THE LONG WAIT

Juno finally allowed us to see that there were 3 eggs and, at present, we are on track for the hatching window to open on 30 May.

Three eggs

She has continued to make me eat my words of last year and she has been an attentive and careful incubator – when she has been allowed on the eggs. Samson clearly feels he has a lot of lost incubating time to make up as there have been no eggs for the past 4 years and is proving difficult to move when he is incubating. His main role is to catch fish and he’s been doing that, despite some really unpleasant conditions, but she should be doing the vast majority of the incubating and that’s just not the case during the day. She is willing to do so and often flies up to take her turn but he won’t budge and she hasn’t yet got the confidence to force him off the nest. At first, she would land on the nest perch but he would just ignore her. She then started landing on the nest itself and that worked some of the time but she will have to learn the technique that her predecessor, Delilah, had off to a tee. She would get her shoulder under his keel and with a quick flick roll him off the eggs and over. By the time he recovered, she was safely nestled down and he had no option other than to fly off. Juno will work it out but at present he is enjoying hunkering down out of the wind for long stretches of the day and she has to find a sheltered perch as best she is able until he decides otherwise. She became so frustrated earlier this week that she took herself off for a very quick trip to Kielder and back and was spotted intruding on their Nest 6. She was allowed to incubate when she returned and Samson was able to mollify her with a fish not long after.

C’mon Samson; it’s my turn!

It’s been mainly quiet as is often the case during incubation but there has been an unringed female osprey that hung around for several days and caused the pair a bit of concern. The worst was on Monday 9 May when she had a real go at Juno who was on the nest with Samson. The two females battled on the nest and in the immediate surrounds but Samson, bless him, stayed tight on the eggs, protecting them from any harm and probably got well trampled upon for his troubles. She now appears to have left the area but Juno does occasionally patrol the skies when Samson is incubating just to make sure that she hasn’t sneaked back.

Intruder patrol by Juno

I’ve mentioned before how there seems to be a constant battle between Samson and Brian (my colleague, photographer and fellow observer), as to whether or not Samson can get onto the nest with a freshly caught fish without Brian being able to take a photo of him. Samson is winning by about 978-3 at the moment since we started Border Ospreys! Well, it now appears that the competition has been extended to include my taking screenshots of events on the nest. I came in one morning to see that one of them had erected a screen of beech leaves and branches, totally obscuring the centre of the nest and, potentially, any views of chicks from the camera. However, they had reckoned without the weather and one sustained gust of wind restored the view and deposited their screen over the side of the nest. I wait to see what they think of next.

We can still see you, Juno.

Well, I think that’s about it for news. We are now just over half way through the incubation period for the first egg and excitement is mounting here. I probably won’t write again before The Big Event unless there is something important to say but please keep your fingers and toes crossed for this family and come down and say hello if you’re visiting.

A COMPLETE CLUTCH?

Well, I know you’ve all been waiting to hear whether Juno laid a third egg yesterday and I can tell you that she did…..probably. However, handover of incubating duties have been very slick, Juno seems to have particularly feathery pantaloons and the loss of the nest camera for 24 critical hours have combined to leave a tiny bit of doubt as to whether she managed a third egg or not. What I will say is that there was a very odd incident yesterday when Juno who was in the nest, suddenly jumped up, flew a circuit and then landed back on the nest for no apparent reason, almost as if she’d had an electric shock or someone had stuck a pin in her. Perhaps it might have been the surprise arrival of a third egg? Moreover, Samson seemed to be having far more difficulty incubating comfortably yesterday and today than he did earlier in the week, which might suggest a larger clutch than there was on Friday. The screenshots so far have been inconclusive.

How many eggs have you got under there, Juno?

I also promised to let you know of any other goings on during the past 10 days or so. Nest furnishing proceeded apace at the start of the period with both birds bringing in primarily soft material to furnish the nest having perhaps decided that they had done enough building of stick walls. As in previous years, man made rubbish continued to be mistaken for natural material and baler twine and bits of plastic continue to cause concern when they are deposited on the nest. Luckily, most has ended up outside the nest, thankfully as a result of a few windy days, but the threat is ever present. Juno has been particularly enthusiastic, on one occasion bringing in what looked like a giant wig! She felt that if she was going to spend the vast majority of May sitting on the nest, she was going to make absolutely sure that she was comfortable.

Juno bringing in the comfy chair

Since egg laying started, Samson has probably done more incubation than is normal for a male plus, of course, doing all the fishing. Juno has been content to sit in the dead tree and only take over incubating when she wanted him to go fishing. However, in the last day or so, she has started actively seeking to take her turn on the eggs, although she has still to learn the eviction technique of the shoulder under Samson’s body when he’s reluctant to give up the cosy nest.

There have been one or two intruding ospreys in the area but they have been seen off some distance away from the nest, often before they are even in sight of the human observers. Crow bashing has been tackled by whoever is on the nest perch and, with one exception where Juno got carried away with Samson’s pursuit of a pair and joined in, the incubator has been able to sit tight. The herons which appeared to be setting up home alongside the burn that runs under the nest tree have now decided that the other side of the River Teviot is a far safer option, especially as one of them was hotly pursued by an irate Juno on Thursday right across the field and the river before she called off the attack.

