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.

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER?

I must apologise to you all and particularly those of you holding your breath since my last blog. It was never intended to be such a gap before I let you know what was happening; life, however, caught up with me so here we are with me writing the next blog in the series and also the last for the season.

 

3AF (Astra) reassumed her position as matriarch of the nest after successfully ousting Unringed by indirectly starving her out!! It was interesting to see that she seemed to get far more amenable to Samson and stayed much closer to the nest than before. We had several more intruders during Jul and Aug including KS1, a female hatched in 2018 at Glaslyn in Wales, a nest with an internet camera. We were therefore able to get lots of information about her, including the fact that she was greedy and would aggressively hoard her food on the nest, not even letting the parents come close. It was therefore no surprise to see her behaving the same way during her two day stay around our nest. On one occasion, Astra was already on the nest food begging as Samson arrived with a fish, hotly pursued by KS1. She “elbowed” Samson out of the way and stole the fish from under his beak before Astra had even moved! The second of these photographs is of all 3 of them on the nest, KS1 on the back left and Astra on the back right of the nest with Samson just wanting to stay out of the way!

KS1 checking out the nest.

 

Three’s a crowd

 

Astra seemed a little wary of chasing her off but eventually she managed it the following day and KS1 was last seen departing to the north east, with Astra right behind, checking she wasn’t coming back.

 

One other interesting intruder was KX7, who visited the nest briefly on 11 Aug. You will recall that she was the female that stayed with us all last summer, but decided this Spring to settle down at Kielder and she raised two chicks with a new partner. I have no idea why she popped across to see us, especially as her own chicks had only just fledged, but it was nevertheless a pleasant surprise and rather nice that, for once we could report a Kielder bird intruding on our nest, rather than the other way around!

 

In early Aug, Astra did one of her “absences” and we thought maybe she had migrated, although it would have been quite early. She was away for 4 days and, within a couple of hours, Unringed was back on the nest, suggesting she was keeping a very close eye on what was happening, even though she seemed to have disappeared the previous month. Unfortunately for her, Astra reappeared and again, she was forced to retreat, and wasn’t seen on camera again before I expect she migrated.

 

The final time Samson was seen this season was on the morning of 27 Aug, when he was on one of the river perches, eating a sizeable fish. I imagine he probably set off on migration once he’d finished the fish. I wished him “bon voyage” when I saw him there, just in case. That evening, Astra was caught on camera, yelling for all she was worth for a fish, but without apparent success. Next morning, she intruded at Kielder and had an empty crop, suggesting that she had not fed since being seen by us. From 2-6 Sep she was seen daily, fishing near Abbotsbury Swannery, Dorset on the south coast. She has not been spotted since and probably took advantage of some friendly wind blowing from the north to cross the Channel and start on her migration proper.

 

3AF fishing off Abbotsbury Swannery, Dorset (with thanks to Joe Stockwell)

 

It was very encouraging to have regular reports of PX9 and PY0, the males from the 2017 Border Ospreys brood, both back in the UK and fishing in Derwent Reservoir, Whittle Dene Reservoir and intruding at Kielder, all locations close “as the osprey flies” to us. We think PX9 also came to our nest but we were unable to confirm the ring number. Samson was away at the time but would have chased him off if he’d seen him; no family loyalty where nest sites and territories are concerned! PX9 also appeared to have found a mate and was seen sitting alongside her on a number of occasions at Whittle Dene; there was however no sign seen of any nest building.

 

PX9 (above) and PYO (below) fishing and looking for territory in Northumberland / Co. Durham (thanks to @GeorgeLurcher55 and Forestry England respectively)

 

So yet another barren year at Border Ospreys but much to encourage us. Unlike previous years, Samson seemed to have a queue of females wanting to share his nest with him and, if Unringed and Astra both make it back in the Spring, I reckon that there could be a real bun fight between them for breeding rights!

 

Before I sign off for this season, I’d like to thank John Henderson, the owner of Born in the Borders, for his support despite all the stresses and strains he has undergone as an owner of a hospitality and retail business during this pandemic; Jain Jameson for her electronics and IT expertise; Steven Craig for creating sense out of my ramblings and turning them into a smart looking blog; Kirsty Smith for her crazy exploits at height doing nest and tree work; and, finally, Joanne Dailey my opposite number at Kielder for her constant reassurance, knowledge and upbeat support to keep me from tearing my hair out, and of course for regular pictures and videos of any intruding birds at Kielder with Border Ospreys connections.

 

It’s been a really strange year for so many reasons but I’m hoping some normality can return next year, including us being able to hear the pattern of tiny talons at long last. We’ve got some work to do before Spring, primarily by removing a lot of the branches on the nest and moving it back to where it was originally so it is fully supported by the base structure and not such a heavy strain on the tree branch. You’ll see the difference between these two pictures taken in 2016 and this year.

