WINDING DOWN, CUTTING BACK AND WRAPPING UP

Well, it has been over two weeks since we have seen (or heard!) JW6 around the nest site, so we can safely assume that she has started her migration. I’m not aware of any sightings of her as she journeyed south through England and she should be well on her way back to coastal Central West Africa or the Iberian peninsula, wherever it is that she spends her winters. Samson stayed on longer and I last spotted him on 22 Aug. None of those who walk regularly along by the river and tell me about anything of interest happening with the birds, have seen him since either, so it looks like he too has left for warmer climes. I wish them both well in their travels now and next Spring. We hope to see them back at the end of March or the beginning of April.

For those of you who have followed the Border Osprey birds for a while, you will recall that PX9 and PY0, the males from the 2017 brood have been seen regularly at Kielder. They have continued to intrude and generally make nuisances of themselves and are clearly eyeing up grabbing an existing nest if they can next year. Neither seem to have attracted a mate and might be hoping that any nest will come with a sitting female tenant but a more likely outcome might be that they build a nest for themselves in the area and settle down with a mate as part of the growing Kielder “colony”. The last sighting Kielder had of either bird was PX9 on 26 Aug when he intruded on Nest 6, much to the annoyance of one of this year’s resident juveniles. Again, fingers crossed for successful migrations South and North for both these young males who have decided their permanent home lies close to the rich fishing waters of Kielder Reservoir.

PX9 checking out Nest 6 on 22 Aug, despite the annoyance of 432, one of the resident juveniles who is guarding its afternoon tea. (Photograph courtesy of Forestry England)

In the meantime, there is plenty of work to be done to make things ready for our own birds’ return. I’ve taken lots of advice on why females seemed reluctant to settle down, particularly this year, and while we will never really know, one reason might be that the nest is being more and more overshadowed by branches growing up and around it. Ospreys seem to prefer nesting as close as possible to the highest point in a tree and certainly the incubating or brooding female needs to be able to see all around to watch for approaching danger, especially when the male is away fishing. This is certainly no longer the case with our nest, although it probably was when the then pair of ospreys first built there about a decade ago. Samson is very bonded to this nest and probably doesn’t see it as an issue but new females would be unwilling to settle down in a nest where vision was so obscured. You may recall that JW6 was very reluctant to sit in the centre of the nest, even when encouraged to do so by Samson. So, during the next month or so, we will be doing some cutting back of the branches obscuring the view from the nest and we hope that it will solve Samson’s problem of not being able to retain the sustained interest of a female osprey. We will also do our normal tidying of the nest and clearing up of the rubbish brought in by Samson, including removing the brown plastic croc shoe that has graced the nest for most of the year! The tree branches shading the solar panels will also be trimmed back so that the battery can remain charged far more efficiently than was the case this year.

In summary of my blogs this season, it has been, without doubt, a very disappointing year as we had such hopes that 3AF would return and breed with Samson. However, in her numerous trips around last year, it seems she found other likely sites and, after staying for a couple of days with him, she disappeared and I can only hope that she did find another partner and may have even bred. I don’t think we’ve ever had so many intruding females and poor Samson’s head must have been spinning. I think he brought 3 fish in on one day and, on each occasion, there was a different demanding female on the nest! If the exposing of the nest doesn’t work, we’ll have to find him a book on attaining and retaining the perfect mate and see if that helps. I’m running out of ideas otherwise. I really am hopeful about next year, especially once we’ve carried out the tree work because much of what happened here this year can be explained if that was the problem. I hope JW6 comes back willing to settle down and breed. She is a feisty bird and excellent at defending the nest and, with a positive attitude to breeding, will make a great mate for Samson. However, she only gets a name if she does so! Until then she remains JW6.

It only remains for me to thank various people without whom I could not operate Border Ospreys. To the owner of Born in Scotland, John Henderson, for his support and to the staff there who have supplied endless cups of tea, brownies and humour as well as patiently enduring update briefs from me about the birds so that they can answer any questions asked by the public in the restaurant. To Brian Clark, my invaluable friend and fellow volunteer who travels from his home in Devon to assist with monitoring for the season, helping with talking to the public and answering questions and producing such wonderful photographs, despite his reluctance to accept praise for them. To Jain Jameson from Techstar for her computer wizardry and eternal good humour; Chris Mutter from Scott & Foggon for his electronics expertise and guidance; Kirsty Smith from Dragon Wood Forestry for her tree climbing and surgery skills; and, latterly, Michael Thomson from MT Tree Care, who was able to do some emergency repairs in the tree and who was still up the tree when Samson arrived a week earlier than previously, reacting rapidly and without question to to my panic calls to remove himself rapidly from the vicinity of the nest! To Tony Lightley, my guide and, for the last 4 years unused, ringer. Finally, to Joanna Dailey from Kielder Ospreys, a source of knowledge, regular correspondence, often of the “your bird is intruding on one of my nests” type, but mainly of unstinting support and encouragement.

