Young pretenders and old friends

If you’ve been following the latest news from the various Osprey projects around the UK over the past few days then you’ll know that several young Ospreys have been really stirring things up. At Rutland four different three year-olds have been intruding at the established nests as they look for a territory of their own. At Dyfi, two Scottish Ospreys – both colour-ringed as nestlings in 2010 – have, quite literally, fought for the resident male’s attentions and, at the Lake District, a four year-old female originally from Inverness-shire, has ousted the female who was about to lay eggs. So what’s going?

Well, what we’re seeing at all these nests is actually quite common in the Osprey world. If you’re a young Osprey looking to breed for the first time, then your first port of call is an occupied nest site. Far better to try to take over an established nest, than build your own from scratch. Admittedly, if you come up against an established breeding bird, then you have little chance of ousting them, but as events in the Lake District show, if you pit yourself against a bird of a similar age, then you might just have a chance. Roy Dennis has been recording this behaviour in Scotland since the 1960s and now, thanks to the superb nest cameras that we have around the UK, many people have been given a fascinating insight into the dramas that unfold at many Osprey nests each spring.

12(10) – the latest three-year-old Osprey to return to Rutland

What all this shows is that things are really looking up for Ospreys in the UK. To have young birds fighting for nests in England and Wales, demonstrates how things have changed in recent years. Twenty years ago it would have been almost unthinkable that this would be happening south of the Scottish border but thanks to pro-active conservation – the provision of artificial nests and the Rutland translocation – it’s becoming the norm each April.

For us at Rutland Water it’s particularly exciting that two of the birds involved in the recent dramas are individuals that we identified in West Africa. Over the course of three trips to The Gambia and Senegal we have identified almost 50 different colour-ringed birds, including numerous individuals from Scotland. One of them was white KL. We first saw KL on 22 January 2011 when she was perched on Ile d’Oisseaux in the Sine-Saloum Delta in Senegal. This idyllic, sandy island is a superb place for Ospreys to spend the winter. Apart from the odd fisherman, there are few people to disturb the birds and the delta’s shallow water provides rich hunting grounds. On our first visit there we saw 35 different Ospreys in just one morning. That day KL was tucking into a newly-caught fish, surrounded by Turnstones and with Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters zipping back and forth overhead.

KL, eating a fish at the Sine-Saloum delta in Senegal, 22nd January 2011

Amazingly, when we returned a year later, we saw her again; sitting on almost exactly the same piece of sand. Now two-and-a-half years old, she would have returned to the UK previous summer. In all likelihood, her wanderings around the northern part of the UK would have taken her to the Lake District as she scouted out potential nesting sites. Knowledge that she has now put to good use.

Another of the Scottish Ospreys that we identified in West Africa was white UR. Originally heralding from a nest in Aberdeenshire in 2010, UR was one of several juvenile birds that we identified at Tanji marsh in The Gambia during our visit in January 2011. Juvenile Ospreys have a tough time when they first arrive in West Africa. They are often chased away from the best fishing sites by established adult birds, forcing them to wander over a large area before eventually settling down. When we identified UR at Tanji on 25th January 2011, it was too early to say whether the site would prove to be her future winter home. She seemed to be holding her own against the ten or so adult birds wintering there, but there was time for that to change. As it turns out, she did stay there. Earlier this year project volunteer, Chris Wood, identified her at Tanji again. Like KL, she would have returned to the UK at least once in the period between the two sightings.

Adult Ospreys at Tanji Marsh, The Gambia

The next positive sighting of UR came yesterday, some 2800 miles north, at Cors Dyfi. She landed at the nest before being chased off by one of two females who are currently competing for the affections of Monty, the resident male. Who knows where she will eventually end up. Perhaps in Wales, maybe somewhere in England, or maybe closer to her Aberdeenshire home? Whatever the case, its great to know another Osprey has returned to swell the ever-increasing UK population. And its even better when the Osprey in question, is an old friend.

3 responses to “Young pretenders and old friends”

  1. Linda Jones

    A really interesting update, Tim. Thank you. It’s great to establish these important links between the UK and West Africa.

  2. Buster

    Things are certainly looking good as you say,Tim. The Cors Dyfi female Nora not returned home hence the interest of these females. Blue 12 is the latest visitor

  3. Mike Simmonds

    Tim, what great news and anyone watching the camera at Dyfi will have had an incredible insight into the ‘scraps’ which took place. Murphy’s Law of course that the system went down in the midst of the battle!.