Today in Bird World

After watching the Port Lincoln Osprey Nest last year and Iris at Hellsgate in Montana, I vowed ‘never again’. The death of the third hatch, little Tapps, was simply too much. I vowed to stick with watching Big Red and Arthur at the Fernow Nest in Ithaca, New York, two or three Peregrine Falcon nests, and I would check in occasionally on the Royal Albatross at Taiaroa Head. But then something happened and the Achieva Osprey nest became a constant while I waited for Big Red and Arthur to start their nest renovations and the eggs to arrive and watched others periodically. I remember before the notion of competition set in that it was so lovely to see the three politely standing and being fed. It gave me hope. I watched the 2020 highlights of the Loch Arkaig Osprey nest and fell in love with Louis, Aila, Doddie, Vera, and of course, JJ7 – Captain. Tiny Tot reminds me, in a way, of the challenges that JJ7 could have had but, didn’t. Louis fished day and night to feed his family and he was on the nest helping Aila tandem feed. One took JJ7, the tiny little male, third born – the ‘tercel’. The other parent fed the two bigger ones. Everyone thrived! Just thinking about it puts a smile on my face.

27 June 2020 Loch Arkaig Osprey Nest
5 July 2020. Loch Arkaig Osprey Nest

It was a very good thing that Tiny Tot, the youngest on the Achieva Osprey nest had its own private feeding yesterday from 4:27-4:48. Tiny was so full that even with Diane insisting, he could not hold another bite. Today, he had only about five small morsels of fish. The two early fish deliveries were too small to fill Tiny up never mind 1 and 2. But Tiny did bide his time and got up when there was some fish left to have 2 step in and decide it was not full enough. Having waited long enough for Jack to deliver food, Diane brought in a nice sized fish to feed all at 7:22. Then Jack showed up, with a crop, and took it before she could even feed a bite to the chicks. It was dark when Jack returned the fish but, I bet he ate the nice head. Normally, I would agree he should. It is hard work fishing – they say that they have a 20% success rate. But Jack had a crop. Neither Diane or Tiny got more than a couple of bites. Of course, the question remains ‘why’. The pattern is roughly three good days and three relatively poor ones. I hope that tomorrow Jack proves me wrong.

Just as I hope Jack surprises me tomorrow, an article on Ospreys surprised me today. It wasn’t actually the article – the world needs more stories about these magnificent birds. Rather, it was the glossy weekly magazine that is known more for politics and its reviews of art, restaurants, books, and the theatre-The New Yorker. ‘The Joy of Watching the Ospreys Return.’ is by Alexander Aciman. Aciman shares his love of one particular Osprey nest that he has watched for many, many years. The article describes the incredible abilities of the Osprey including the fact that the mated pair leave separately, winter in different locations yet return to ‘their’ nest in the spring. The author is amazed by the ability of these fish eating birds to travel from the United States to Mexico, Central or South America and return to a spot no bigger than a sofa cushion, annually. There was sadness at the nest in 2020 – all three chicks died. Park rangers determined that the cause was parasites living in the nest and to avoid the same catastrophic event again, they tore down the old nest after the couple had migrated. Aciman wonders if the mated pair will return after such sadness. To date, the female has arrived and is rebuilding the nest.

In my post were two books. Population Ecology of Raptors by Ian Newton is ex-library. Published in 1979, the book covers dispersion, breeding density and everything else to do with breeding, mortality rates at the time and causes, as well as conservation ecology. It came highly recommended but with a word of caution – we have learned much because of streaming cams, tagging, and satellite transmitters and facts about raptors have changed since 1979. You might want to have a peek. Maybe your library still has a copy or can order it for you.

UC Berkeley Peregrine Falcon Nest. Hatch watch beings on 17 April!

The second book is Becoming Wild. How Animal Cultures Raise Families, Create Beauty, and Achieve Peace by Carl Safina. As one of the reviewers states, ‘Safina has the potential to change our relationship with the natural world.’ I like Safina for his directness. The book examines the lives of three non-human species: Sperm Whales, Scarlet Macaws, and Chimpanzees.