I must not forget my thanks to you all for bearing with me during another barren season. It’s been an interesting ride this year and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world but I really think we need some chicks next year. So anyone with links to fairy godmothers, tooth fairies, Hogwarts, Gandalf or anyone else who might help, please put in a special request for 2022 to be a successful breeding year for the Border Ospreys. Until then, I wish you a happy and safe rest of this year and hope to see you in person at Born in Scotland or via here in your comments when next season comes around.

PX9 waving good bye to the 2021 season (Photograph courtesy of Forestry England)

STALEMATE OR TOO MANY MATES?

Well, things seemed to have settled down a little bit after the excitement of May and there doesn’t seem to have been much to report on since my last blog.

On 2 Jun we saw a new intruder appear on the nest, a rather boldly marked female with a left leg Darvic ring Blue 110. Enquiries with Tim Mackrill at the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation revealed her to be a 2018 bird, ringed on the Black Isle, who had also intruded, briefly, at Kielder the previous day. She stayed for several hours and managed to persuade Samson to hand over a fish he brought in. She left the nest and a short time later there was a kerfuffle and 4 ospreys appeared in the sky overhead and around the nest area. I established that it was 3 females and Samson observing (but staying out of the thick of it). One of the females was 110, another I assume was JW6 but I couldn’t see the third closely enough to observe it, although KS1 was at Kielder later that day and was well aware of this nest, so it could have been her. The three females spent about 10 minutes around the nest manoeuvring, diving, and twisting away from close contact. 110 made it as far as landing in the nest for a couple of seconds several times but JW6 (assuming it was her) did a great job of defending the nest from the two intruders and eventually all three soared higher and away. Samson stayed away from the action but flew with them as they disappeared. Half an hour later, it was Round 2, very much a repeat of the first action and the same end. With no camera working, I wasn’t able to check whether there was any subsequent action that evening but, the following day, JW6 was back in residence.

It was all quiet for a few days and at first JW6 stayed close to home but all too soon was sufficiently confident to make several short trips to Kielder on successive days but 110 was back on 8 Jun. She followed Samson in when he returned with a fish and she took it from him. JW6 reappeared and both females flew off, 110 still clutching the fish, and JW6 reappeared after a few hours, but still hungry. Samson was immediately “encouraged” by her to go fishing!

Samson and JW6 sharing a rare bit of nest bonding time

For the next few days, it seemed that neither we nor Samson knew which female was going to be on the nest. 110 was increasingly bold but also often came bringing her own fish, a contradiction if she was trying to take over, as Samson would be expected to still fish for his female, despite the lack of eggs/chicks. We had one amusing situation where Samson and 110 both arrived at the same time with a fish. In accordance with the normal nest protocol, Samson handed his fish over and 110 immediately dropped hers, picked up his and flew off to the dead tree to eat it. After a short while, Samson realised that there was a spare fish in the nest (the one she’d brought in), so picked it up and sat on the nest perch with it but not eating. 110 then must have seen JW6 approaching so made herself scarce, while Samson flew out to meet his mate and escort her back to the nest. She clearly saw he had a fish and, immediately upon them both landing, grabbed it from him and gobbled it up. So, in effect, 110 had provided the fish that was eventually, third-taloned, consumed by her arch rival, JW6!

110 arrives with fish, followed by…..
Samson arriving with his fish (110’s fish under her left talon)

The situation was further complicated by the arrival of an unringed female, who was easy to spot as some of feathers looked distinctly tatty. She joined in with 110 on 13 and 14th of June to disrupt the peace and quiet on the nest but did not land on the nest on either day. However, as the camera switched on at 0500 on 16 Jun, there was the unringed female, sitting on the nest perch, working her way through a grayling! She flew off later in the day, having eaten the fish, and hasn’t been seen since but who’s to say how far away she may be?