 

Nest in 2016 (above) and in 2020 (below). Samson brought nearly all the additional nesting material himself.

 

We also, inevitably, have some maintenance work on wiring and electronics to do but come next March we will hopefully be fully sorted and raring to go. We hope you’ll join us in 2021; I can’t guarantee anything as far as the birds are concerned but I can promise we’ll be there to bring whatever they get up to to you. See you next year.

 

Rosie Shields

12 Oct 20

HOW ARE YOUR NERVES?

First of all, I’d like to thank you for all your kind comments about my last blog. Your input is very much appreciated and it’s so nice to know I’m not talking to myself.

 

I left you on a bit of a cliffhanger, I know, so I’d best update you without further ado. For the next few days, the pair continued to bond with lots of successful mating, fussing about the nest, provision and consumption of fish and the normal things associated with imminent breeding but the clock continued to tick and there appeared to be no further development. We started to believe that that was as far as they would get, but that all changed on 11 Jun when she was discovered lying in the nest looking for all the world like egg laying had occurred or was at least imminent. I was glued to the screen but, when she finally deigned to stand up and let me see, there was no egg there. Nevertheless, she continued to lie there, taking only the briefest of flights away for bathing and other “necessities” or when Samson brought her a fish, which he did religiously. On several occasions, he came down into the nest cup to take his turn at incubating the egg, only to discover there was none, and he seemed very confused by her behaviour versus what was actually happening. That in itself was interesting as it seemed that her attitude was what caused a trigger in him to want to incubate.

Is she hiding anything under there?

 

This behaviour continued for 3 days and, sadly, it soon became clear that the most likely reason for her behaviour was a “going through the motions” of laying, perhaps something like an osprey phantom pregnancy, although why she exhibited this was less clear. There have been many examples of birds laying infertile eggs without a male being present but I’d be interested to know if anyone else has witnessed what we were seeing. Anyway, the chances of an egg seemed to diminish rapidly as the time she spent lying in the nest went on.

 

End of drama? Not a bit of it. In the late afternoon of 14 Jun, she suddenly stood up and started getting agitated, alternately mantling (appearing to cover the nest with her wings) and wing flapping excitedly. Suddenly, an intruding osprey dived towards her making her duck; it then swung around and landed briefly on the nest. The blue ring on her right leg immediately identified her as 3AF/Astra from whom we had had neither sight nor sound since 26 May and the buzzard attack!

 

 

Our unringed female chased her quickly from the nest but 3AF was persistent and tried again and again to dislodge unringed but without success. Males tend to battle male intruders and females tackle females. Samson only managed to get himself in the way a couple of times and, even though he seemed to want to support his present mate, she pushed him off the nest in no uncertain manner to give herself space. The battle then took to the air with both females trying to gain air superiority (I knew my Air Force training would come in handy) and manoeuvre into positions to gain control of the nest. Eventually, it became more like an aerial chess battle with lots of slow flying circles, trying to maintain height advantage and pre-empt the other’s tactics, with Samson watching from a distance either airborne or from the safety of the nearby dead tree. After 3 hours, they took the battle downstream and did not return until after I had left.

 

 

The battle of 14 June

 

The following morning, it was with some trepidation that I arrived and could only see Samson, sitting unconcernedly in a tree across the river. I turned on the screen and saw unringed lying, as if nothing had happened, in the nest cup exactly as she had been 24 hours previously.  She was more fidgety on the nest that day and several times took off and flew around the area, checking out her territory. She did so with good cause, as 3AF returned in the afternoon and again tried to dislodge her, again without success. Samson seemed unwilling to leave the nest area for long even to go fishing, with the result that both of the pair became increasingly hungry. The following day, our unringed female was seen on and off the nest and spent short periods of time away from the area. However, by the evening, 3AF had taken up residence on the nest perch and was there again the following morning, and ate the large fish that Samson brought in early in the morning. A final battle took place at lunchtime on the 17th and again the unringed female drove 3AF off the nest but, without the nourishment of the morning fish, was unable to maintain her position and by the evening, 3AF was once more on the nest perch. This morning, Samson brought in two fish and both were consumed rapidly by 3AF and I saw no sign of the unringed female. Samson sounds very fickle in all this but the males will not usually get involved in territorial disputes with the much larger females and will be content to provide for and attempt to bond with the winners, so he’s doing what comes naturally, despite what we may feel about what we would see as his less than chivalrous behaviour.

 

3AF back in residence??

 

So, a different cliffhanger for you this time. Is 3AF now reestablished as the female on the nest? Will the unringed female do as Glesni did at Dyfi when she was usurped by Blue 24 several years ago when she went away, fed herself up and returned like an avenging harpy to reclaim her nest? I’ve no idea but I’ll let you know when I do.