Safina tells us how they live, how they teach one another, and how they learn. And then he hits his readers with the question: ‘Will we let them continue to exist or will we finalize their annihilation?’ I am looking forward to writing a full review of this book for you when I have finished reading it and digested its contents. My speed reading of the Introduction and part of chapter 1 tells me this book is going to be more than interesting.

Just checking in on some of the Osprey nests in the United Kingdom today. They sure were having nasty weather for April the past couple of days with snow and gale force winds.

Laddie (LM12) and Blue NC0 have had to deal with the high winds tearing up their nest and then snow.

There was wet snow over at the Clywedog Nest in Wales. This is Dylan bringing a gift of a pinecone for Seren (Blue F5).

A soaked Dylan comes in with a beautiful pinecone as a gift for Seren. 6 April 2021

The Loch Arkaig Osprey Nest has been experiencing blizzard like conditions. Everyone is hoping that Louis and Aila will arrive anytime but the bad weather might have slowed them down. Even so, Osprey are perfectly capable of being covered in snow and incubating their eggs with no dire results.

Over at the Rutland Mantou Bay nest, Blue 33 (11) has been bringing in more nesting materials for Maya who is incubating the couples three eggs. Today, she has also had to defend her nest against another intruder. Maya is formidable and I wouldn’t want to land on her nest by mistake!

Blue 33 (11) brings in nesting materials.

I love how Blue 33 (11) loves to spend time with Maya on the nest cuddled together. He is a great catch! Maya, you are sooooooo lucky!

Thank you for joining me today and for sharing your lives with these wonderful birds. More news tomorrow on any more arrivals of UK Osprey and a look at satellite tracking and its benefits. Take care!

Thank you to the following streaming cams where I obtained my screen shots: Rutland Mantou Bay Ospreys, Woodland Trust and Peoples Play Lottery, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Carnyx Wild Wales YouTube channel, and UC Berkeley Peregrine Falcon Cam.

Loch Arkaig Ospreys

What can I say? Spring is in the air everywhere and the folks in the United Kingdom are anxiously awaiting the arrival of their beloved Ospreys. There are now sightings for some of the nests and, we are, like them, getting ready for World Osprey Week. Today, the focus is on Loch Arkaig.

The staff at Loch Arkaig were shocked – pleasantly so – when the numbers of viewers of their streaming cam jumped from 60,000 to 400,000. Can you imagine? Many of the viewers during the pandemic were first time visitors to streaming cams. It is delightful because so many who began watching in the spring of 2020 now realize how much they enjoy the birds and how precarious their lives are. The people advocating for safety measures and donating to streaming cams has increased significantly. Many fell in love with the Scottish wilderness and the beautiful Osprey. Loch Arkaig is located in one of the only remaining Caledonian pine forest. These trees are part of the very first pine trees to be brought into Scotland during the Late Glacial period, about 7000 BCE.

Despite the fact that the Loch appears to be far away from Glasgow, it isn’t. If you travel to Scotland and like hiking, this area is a place not to miss. There are no less than twenty different trails near Loch Arkaig ranging from an easy walk of 9.5 km or 6 miles to a very hard walk of 224 km or nearly 15 miles. There are moors and there are hills, some of the highest in the area. And if you are a Harry Potter fan, you can catch the Harry Potter train at Fort William.

“LOCH ARKAIG: Forest road above the loch (5/16 an038)” by Ted and Jen is licensed under CC BY 2.0
“File:Beinn Bhan from Loch Arkaig woods.JPG” by Mick Knapton is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

As elsewhere, the Scottish Osprey disappeared during the twentieth century. In Scotland, the game keepers of the large estates killed the Osprey because they believed they were a threat to the wildlife on the grounds. The other major destruction came from egg collectors. Breeding pairs were seen before World War II at Loch Garten but it was not until 1954 when a pair of Scandinavian Ospreys arrived at the Loch that the modern era of Ospreys began in Scotland. In 2011, there were 202 known pairs and a decade later, there are more than 300 breeding pairs. Today, the Osprey is a Scottish icon.

In the United Kingdom, the ospreys grow to about 55-62 cm or 21 to 24 inches in length. Their wings span ranges from 145-180 cm or 57 to 71 inches. Their heads are white with the tell tale brown band running from the gorgeous yellow eyes. The breast of the female has a darker apron than the males with beautiful brown plumage on the backs and wings. They weigh 1.2-2 kg or 2.6 or 4.4 lbs. They have Reverse sex-size diamorphism meaning that the female is larger than the male.