The mysterious, yet demanding, unringed female

Later on on 16 Jun, we had a repeat performance of the fish exchange between Samson and 110 but Samson very much missed out on this one. Her fish was very much alive but tiny. His fish was sizeable and looked suspiciously like a salmon, which will upset and make jealous the fisherman who have found salmon fishing quite challenging this year. So after the exchange, he had finished his meal in a few bites and she was able to eat and eat!

The most recent time we saw 110 was on 17 Jun, when she was on the nest with Samson early in the morning and they got caught “in flagrante” by JW6 who chased 110 off the nest. 110 responded by circling and coming in hard, with talons lowered, forcing JW6 to pancake herself on the nest. The two females took off and battled away into the distance, and neither were seen for the rest of the day. As usual, it was JW6 who emerged victorious and she was back in residence the following day.

“Dive! Dive! Dive!” JW6 taking evasive action from 110’s attack while Samson can’t bear to look

So, with the exception of osprey intrusions, there has been very little action on the nest and in the immediate area. JW6, apart from seeing off any rivals, has been seen less and less frequently and often only visits to demand food from Samson when she’s hungry. She is taking no part in any other activity to assist bonding, apart from defending the nest, refusing to allow Samson to mate and has stopped bringing in nesting material or rearranging the nest itself. Samson, on the other hand, spends lots of time busying himself with the nest, including nest cupping. The arrival of any female sends him into a flurry of activity, rushing backwards and forwards with sticks and grass to line the nest cup; it really is very sad to see his efforts. He also continues to supply fish throughout the day to whoever happens to be in residence at the time. I doubt either JW6 or Samson will leave until August because the need to defend the nest and territory from potential new incumbents will remain; I can only hope that JW6 makes up her mind whether she wants to settle with Samson or, if she decides to go elsewhere, she leaves and allows Samson to find a more amenable mate. At the moment, it’s the worst of both worlds with her seeming no longer interested in Samson, apart from what fish he can bring, but not allowing any other female to become established. It will be interesting to observe her attitude and that of Samson for the rest of the season.

MORE MUSICAL CHAIRS

So, Saturday dawned and we eagerly looked to see who we had on the nest and the answer during the morning was……no one. Eventually, JW6 appeared and Samson brought her two large fish during the day, both pike. He kept showing her the centre of the nest, even lying down in it to encourage her down and to get on with laying an egg, but it was all in vain. In the evening, the mayflies were hatching and swarming over the surface of the river, bringing lots of fish to the surface to leap and feed. Unfortunately for 4 of the fish, Samson was watching from a convenient tree and snaffled them when they were too intent on mayflies and not looking out for danger! They were small but JW6 found three of them very tasty, although Samson kept the fourth for himself. She was on and off the nest for most of the day and it was clear that she retained possession.

“This is how you incubate the eggs you haven’t yet laid, JW6”, says Samson

Sunday morning saw the nest empty again apart from a couple of quick visits by Samson. Then, at about 1330, a female arrived and, surprise, surprise, it was the dark lady. When Samson came back with a fish, he looked a bit shocked but, ever the pragmatist, he handed over the fish to her, had an unsuccessful attempt to mate and then went and sat in the dead tree. He brought her another fish later on and she did some nest tidying and, as the evening darkened, she eventually flew off to roost.

The return of the dark lady

She was back in the nest on the Monday morning, always keeping an eye out for any sign of JW6 but she remained in residence for most of the day. Samson seemed reluctant to fish for her but was eventually persuaded and she settled in, moving bits around the nest and generally making herself at home. She left the nest on a couple of occasions and, it was during one of these short absences in the early evening that Samson suddenly returned, flapping his wings high to greet the arrival of JW6. She had hardly landed when the dark lady came swooping back and made a dive at her, talons extended. JW6 screamed at her and Samson wisely departed the nest at some speed.

The dark lady, with talons extended, approaches the nest to attack JW6 while Samson makes himself scarce

The dark lady circled and came in even faster, clearly intent on knocking JW6 from the nest. The two females collided and crashed off the side of the nest and through the branches lower down in the nest and neighbouring trees. In the video below, JW6 can be seen flying away towards the river and the dark lady must have departed in another direction. Samson is the bird seen flying in the extreme top right hand corner of the picture. It was a violent end to the dark lady’s tenure of the nest as JW6 returned later in the evening and no further sight of the dark lady has been reported.

The last battle between JW6 and the dark lady?

Over the next few days, JW6 has been slightly more visible but still disappears for long stretches. She has occasionally allowed him to mate with her but usually refuses him and the window for laying eggs this season, realistically, has now closed. So it will be another year without a family for Samson.