Samson escorting an intruding female osprey from the area

So now is the time where we just sit and wait. The hatching window opens at the very end of the month and the signs are encouraging that Samson and Juno are developing into a good team. She seems to be learning fast and developing her instincts equally quickly and Samson is doing a great job as teacher and provider. Nevertheless, May is going to seem a very long month and I’m trying hard to keep a lid on expectations from this new pairing. I’ll let you know how things develop.

A SECOND EGG

A very quick note to say that Juno has laid a second egg today, right on time. As a first time breeder, she may stop at 2 but, if she lays a third, it’s likely to be on Saturday. So far, Samson has been the keener of the two to incubate but she has been very good and sitting tight when it’s been her turn, ignoring crows trying to bait her and keeping that precious egg nice and warm and safe. I’ll write again at the weekend and tell you a bit more about the past week and what’s been happening.

A rather grainy screen shot of the two eggs
Changeover time. Juno is the one standing.

HER NAME IS JUNO

As those of you who read my last blog will know, one very important condition had to be met before I was prepared to give our female, JW6, a name. She was such a nuisance last year with chasing off any rivals but then not being prepared to settle down with Samson, that I said that she would get a name until……SHE LAID AN EGG! That occurred with very little fuss this afternoon, but she hid it successfully from view in a very deep cup in the centre of the nest until about 6.30 this evening, when a shuffle of it allowed us to see and take a quick screenshot.

Proud Juno and her first egg

Juno and Samson have both been extremely attentive though his attempts to mate with her again weren’t particularly welcomed this afternoon. The long incubation now starts and I really hope that, as an inexperienced parent, she has the patience to sit out the 37-42 day period. Her character has changed significantly over the past few days and it’s obvious that her instincts, so sadly lacking last year, have really kicked in, so I hope she’ll be fine. A second egg may follow in about 72 hours and possibly a third a further 72 hours on again.

There are many hazards the eggs(s) will face before any chicks hatch. Abandonment, predation, accidental damage by the parents, infertile eggs are all dangers which can occur between now and hatching time. I will update you further in the coming days but for now, we are celebrating the arrival of the first egg at Border Ospreys in 5 years; it’s been a long wait.

MIGHT SHE?

I know many of you have been wondering what has been happening since Samson appeared last Monday and whether he’d found a willing female this year. Well, I wanted to make sure that we weren’t witnessing a flash in the pan but he has found a female and she seems very interested in breeding. What some of who are regulars readers of the blog may be more surprised to hear is that it is JW6. Last year she was, to be frank, a real headache. She chased away any other females but showed little interest in Samson, the nest or any aspect of breeding. When she arrived this year she again spent long periods of time away from the nest area for the first few days, including visiting various nest sites at Kielder, and then wasn’t seen at all for several days. It looked like she may have gone for good but, she was clearly keeping an eye on the nest site because the morning following his arrival, there she was on the dead tree calling at him for fish.

Samson bringing in a “small tree“
The happy couple discussing nursery decoration

Since then she has displayed exactly the sort of behaviour we would expect from a female preparing to breed. She has allowed Samson to mate regularly with her, she has spent far more time than she has done previously in the nest itself, rearranging the nest material, and has been regularly seen collecting more material herself. Most importantly, she has stayed in and around the nest area, not wandering out of sight for more than very short trips.

JW6 on patrol
Supper arriving

All in all, things look very promising and, while I’m not counting my osprey chicks, we are hopeful that we may see eggs laid in the next week. I promised that I would give her a name when she laid her first egg; I have a few ideas but if you think of an appropriate name, please let me know but you’d best make it soon!

After significant frustration, the nest camera is now working and a picture can be seen in the restaurant once more, so I hope that we may be able to soon bring you exciting news with photographic evidence. Please keep your fingers and toes crossed and I’ll let you know when something happens.

PHEW!!!

Well, having kept us on the edge of our chairs, given us sleepless nights and worried our fingernails down to the quick, Samson arrived this morning and was on the nest at 0913. He’s since had a wash and brush up and is now working away redecorating the nest after our feeble attempts to make it look appealing. He’ll need to go fishing soon as his crop looks empty but so delighted to see him again, nearly two weeks after the date he had arrived last year had passed.

A bedraggled, but safe, Samson surveying his territory.

IT BEGINS AGAIN

A very quick blog from your intrepid reporter standing in the middle of a field on a very cold but sunny Sunday morning, to tell you that JW6, our female from last year, has returned. An osprey was first seen here on 2 Apr at 1630 and her identity was confirmed this morning. We are still awaiting Samson, as is she. She now appears to have gone fishing after her shrill food begging (that pair of lungs would have convinced us it was her even if we hadn’t seen her leg ring!) didn’t produce a fish bearing male.

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.