The Scottish Ospreys are a migratory species. They return to Scotland in late March (or early April) where they will stay til September raising their young before returning to Senegal or The Gambia for the winter. The clutch has an average of three eggs which are incubated for five weeks (35 days). The female does most of the incubation and brooding while the male provides the food and security. The Osplets will fledge between 51-56 days. About 21 days after the young fledge, the female leaves the nest for Africa. The male remains feeding any chicks for another 7-14 days. Then the male leaves for Africa. The juveniles also go to Senegal or The Gambia although some have been noted to remain on the southern coast of Spain and Portugal. The juveniles will not return to Scotland until they are two years old. To avoid interbreeding, the males tend to return to their natal nest area while the females go elsewhere.

The return of the Osprey is being celebrated during World Albatross Week from 22-26 March – the return of the Osprey to Wales, England, and Scotland! It is a joyous time with birders tracking the bands from the south of England and posting the notices on various FB pages. Indeed, it appears that the Ospreys in Scotland could be arriving back early. The bands on the Perth and Kinross Osprey were seen at Glen Shee flying west today, 21 March 2021 at 15:54. Wow!

Last year I marvelled at Louis and Aila at the Loch Arkaig Osprey nest. Louis first appeared in 2017 and was later joined by Aila. Their first Osplet was named Lachlan by the public and hatched in 2017. They lost their clutch in 2018 to Pine Martens (many sites are putting up protections for the Osprey from the Pine Martens) but fledged two in 2019, Mallie and Rannoch. And in 2020, nearly half a million people watched Doddie, Vera, and little Captain. To aid in identification, Scottish Osprey have a blue/white Darvic ring (blue band, 3 white letters/numbers) on their left leg and a metal British Ornithological band on their right. This is reversed for Welsh and English Ospreys. In Scotland they are called tags and in North American, they are called bands.

The unique letter and number code for Loch Arkaig Ospreys is:

JH4 – Lachlan, male, fledged in 2017
JJ0 – Mallie, female, fledged in 2019
JJ2 – Rannoch, female, fledged in 2019
JJ6 – Doddie, male, fledged in 2020
JJ8 – Vera, female, fledged in 2020
JJ7 – Captain, male, fledged in 2020

The family keeps Louis busy fishing. Loch Arkaig is 19 km or 12 miles long. Louis has brought in both fresh and salt water fish meaning that he also fishes at sea. That is apparently a little farther distance than if the fished at the very far end of Loch Arkaig. The favourite fish on the nest appear to be Brown Trout and Salmon.

In 2020, Louis brought in 553 fish. Ailia fished and brought 26 to the nest late in the breeding season. Breaking this down, information from the Loch shows that of those 579 fish there were 459 trout, 64 flat fish, 34 mackerel, 11 sea trout and grilse, 7 Arctic Char and 4 pike. Impressive.

Here is a video of the highlights from the 2020 season:

And another. Enjoy!

None of the offspring of Louis and Aila have been spotted except when Doddie stopped in at Somerset on his first migration in the fall of 2020. The journey of more than 6400 km to migrate is treacherous. They get in storms, the winds, they can be shot, there was Avian Pox in Senegal in 2021, there are droughts, water shortage, and they can simply starve to death being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The little ones are young when they leave the nest. They have a long way to travel and find food and manage on their own without their parents or siblings there to help. Let us hope that some of them are spotted this year. That would be grand. It is heartbreaking to watch them hatch, grow, and fledge and never hear another word. It is one reason I am very grateful that some of these birds have satellite trackers like Solly from the Port Lincoln Osprey nest. (The Australian Osprey do not have to migrate but the young ones still have a daunting time surviving to adulthood).

I have to admit that the Osprey have become one of my favourite birds to watch. While I am counting down to World Osprey Week in the United Kingdom, I will also be looking forward to the arrival of the Osprey in Manitoba. More on that in the late spring.

Thank you for joining me today.

Cover photo credit: “Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)” by Allan Hopkins is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0