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An away day . . .

As the season draws on it’s the luck of the draw as to whether a shift will be exciting with plenty of action from the whole family or whether maybe only one or two will be around the nest area, sitting doing nothing.  We approached Site B early this Saturday morning with some trepidation, wondering who we would encounter; the sky was clear, there was a slight breeze, a heavy dew under foot and it was chilly. When Michelle had phoned the previous day to confirm our shift, she had told us that 33(11) had disappeared at 11am on Thursday and had not returned until 1pm on Friday. (See Tim’s report).   We closed the gate into the hide field and I instantly spotted an Osprey circling over the nest but with the sun behind the nest, it was merely a silhouette. In the distance I could see another Osprey flying South.  We cautiously made our way to the hide and still the bird circled over the nest and then disappeared, dropping down behind the wood.  We opened up the hide, set up the telescopes, headed up the report sheets and kept watching. We scanned all the regular perches – empty – and discussed the fact that the next two hours may be very quiet.  We had glimpsed one Osprey, but as to who it was, was anyone’s guess. 

It was decidedly chilly so an early start was made on the hot chocolate and jam doughnuts.  Feeling slightly warmer, I began to scan the wood more thoroughly this time and as I looked towards the far righthand end of the wood, discovered an Osprey sitting in the ash trees. This was a favourite perch of one of the juveniles in 2010, I should have remembered.  Initially I thought that it was 03(97) but then doubted this assumption – this bird had a slight colouring across the chest.  He then flew up and landed in the nest, food begging very loudly – it was of course 33(11) and he had seen his father flying in with a small trout.  He had probably been watching us with envy as we enjoyed our breakfast.

He instantly grabbed the fish from 03 and flew to the small oak with it.  A few moments later the female appeared from the wood with a large clump of dried grass and landed at 33’s side.  He started food begging very loudly and was definitely making the case that he was not going to swap.  She left the grass at his side and perched in a small dead tree close by and watched as her offspring hungrily devoured the trout, every last morsel.  It was very amusing to watch at one stage; he was holding the fish just below the head and once he had eaten the head, he tried to move his foot further back along the fish.  He could not release the fish however and was swinging it first in front of the branch and then behind, wobbling precariously as he did so – he was extremely lucky not to drop it.  We did wonder why, with no siblings to hassle him for the fish, he hadn’t remained at the nest to eat it.

Towards the end of the shift Tim phoned to see what had been happening; having spent a worrying Thursday night and Friday morning searching for 33(11), he was relieved that the whole family were all ‘present and correct’.  Apparently even 03(97) and the female had behaved in a manner that would suggest that they too were worried about 33, perching up some distance from the nest, the female hanging on to the fish that she had caught.  It must have been a long night for them too.

Having finished the fish, 33 flew to a nearby ash and was soon joined by 03, the female remaining in the dead tree close by.  33 had not left the site since his adventure and his parents were also staying close to him.  I wonder, with the absence of any siblings, if he had just got carried away playing with the buzzard and found himself miles away – one of the many questions that will forever remain unanswered.

Lindsay and I too found ourselves miles away on Wednesday and Thursday.  We joined the steady stream of Rutland Water ‘pilgrims’ visiting Cors Dyfi Osprey Project to take a look at their new family, the adult female of course being our very own Rutland 03(08).  For me it was fairly emotional to see her once again; it is always a joy when a bird returns for the first time when last you saw it as a juvenile.  We had both watched over the 2008 family and had seen them all at very close hand when they were ringed.  Sadly  01(08) had disappeared ten days after fledging (one of the reasons why everyone was so worried when 33(11) went AWOL on Wednesday).

It was extremely interesting to see another Wildlife Trust project and the enthusiasm and dedication at Cors Dyfi was amazing – Emyr Evans has a wonderful team supporting him.  I mentioned earlier ‘luck of the draw’ – we were so lucky to just catch the tail end of the first juvenile fledging. He is named Einion, (Dulas and Leri being his siblings, male and female respectively). They are named after rivers. It was an exceptionally hot day so we made our way to the hide where it was somewhat cooler, with a breeze blowing through. We watched him make several more flights, only once overshooting when he landed on Leri’s back in the nest. Volunteers in the hide and in the centre, Maria, Carol, Tim and John voiced their acknowledgement of Rutland Osprey Project’s contribution to this happy event.

We spent a very pleasant evening at The Black Lion in Derwenlas with Emyr, Janine, his partner and Officer at the Project, Alwyn, also a Project Officer and Gwen, a volunteer. They are having an extremely exciting season with the first breeding pair of Ospreys in the Dyfi valley for over 400 years.  And for the second time this season, I was fortunate enough to see the first juvenile fledge from a nest, an auspicious one at that; a first in the Dyfi Valley since the 17th century.

