In this strangest of years, it has been a reassuring sight to see Spring progressing, oblivious to human stresses and strains, in its normal way. When last I wrote, Samson had returned and was waiting for his female from last year, KX7, who had already been seen at Kielder. Well, he continued to wait and she failed to appear at Border Ospreys to the best of our knowledge. Lockdown is restricting activities of all osprey monitors and it wasn’t until recently that Kielder were able to report that, not only had she stayed there but she also had found a mate and is, as I write, incubating eggs on a newly constructed nest platform! So very good news for Kielder, KX7 and her new mate but not so good for Samson. He had been sky dancing in the hope of bringing KX7, or indeed any other female, in and we saw two unringed females land on the nest during April but on neither occasion did they stay for more than a couple of hours before moving on.
That all changed on 1 May when a large, striking-looking female arrived and fussed around the nest and decided that she rather liked the look of the place. We were very excited to see that, not only was she ringed, but that the large blue Darvic ring (numbered 3AF) was on her right leg, signifying that she was from England or Wales.
I reported the sighting and was told that she was ringed as a chick near Rutland Water in 2017 and had intruded at the Dyfi nest in Wales on 21 April this year. What was particularly significant is that she is the first Rutland fledged chick to have been reported in Scotland, so an historically important sighting. Rutland Water was the site of a translocation project in the 1990s when chicks from nests in Scotland were released over a number of years in the Rutland area in an effort to establish a breeding colony there. After several years, breeding was successful and there are now several nests in the area. 3AF comes from a nest on private land.
As a three year old, she is of breeding age but she seemed reluctant to conform to the normal pattern of behaviour and seemed to delight to throw the increasingly tatty-by-this-stage rule book out of a succession of windows. One of the first thing a potential breeding female does is to demand food from the male. This is to check that her chosen mate can provide for her and any chicks they may have. Fishing has been hard this year so far, with river levels very low and fish stocks are noticeably down. Nevertheless, Samson did his best but she wouldn’t accept fish from him. After a day or so, she went off and we wondered whether she had gone for good but she was back later in the day, carrying the trout equivalent to Moby Dick! Samson had been waiting for her with a modest sized trout. It was like a misquote of the famous line in Crocodile Dundee when a couple of louts try to mug him and wave knives at him, only to have him bring out his huge knife and chase them away. I felt she was saying “Call that a fish? THIS is a fish!”
She did the same again two days later; although, I felt her carrying it in with only one foot was an unnecessarily harsh way of making Samson feel inadequate. Eventually, however, she allowed him to provide fish for her and we haven’t seen her bringing back her own fish for nearly a week now.
The normal gift for the male providing a fish is for the female to allow him to mate with her. Again, she was very unwilling at first and poor old Samson’s efforts were in vain but recently she has been much more compliant and, while most attempts are still unsuccessful, there have been some successes. The third way in which she is defying convention is that she is spending long periods away from the nest, whereas we would like to see her almost ever present if she is preparing to lay eggs. It doesn’t augur well for her ability to sit for nigh on 40 days if she feels the need to disappear away for hours. On the plus side, she is fiddling around with the nesting material and has been seen laying down in the nest, almost as if she’s trying it for size and comfort. Her development has also come on in leaps and bounds over the last week but time is fast running out for her to lay eggs if she is to have any success at raising a brood this year.
So, she is keeping us all (and I include Samson in that) guessing as to what will happen and what she will do next. She is definitely boss in that nest and they do look like a close couple when they are together. My own view is that we probably won’t hear the patter of tiny talons this year but I need my hat as the mornings can still be frosty up here, so I won’t be eating it if I’m wrong. Unlike last year where we didn’t name the female, we have decided to do so this year. As many of you know, I spent most of my career in the Royal Air Force and, as her ring alpha numeric is 3AF, it seemed appropriate that that should form the basis of our choice. The motto of the RAF is “Per Ardua ad Astra” which translates as “Through Hardship to the Stars”, so we decided that we would call her Astra, although I think Samson would prefer Ardua as she has been such hard work.
By the next time I write, it will be clear whether or not we can expect a family this year. Furthermore, hopefully the situation re the coronavirus will have reached the stage that some restrictions can be lifted. However, at present, Border Ospreys remains closed and people may not visit and you are therefore requested to stay away. Once we can accept visitors, we’d love to see you and as well as tell you about the ospreys, I can recommend all the good food available in the restaurant. There’s something faintly decadent about birdwatching using a TV monitor while enjoying a meal or a delicious cake and a drink and I look forward to being able to join you there. Until then, I will try to keep you up to date with the avian soap opera that is Border Ospreys.
14 May 20