Four’s a crowd

If you were watching the webcam yesterday afternoon, you might have thought your eyes were deceiving you. Not three, but four juveniles on the nest. So what was going on? Volunteer Ken Davies takes up the story…

Sunday, 31st July, 6.15pm : Just back after the usual Sunday afternoon shift at the Manton Bay nest. Did I say ‘usual’ ? Well, delete that, and start again……Just back after an incredible and amazing experience at the Manton Bay nest, shared by ‘hidefuls’ of people  with crowds all afternoon in the Visitor Centre watching the action on the big screen…..

No indication at first of what is to come. All three juveniles are at various points in the Bay, taking occasional flights and changing positions regularly. Nice chat in the hide, plenty of families with keen and enthusiastic children happy to see the Osprey family. A typical late July Sunday  afternoon in Manton Bay….Barrie and I anticipate a busy but fairly routine afternoon.

Oh, wait a minute, there’s another Osprey coming in ~ probably one of the adults back from a fly-around visiting the other nests. Wait while it gets closer and we can find out who it is. Hang on, there’s another one with it….and a third one not far behind! Our three juveniles are still where they were, so that’s six in view at the same time. Right, now who’s who? Well ~ and this where we take our reputation and credibility into our own hands ~ one is definitely an adult, large and familiar-looking. That’s right, she’s the Manton Bay female, who has been away for two hours. Surprisingly though, she doesn’t stop, but goes right over the nest and disappears to the south! Doubts creep in, but we stick with our original ID ~ it was our female for sure. The second stranger is a juvenile ~ in flight the speckled plumage and pale fringing on each feather is clearly visible ~ but who? As for the third visitor, he (we think he is a he) disappears before we can really get to grips with him. So let’s concentrate on this juvenile :  blue ring ~ not helpful : they’ve all got blue rings! Vital that we get a number if he lands. Unfortunately he heads back out over the main reservoir, circles and soars for a while with another larger Osprey (our female again) before alighting on a perch near Goldeneye hide, opposite the Visitor Centre. Too far away for us down here in the hide, but maybe someone in the centre can get a number on that ring?

Minutes pass. Our three juveniles have relaxed again after the multiple intrusion into their tranquil bay. Then the two distant Ospreys are in the air again, coming our way, vaguely interacting, but nothing too distinct or aggressive. Closer and closer. The juveniles are tense again. The intruding juvenile is right over the nest now, hovering, looking down, surely not considering a landing? The adult female has almost seemed to have escorted him back, rather than drive him away. What is going on here? She flies over the nest, and out of sight to the south again, while the juvenile, incredibly, lands on the perch close to the nest containing two of the ‘legal’ tenants. At last we can read his blue ring : 33 ~ the Site B juvenile! Missing for over 24 hours earlier in the week, now obviously away from home again (as the watchers at Site B confirm). His nest is away from the reservoir, so he has not had the same experience of water as the others have ~ and he is not used to other young Ospreys! But here he is, bold and fearless, just a few metres away from another nest and three young Ospreys a few days older than himself! His father (03(97)) is the grandfather of the other three ~ which makes him their uncle, doesn’t it? Get the family tree out!

But we’ve barely time to take all this in before he takes a quick flight and is actually on the nest itself! The radio sputters into life as the Visitor Centre sees him on their screen ~ ‘33 is on the nest, please confirm’. This is unprecedented. Not so much ‘unusual’ ( see previous diary entry) as unheard of! A juvenile lands on another pair’s nest and is tolerated by the occupants. Admittedly his posture is different ~ he knows he is somewhere he shouldn’t be and looks slightly ill at ease, but that’s all. There are no moves to oust him.

