Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Farewell for this season

This years osprey brood not long after hatching
This years osprey brood not long after hatching
 The nest has been empty now for the past few days and although the young birds are likely to still be around, we think that the parents have now left.

Staring at the empty nest, we are reminded that these magnificent birds are only really, truly ‘our Tweed Valley Ospreys’, for part of the year, as they will be spending the next six months in Africa. I wonder do the local people in Africa refer to ‘their birds’ returning?

In reality, we share the pleasure of this international family. It should be a happy time to see the birds have left after another successful season, another brood of chicks raised and off to make their way in the world. But for the volunteers and staff at the osprey centres, it is always tinged with a slight sadness to see them go and we hope that the adult birds make it back safely next spring.

All that remains is to sincerely thank all of the volunteers that have staffed the centres this season. Some of the volunteers have been faithful to the Tweed Valley Osprey Project since the very start. Also, each year we manage to recruit a few new volunteers to the project and we are very grateful for their support and their enthusiasm to share the news about the osprey antics with visitors.

It is my last day for working on the osprey project for this year and I hope that everyone has enjoyed hearing the weekly osprey family updates.

Thank you for supporting the Tweed Valley Osprey Project,

Until next year, bye for now,

Di Bennett,
Tweed Valley Osprey Officer.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Migration time for our ospreys

Migration for ospreys has started now and birds from further up north will be passing through the area on their southward journey to spend winter in Africa, in areas such as Senegal and the Gambia. Here, they will live a colonial existence, fishing in the swamps and languishing in the good weather, to avoid the harsher winters of Scotland.

We had thought that the female osprey from the Tweed Valley main nest had departed already but she made a very brief appearance at the nest on Sunday 19th. Both adult ospreys must spend this time preparing for their migration, by feeding up and getting into prime condition. The young must now fend for themselves, as they are due to make their solo journeys to Africa for the first time. This is a daunting task to embark upon, when so far their lives have proved to be quite idyllic here in the Borders. They have had the luxury of doting parents, they have been well fed, grown up in an undisturbed eyrie and now they are finding their way in the world, to explore this lovely area where they have been raised. They face many hazards and situations that they will have to deal with, as well as finding good food sources along the way.
A lone chick at the eyrie
We hope that good weather assists them for their first migration so that they make a safe crossing over large water bodies and avoid desert landscapes as much as possible.

Once the young ospreys have made one successful journey, the knowledge and experience that they have gained will help them for future passages and they will select their own favoured routes with good stop over sites. The journey can take up to a month to complete before they settle into wintering grounds. The young birds may not return until they are two to three years old and they would be unlikely to breed successfully until at least aged 3 to 4 years old.

Once settled into a nesting territory they can live well into their twenties and make lifelong partnerships.

The main nest birds have been together for nine years and they have remained faithful to each other and to the nesting site. Next year will be the 10th anniversary of the osprey pair and also the 10th anniversary of the Osprey Centres, so the Tweed Valley Osprey Partnership of Forestry Commission for Scotland, Kailzie Gardens and RSPB we will be planning a joint celebration event to mark the occasion.

Follow us on Twitter and via the FC Scotland Facebook page for updates on the 10th Anniversary celebration.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Our young ospreys getting to grips with the art of hunting

Osprey Talons
The young ospreys are now proficient flying hunters. They have had a few weeks to explore the Borders terrain and discover all of the fishing hot spots with their parents.

The weather has finally given them a break to practice hunting and spotting fish in the water from a good height and then aim their plunge dive technique, to lock on to the unsuspecting fish below and pluck it from the water.

The fish are caught in their mighty talons and then they manoeuvre their toes to face the fish in a forwards direction to carry it off in a streamlined fashion. This is quite a skill to master and to be able to fly with a live wriggling fish between their talons too. The technique is naturally aided by the birds finely designed feet, sporting growths called spicules, which act as sticky pads onto the fish, so that it doesn’t slip from their grasp.

We have seen chicks recently landing on the nest with fish and we are assuming that they are catching this prey for themselves, although we have also witnessed the parents drop in with an occasional fish also. So, it could be that they are still being supported by their parents as well as catching some of their own.

