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.
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.
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.
18 June 2020