I’m sure there will be many ‘away days’ in future years between Rutland and Montgomeryshire – annual pilgrimages.

33 goes on an adventure – and has us all worried

Having been on the wing for more than two weeks, this year’s chicks – or to be more accurate, juveniles – are now getting more and more adventurous. It is great to see them growing in confidence. On Thursday morning this week myself, Michelle and the group we were leading on an early morning guided walk, enjoyed fantastic views of 22(11) repeatedly splashing into the water in Manton Bay – not really full-blown fishing attempts, more playful practising. Whatever the case, it was great to watch. The fact that the Manton Bay nest is surrounded by water is certainly an advantage for the juveniles – the youngsters at the other nests all have to fly some distance to get to the nearest water. There is no doubt that the Manton Bay nest is a des-res for the local Ospreys!

Talking of flying some distance from the nest, we had a worrying 24 hours on Thursday and into Friday. By the middle of the week, 33(11) was starting to venture away from the Site B nest for the first time. Like all young Ospreys this is an important time for 33 – these exploratory flights will be helping him to learn about his home-range – all valuable information for when, we hope, he returns in two years’ time. Despite the fact that he has only been on the wing for a couple of weeks he is already remarkably skilful in the air – often tussling with the young buzzards which have recently fledged from a neighbouring nest. After one such tussle on Thursday morning 33 and one of the buzzards began circling together over the nest. With apparently no effort they quickly gained height and drifted off to the north. And that was the last we saw of the young male.

By 8pm 33 still hadn’t returned and I drove to Site B to join up with volunteer Mick Lewin who was on duty at the nest. We were worried. Yes, 33 was a strong flier, but it was very unusual for him to be away this long. At this stage juvenile Ospreys are still very much dependent on their father for food and usually return to the nest as soon as hunger gets the better of them. So where was 33? 03 returned to the nest with a trout at about 9pm, but still there was no sign of the young male. By dark we were really worried. We have lost young birds at Site B at about this time in the season before and it looked like it had happened again.

Next morning I joined Dennis and Sally on the 6-8am shift and still there was no sign of 33. At 8 o’clock the female arrived back at the nest with a large trout – the first fish we have seen her bring back to the nest this year – but 33 remained AWOL. Rather than eating the fish at the nest, she flew north with it. It appeared that she was looking for 33. I followed in the vehicle, scouring the farmland to the north of Site B for any signs. But there was nothing.

Sadly it seemed that we probably wouldn’t see 33 again. I asked Clive who had taken over from Dennis and Sally to ring me if the young male turned up, but I wasn’t holding out much hope.

By lunchtime he still wasn’t back, but at 1 o’clock my phone rang. It was Sue at Site B. “A juvenile has just landed back on the nest!”. Amazingly, after 26 hours away, 33 was back. What a relief! He was clearly very hungry and food-begged incessantly until 03 delivered a fish to the nest. 33 snatched it from him and took it to a nearby oak tree to eat it. He remained there until dark – wherever he had been he was evidently very tired!

We will never know exactly where 33 went, but to be absent for more than a day suggests that it was more than just a short flight to the reservoir. He was obviously exploring much further a field. Whatever the case, it was great to see him back!


Even more pike…

In Manton Bay the chicks are going from strength to strength when it comes to flying as they are starting to spend more time away from the nest after two weeks on the wing. They are even becoming more adventurous when it comes to dinner! The chicks now have no problem feeding themselves when 5R delivers a half eaten fish but their eating habits reached a whole new level a few days ago when 5R brought in a live pike…not for the faint hearted! As you can see in the video, one of the chicks had no objection to the meal and quickly snatched it from his father.

Yesterday morning we also saw the youngest chick, 22(11) half-heartedly practising his fishing technique by diving in to the water feet first…like father like son? Lets hope so!

Unusual Behaviour at Site B ~ Numbers 1,2 and 3

Tuesday July 26th : Morning 8.00- 12.00 : Week 19 : Cloudy, cold, 13 degrees C.

Barrie and I arrive at the watch point to find Hannah there. She’s just had a close encounter with a fox! We chat for a while before she leaves for a day at Chatsworth. She reports it’s ‘All quiet on the Osprey Front’.