The last few days has been a bit of a mystery as the camera electronics suddenly decided to go on strike and I haven’t yet found the guilty component. I have also not been able to be down watching from the ground as frequently as I would have liked but, as I opened the car door today, I was met by the dulcet tones of JW6 demanding fish and the sight of Samson, ever hopeful, attempting to mate with her. So it seems the pattern is now established and JW6 remains in charge. The weather continues to be challenging for fishing but pike is now back on the menu and that seems to have eased Samson’s supply problems. I can only think that a temporary disturbance where he fishes for pike must have caused him to avoid the area for a couple of weeks.

Hopefully, the drama will slow down for a bit so I will end this blog with a series of pictures showing some of the human rubbish that is left lying around that Samson picks up and brings into the nest. Just imagine the dangers some of it would pose if there were eggs or chicks in the nest.

A PROGRESS(LESS) REPORT

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.

To the Victor…..a fish

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.

A dark stranger

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.

This nest ain’t big enough for the both of us

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.

LLYN BRENIG

Words cannot begin to cover the abhorrence and sickness I feel about the events at Llyn Brenig osprey nest site last night. Yesterday we were celebrating the laying of an egg between a newly bonded pairing on the nest, built on a platform, just off the shore. Neither of last year’s pair had returned and this was seen as a bright new beginning. However, last night, some creature, masquerading as a human being, took a chainsaw and cut down the pole on which the platform stood, destroying the nest and the egg. The birds may try again at another site but all the supporters, volunteers and general wildlife enthusiasts are shocked and horrified at the disgusting act. The local police force is involved but no one has yet been identified as being responsible.

I cannot add anything more. My heart is broken for the birds and all the people who have worked so hard on the Brenig project, who are clearly shocked beyond belief at this wickedness. I don’t know how they will proceed, whether they will replace the platform or not. Anyone wishing to donate to them can do so via this link (be sure to add a note saying that it is for the Llyn Brenig project):

https://www.northwaleswildlifetrust.org.uk/support-us-landing-page/donate

Courtesy of North Wales Wildlife Trusts

NEST ADDITIONS AND INTRUDERS

I wouldn’t normally expect to write another blog until the weekend but I thought you’d be interested to know that Samson attracted a fifth, and maybe even a sixth, female in the last couple of days and also had an unusual addition to the nest.

Now, I know there are several osprey nests that you can view on the web and some of them have high tech cameras with zoom, pan, infra red facilities etc. They can show you all sorts of wildlife that have visited the nests, including a pine marten and, in the States, even a bear that climbed up, but I am claiming a WORLD FIRST in that no one has ever photographed a croc on an osprey nest before! You think I’m joking? I’ve even got evidence of it arriving and moving around the nest!

The croc arrives
Where would the croc look best?

To turn back to ospreys, JW6 seems to have got over the wanderlust that took her away from the nest for extensive periods (including down to Kielder) but she was absent on 27th when Samson came in with a pike, closely followed by a female carrying a trout. The weather was appalling with very poor visibility and it was difficult to make out who we had at first but it was certainly not JW6, being significantly darker. The excitement grew when we realised that she had a blue Darvic ring on her right leg, meaning that she was an English or Welsh bird, and we realised that it was KS1, hatched at Glaslyn in Wales in 2018, who also visited us in Aug last year. She and Samson sat and ate their respective fishes for nearly an hour but the peace was shattered by the return of an irate JW6 who landed in the nest and the three of them stood looking at each other wondering quite who would make the next move.

From the top: JW6, KS1 and Samson

KS1 had dropped the half trout that she still had when JW6 arrived and JW6 took the opportunity to lay claim to it and she flew off to the dead tree and finished it off before flying back to the nest to evict the intruder. After a number of attempts to move KS1 by jumping on her with talons extended, JW6 eventually forced her from the nest and chased her from the area with Samson following to watch the action, like a match referee.

JW6 evicting KS1 while Samson pretends to be a piece of nesting material

The following day, KS1 intruded again in the morning and was in the nest for about 20 minutes. Meantime, JW6 was dealing with another intruder and, at one stage we had 4 ospreys on screen; Samson and KS1 on the nest and JW6 and another unidentified intruder, battling in the skies. KS1 left of her own volition on that occasion but needed to be ousted at lunchtime by JW6 when she sneaked back on the nest as Samson brought a fish in. She appeared one last time, just before 6pm, being chased backwards and forwards by JW6 as Samson looked on from the nest.

