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

A SPRING LIKE NO OTHER

In this strangest of years, it has been a reassuring sight to see Spring progressing, oblivious to human stresses and strains, in its normal way. When last I wrote, Samson had returned and was waiting for his female from last year, KX7, who had already been seen at Kielder. Well, he continued to wait and she failed to appear at Border Ospreys to the best of our knowledge. Lockdown is restricting activities of all osprey monitors and it wasn’t until recently that Kielder were able to report that, not only had she stayed there but she also had found a mate and is, as I write, incubating eggs on a newly constructed nest platform! So very good news for Kielder, KX7 and her new mate but not so good for Samson. He had been sky dancing in the hope of bringing KX7, or indeed any other female, in and we saw two unringed females land on the nest during April but on neither occasion did they stay for more than a couple of hours before moving on.

 

That all changed on 1 May when a large, striking-looking female arrived and fussed around the nest and decided that she rather liked the look of the place. We were very excited to see that, not only was she ringed, but that the large blue Darvic ring (numbered 3AF) was on her right leg, signifying that she was from England or Wales.

3AF surveying her new territory (Photo courtesy of Brian Clark)

 

I reported the sighting and was told that she was ringed as a chick near Rutland Water in 2017 and had intruded at the Dyfi nest in Wales on 21 April this year. What was particularly significant is that she is the first Rutland fledged chick to have been reported in Scotland, so an historically important sighting. Rutland Water was the site of a translocation project in the 1990s when chicks from nests in Scotland were released over a number of years in the Rutland area in an effort to establish a breeding colony there. After several years, breeding was successful and there are now several nests in the area. 3AF comes from a nest on private land.

 

As a three year old, she is of breeding age but she seemed reluctant to conform to the normal pattern of behaviour and seemed to delight to throw the increasingly tatty-by-this-stage rule book out of a succession of windows. One of the first thing a potential breeding female does is to demand food from the male. This is to check that her chosen mate can provide for her and any chicks they may have. Fishing has been hard this year so far, with river levels very low and fish stocks are noticeably down. Nevertheless, Samson did his best but she wouldn’t accept fish from him. After a day or so, she went off and we wondered whether she had gone for good but she was back later in the day, carrying the trout equivalent to Moby Dick! Samson had been waiting for her with a modest sized trout. It was like a misquote of the famous line in Crocodile Dundee when a couple of louts try to mug him and wave knives at him, only to have him bring out his huge knife and chase them away. I felt she was saying “Call that a fish? THIS is a fish!”

 

3AF on the left with “Moby Dick”. Samson coyly hiding his more modest sized trout on the right

 

She did the same again two days later; although, I felt her carrying it in with only one foot was an unnecessarily harsh way of making Samson feel inadequate. Eventually, however, she allowed him to provide fish for her and we haven’t seen her bringing back her own fish for nearly a week now.

 

The normal gift for the male providing a fish is for the female to allow him to mate with her. Again, she was very unwilling at first and poor old Samson’s efforts were in vain but recently she has been much more compliant and, while most attempts are still unsuccessful, there have been some successes. The third way in which she is defying convention is that she is spending long periods away from the nest, whereas we would like to see her almost ever present if she is preparing to lay eggs. It doesn’t augur well for her ability to sit for nigh on 40 days if she feels the need to disappear away for hours. On the plus side, she is fiddling around with the nesting material and has been seen laying down in the nest, almost as if she’s trying it for size and comfort. Her development has also come on in leaps and bounds over the last week but time is fast running out for her to lay eggs if she is to have any success at raising a brood this year.

 

So, she is keeping us all (and I include Samson in that) guessing as to what will happen and what she will do next. She is definitely boss in that nest and they do look like a close couple when they are together. My own view is that we probably won’t hear the patter of tiny talons this year but I need my hat as the mornings can still be frosty up here, so I won’t be eating it if I’m wrong. Unlike last year where we didn’t name the female, we have decided to do so this year. As many of you know, I spent most of my career in the Royal Air Force and, as her ring alpha numeric is 3AF, it seemed appropriate that that should form the basis of our choice. The motto of the RAF is “Per Ardua ad Astra” which translates as “Through Hardship to the Stars”, so we decided that we would call her Astra, although I think Samson would prefer Ardua as she has been such hard work.

