The chicks are growing quickly and well, getting bigger every time I look. They dropped their fluffy down overnight at the weekend to transform into mini dinosaurs and now are starting to venture around the nest, propping themselves up by their wing stubs. Samson has been working hard providing a good supply of fish; pike for the first few days of their lives from a lochan somewhere upstream and then he swapped to fishing downstream and started bringing in sea and brown trout. Juno is doing a super job feeding them and looks like an experienced female rather than one bringing up a first brood. She even let Samson have a go at feeding the chicks, something his previous mate, Delilah, never allowed.
Everything was going so well but that all changed today when the camera was switched on to reveal that a large tangle of baler twine had been brought to the nest and Juno was brooding the chicks with much of it tucked under her. I’ve spoken and written before about this scourge to the health and well-being of wildlife and it is sadly an addition to the nest most years but never before in this quantity. Samson probably would have picked it up from the river, thinking it was a lump of reeds or grass, little realising that he had brought something so potentially deadly to both adults and chicks onto the nest. The twine could have choked the chicks and the adults could have had it tangled in their talons making a real possibility of them pulling the chicks from the nest when they got airborne or getting caught and left dangling if the twine subsequently snagged on a tree branch. In most cases it would have meant a slow and painful death.
It was difficult to assess the situation while she was lying down but my worst fears were realised when Samson brought in a fish and Juno stood up to reveal that one of the chicks had twine twisted around its neck!
There is often a debate in osprey discussion groups about whether or not intervention is appropriate when something occurs on a nest but there was little doubt that, in this case, we were obliged to try and resolve a situation that was completely man made in its origin. My ringer was injured and unable to climb so, with time of an essence, I called upon my normal tree climber and he was able to come almost immediately. I gave him a comprehensive brief on how to handle the chicks if necessary, bearing in mind their Schedule 1 status, and I made it clear that he was to spend as little time as possible on-site, commensurate with the security of the nest and its occupants. He did an excellent job, climbing the tree swiftly and, with the minimum of fuss, he was able to release the entangled chick and remove the twine. Luckily for all, the twine did not get caught in the female’s talons and so the worry that she might pull the chicks off the nest when she flew did not transpire.
The chicks were decidedly laid back about this large orange and black human intruder (sorry, Michael) on their nest. Samson and Juno circled the tree throughout, calling out to the chicks to “play dead” but, once we had departed, she returned to feed them the remnants of the lunchtime fish while Samson sat on guard in the dead tree.
So, a disaster was averted but had that occurred on an unmonitored nest, the end result could have been very different. Baler twine is a useful and, in some cases, essential part of farming but it lasts for ever and becomes more and more dangerous as it degrades and tangles; I so wish that the people using it would dispose of it more carefully, considering the threat that it poses. So much of it is just left littering fields and farmyards and, as probably happened here, entering waterways. It could have travelled miles downstream before Samson found it. If you use the stuff or know someone who does, please make every effort to keep it tidy and not left lying around endangering wildlife and leaving an unsightly mess.
No lighthearted comments or jokes from me tonight. We could have lost the family today. Thank goodness luck and a speedy response from my tree climber prevented such a tragedy.