It is amazing to think that a pair of Ospreys can breed together for a decade or more, and yet never see each other in the winter. As juveniles, Ospreys head south to Africa alone. Once there they spend the next eighteen months or so searching for a suitable site to call their winter home – somewhere where there is plenty of fish, but crucially a site where they are accepted by the regular wintering adult Ospreys. We of course were lucky enough to observe this behaviour on our recent trip to West Africa http://rutlandospreys.blogspot.com/2011/01/west-africa-week-2.html. Once they’ve found a suitable site – anywhere from Mauritania to southern Guniea (or maybe even Spain), each Osprey will return to exactly the same place each winter – often the same tree! This means that by the time the birds pair up with a mate for the first time, they already have an established wintering site, which in all likelihood will be hundreds if not thousands of miles from that of their mate.
So when 03(97) returned to Site B on 20th March this year, in all probability, it was seven long months since he had last seen his mate. As you will know if you have been following the website closely over the last couple of weeks, 03 was joined by an unringed female for a few days last week, but what we were really hoping for was that the female 03 has raised five chicks with in the past two years, would return.
And that’s exactly what happened on Saturday morning. At 11:05 a female Osprey appeared from the south and dropped onto the nest. 03 obviously recognised her because as she arrived he took off and began a spectacular display above the nest.
John Wright, who was watching nearby, immediately identified her as 03’s mate. But John wasn’t the only one. Suddenly there were two male Ospreys in the sky; 03 and 09(98). 09 has been returning to Rutland every year since 2000, but is still yet to breed. If you’re a regular visitor to the website, you’ll know that he has had his fair share of flirtations with the Site B female. In 2009, with 03 struggling to catch enough fish to feed his family, the female regularly accepted fish from 09. She did the same thing last summer.
John expected 09 would attempt to entice the female towards his own territory, but instead he did the opposite; dive bombing 03 and the female again and again. We have never seen anything like it. For the next forty minutes he continued to attack the female and 03, knocking them off the nest and chasing them with unbelievable aggression.
Eventually 03 gained the upper hand and saw off 09. It had been a remarkable hour though.
Once 09 had retreated to his own territory, 03 and his mate returned to the nest and mated several times. After a winter apart, they were reunited once again.