 

Samson and Astra

 

By the next time I write, it will be clear whether or not we can expect a family this year. Furthermore, hopefully the situation re the coronavirus will have reached the stage that some  restrictions can be lifted. However, at present, Border Ospreys remains closed and people may not visit and you are therefore requested to stay away. Once we can accept visitors, we’d love to see you and as well as tell you about the ospreys, I can recommend all the good food available in the restaurant. There’s something faintly decadent about birdwatching using a TV monitor while enjoying a meal or a delicious cake and a drink and I look forward to being able to join you there. Until then, I will try to keep you up to date with the avian soap opera that is Border Ospreys.

 

 

Rosie Shields

 

14 May 20

 

THE BEGINNING AGAIN

This is just a very quick blog as I promised to let you know when we had news to give you.

 

Chronologically, our first bit of news was that our young female KX7 was most probably sighted on 21 Dec in Senegal by two ornithologists (Bram Piot and Frederic Bacuez) out there and Frederic kindly sent me a long-distance photo he took of her.

KX7 in Senegal 21 Dec 19. Photo courtesy of Frederic Bacuez.

 

Initially, they thought her ring number was XX7 but, as that number has not been designated, the closest to that was KX7, and certainly, the head feathers in the photographed bird resemble those of KX7. My thanks to them both for letting me know and providing the photograph. It was good news to know that she had survived her southbound migration and was clearly doing well, as the large fish she was enjoying showed.

 

We then waited, impatiently as normal, for the Spring. The influx of birds started well and several appeared to be arriving earlier than in previous years but then the weather deteriorated which seemed to hold them up. Over the last few days, it has cleared and there has been a flood of birds arriving back at their nests. The lockdown restrictions have made life difficult for many observers across the country and we have been lucky to be close enough to our nest to be able to take our daily exercise along the river, although we miss being able to spend the amount of time there as we have done previously. I received two reports of a possible osprey being seen on 4 Apr but we could not confirm them. The following day, KX7 appeared on a nest at Kielder, food soliciting with another intruder female from the rather confused male on the nest.

 

KX7 and the female from Nest 6 food soliciting from White YA,  the male on Kielder Nest 1a. Photo courtesy of Forestry England.

 

However, their efforts came to a rather abrupt halt when the resident female arrived home from migration. KX7 wasn’t seen by anyone back at her home nest but did make another foray onto the same nest at Kielder the following day, managing to steal half a fish before she was chased off by the female. I love this picture of the irate resident female (centre) arriving back at the nest too late to prevent KX7 from beating a hasty retreat (right) while the male from whom she stole it (left) looks sheepish! Apologies for the condensation on the camera lens.

 

KX7 escaping with her ill-gotten gains just in time! Photo courtesy of Forestry England

 

However, what she probably didn’t know at that stage, was that Samson arrived “home” the same morning and, having caught a fish, proceeded to eat it and then immediately started doing repairs to the nest. He has been busy ever since and has added lots of sticks and bits of mud etc and has dug out a nice cup in the middle ready for the eggs to nestle safely. All he needs now is for KX7 to return and settle down!

 

Samson reclaiming his nest 6 Apr 20.

 

We haven’t managed to see her yet at Border Ospreys but, hopefully, she and Samson will meet up and she won’t feel the need to wander too far again. A steady supply of fish might help cure her wanderlust, Samson!

 

We will do the best we can, during this lockdown period, to monitor what is happening on the nest. The government has said everyone must stay at home apart from strictly limited occasions. Sadly, this means we have to ask you not to come to Border Ospreys. The site does remain closed while the Coronavirus restrictions remain in force. We will keep monitoring the situation closely and will advise you when it changes. Thank you for your forbearance and stay safe.

 

Rosie Shields

7 April 2020

THE END AND THE BEGINNING AGAIN

I can’t believe that the osprey season is virtually over and I’m writing my last blog of 2019. Nevertheless, many birds are already on the move and we haven’t had a confirmed sighting of an osprey (probably Samson) at Border Ospreys since Wed 22 August, so our pair may well have migrated and be well on their way to wherever they winter. I’ll make sure that my friends who visit Senegal and Gambia over the winter keep a good look out for KX7 and report back any sightings; it would be great to know where she spends her winters. There is no way of knowing where Samson goes as he is unringed so, with the best will in the world, he couldn’t be identified. We wish both of them safe travels and “haste ye back” next Spring.

