The time I’ve been anticipating but also dreading has finally arrived and our family have all departed, hopefully on successful migration for each of them. The nest site is empty (and well cleaned by all the local crows), the skies are clear of those distinctive M-shaped silhouettes, the various trees no longer hide resting ospreys and the area doesn’t ring to the incessant squawks of our food-begging chicks or warning calls from both parents and chicks about intruding stranger ospreys.
As expected, Delilah departed first and was last seen on 18 Aug. Lilliard wasn’t far behind, a confident juvenile which hopefully bodes well for her future, and was last seen on 19 Aug. Walter enjoyed a little longer being seen as late as 24 Aug and Rabbie set off sometime after 26 Aug. Samson stayed around for a few days, bringing back fish in case any of the chicks returned but, by 31 Aug, he wasn’t even doing his usual circling of the nest, calling to announce the arrival of a fish meal, but took his catch straight to his favourite perch in the dead tree to eat it all himself. I think he may well have left the following day, using the light northerly wind and warm sunshine to give himself a good start.
What a great year it has been for our osprey family. The parents were back from migration within 24 hours of each other, a pretty phenomenal feat considering they could have wintered hundreds of miles apart and quickly reestablished their bond with each other and their territory. Right on cue, Delilah laid 3 eggs and Samson showed far more willingness than last year to incubate. Indeed, on several occasions, Delilah had to use all her superior weight and size to force him off the eggs to go and do his primary job of finding food while she resumed incubation duties!
The 3 chicks hatched in very poor weather conditions and several osprey chicks, hatched during that period across the UK, did not survive the mixture of cold and wet conditions with a lack of food brought on by dreadful fishing opportunities for the adult males. The camera could not have failed at a worse time and we were left agonisingly uncertain as to how many chicks it was that we could see from the ground that Delilah was feeding. The euphoria we all felt when, some 4 weeks later, 3 chicks could be seen food begging was incredible. Ringing Day provided the opportunity to restore the camera picture and see our first close up views of the 2017 family and what beauties we discovered.
Each of Lilliard, Walter and Rabbie was very different in their behaviour as we quickly saw on the nest cam and we watched, fascinated, as they gained confidence and strength in the days leading up to their fledging. Those of you who have read my earlier blogs will know that fledging didn’t go strictly according to the rule book, but then ospreys make a habit of proving us humans wrong. Rabbie was forced into an earlier fledge than he intended when he overbalanced and fell from the nest perch, frightening the life out of those of us watching from the ground. Lilliard decided to fledge before we switched the camera on one morning and Walter was the only one who took to the skies both in full view of those on the ground and those watching the camera in the restaurant. Thank you, Walter! The next few weeks were full of honing flying skills, particularly that tricky landing stuff, exploring the area and checking out the river. I’m fairly sure Lilliard caught her first fish fairly early on but we didn’t see any of the chicks bringing a fish that they had caught back to the nest, unlike last year. Then, before we knew it, Delilah was up and away, followed one after the other by the rest of her family.
We’ve had a lot of osprey visitors this year. An intruding male spent several weeks lurking just upstream but being chased away whenever he ventured too close. He was unringed so we have no idea where he came from. Perhaps he was one of Samson and Delilah’s chicks from 2015, before we started ringing them, come back to his natal area? We won’t know but it would be a nice thought. On and off throughout the summer, ospreys have regularly intruded and have been quickly chased off by our angry parent birds. As autumn migration has slowly built up we have seen that number of birds passing through and stopping off increase. A beautiful (and huge) dark faced female visited on 26 Aug. She had a leg ring on but only landed momentarily, so I didn’t get a good look at the ring. I’ve reported what I saw but haven’t had any feedback yet. Rabbie sat in a nearby tree, yelling at her in an aggressive fashion but didn’t feel brave enough to chase her away.
So, it’s a very poignant time; we can take pleasure in that it has been such a successful year but the pleasure is also tinged with sadness that they’ve gone from our view and, statistically, only one of the chicks is likely to survive to return in 2019.
We’ve got a bit of work to do before next season. Our nest builder wants to do some repair work (rather him than me; I’ll stay on the ground, thank you very much) as the back of the nest has slipped a bit. We need to make the electronics winter proof and the wiring a little more “small furry-proof” to try and stop a similar camera failure to this year as a result of a damaged cable.
However, before we know it, ospreys will be starting to travel back up north again. Our pair tend to arrive in early April and we will hopefully have the camera switched back on ready to see them when they arrive. What is particularly exciting is that this is the first year, realistically, our first ringed chicks from this site could travel north. They are unlikely to visit their old nest (and will be chased off by mum and dad if they do) but we’ll be keeping a look out and trawling through UK sightings for PW6, PW7 and PW8, better known to us as Doris, Daphne and Daisy and we’ll certainly let you know if we hear or see anything.
It just remains for me to say thank you to John, the owner of Born in the Borders, to our enthusiastic nest climber/ringer and his team and to the electronics wizards who make the camera picture “happen”. Without any one of them, we wouldn’t be privileged to see this fabulous family at such close quarters and share a small part of their lives.
Finally, my thanks to you for reading this blog and commenting, for supporting me “in the field” and chatting and for sharing my love of these birds.
My thoughts now turn to doing all the jobs that I didn’t get round to doing all summer while I was otherwise engaged with ospreys. First up is a charity Zumbathon I’m organising on 23 September. Two hours of Zumba to raise funds for Border Group Riding for the Disabled! If you’ve enjoyed what I’ve produced this year, perhaps you would consider making a donation, however small, to this cause via my Just Giving page: http://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/rosemary-shields
I’ll be back in the Spring as soon as I have something to report. With my best wishes to you all; let’s keep our fingers crossed for our family’s safe travels and wintering. I’ll leave with some poignant pictures of Daisy setting off on migration in 2016. Will she be one of the returnees in 2018?
3 Sep 17