squeeze in when one of the other chicks is done. His development is slower than that of the other two, but hopefully this will not hamper his chances of success once they are fledged.

Fish skin meal

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A happy meal

When the hungry chicks were getting fidgety on the nest due to a lack of fresh fish, Mrs O plucked a dishevelled looking fish skin – the remains of a previous meal – and began to show the largest chick how to handle prey by tearing it. The chick took it and tugged at it with her bill for a brief few seconds before losing interest and giving up. None of the chicks seemed to appreciate the unappetising meal.

Naming the chicks

We are thinking of naming this year’s main nest young, particularly as it’s nicer to refer to them by a name rather than a number as we follow their eventual migration. Some names have already been suggested (such as Faith, Hope and Charity). Tony is a popular suggestion for the male chick, as one hatched on project leader Tony Lightley’s birthday. But if anyone has any more good suggestions please let us know and we will pick the favourites!

Returning Borders bird

It was lovely to receive news that one of the Borders Ospreys, hatched from the Born in the Borders nest site in 2017, has made it back to the UK safely. It briefly touched down at one of the Kielder Project nests on Friday 12th July. Osprey PYO made the surprise visit to resident bird, W6, making a return visit to the nest later when it was empty. This was one of the young from parents Samson and Delilah.

Videos

Watch the latest highlights from the nest below:

Ringed and Tagged

Its ringing time again

This time of year seems to come around so fast. It feels like only yesterday we were waiting for birds to arrive, then eggs, then hatching. Now we are six weeks into the young ospreys lives and it’s time to fit their leg rings and tracking devices.

Expedition main nest ringing

The team from Forestry and Land Scotland and raptor study group, consisting of Tony Lightley, Eve Schulte and Ronnie Graham, led the expedition to the nest site. This years lucky volunteers were invited to attend to see the birds along with representatives from Forest Holidays.

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Margaret Turner and Pauline Lynch from Forest Holidays Photo by Rhona Anderson

Forest Holidays sponsor tags

Forest holidays sponsored the satellite tags for the chicks last year, but both sadly died. However, one of the tags was recovered and refurbished for re-use on one of this year’s young.

Jess Robinson, Forest Holidays Ecological Co-Ordinator said about the tracking:

“The natural world is never predictable and whilst we were sad to learn that Tweedledee didn’t survive last season, we know that the data that was gathered during the tracking is invaluable to the project and the understanding of these birds. We’re also delighted that her tag could be refurbished and will now be used to monitor one of this years chicks. We very much look forward to watching the progress of all the birds and sharing updates with our guests as they fledge and leave the nest”.

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Eve gently arrives at the nest and meets the chicks

The expert team and the ringing and tagging

Whilst the team prepared the equipment down on the ground and volunteers settled themselves to sit on the forest floor, Eve tackled the climbing of the nest tree to bring this years youngsters down from the nest. Once she reached the top, she put each of the chicks into the duffel bag and lowered them down on a pulley, one at a time, to Tony at the bottom of the tree. The chicks were then removed from the bag and allowed to settle themselves on the forest floor while Eve abseiled back down to the ground to carry out the task.

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Three young from the main nest photo by Rhona Anderson

The chicks were assessed and given a health check and then weighed and measured, with the two largest and strongest chicks being selected to wear the satellite tags.

The first in line was a female osprey chick weighing a very healthy 1750g. Eve carried out the process of fitting the silver BTO leg ring to the right leg bearing the unique reference number. Then, on the left leg, a blue Darvic with white digits ‘301’ was fitted by Eve and Ronnie. A DNA swab was also taken from inside the bird’s cheek which will be sent off for analysis to determine DNA links between populations in Wales and Scotland.