It’s been a very mixed bag of a season here. Samson made us nervous by being several days later than normal and we then had the tragedy of Freya’s non appearance and the sad conclusion that she had not survived one of the two migration journeys or her winter. We had the spectacular sight of Samson skydancing to attract a new mate and, after two false starts with other females, finally attracting the attentions of the stunning KX7. Too young to breed, she nevertheless treated us to great views while she was learning to be a territorial female and growing more and more confident as the season went on. Who can forget the sights we had of the fish-carrying Samson being chased onto the nest by a screaming KX7, seeing her snatch it off him and then retreat to the dead tree to eat, while he in the meantime sat close by with (I swear) a relieved look on his face?

Oi! Hand over that fish NOW!” KX7 pursuing Samson onto the nest to relieve him of the fish he’s brought for her.

The second year being without chicks has been extremely frustrating, especially as we had had such high hopes of Freya’s return and opportunity to breed and it was disappointing for the many customers who visited the restaurant hoping to see a family on the nest on the screen. I am however very optimistic for next year. Statistically, we were very unlucky to lose Freya and so to have a similar tragedy next year would be even less likely. However, predictions based purely on statistics can be wrong so I am therefore throwing the statistics out of the window and relying on good old fashioned crossed fingers and toes that both our birds return and breed successfully!

We also had the very exciting confirmed return of the first of our ringed chicks in the shape of PY0, our middle of the three chicks hatched in the nest in 2017, and nicknamed Walter. Others may well have also successfully returned but have not been reported as being seen.

PY0 intruding at Kielder. (Photograph courtesy of Forestry England)

So, despite the disappointment of no chicks, it hasn’t all been doom and gloom and there is a significant prospect of osprey breeding being attempted next year. In the meantime, we will be keeping our eyes open for transiting intruder ospreys as well as all the other wildlife that is to be seen along the river here. We will be doing our normal maintenance on the nest and the camera equipment over the winter and will be raring to go again by the Spring. The camera will hopefully be running from about mid March and I’ll let you know when there’s news to tell. In the meantime, my thanks to John, the owner of Born in the Borders, and all the staff there for their support; to Jain Jameson of Techstar, my computer and camera technology expert; to Steven Craig of Soutra Design for producing my blog; to Kirsty Smith of Tree Bird Arboriculture for braving the giddy heights of the tree to carry out work on the camera and the nest this year; and to Tony Lightley, of Forestry & Land Scotland, and Joanna Dailey, my opposite number at Kielder, for their knowledge, encouragement and commitment to the ospreys in the area on both sides of the Border. Finally, my thanks to you and all the lovely people I’ve met, in the restaurant, down by the river this year or at the various talks I’ve given. Your support and enthusiasm are always appreciated and I hope you’ve enjoyed my verbal and/or written bletherings. See you all in 2020.

Samson, plus a close escort of jackdaws and a crow.
KX7

Rosie Shields
26 August 2019

I THINK SHE PROBABLY WILL…(Flying photos by kind permission of Kate Sumner Wilson and Brian Clark)

You will recall from my last blog we were left with the question still unanswered as to whether the female, leg ringed KX7, would stay or not. Well, the answer I have for you in this blog is that she probably will as she is still with us (that’s 7 weeks now!) and is looking very settled. There. I’ve said it. That should have her high tailing it out at first light tomorrow!

KX7 in hot pursuit of Samson bringing in a fish.

Joking apart, the pair are looking increasingly comfortable and settled with each other. In fact, they have set up such a routine that there’s been very little to report until recently. He has flown off and got her a fish in the morning. She has eaten it and then disappeared off to have a bath and a fly around the area, settling in a nearby tree on the far side of the river or in the dead tree to sit and sit, like ospreys do, until it’s time to shout for another fish which Samson normally provides in the early evening. He often eats away from the nest area as she sometimes nags him for some of his fish if he brings it where she can see him.

She has been displaying some very encouraging signs to show that she sees the area as her territory to be defended. She won’t tolerate crows coming near her and she chases them off. She is particularly intolerant of buzzards and I watched her recently chase one off that was circling on the far side of the river, not actually bothering her at all. She was doing a grand job until its mate got airborne and she had to beat a hasty retreat once she realised that she was outnumbered! This week, she saw an approaching female osprey intruder and she immediately got airborne with a very aggressive posture of legs (and talons) lowered. She chased it from the immediate vicinity and was later seen high in the sky, escorting it well away.

