Where to begin? What a few weeks it’s been since I wrote the first blog this year and that was traumatic enough. You will recall that Delilah had returned, albeit two weeks later, and we hoped that the ospreys season’s timing would just have shifted later by the same period. We were very wrong and there has been good news and bad news since.
To get the bad news out of the way, we began to notice, after she’d been back a few days, that Delilah was starting to act uncharacteristically. Previously, she had immediately been very busy in the nest, rearranging what Samson had brought and bringing material of her own. This year, after the first couple of days, she seemed to lose interest in what was happening in the nest and spent much of her time perched on the branches to the side. Even more worryingly, she started to reject Samson’s attempts to mate and, eventually, became very aggressive towards him, driving him away from her to the extent he was having to act in a very submissive manner to be allowed to stay in the nest with her. This pattern continued and then, suddenly, she disappeared from the nest on 30 April and we haven’t seen her since. We can only speculate why she behaved as she did and what has happened to her but it is likely that she has now perished. A very sad end to a magnificent bird, a strong mate and a successful parent. I hope that she did not suffer.
Now to the good news. Samson seemed a little confused about Delilah’s disappearance but began skydancing again and, on Sat 5 May (the day I went on the holiday that I’d carefully planned to be in the middle of the incubation period – haha! what do I know?), another female arrived on the nest. I got regular updates from the girls in the restaurant about this new female, and how besotted Samson appeared to be with her, and I received a photo from them which, on examination, showed that this new female was ringed. The blue ring (known as a Darvic ring) was on her left leg, showing that she was a Scottish bird but no one was able to get a view of the numbers on the ring. She remained coy about showing her ring when I returned from holiday (a bit of a busman’s holiday as I spent several days observing at ospreys nests in the Cairngorms!) but eventually I managed to see that the ring had NH0 on it. I reported the number and waited with bated breath for a response. In the meantime, the behaviour of both birds was fascinating to watch. We quickly gathered that she appeared to be very young and inexperienced. She spent quite a bit of time away from the nest and, when she was there, preferred to perch on the branches on the edge, rather than in the bowl of the nest itself. There was also the possibility that she was still catching fish for herself. A mature female would rarely leave the nest, spending most of her time arranging it to suit herself, and would demand that the male provide her with food, a good way of him proving to her that he could also provide for any chicks. Samson, on the other hand, acted like an osprey possessed! Dashing backwards and forwards collecting nesting material (including from a pile of grass cuttings left right by the car park) and trying to mate on every possible occasion, even when she was trying to eat, skydancing frantically and then trying to mate again, mainly without success.
When she left the nest, he accompanied her and they usually returned together. In the last few days, they seem to have settled down and there have been really encouraging signs. On the 16th we observed for the first time that she waited to be brought a fish. When she saw him coming she called, demanding the fish, and then flew to the nest to receive it – that’s what she’s meant to do. She has also started to defend the nest, chasing an unsuspecting buzzard from a nearby tree and also rushing back (with her half eaten breakfast in her talon) to join with Samson in shooing off two intruding ospreys. She’s clearly starting to see the nest site and Samson as “hers” and that is great news.
Back to the ring number. Thankfully, they didn’t keep me waiting long before I got a response about when and where she was ringed; the anticipation was incredible. She is the eldest of a brood of 3 from a nest on a man-made platform in Contin, near Strathpeffer in Ross-shire. She was ringed on 1 July 2016 and fledged on 15th. This is the first reported sighting of her since then, so the ringer was really pleased to hear our news. It also supports our opinions that she is a very young bird, a teenager in osprey terms, who has probably returned to the UK for the first time since she migrated the year she hatched.
So a new chapter in the story of Border Ospreys. The sadness that accompanied Delilah’s disappearance has been replaced by excitement and anticipation at the arrival of our new female. We will name her but didn’t want to rush into it until we were happy that she would stay. Bearing in mind her youth, her obvious lack of breeding behaviour and the lateness of the season, I doubt very much that there will be any chicks this year but, hopefully, the pair will spend the summer forming a strong bond with a view to perhaps breeding next year. In the meantime, they can be seen around the area, sometimes on the nest and in view of the camera (which continues to have some power problems, particularly in the afternoons, but you will appreciate that we cannot disturb the birds in order to effect any repairs), but also in neighbouring trees and patrolling the skies and we are getting some lovely views of them down on the riverside walk.
Come down and see what they are doing and meet our beautiful new lady. My scope and binoculars are usually available for viewing and I can update you on any developments.