BTO fititng

BTO ring being adjusted to fit comfortably

Next the satellite tag was attached to the young bird. The device, weighing just 23g, fits neatly between the shoulder blades with a solar back panel facing skywards to charge it. A foam backing ensures comfort for the bird. The tapes from the tag go over the back and shoulders, under the wings and meet in the middle of a central plastic disc on the bird’s chest where they are stitched together using hemp thread. This is designed to last up to 7 years and, when it rots, all four ends would be released together, freeing the bird from the device. The plastic disc, which holds the ends in place until the stitching is done, is cut away once the thread is in place.

tag demo

Tony demonstrates a tag fitting

Ronnie and Eve ringing thr chicks

Eve and Ronnie ringing the chicks

The next osprey to be ringed was number 302, the smallest of the three, weighing 1500g, and likely to be a male bird.

Finally, the third osprey was ringed with number 303. This was thought to be a female bird weighing 1620g; another good-sized healthy chick.

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Satellite tag on one of the main nest ospreys

 

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Three young from the main nest photo by Lorna Corley- Jackson

 

We wish you a long and happy life journey

Once all the processing was done it was time for a few photos and an opportunity for the volunteers get up close with the birds and admire them. It is quite an emotional moment to meet the chicks that you have been monitoring daily since hatching and especially from parents that are so fondly regarded. There were a few emotional murmurings from volunteers wishing the youngsters a safe and happy life before it was finally time for them to be put back up into their eyrie.

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Volunteers Lorna Corley- Jackson and Val Barnes photo by Mirabel Lyons

Interestingly, during their time out of the nest, there were three adult ospreys flying above. Two would be Mrs O and SS, their mum and dad, but the other bird is possibly a first time migration returner.  Hearing the initial alarm call of the ospreys when the ringing party arrived may have drawn the curious onlooker to see what was happening!

SS went off to catch a fish in a nearby loch returning, just as the ringers were about to leave, with a fish in his talons. This was a good sign that there was to be a meal after the group left. But to make sure the family were well fed, a couple of fresh fish were left behind for them on the nest too, as a little thank you from the ringers.

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Eve climbs the nest tree

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waiting in turn

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Stunning looking chick

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The satellite tag fitted

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Three beauties

 

(Thank you to Forest Holidays for sponsoring the satellite tags.  Earlier this year, planning was approved for the partnership between Forest Enterprise Scotland – now Forestry and Land Scotland – and Forest Holidays to create 56 secluded eco-cabins, new biking trails and a walking route at Glentress. The scheme will bring £11.3 million investment, with Forest Holidays providing private sector investment of £10 million for the project and the remaining £1.3 million from Forestry and Land Scotland).

 

 

Five weeks old

On 30 June the three osprey chicks reached five weeks of age and are looking very impressive with their feather-covered upper bodies. There is still some grey down, below their bellies, but the upper feathering has given them waterproof jackets; just as well with thundery downpours shaking the forest this week. Mrs O still does her best to shield them from the extremes of weather, but her protection isn’t as essential as it once was now that her chicks can regulate their own temperature and insulate themselves with their protective feathers trapping air within the downy layer.

big chicks

The temperature has lurched from scorching heat to a damp cold during the course of recent days. Mrs O has shielded the young from the hottest sun but they can easily withstand periods left alone providing there is no threat from predators.

Sometimes Mrs O is torn in her decision whether to shelter the young or to feed them, as was evident on Sunday when a good fish was brought in by SS. Mrs O appeared agitated and indecisive about feeding as the rain had just started. Her hungry young were pretty bold, standing and begging for food, leaving her with no option but to feed them.  The chicks are always fed in a pecking order with the boldest and biggest being first in line. This strategy is one of survival – when times are tough and food is scarce, this ensures the fittest and strongest survive, the frailest unfortunately left to die. However, the food is in plentiful supply this year and there doesn’t seem to be any worry for the last chick. It can barely stand it’s so full of food from the bumper crop! Dad, SS, seems to be so efficient in his hunting that he will sometimes bring a meal in when they are still full from their previous one.