Then there were four!
Samson cheering on JW6 chasing KS1

Unsurprisingly, JW6 has not ventured far today (29th), and has been too edgy to allow Samson to mate with her (although she did do some stick collecting and nest rearranging) but it is very encouraging that she has defended her nest successfully from two intruders. We didn’t see any intruders while we were there today. It will do her confidence the world of good and perhaps she won’t be bothered further by those two at least. If she is not disturbed further by intruders it will probably now prompt her to allow mating again and then hopefully prepare for a family. I’ll let you know.

MUSICAL CHAIRS – WHEN THE MUSIC STOPS

Let’s have a guessing game to start this blog. Which female, if any, has been on the nest this last week? Hands up who thinks it was 3AF? OK, and Unringed? Bandit? No one? Well, good tries everyone ….. but you’re all wrong. It was JW6, of course!!

Let me enlighten you. As is customary with blogging about the action on this nest, it was left hanging with the two females who were fighting on 19 April drifting away to the north; neither returned that day. The following day, as the camera came on at 0500, there was JW6 on the nest perch munching away on a trout with Samson looking on in the background. She has been around this area before as she intruded last May at Kielder. She is a 2018 bird who was an only chick on a nest near the Lake of Menteith, near Callander. I have no idea if she was one of the birds fighting the day before but she had certainly made herself at home although Samson’s mating attempts were met with upraised wings and a distinctly frosty reaction from her.

JW6 arrives

She may not have wanted to mate but she was very keen to call the nest her own and she was rearranging the nesting material before the morning was out and has regularly been bringing in more sticks and grass to decorate it to her taste. Samson meanwhile has been collecting some sensible things but, as usual, has also been bringing in lots of man made waste washed up by the river. He has, however, been doing an excellent job of keeping his new mate well supplied with fish and she eventually was persuaded that fish had to be paid for and she now allows him to mate with her.

Yet another fish Samson has brought for JW6

The first few days, JW6 was ever present, only occasionally having a fly around to familiarise herself with the area or having a bath. Unlike 3AF, she was not prepared to tolerate buzzards approaching too close to the nest and we have seen some superb flying displays as she and Samson have seen off the neighbourhood buzzards; on one occasion, Samson dropped back to the nest and watched as she vigorously pursued one particular bird and we think she might have stolen a few of its tail feathers!

JW6 taking battle to the buzzard and claiming some tail feathers

In fact, there has only been one cloud on the horizon and that is that, for the last three days, having behaved very much in the mornings like a female preparing to breed, she has suddenly taken off around midday and has disappeared for the rest of the day. She doesn’t appear to go the same way or feed while she is away but I admit to being concerned that she doesn’t yet possess the commitment to incubate for 40+ days or brood very young chicks for substantial periods of time. Maybe she’s just enjoying a bit of freedom before egg laying or maybe there’s another reason. Your suggestions would be welcome as would anyone else’s recollection of similar behaviour in ospreys. In the meantime, I’ll keep you posted. Update: JW6 disappeared again late morning this morning (26th) and reappeared during the afternoon, but not before intruding on at least one nest at Kielder.

The restaurant opened today in line with the relaxation of Covid restrictions and, I have to say, that the cakes look as yummy as ever and the rest of the food will be equally good. Visitors to the restaurant will be treated to views of anything going on on the nest and walkers down by the river can often find one or another of us watching, scratching our heads and trying to make sense of the goings on between these two enigmatic birds and we’re happy to try and answer your questions. Those not able to visit will have to wait until I write again before finding out whether we are likely to have a family again or not. What a weird season it is being again!

FIFTY SHADES OF (OS)PREY

My regular readers know that as soon as I declare something to be so, the ospreys nearly always proceed to do the opposite. Well, Covid restrictions haven’t dampened my ability (or theirs) in that respect and, no sooner had I said how settled 3AF (Astra) was than she upped and disappeared, just like she did last year, and hasn’t been seen since Monday (12th) afternoon! Samson was on his own for a few days and took up his waiting and watching position again, either in the dead tree or on the nest perch.

Early on Thursday (15th) afternoon, the sky was suddenly full of wheeling ospreys as two more appeared from the south and approached the nest. One didn’t stay long enough to even be identified as male or female but the other landed on the nest, to great excitement from Samson. It was Unringed from last year! He had some fish ready for just such an eventuality and she seemed appreciative. They were quickly comfortable with each other and several mating attempts appeared successful.