Samson’s behaviour has been changing over the last few days. Regular readers of my blog will remember last year that he started attempting to build a nest in the dead tree and I remarked that this was something that ospreys often do and that it is referred to as a frustration nest. He’s started again this year and has been (similarly to last year) both enthusiastic and unsuccessful. He has been driving KX7 mad as she sees him approaching and comes rushing in, only to find it’s a stick in his talons, not a nice juicy fish for her.

Samson bringing in a stick when KX7 wants a fish!

His enthusiasm for new nest building has only lasted a few days and he has now reverted to bringing in bits for the original nest. I was sad to see a huge lump of baler twine being brought in by him. He clearly mistakes the stuff for grass and tries to arrange it in the nest, little realising the peril he has brought back with him. Tangled around an adult bird’s legs or talons, it could easily snag on a tree branch and potentially lead to the bird’s death. A chick could also get tangled in it in the nest and choke. Unfortunately, the river brings lots of such debris down with it and there is little we can do. Whenever we visit the nest we remove any that we find but it is a great concern to us.

Samson with baler twine that he has brought from the river.

The other thing that has changed is that Samson is starting to ignore his mate’s calls for fish or is sometimes bringing back a fish and then not sharing it or eating most of it and leaving her only a small piece. As I’ve mentioned several times, she is much bigger than him and you’d therefore think it was quite a risky strategy to annoy her. I wonder if it is as a result of the advance of the season and the lowering of his instinctive drive to provide for her? At this time of year, if they were breeding, the chicks would no longer require a parent to feed them once the fish had been provided, they would be fledging and starting to explore the area and the female would be starting to loosen her bonds with both the family and the nest. She would then start to feed herself up in preparation for migrating in August. While most females are not averse to eating fish provided by the males, his priority has become to supply the chicks and less so the female. Perhaps, with no chicks to feed, Samson feels less need to bring back the steady supply of fish that he has done since KX7 arrived. It’s just speculation on my part but it does seem to be a noticeable trend.

There hasn’t been too much to see on the restaurant screen as they don’t spend a lot of time actually in view of the camera being as they are not breeding. However, he always brings her fish onto the nest to pass across to her so viewers/diners can’t afford to blink as they never know when there’s going to be a flurry of activity to watch. I was chatting to a group earlier this week in the restaurant and had just explained about the lack of screen time when Samson landed on the nest followed rapidly by KX7 and, not for the first time, the ospreys made me out to be a complete idiot!

A passing visit to the nest this week.

Nevertheless, down by the river one or other and often both are seen for most of the day.

KX7 looking rather beautiful in the evening light.
Samson patrolling his territory.

As you will have noticed, we have not yet named our female. We had a bit of a think about it and decided against naming her this year, not wishing to tempt fate. We have several ideas for names for her, assuming she returns next year, but if you think she suits a particular name, let us know and we’ll keep it in mind.

In the meantime, if you’re in the area please pop down and say hello and enjoy watching the two of them interact. Like all ospreys, they do a lot of sitting around and they are a lovely sight. If you’re lucky, you might even see a bit of sky dancing from him or intruder chasing from her; they are well worth watching. I’ll update you as they start to prepare for migration…..where has the season gone?

Rosie Shields

10 July 2019

WILL SHE…WON’T SHE???

Well, what a peculiar season this is turning out to be. Samson was a week later than normal in arriving and then spent a couple of days wandering around before settling down to do any repairs necessary to the nest. We then spent a long time waiting until it was clear that Freya wasn’t coming back. Then we got a female who seemed to settle down, only to disappear after a couple of days. The pattern then continued when, a week or so later, another female arrived and Samson launched into his, by now, well practised courtship display. She was clearly not impressed and only stayed for a few hours, not even waiting for a fish. Then finally, on Fri 24 May, another female arrived on the nest.Continue reading “WILL SHE…WON’T SHE???”

MORE DISAPPOINTMENT BUT…..

Not a lot of good news to tell you at the moment, I’m afraid. It now looks like Freya has not survived as she would probably have been here by now and she hasn’t been seen anywhere else (Kielder have been keeping a sharp eye out for her as well). The regular dangers that face ospreys, not just on migration but also in their wintering grounds, mean that even birds that you would expect to survive, like Freya who was young and feisty, succumb to them. We can only hope that she didn’t suffer.Continue reading “MORE DISAPPOINTMENT BUT…..”