This is starting to get silly. Just when we thought things were looking up for 9F, we’ve had a day of what can only be described as bizarre behaviour from her father, 5R.
Having put 9F back on the nest yesterday morning, the young female showed very little inclination to move anywhere else for the rest of the day. She looked healthy enough, but it was clear that the stress of the previous 24 hours had made her reluctant to attempt to fly again.
This morning, though, things were very different. When I arrived in Waderscrape hide at 7:00am to join volunteer Mike Hunter, she had already flown to one of the artificial t perches at the western end of the bay and was sitting next to her mother. Little changed for the next hour, but then 8F flew to the t perch to join his sister. In doing so he seemed to panic her, because, clearly startled at his arrival, she hopped off the perch. She circled and then turned to head back towards the nest. As she did 5R – who up until this point had sitting quietly on the other t perch – took off and headed towards her like a rocket. Like Friday afternoon, this was real aggression. He dive-bombed his daughter and then chased her back towards the nest. Fortunately 9F was now better able to deal with the attack and after a circuit of the bay, she landed skilfully back on the t perch. Once she had done so, 5R circled once and then landed next to her. It was like nothing had happened.
Another hour passed with little activity from either chick; but their persistent food-begging suggested they were getting hungry. Eventually 5R went off in search of a meal. Once he had gone, a gentle breeze began to pick up and this seem to spark the two youngsters into life. 8F, who has now been on the wing for nearly a week, has become a competent flier and began to enjoy himself – making several dives into the water. OK he wasn’t even close to catching a fish, but his skillful aerial maneuvers were great to watch. Perhaps encouraged by watching her brother, 9F began to make numerous short flights backwards and forwards in the bay, too. In the space of an hour she must have made over a dozen increasingly competent flights. After what she had been through on Friday, it was encouraging to see.
It was just as well 9F was becoming stronger in the air; as soon as 5R arrived back at the nest – without a fish – he began chasing his daughter again. Like earlier he ignored her while she was perched, but as soon as she took off, he went after her with real aggression. This continued for another fifteen minutes. Each time 9F took off, 5R chased her. Bizarrely, though, as soon as she landed he tended to relent – landing next to her on the French perch above the nest and then actually on the nest too (see video below). It was noticeable, too, that it was only 9F who provoked this response. 5R barely even looked up whenever 8F took to the air. Soon 9F realised that staying on the nest was a much more sensible option and she remained there for the rest of the morning.
By mid-afternoon, with 5R still fish-less, the juveniles started to become active again. 8F made one very long gliding flight out towards Lax Hill and then 9F set off on a shorter circuit around the bay. By now we knew what was going to come next. Within seconds of the female taking off, 5R had left his perch and was chasing her again. Like earlier, 9F got the message, and returned to the nest.
At 5:30pm 5R went fishing again; and this time he was successful. Half an hour later he returned to bay with a small roach and delivered it straight to the nest, where 9F was waiting. She ate all the fish and 5R showed no aggression at all. Later on though, when she went for another fly, he chased her again. It was now clear that the only time 9F was able to fly for any length of time, was when 5R was away from the bay. Unlike her mate, 9F’s mother showed no signs of aggression whatsoever.
So what is going on? Well, to be honest, we don’t know. It is now clear that the aggression 5R showed on Friday when 9F first flew, was not a case of mistaken identity. His behaviour today shows that, for whatever reason, he is objecting to the sight of the young female flying in the bay. This seems totally inexplicable, especially as his mate acting normally with her daughter. All we can hope is that, eventually, 5R will stop doing it.
There was some positive news this evening. Volunteer Chris Ditchburn – who has been monitoring the nest – said that after 7pm both juveniles had been flying while 5R was present. So perhaps he is starting to relent? We certainly hope so.