____________________________________This week, I’ve once again decided to divert from my weekly nest round up, because for me at least, the main news is that of our Lady’s migration south. It is now a week since she was last seen at the nest, so hopefully she’s well on her way now, and I know we’ll all be wishing her safe passage to her over-wintering grounds. I often have to remind myself that this is only my third year of watching Lady, and by extension, the other nests that have captured my imagination, and yet there are so many aspects of Osprey behaviour that I now feel so familiar with, and watch out for during their time here, despite their continual rewriting of the text books!!! However, the one area of their lives that will continue to fascinate me, is their annual migration. Migration, not just in birds, but in so many other animals and even insects, remains an area with so many unknown factors, the whys & wherefores of, we can still only guess at. What we HAVE learnt a good deal more about, is the destinations of some of our Ospreys, the areas in which they spend their winter months, and the routes by which they travel to reach them. This at least, serves to answer some of the questions about their movements once they leave our shores. What remains less certain, is how they choose their winter locations, given that generally, they return to the same places every year. I would imagine that the criteria in selecting their habitat is similar to their spring/summer nesting grounds – they obviously choose areas that present them with good fishing, and good vantage points etc, but time and again, I ask myself, if they have good fishing, and warm weather etc, why travel to the UK to breed, and raise their young?? We know that in Scotland, the daylight hours are significantly longer, which obviously means that fish can be caught over a longer period of the day – crucial when there are hungry chicks on the nest, that demand almost constant feeding!! Perhaps too, there are less predatory threats to the birds as the young grow and develop? I don’t know the answers, but given the horrendous weather we’ve seen all around the country this year, which has had a detrimental effect on some nests again, it does occasionally cross my mind that Ospreys must be slightly mad!! Seriously though, we have seen some of the effects, (if indirect) of the incessant rain that has battered so many of the nests, the most glaring example for me, being DYFI, where two chicks perished due to the parents being rendered incapable of feeding them sufficiently for them to survive, prompting EMYR to take matters into his own hands that fateful weekend in June. Seeing young CEULAN now just further validates Emyr’s actions to my mind. The other fascinating aspects of the Ospreys’ migration are the triggers that kick-start both the northern, and the southern journeys. We do know that the breeding instinct is incredibly strong, and this clearly fuels their journey north, but what exactly is the indicator for this? Conversely, we assume the shortening of daylight hours as we enter August and September, similarly triggers the southern journey. For the females at least, there is presumably, the added knowledge that their maternal role is complete, which signals their departure south. There are I’m sure, more complex reasons behind all this, and maybe one day it will become clearer!! This all leads me back to LADY’S departure last Friday. Once again, I begin to reflect upon the past few months, and what we’ve seen. Certainly, there is a stark contrast in fortunes in comparison with last year’s disappointment at the failure of all three eggs, with the hatching, and subsequent fledging, of an extremely handsome young Osprey, in BLUE44. He will now of course, be observed by LADDIE during his remaining time here, and encouraged to fend for himself increasingly. With luck, we may even witness this young bird catch his first fish before his departure! The signs are encouraging, given his repeated attempts at diving into the Loch more recently! Speaking of Laddie, what a surprise package HE’S turned out to be!! I will happily confess that in March, I had fully expected to see 7Y return, NOT Lady, but I’m always happy to be proved wrong in such circumstances, though I was sad not to see 7Y return. However, our new boy was seemingly waiting for Lady Marje, and they instantly bonded, mated, and the rest is history – legend even!! For me, Laddie has been an instant, and continued success – we’ve all commented on the fact that Lady hasn’t needed to solicit for food with anything like the frequency she had to with poor 7Y!! Laddie has been an excellent provider for his family, and I was especially pleased to witness for myself, during our week in May, our boy making regular checks on the nest, and was rarely out of sight during the day, save for his fishing trips. This I’m sure gave Lady great confidence in his ability to both feed his family, and as we’ve seen on several occasions, to protect the nest as well. He was always quickly to the scene whenever intruders infringed upon their territory! This year, right across the spectrum of Osprey nests, we’ve witnessed, or had related to us, some incredible stories which, as ever, stir the whole gamut of our emotions!! Sadly, we’ve seen two chicks lost at Dyfi, one at Loch Garten, and also chicks lost at Keilder. At Lowes, we spent a few days worrying that Blue44 was lost, following his seemingly accidental “fledging” for which he was admonished in no uncertain terms!!! At Rutland there have been some spectacular incidents – 5R knocked from his perch by his daughter, followed by his “stalking” of her every time she took to the sky – Chicks rescued from the undergrowth,after more flight “malfunctions” and goodness knows how many visiting Ospreys!! All this, and more, provide us with a veritable theatre of Osprey activity from March through to September – the cast of many require no rehearsals – there is no script, little point when our birds never stick to their lines anyway!! All watched by an annually spellbound audience, namely, ourselves! As ever, we strap ourselves in for the rollercoaster ride of the year!! Admit it, you wouldn’t have it any other way!! Of course, the season isn’t quite over yet, the juveniles have still a little way to go before they earn their full flying colours, so until then, Osprey dads everywhere will be keeping a sharp eye on their offsprings’ progress, encouraging them to feed themselves, until they too, look to the south and depart. So, here we are again, rapidly approaching the end of another Osprey season. We have many more memories to add to our list, we’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve shaken our fists in frustration, and our heads in despair – all symptoms of that most happily incurable of ailments, OSPREYITIS!!!! A condition whose most obvious signs are the unattended housework, the piles of un-ironed washing, the jungle that was once a flourishing garden, the raised eyebrows and vacant stares of long-suffering spouses/partners, and the incomprehensible replies to all enquiries from “non-osprey” folk!!! All roads lead to Ward 18, AKA “The Sunshine Home For The Bewildered!!” As the females begin to head south (NORA has also made tracks) there is of course, a degree of sadness at their departure, combined with the hope that they may survive the rigours of migratory flight, and return to us next year. Here lies that familiar uncertainty and a degree of foreboding – will she return? I don’t know, none of us do, but I said at the end of last season, that I will happily celebrate ANY Ospreys arrival, the most important thing being a healthy and successful nest – that still holds. I also said at the top of the post, that I become reflective at this point of the season, and within that, I have to consider the possibility that we may not see Lady again – whatever happens, hers is a life worth celebrating, her story one that will be long in the telling, and her considerable presence for ever woven into the tapestry of the Loch. There will in time, we all know, be another female on the Lowes nest, (there will be many pretenders to the throne!!) One thing I can say with absolute certainty though, is that although her place on the nest will eventually be taken, her place in our hearts is secure. A FOND FAREWELL The season’s cycle now complete, Her maternal work all done, Our Lady casts off from her Highland berth, And sets a course for southern sun. With memories new, for recollection, Time spent now, in deep reflection, Another parting of our ways, In this, the autumn of her days. With our collective thoughts her tailwind, Upon the thermals of our love, May she safely navigate the airways, Upon her charted course so high above. May she safely over-winter, And face whatever fate may bring, May fortune grant her passage, To return to us again next spring. Ageless, timeless, worldly wise, With outstretched wings, she takes the skies
The Dyfi Osprey Project and the Scottish wildlife Trust have kindly given their permission for us to post still and video images from their webcams. To visit their sites please click on the relevant link. Loch of the Lowes. Dyfi Osprey Project.