In recent years we have come to expect the unexpected with Ospreys. However, over the past fourteen summers the one site where we could almost guarantee that chicks would fledge successfully, has been Site B. This spring normal service appeared to have been resumed. As usual 03 was the first Osprey back in Rutland and he was joined by his mate of the past six summers on 24th March. A couple of weeks later, on 9th April, incubation began. It was like clockwork. Suddenly, though, everything changed.
On 12th April an intruding Osprey appeared at the nest. It alighted nearby and was identified as 51(11), a young male who had returned to Rutland for the first time in 2014. Last summer 51 was a frequent visitor to Site B but 03 usually gave him short shrift; chasing him away from the nest each time he ventured too close. For this reason we thought nothing of this initial intrusion. Fast forward 72 hours to Wednesday afternoon, though, and things looked very different. Amazingly 51 appeared to have ousted 03 from the nest.
Every time 03 tried to return he was chased off by 51. Not only that but 51 was becoming increasingly daring: bringing sticks and other nesting material to the nest; and even attempting to mate with the female.
On Thursday morning I was at Horn Mill Trout Farm and watched in amazement as 51 chased 03 round the fish farm and across the surrounding fields. There appeared no doubt that 51 was a fitter, stronger bird and had the measure of 03. After more than three hours of chasing 51 relented, allowing 03 to take refuge in a tree at the fish farm. He was clearly exhausted, but eventually mustered the energy to catch a trout in the pond in front of the photographic hide. Back at Site B, 51 returned to the nest triumphant, displaying high above the nest for fifteen minutes. Having finally descended down to the nest, he attempted to mate with the female. She rebuffed his advances, but did allow him to perch on the nest with her, and even watched as he nest scraped: a sure sign that he was winning her over.
By Friday morning it was status quo. 03 was again absent from the nest and 51 continued to nest build. The female was also spending less time sitting on the nest: it was clear that she was beginning to give up on the eggs. Having only eaten part of a fish on Tuesday evening she must’ve been very hungry too. 51 eventually responded to her incessant food-begging by catching a large trout in the reservoir. He brought it back to the nest and begun tucking into his catch. Then, just as it seemed he was preparing to take it to the nest, he dropped it! The female would remain hungry.
Meanwhile at Horn Mill 03 had caught another trout in the photographic pond and was eating it on a nearby willow tree. Having been chased away from Site B, the fish at Horn Mill were at least enabling him to recuperate.
With his strength restored 03 made another attempt to win his nest back. He appeared high over Site B, announcing his presence with a spectacular aerial display. 51 took off and the two birds headed south together. They didn’t return for more than an hour, and that allowed another contender to the enter the fray. 30(10) is a five-year old male who fledged from Manton Bay nest in 2010 – the first year that 5R(04) and Maya bred together. With 51 and 03 away squabbling, 30 landed close to the nest. Without a nest of his own he obviously saw this as his chance.
Eventually 03 returned from the south and headed for the nest. Moments later a second bird – 51 -appeared and dive-bombed him again. Cue more chasing over and around the nest. Eventually the three birds disappeared off to the east and the female was left in peace. By dark all three birds were still away.
On Saturday morning 03 was back at Horn Mill. He caught a trout and then ate most of the fish on a telegraph pole nearby. At 9am he headed back towards Site B and again displayed as he arrived at the nest. He almost lost his fish to a daring Red Kite, but with 51 away, 03 took his chance. He landed on the nest with the female and she snatched the fish from him. By now it was clear that at least one egg had been smashed and the others were irretrievably damaged. Although the female had continue to incubate them, 03’s behaviour confirmed that they were no longer viable. Under normal circumstances he would have settled down to incubate, but instead he stood on the edge of the nest, showing no inclination to sit on the eggs. He was clearly nervous but there was still no sign of the other birds. The female finished the tail end of the fish and returned to the nest. Watching the two birds together it seemed almost inconceivable what had taken place.
Another hour or so passed before the peace was suddenly shattered. A high-pitched intruder call ‘chip, chip’ from 03 alerted us to not one but two incoming Ospreys. It was 51 and 30. The birds made a bee-line for the nest and 30 dive-bombed so ferociously that 03 ended up on his back with talons raised. It was precursor to almost eight hours of fighting between the three birds. 03 would keep trying to return to the nest, but each time he was dive-bombed by either 51 or 30. The aerial acrobatics – diving, swooping and chasing – were spectacular and not necessarily all directed at 03. 30 and 51 were chasing each other too. It was difficult to keep track of what was happening but it seemed that, if anything, 30 was the strongest bird.
By evening 51 was back at Site B with the female but 30 and 03 showed no signs of letting up. The battle had merely relocated to Horn Mill where the birds were chasing each other over the ponds. We had no idea what the conclusion would be.
At 6am next morning all was quiet. The female was perched close to the nest but there was no sign of any of the males. Jamie Weston reported that 03 had caught a fish at Horn Mill and was eating it within sight of the photographic hide. After the exertions of the previous day, this was hardly surprising: he had been chased by 51 and 30 for over eight hours. Thankfully, the fish at Horn Mill were giving him the chance to recuperate.
Having regained his strength 03 ventured back to the nest and landed beside the female. Again he seemed nervous, but it was several hours before 51 re-appeared again. He arrived from the south and immediately dive-bombed 03 on the nest. The two birds disappeared out of sight. The fight was back on. Or was it?
Unlike the previous day 03 re-appeared soon afterwards and, in response to his mate’s food-begging, he flew to Horn Mill and caught another trout. This time he flew straight back to the nest and alighted on the T perch. Half an hour later 03 was still there when, suddenly, 51 was back. He dive-bombed 03, making him drop the fish! The female would go hungry again. Once again the two birds disappeared from view.
Yesterday morning (Monday) we expected the battle between 03 and 51 to re-commence. Instead 03 arrived back at the nest with another Horn Mill trout. At 8:30 he to flew to the nest and the female eagerly devoured the fish: she must have been very hungry. At 9:10 two intruding Ospreys appeared overhead, prompting 03 to fly to the nest and ‘chip’ loudly, with wings spread. He then took off and pursued the intruding birds away from the nest.
Over the course of the day 51 made several more visits to the nest, but he was far less aggressive than previous days; circling overhead but showing none of the aggression of previous days. Instead he spent most of the day perched in Burley Fishponds in the North Arm at Rutland Water. At last, everything seemed far more settled at the nest and 03 and the female mated several times. Having lost their clutch of eggs this early in the season, there is every chance that the female will re-lay, as long as 51 and 30 stay away, that is.
As for 03, he seems to have withstood the most vociferous and prolonged attempts to oust him that we have ever witnessed. At four and five years old respectively, 51 and 30 are in their prime and on several occasions we thought that 03’s days at Site B were numbered. Instead it seems that by being able to retreat to Horn Mill Trout Farm with its readily-available supply of fish, 03 was able to regain his strength and fight for the nest. Things may yet change again, but yesterday does suggest that 03 has put the young pretenders in their place. One thing we can be sure of, though, 03’s fifteenth summer at Site B has been far from predictable so far!
Thanks to John Wright for all his fantastic photos.