Unringed surveying the view

Unringed was on the nest first thing on the Friday (16th) morning and, having breakfasted on a fish brought in by Samson, she disappeared down river to have a bath and a look around. It could have been an extremely costly bath because, less than an hour later, another female arrived on the nest and it was the female with the broad bandit-like eyeband, last seen on the previous Saturday (10th). She settled down as if she hadn’t been away and, when a distinctly wet Unringed arrived on the dead tree, she was quickly chased off by the bandit.

Bandit flying off

Heads reeling from this osprey musical chairs, we waited to see what happened next. The crows buzzed her a couple of times and the aggressive buzzard got fairly close to test her mettle, but she was unmoved. Then, about an hour after chasing off Unringed, she got airborne, mooched around for a couple of circuits and then disappeared and, as I write, has not been confirmed as returning. Samson spent the rest of Friday and Saturday on his own but, as we switched the nest camera on on Sunday (18th), there was Unringed sharing a fish with Samson! She then stayed until about 1100 and then wandered off and nothing more was seen until lunchtime today (19th) when there were two females engaging in wary aerial combat over the nest while Samson was sky dancing with a small pike in his talons. The females were too high to identify but I couldn’t see any rings. All three eventually moved off to the north and Samson returned about 90 minutes later, still clutching his fish.

Samson sky dancing

So we’re all confused, including Samson, although he will just accept whichever female ends up on the nest! They all seem willing to breed but no female has yet been in possession of the nest for more than 2 days. There has been no fighting seen until today, apart from the one chase off on the 16th, so goodness knows what will happen next. I almost feel like I need one of those boards, with people pushing symbols around signifying who is where at any time.

I’ll try to keep you posted and attempt to make sense of it all. The good thing from today is that there are clearly two females who are prepared to do battle for the nest and territory (and male). We must hope that they can sort it out quickly and the victor can then settle down to breed.

A NEW YEAR; A NEW WEBSITE

Welcome to the new site for my blog. I hope you will find the new format easy to follow but still interesting to read. I will be adding features as we go along and it is very much a “work in progress” so please forgive any slips I make. My intention is to try and give you more up to date information as well as a round up of happenings throughout the season. Whether or not I succeed is a much a matter of my computer expertise (or lack of it, more like) as it is of the birds’ activities.

Anyway, we will start with the news that Samson returned at about 1830 on 30 March this year; a full week earlier than he arrived last season. I had a climber up the tree at the time, trying to sort out the WiFi link that had been damaged in high winds the previous weekend. He came down the tree sharpish and we moved away and, by the time we were in the car park, an osprey was sitting on the nest perch. It looked like Samson but we weren’t able to confirm until the next morning and the better light that our boy was back.

He set to collecting sticks for the nest and also replenishing his own reserves, bringing back a huge pike that was as long as him! As he regained his energy, he started his beautiful sky dancing and sitting expectantly waiting for one of the females from last year or indeed any passing female osprey.

Samson with the large pike

Eventually on the evening of Fri 9 April, a previously unknown and unringed female osprey arrived at the nest and proceeded to make herself comfortable. Unfortunately, Samson had not long since finished the fish he had been keeping back to entice a female onto the nest so he had nothing to offer her. She was a striking looking girl with quite the widest eye band I’d ever seen. She stayed overnight but no fish had been forthcoming and she left at 0820. She was perhaps wise to do so because at lunchtime, a second female arrived, and this time it was 3AF (Astra), the bird who had spent most of the summer with Samson last year. I found out later that she had intruded at Kielder 45 minutes previously. Luckily for both of them, Samson had just returned with a huge trout which he was able to offer to her and she gobbled it down. She was clearly ravenous and her crop was completely concave. The question was then: would she be as uncooperative and offhand with him as she had been the previous year?

The female with the piratical eyeband

We had our answer, regularly, for the rest of the day and for the next few days with multiple matings going on in the dead tree, on the nest perch, in the nest and she was being completely cooperative with many apparent successes! She has also since spent quite long periods in the bowl of the nest rearranging what he has brought in the way of furnishings (unfortunately, plastic sheeting appears to be in fashion this year).

The arrival from migration of 3AF

So, it’s early days but it appears as if she is ready to settle down and breed. I have a few concerns about the aggressiveness of the local buzzard who forced her off the nest perch on one occasion (some of you might remember that happening last year and she disappeared for three weeks) but he won’t stand up to Samson and I hope she will learn from him a more resolute reaction to such attacks.