 

 

 

 

Rosie Shields

 

18 June 2020

MORE TWISTS AND TURNS THAN A CORKSCREW

Those of you who have read my blog over the past year will know that I firmly believe that the ospreys are included in your numbers. They wait until I put something in writing…and then do the opposite. 3AF/Astra has been no exception, so Samson must have given her the web address. No sooner had I pronounced that they were a close couple on the nest than it was clear that the bonding had come to a grinding halt. I mentioned the examples where she was continuing to demonstrate her independence and unwillingness to conform to the idea of how a breeding bird should behave and these traits became increasingly more pronounced. She was spending even longer away from the nest and sometimes we weren’t seeing her for over 24 hours. She became less and less willing to tolerate Samson’s attempts to mate and he was still mantling in the submissive way males have at the beginning of or the reestablishing of a relationship, far beyond the normal timescale. Finally, she started fishing for herself again and refusing his offerings. It all came to an abrupt end on 26th May when the nest suffered a sustained attack by a buzzard. We have a nesting pair of buzzards on either side of the nest but there is general tolerance as long as everyone keeps to their respective bits of airspace. What prompted this attack I’ll never know, but it was aggressive and he/she forced Astra off the nest perch by diving at her. The picture shows the buzzard attacking. Astra is just out of camera shot below.

 

Buzzard dive-bombing the nest (photo by Brian Clark)

 

Samson fought the buzzard off but Astra flew across to the other side of the river, sat for a while on a favourite perch and then disappeared behind trees and we have had no confirmed sightings of her since. The buzzard did not make contact with her and she was not injured but I think the attack just broke any lingering commitment she felt that she had to the nest and she has moved on to find another partner and safer territory. (Hot news: 3AF intruded on a nest at Kielder 5 Jun 20)

 

During Astra’s tenure as mistress of the Border Ospreys nest, we had two further intruders. A ringed male appeared on the nest perch on 14 May but I was unable to read the ring number from the recording. The following day, a very cheeky female, ringed JW7, followed Samson onto the nest when he came in with a fish. She was a 2 year old hatched from a nest near the Lake of Menteith and she was the first of three birds from the same area to intrude either here or at Kielder. We and Kielder must be on the osprey equivalent of the AA route finder (other migration route finders are available) to that area. She stayed for about an hour before giving up and moving on.

 

JW7 trying to coax Samson to hand over his fish

 

We of course were not to know immediately that Astra had left and just assumed that she was off on one of her regular absences. However, on the afternoon of the 29th May, an unringed female landed on the nest and, within 2 minutes of Samson arriving to join her, she had allowed him to mate successfully with her! She is still with us and her behaviour could not be more different to that of 3AF/Astra. As an unringed bird we have no means of knowing how old or experienced she is but she and Samson seem to have formed an immediate and close bond with her doing all the things she is supposed to, unlike Astra, and Samson seemingly much more relaxed around her. Nest refurbishment has been carried out by both birds, with him bringing his usual rubbish, her diplomatically pushing it aside when he’s not looking and both rearranging material and nest cupping (ie forming a dip in the centre of the nest for the eggs by lying in the nest and scuffing out a hollow with their feet). She has demanded and accepted fish from him and they have regularly mated.

 

Our newest female (photo by Brian Clark)

 

Now, the latest known egg laying that led to successful fledging of chicks we think was at Threave in 2012 and I am grateful to them for confirming the timings for me. I’m sure any of my colleagues reading this and being aware of a later brood will let me know. They were laid about 20 May and the later of the two chicks that hatched departed on migration on 3 Oct. So our pair are way behind schedule and outside the normal window for laying. However, nature isn’t interested in what humans think or their statistics and, in this case, the hormones are still telling this pair to continue preparing for eggs to be laid. I have no way of knowing at this stage how this story will develop and I leave you with a bit of a cliffhanger. It’s strange but here we are, nearly a month after my last blog, and I am now (however unreasonably) a bit more confident of there being a brood at Border Ospreys than I was on the day I wrote that blog.  I can only go on what the birds are doing and so I hope that they are too busy to read this and scupper my hopes but I will let you know as soon as I have news.

 

In the meantime, Born in the Borders and Border Ospreys remains closed and the coronavirus guidelines remain in place, but we look forward to welcoming you as soon as we can.

 

Finally, you may be interested to know that the female from last year, KX7, who decided to make Kielder her home instead, now appears to have at least one chick at her new nest. I wish her the very best of luck at the start of her breeding life.

 

KX7 (right) watching her chick(s) while her new mate looks on (photo courtesy of Forestry England)

 

 

 Rosie Shields

 

5 June 2020