But not for long! The splendid juvenile 33(11) starts calling for food, until his father 03 can stand it no longer and retreats, first to a more distant perch, and then away over our heads, away towards the reservoir. Breakfast is on the way, just be patient! 33 keeps up the noise, even pursuing his mother when she flies off to collect a few twigs and leaves for the nest. He watches in disgust as she drops her bundle in the nest, as if to say :  ‘What’s this? I can’t eat that!’ Then something strange happens (‘Unusual Behaviour No. 1’) ~ the juvenile flies over towards us, swoops down low over the field and scoops up in his talons a clump of dried grass, which he delivers to the nest! He repeats this behaviour again just a minute or two later. Is he copying his mother’s actions? Or in the absence of water here, practising skimming and trailing his feet as we have seen the Manton Bay juveniles do? We are still discussing this behaviour when we suddenly realise we have an intruding Osprey in front of us! All three (our female, our juvenile, and the intruder) twist and turn in the air over the wood for a minute or two, before the intruder heads off south. We could not get a ring colour on the intruder, but he had the general look of a male, and we did notice that he had a slight ‘nick’ in his left wing, where one of the feathers had either broken off or was missing. That might help with identification later. Once again, we are in discussion over these events when voices crackle over the radio. It’s John, our colleague on watch in Manton Bay, and he is describing the arrival of an intruding Osprey there too, just minutes after ours and in exactly the same direction as ours was last heading! Could it be the same one? Possibly the nick in the wing will be a helpful identification factor.

Any such musings are interrupted once again by the arrival of 03(97) with the most delicious-looking large rainbow trout, its multi-coloured flanks glinting in the light as he flies around the nest with it before alighting on the perch below. The trout is very much alive and wriggling. The juvenile, who had disappeared following the intrusion, is suddenly back on the nest and loudly demanding that the fish be delivered to him. 03 obliges after a few minutes of feeding, by which time the fish, though still largely intact, has ceased its struggles. Then (and this is ‘Unusual Behaviour No. 2’ of the morning) 03 starts to feed the juvenile with small pieces of fish delicately torn off ~ even though this bird is fully fledged and perfectly capable of feeding itself! Now we know some male Ospreys do occasionally directly feed their young, but this session lasts almost half an hour, and 03 takes hardly any himself! Meanwhile, the female stands nearby on the nest, not taking part, but looking on as if to say ‘Should I be doing that?’ Eventually, she takes interest in the fish and we watch as all three of them start tugging and pulling at it in something approaching a feeding frenzy. 03 soon tires of this, and takes the fish (now about half its original size) to a favourite position on a branch at the top of a small oak tree. We have terrific views through our telescopes.  All is quiet for a while, but then 33 decides he’s hungry again and flies to join his father on the oak tree. 03 is not ready to share at this point, so the juvenile assumes a hunched, submissive pose and just sits on the branch next to his father. He gradually relaxes and seems to ‘drop off’ for a while ~ his head droops and we can see the ‘nictating membrane’ flicking over his eye. Then he’s alert again, shuffling closer to his parent, who is still feeding on the fish. At last the older bird relents…and (‘Unusual Behaviour No. 3’) starts to feed his offspring again, on the branch at the top of a tree, well away from the nest! Neither of us has witnessed a juvenile being fed in this manner before, away from the nest.

So much to talk about! We are still deep in discussion when our relief team Bob and Norman arrive. In response to our list of Unusual Behaviours, Norman reminds us that, way back in the translocation days (1996 – 2001), eight or nine week old young Ospreys recently released from their hacking pens on Lax Hill were sometimes observed swooping low over the fields and picking up dried grasses from the ground, just as we saw 33 (11) do today. So not unknown then…..but still interesting and unusual.

As we walk back, we notice our juvenile has moved to a very distant perch, where he sits, well fed and content…..for a while anyway. We close the gate behind us and take one last look : Female on nest, 03 still with fish on oak tree, 33 on distant perch. ‘All quiet on the Osprey Front’……….



06 on the dead tree at Waderscrape hide

06 visits Manton Bay

This morning 06(09) visited Manton Bay. Project volunteer John Foster was on duty in the hide – here’s his account and photo of the intrusion.

“At Waderscrape this morning, 5R was having a real struggle to catch anything decent and was absent for much of the time. During one of these absences a commotion was caused by what was clearly some sort of intruder. Two of the chicks were prone in the nest, apparently cowering, and the female and other chick were suddenly nowhere to be seen.

The culprit soon appeared and aggressively circled the nest area. It was joined in flight by the female and one chick. The intruder then landed in front of me on the dead tree. I was delighted to be able to read the ring as blue 06 and take this photo.

 I reported the incident by radio and the bird was identified as a Rutland male born at Site O in 2009. This was the first time he had been seen for several weeks.

 O6 returned briefly once more again circling the nest and scaring the chicks. He departed this time of his own accord.”

06 perched on the dead tree at Waderscrape hide