fish delivery

Fish delivery

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we are full up

It’s hard to say – and I don’t want to tempt fate – but the young birds seem more robust and stronger compared to last year’s brood. I hope that isn’t just wishful thinking given the fate of Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

They are still at least three weeks away from fledging but, so far, they look to be developing healthily and with plenty of good nourishment. The boldest and strongest chick does tend to rule the roost and is occasionally quite dominant over the other two. Their reaction to this behaviour is not to fight back but passively play dead and turn away until it stops. Perhaps the dominant chick is a Mrs O ‘mini-me’, a feisty female in the making, just like her mum. The other two perhaps take after SS, as we have all witnessed his reaction to her squawking and stomping about the nest in the past – he turns away and sometimes flies off.

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growing fast

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home alone

All is well with the family and they are doing very well, although there is the occasional threat from unwelcome visitors. We have witnessed some mantling and distress from Mrs O, with both adults calling and staring skywards as the shadow of another bird passes overhead. It’s most likely another osprey checking out the territory. This can ruffle their feathers and cause disruption, although there’s been no real danger so far.

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happy meal

Further afield we have heard some great news that a Tweed Valley bird from a nest site in 2017 has been spotted up at Lochter in Oldmeldrum, Aberdeenshire. The reported sighting was sent in to the official osprey site and the bird was photographed by Mark Sullivan who captured this great shot, clearly showing the ring number PY3, on 10 June. This two-year-old bird has successfully migrated with this being its first return to Scotland. It’s too young for breeding yet but it will be exploring the country, scouting for prospective nesting territory for the future.

PY3

welcome back to Scotland PY3.  photo by Mark Sullivan

 

Watch the latest highlights from the nest below:

A feast of pike

25 days old

23rd June 24 days old

25 days old

On 24 June, the osprey chicks in the main nest were 25 days old (based on the eldest chick, as they were born a day apart). The transformation from helpless grey downy chicks, which could barely stand or hold their heads up, to these strapping youngsters in such a brief period of time is an amazing sight to see.

Development is both subtle but rapid. All body parts seem to lengthen daily. Even their beaks are taking on the adult shape, with the curved tip present, ready for cutting through raw fish. Their legs are getting longer, although much of the time they hunker down, their lower legs jutting out in front of them, with their talons sticking out and curled up out of harm’s way.

Although their wings do not bear any flight feathers yet, they look almost out of place and too long for their body size at the moment. The shafts of the feather quills can be seen as they break open along their length, as the feathers develop. The down is now getting a covering of the colourful, blonde-tipped brown feathers of the juvenile osprey. Their heads now resemble true little osprey heads, and their eyes have turned yellow, like their parents.

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Sprawled out and full up!

This year, we have witnessed the transformation of Mrs O into a dedicated and efficient mother to her brood. It is a huge contrast with last year, when she had to be shown how to feed her young by her partner SS. Now, she dispatches fish with expediency and rapidly tears off flesh to feed the young in turn, in an orderly manner, until they are so full that they cannot stand any longer and rest down in the nest, laid out on their sides, legs sticking out or draped over each other as they digest a good meal.

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Sometimes the family have to deal with challenging conditions due to the weather, as witnessed on Sunday 24 June. Torrential rain took the family by surprise and the chicks darted beneath Mrs O. She spread herself over them as best she could, as the rain came down hard and bounced off her back.

SS was away from the nest, and she did her very best to shelter the young. The rivers were in spate as thunder-y, hard-hitting showers shook the landscape. Once it was all over, the sun came out, the humid conditions resumed, and flies could be seen swarming around the nest.

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SS returned sometime near to midday with a young pike, stripy in colour and a fair size. It was freshly caught, and still very much alive. Mrs O had her talons full trying to hold it down as she proceeded to feed it to her brood, its tail fin flapping in the nest.

The chicks had separated out, with two to the left of her and one teetering on the edge, to sit almost beneath her as she was feeding them. It was a dangerous spot for the one at the edge, but the advantage of having mums’ attention meant food was delivered faster.

