I’ve delayed writing a new blog hoping to be able to show you something tangible (like a clutch of eggs, or at least one) but I’ve been left scratching my head instead. However, I’m getting nagged that I haven’t updated you good people so I will do my best to speculate on why what is going on is going on. My particular thanks to Joanna Dailey at Kielder with whom I bounce ideas off on a regular basis and who provides me with invaluable advice, assistance and support. The following opinions are my own, as are any mistakes.
We had a quiet first week with only a couple of intrusions into the immediate airspace round the nest area and no one landed on so we were unable to provide any details for identification purposes. Samson continued to bring in fish and nesting material and JW6 continued to take the fish and do her own bit of nest material gathering as well. She still spent a lot of time wandering around the area, including at Kielder, but this apparently is not uncommon in first time breeders. She allowed his regular attempts at mating and everything was going really well. All she needed was for that final light bulb to go on in her brain telling her to settle in the nest and we were bound to get eggs.
Then the weather turned and we were plunged back into near freezing temperatures with heavy rain and blustery winds. Samson found it nigh on impossible to fish in the conditions and spent long hours away before returning with whatever he was able to catch. The nest was empty for most of the day as it was just too unpleasant to stay up there in those conditions with no reason to do so. Rather than settling down, JW6 was spending more and more time away from the local area, as far as we could make out. She intruded down at Kielder on at least one occasion. Another time, she and Samson met at the nest where he presented her with the back end of a fish. She flew off with it, leaving behind a still wriggling small fish that she had caught herself; it’s never a good sign when the female feels the need to do that. Then she started refusing his mating attempts. She still clearly saw the nest as hers and would happily bring material in and return there to be fed but there was a definite cooling in the relationship and backwards steps from any suggestion of starting a family. On 10 May, she fiercely defended the nest from a persistent intruder and returned to the nest to be presented with a large fish to show her that normal fishing service had been resumed but the decline in her behaviour continued and often she was not seen on camera at all during daylight hours or in the area when we were observing outside.
Then, on Fri 14 May, there was another twist. There was no sign of JW6 in the morning but, by mid morning, there was a female on the nest and she stayed for several hours. Not one seen before, she was an unringed, dark bird with very handsome markings. She hardly moved during that period, apart from to take a lunchtime fish from Samson and to refuse his advances.
She flew off mid-afternoon but was back in the nest when a less than impressed JW6 returned and she attacked the intruder, eventually forcing her over the side of the nest and away. An air battle ensued and both females landed on the nest during brief interludes but JW6 finally managed to drive the dark lady away.
So why has JW6’s attitude changed? It is clearly impossible to know but there are several thoughts about what has prompted this. First is that she is only 3 and, while she has done much of those things that would be expected of a first time breeder, her absences have suggested that there is still a level of immaturity and a lack of readiness to settle down. Second is the possibility that the dreadful weather and consequent lack of supply of fish might have caused her to lose confidence in Samson’s abilities to provide for her and any chicks she may have had. Third is the level of osprey intrusion, unparalleled in my experience here. That might have unsettled her. Fourth might be the level of unaccustomed human noise and activity. Although she was only directly frightened off the nest on one occasion by human activity when some late evening walkers cut across the field of crops and caused her to fly, it may be that she found the general activity around and the proximity of the nearby road to be a distraction she didn’t like. She certainly didn’t seem to mind the walkers when they kept to the paths by the river or even farm vehicles passing in the fields either side of the nest. Perhaps it was a combination of the above factors, or others we’ve not considered but the change over the past week has been significant.
So, how was JW6 going to react in the weekend to come? Was she going to take the hint that she needed to stay closer to protect her ownership of the nest or was she going to continue to wander? Was she going to leave the nest entirely or was this incident going to rekindle her interest in starting a family, the time for which is fast running out? I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for the answers until I have analysed the recordings taken over the weekend just gone which, for some reason, have failed to back up onto the hard drive. As it was no doubt because of some technical inadequacy on my part, I will give you a sneak preview; we hadn’t seen the last of the dark lady.
I’ll continue the story as soon as I am able.