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’……….