Soon the chicks were so full that they had to take a nap and thankfully the one at the edge moved back into the centre of the nest in to a safer spot.  Mrs O fed herself for a while, but even she was quite full, and so SS left with the remaining pike dinner.

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A proud mum

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Pike for lunch!

Two hours later he returned, and the brood rose to feed once more. SS brought back the same pike, now down to about half the size, but they were not really interested in feeding as they were still rather full.

They took turns to move away from the centre of the nest and point their rear ends out to the side, sending a stream of white waste out of the nest. Their aim is not so great, and they keep hitting the tree stump on the left side of the nest, which is now completely whitewashed. Not a great result, with even more flies appearing shortly after. Hopefully they will get the hang of shooting clear of the family home soon.

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A very white-splashed tree stump

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More pike for lunch

SS had done really well to provide such a good fish, it served two meals for his family and himself. By 4pm, three very well-fed chicks were sprawled out in the centre of the nest once again, having a lazy nap and a stretch. They looked very contented and satisfied, while mum did some tidying up and dad took off, probably to have a roost before his next hunting trip of the day.

See the highlights from our live feed from the nest below (click to play):

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Growing up so fast

This week at the osprey nest we have witnessed the family feasting on fish until they look like they are about to burst. Father SS is bringing fish in with such regularity that the chicks are being fed to the point of being stuffed, and have needed to back off half way through. Their mum, Mrs O, will then finish a meal herself, until even she has had enough. Finally, SS takes the remainder, and finishes the fish. After a good family meal, all of them seem satisfied, and with nothing else to do but have an afternoon nap in the sunshine.

fed to bursting

SS is certainly a good provider, and the chicks are progressing really well. They have changed so much in just a week. The drab grey down has now been replaced by a brown colour with a spangling of cream, as their mature feathers have begun to grow. They have doubled in size and are much stronger.

Their wings had a noticeable growth spurt too. They are more like long arms, and less like the stubby wing-buds of just over a week ago. The chicks’ heads look different too, with feathers, still bearing the dark eye-stripes but with a ginger coloured patch at the back of the heads and chocolate markings amongst the white on the crown.

were full mum

The nest frequently has remains of uneaten fish lying around, and this attracts flies. Humid weather brings a host of midges too, which can be seen clouding around the nest. They must be hard to cope with, as the young cannot escape from them. Mrs O has been seen bringing in large clumps of fresh moss and what looks to be the fresh growth tips from pine or spruce. It would be interesting to see how they obtain these pine leaves as they grow at the very end of the branches. The ospreys must fly past and snatch them in their talons from the pine trees. It is thought that pine needles are used to freshen the nest and reduce the attraction to flies.

lazy Sunday

Fathers’ Day was a peaceful looking scene, with the three youngsters sprawled out in the nest,  wings outstretched, one chick resting its head over another and all with full bellies, their legs sprawled out behind them. Dad snoozed, off to the side of his young, while Mrs O was to the right of them.

Suddenly, she began looking skywards and calling in alarm. SS snapped out of his dreamy daze and launched himself skyward to patrol the skies and keep the security intact for his territory, while Mrs O remained with the young. Luckily, there were no predators to fight off. After the panic settled down, Mrs O and the young settled back into their Sunday afternoon slumber, drama over for the day, but SS stayed away, keeping a protective eye on their territory.

queue up

Want a closer look at the ospreys? Visit our live feed, and check out our highlights from 2019 so far on YouTube.

Party time

The birthday party

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Lady Angela Buchan -Hepburn, Iain and Norma Coates and Tony Lightley cutting the cake

Saturday 8 June was a truly nostalgic day for the Tweed Valley Osprey project, as we celebrated the 20th birthday of our male osprey, white leg SS. It was a lovely time to reminisce and reflect on the achievements of the osprey project over the past two decades.

The day was filled with much laughter and warmth, as stories were told and Tony Lightley shared some of his experiences with the birds, including the time he got a spattering of osprey splat during a ringing session one year.