The adult birds will be leaving for their long haul migration to Africa soon. The female is usually the first to break up the family unit and may well have already left. She was last seen on Friday 10th August. The chicks are still coming to the nest, so we are confident that the male is still around because the young birds wait and hope that he will pass a fish over to them. The nest stands empty for quite long periods of time and then suddenly a chick will fly in and land and will begin calling excitedly, which must be because an adult or a sibling is nearby with a fish.

One of the young ospreys looks to be smaller than the other two chicks and at the time of ringing, it was thought that all three chicks were female because they were a good weight and size but possibly now that they are grown, the smaller one may turn out to be a male bird.

You can view footage of these magnificent birds before they head off on their long journey via our webcam .

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Cheeky intruder at the osprey nest!

Visitors to the osprey eyrie have included a jay family and this week a juvenile great spotted woodpecker.

There are frequent coming and goings from the osprey chicks at the nest site whenever they are hungry. The parents have been at the nest site regularly too and the male brought in a fish on Sunday which the female took and flew off with it. They seem to keep their strong pair bond this
late into the season even though their instinct to prepare for a long migration journey is imminent. It is usual for the female to be the first to break up the family unit and head south once the chicks have fledged and have been flying for a few weeks. Perhaps having had such a very early brood means a longer stay in Scotland for the adult birds. This slow end to the season will allow for plenty of time for the adults to gain peak condition for the flight to Africa. The young birds will also have extended time to hone their skills before making their perilous first migration journey.

David Allan who is one of the Osprey Project volunteers sent this message to me yesterday, ‘ Just to let you know, we had a rather unwelcome intruder at the nest this afternoon . . . . a GREY SQUIRREL!

It appeared around 3:15pm, and hung around the nest for a couple of minutes. The female was on the nest at the time with a fish. I don't know who got the bigger shock when the squirrel appeared over the edge of the nest!

Live images of the osprey nest can be viewed via our webcam which is available from 8am to 6pm

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Young ospreys left home alone and visits from the Jay family

Two jays check out the empty nest.
The osprey eyrie is sometimes unoccupied by the osprey family when they are out on a fishing foray. This leaves a desirable residence open for exploration from other species checking it out.

The jay family which presumably nested quite near to the osprey family, have been frequently seen at the nest, moving sticks about and pecking around on the nest floor to pick up any titbits.

One of the jays flew on to the nest and was startled by the arrival of one of the osprey youngsters. The bold jay nonchalantly moved towards the edge of the nest and as it gained confidence and felt less threatened by the presence of the osprey, slowly made its way back to the middle of the nest, just pecking at the sticks. Then both osprey and jay flew off at the same time but parting in different directions.

On Monday 30th July, two of the young ospreys were at the nest with a fish each and were feeding themselves. There was no sign of the parent birds and so there is no way of knowing whether these young birds had caught the fish for themselves, or if parents had given the fish to them. They both arrived at the nest with the fish. The third young osprey flew in to join her sisters but one of them took off presumably not very enthusiastic about sharing her dinner!

Chick all alone in the nest squawking loudly.
There can be long periods of squawking from the chicks as they hang around the nest site waiting for food. Sometimes they may perch to the side of the nest and call loudly. We cannot see if there is a parent nearby but assume that there must be and that the young birds are begging for food.

There are occasions were the birds appear to look skyward and begin to alarm call and this could mark the presence of intruder ospreys or other perceived threats such as buzzard or maybe goshawk nearby. There have not been any incidents that we know of at this site, or of any intruder birds actually coming down to the nest this year, although in the past other ospreys have popped down to check out the site.

At the Osprey Centres

Young great spotted woodpeckers have been seen coming to the bird feeders regularly at both Glentress and Kailzie feeding stations and they seem to favour the peanut feeders. A hedgehog has been patrolling the area outside of the Kailzie Osprey and Nature Watch Centre and even had a snooze in the hedgehog box!

There is a clear path from the hedgehog box to the pond edge where it must come for a drink. Young birds seem to be everywhere at this time of year and they are rapidly spreading out to make up roving mixed flocks feeding through the woodland areas.

Soon the wader families of oystercatcher, lapwing and curlews will abandon their upland home for a more coastal and estuarine habitat for the autumn.