Visitors and volunteers alike are full of questions : Why don’t the others drive him away? What would happen if 5R came back with a fish? We don’t know. We have never witnessed this behaviour before? We’ll have to wait and see. We keep the communication channels with the Visitor Centre open, and tell them exactly what happens, as it happens. The centre is packed, with crowds around the screen. Oh, and I nearly forgot…..at some point in all this action, a Marsh Harrier comes over the Bay from the right. It’s a juvenile ~ tawny head and rich brown plumage ~ and it has a good look before spiralling up to a huge height, where it is joined by a Hobby. The two cause a momentary distraction, during which, of course, the juvenile Ospreys move around and we have to start again. ‘Which one is that flying?’ ‘Where has 33 gone?’ ‘I’ve lost 22 now’…..and so on. Thank you to all the visitors who helped out in getting some order back into proceedings! We think we’ve identified all four juveniles again, when two of them decide to practise their developing fishing skills and start flying, hovering and even plunging (I can’t call it ‘diving’) into the water. One of them is 33, who starts circling just to the right of the stone bund before making several splashes into the reservoir. No catches, but it’s only a matter of time. Suddenly he is being chased back to the nest by an adult, and it’s 5R, back after a long absence from the Bay.  He doesn’t seem to mind that 33 has gone back to the nest, where he sits food-begging with his new playmates! 5R resumes fishing and soon catches a medium-sized roach just by the bund, where fish are plentiful just now. He takes it to his perch back in the bay, before delivering it to the nest, which now contains FOUR noisy juveniles, and guess who is the first to grab the fish from the adult’s talons? That’s right, it’s the bold and errant 33! He has it for just a few moments before 22 snatches it ~ 22 gives 33 a couple of sharp pecks when he tries to retrieve it! As far as we can see, 22 eats the whole of this fish himself, which leaves three hungry ospreylets still calling for food….and, oh yes, Mother has also arrived back and is on the perch! So SIX Ospreys are in view again….what did I say about a normal late July Sunday afternoon? Check out John Wright’s photos of the action – and also the video link.

We spare a moment for the watchers at Site B, who have not seen an Osprey all afternoon. The juvenile is here, the female has not been seen all day, and 03(97) has obviously gone for a ‘boys day out’ somewhere. Our hide down here empties for a while, but quickly fills again with a new contingent of watchers, who need to be brought up to date with everything.’I thought this family had three young’, says a newly arrived visitor, so we start to explain again. Sandpipers, Sedge Warblers and Sand Martins provide temporary diversion, but then 5R is up and fishing again in the same area just beyond the bund. This time the roach he catches is much larger and he flies right past us with it, to the delight of several photographers, who proudly show us their fantastic action shots. In the nest, four excited juveniles tussle with one another for the fish, and for a while it’s hard to see who is actually eating amid a flurry of wings, heads and beaks. We think 32 is tucking in when his Mother intervenes and takes the now somewhat reduced fish to the perch to enjoy some of it herself. Incredibly, the first juvenile to join her there is not one of her own, but the amazing 33. He stands next to her, hoping for a nibble or a proferred morsel. It was only five days ago, on his home territory at Site B, when I watched him shuffling close to his Father in a very similar manner (see previous entry). This female does not object to him, but just continues feeding. The photos below show the action as it happened.

Time has gone so quickly, and it’s almost time for our relief team to arrive. Barrie tries to bring them up to speed, but where to start? Suffice to say that as we leave at 5.00, 33 is still there, still eating from the remains of the fish, and looking very much at home in his new surroundings. Will his parents expect him home tonight? Is he going to stay the night? Is it a sleepover (thanks for that Laura!)? Only the next few hours will tell. As we are arranging our gear at the end of the track, John Wright (Field Officer) comes along. He has observed the whole afternoon’s action from the next hide down, and agrees that it was a terrific display of Osprey behaviour. Probably, he says, this sort of thing happens regularly at Scottish Osprey nests, and he reminds us how last year juveniles from Site N came visiting here in the Bay. This nest, as Tim has said before, is obviously the ‘des res’ of the region, and the other Ospreys want to come and look and stay for a while. And as our loose ‘colony’ continues to develop, such observations may become more common as territories around the reservoir overlap. Let’s hope so!

Back at the Visitor Centre, Paul, John and Michelle are already going through the video footage, picking out the highlights for future use. I need to go home and get these notes done before they get even more mixed up in my head! Hope John’s photos make things clearer!  August 1st tomorrow ~ the last full month of Osprey action. Enjoy every moment…..(Oh, and the Osprey Family Fun Day on Tuesday too) !

And it wasn’t just 5R who was fishing – John managed to capture some great photos of 33 and 32 having a go themselves. As John’s photos show, both juveniles have definitely got the right idea!

32 fishing in Manton Bay

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2 responses to “Four’s a crowd”

  1. Lynda Berry

    Ken – wonderful report and so swiftly written – lucky you to have been there to witness it. Aren’t we learning so much – we’ll both need to be on our mettle next year, but let’s not think about next year with so much going on right now. Absolutely wonderfully told – thank you.

  2. Claire

    Fabulous blog post! Amazing action, what star bird 33 is. We were up on Saturday, typical of us tom pick the ‘wrong’ day.