Emma from Emma’s cakes of Kelso made an amazing cake, in the form of a sculpture of SS sitting on the nest with a half- eaten fish and three eggs. It was a work of art. Tony Lightley and Lady Angela Buchan- Hepburn from Kailzie Gardens cut the cake for all to share as we gathered round, as the party carried on with the warm hearted banter of like- minded volunteers from across the duration of the project.

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SS birthday cake by Emma’s Cakes from KelsoVal and hat

Val Barnes with the osprey hat

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Val Barnes with the felted osprey of SS

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cutting the cake

group cake

cutting the cake

We joined together with Tweeddale Folk Group to sing the Tweed Valley osprey song called The Return, written by Rhona Anderson and Diane Bennett, telling the tale of ospreys returning to the Tweed Valley.

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Tweeddale Folk Group (TFG) perform the Tweed Valley Osprey Song – The Return

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The Return Lyrics

The artistic talents of many osprey volunteers were on display too, with a fantastic painting of white leg SS by Patrick Corley Jackson, and a felted sculpture of SS by Su Bennett. Lovely poems and pictures, and written research done by volunteers, were all recorded and displayed in the centre. It was a really great day, and so nice to see so many people there to share the success of the project, and chat about the days gone by.

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Su Bennett and the Kailzie Crafters

Meanwhile, back at the nest…

On the screen in the centre while the celebrations took place, it was business as usual on the nest. Oblivious to the partying going on in his name, SS and his family provided the backdrop to the scene in the centre. They were busy with their offspring and their daily duties, feeding and looking after them.

The eldest chick was 10 days old and all three were in the nest being fed by their mum when SS came to take the remaining fish away to feed himself. The chicks were visibly full. They were toppling around the nest like skittles, bulging crops at the top of their throats and fat rounded full bellies at the other end.

The next thing one of the chicks fell over and couldn’t get back up. It lay upside down kicking its legs out like a stranded turtle, just as the rain began in earnest again. Mrs O, sprang into action, not to right the poor thing but to sit on top, in an attempt to shield it from the rain.

One of the other chicks cuddled in almost on top of the flattened one, and then the third chick dived under mum to further complicate the muddle. Mrs O shuffled and wriggled about, which was not surprising, as the little one beneath her had kicked its legs up into her side. She held firm, and they all stayed below in a warm huddle, with their mum straddled across them to keep them warm and dry.

We were seriously worried that the upside down chick would come to harm, particularly as Mrs O seems so clumsy around her delicate, newly-hatched young. She had curled her talons out of harm’s way, but she wasn’t exactly gentle in manoeuvring them underneath her. Perhaps she was in a panic to keep the almost naked chicks from getting wet, as they only have a smattering of down covering their little bodies, and are not waterproof yet.

The next day revealed that all chicks were alive and well, and in upright positions, as they formed a queue to be fed. As they lined up, we noticed that there is a size difference that can be seen from the youngest chick to the eldest chick at this stage.

Although the three were hatched on consecutive days, one of the chicks is a fraction smaller than the other two, and weaker. Time will tell if it catches up with its brothers or sisters once it begins to grow.

They are very cute to watch, with their dumpy bodies which can barely be supported on their skinny legs. They use their wing buds as little arms to help as they clamber about. They all have the trademark osprey eye-stripe already, with the smallest chick having the most prominent stripe.

10 days old

Change happens rapidly as they begin to grow, and next week we can expect to see tiny feathers to begin to cover their bodies, and giving them some colour to depart from the drab grey uniforms of down at the moment.

Snuggling under mum to keep warm and dry is a far nicer experience for these chicks than last year’s young, who were suffering in the scorching heat of the hot summer sun at this point. So, despite the rain, this cooler summer that we are having is not all bad if you’re an osprey!

Watch the latest highlights from the nest at the Forestry & Land Scotland Channel.