Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Farewell for another year.

An empty nest, at the top of an old Scots Pine, looking like a flattened out platform of larch sticks, garnished with dried out yellowed moss, is the scene on the live cameras for most of the time towards the last days of summer.
photo by J.Lister

Only a few short weeks ago this was the scene of bustling activity with three juvenile ospreys the same size as their parents, all squashed together, occupied with wing stretching exercises and flapping to strengthen their flight muscles. After fledging, the juvenile birds also continued to use the eyrie as a dining area to practice gripping fish in their talons and using their hook tipped beaks to tear off strips to eat.

In what seems such a short time, the birds are ready to make their way in the world, it is time to journey south and although we are sure that mum and one of the juveniles have already gone, it seems likely that the second young bird has left now too. A brief appearance at the eyrie of a lone juvenile on Monday indicates that there is one still to make a move, to start the migration journey and dad will most likely wait until this one goes before he too will make his way down to West Africa.

We are delighted that this 10th anniversary of the parents, at the main nest site has gone without any hitches and young ospreys have successfully fledged once again from this nest all watched with privilege from our live viewing facilities at Glentress Wildwatch Room and at Kailzie Gardens osprey and nature watch centre.

The Tweed Valley Osprey Project is a conservation success story and a project to which the dedicated few who are involved should be very proud of because in a matter of 15 years this region has gone from somewhere where ospreys were extinct to a region that has now produced upwards of 160 fledged ospreys, mostly from artificial eyries created to encourage them to breed here. These magnificent birds will need careful monitoring and protection in the future if they are to continue to thrive. We hear reports of a couple of nest sites that have failed to produce young and we are all too aware that the biggest threat to them is from disturbance.

Photo by J.Lister
We are lucky that the main nest site location was so carefully chosen at the start of this project, as for ten years this site has been relatively disturbance free and its security has been very well maintained. The Forestry Commission for Scotland staff have maintained and renovated the nest site while the birds are away on migration, created new artificial eyries, they install all the camera workings to make the live images possible and the licensed Conservation and Heritage Manager actively monitors the birds by ringing the fledglings at six weeks old, so that they can be tracked in the future with visible identity rings.

Although the centres are quiet at this time of year we still have many visitors on holiday in the area and folk from as far as Lancashire and Devon have called in to see our ospreys this week and to hear how the project is progressing. Most of the time the centres have volunteers on duty and they do a great job to interpret the osprey activities and tell visitors all about Tweed Valley Ospreys and their amazing comeback to the area thanks to the work done by this project. We are extremely grateful to all the volunteers that have given their time so generously to support this project once again for this season.

This week is the end of osprey watching for the season and The Osprey and Nature Watch Centre at Kailzie Gardens will be closed from Sunday 1st September although the Wildwatch Room at Glentress will remain open for longer.

I would like to thank everybody that has supported the osprey project this year and wish for a safe migration  journey for our ospreys and a safe return next spring when hopefully I will be able to bring news that our pair have returned for an eleventh season together.

Best Wishes

Diane Bennett.

Tweed Valley Osprey Project Officer.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Time To Go

Photo by J.Lister
There is a definite autumnal nip in the air as we are approaching the end of August. Gone are the long stretched out evenings, as the daylight hours begin to shrink back. Ospreys have felt it too and most certainly the female from the main nest site is now on her way. We are not certain of the exact date that she left but she has not been seen for quite a while now.

photo by J.Lister
The male was seen regularly back at the eyrie with three of his young juveniles, feeding together but for this past week only two juveniles have been present with the male. This is hopefully a good sign that the boldest youngster has followed Mums example and headed off south to longer days and warmer climate, to escape the start of the Scottish cold season with short days.

This week a lonely juvenile osprey sat for hours on the eyrie calling and wing flicking and looking skywards. Perhaps the male bird was somewhere close by, feeding on a fish and the youngster was hopeful of receiving a meal. A second young osprey joined the first one at the nest site but appeared quite content and was preening feathers. A whole morning passed by and Dad never put in an appearance. Eventually both young birds flew off but returned later to sit and wait for Dad again. He must be feeling the need to push his remaining brood into independence. He will stay around until he sees them depart before he will also begin his long journey south to Western Africa. The impulse to migrate must be strong and certainly birds will face a better journey if they leave before autumn sets in properly with gales making passage difficult.

The river camera at Kailzie revealed a surprise visitor last week and the volunteer on duty was able to take snap shots and a small amount of video footage of what appears to be a juvenile buzzard bathing in the burn that leads down to the River Tweed.  The raptor is a chunky brown bird with streaky brown markings over buff coloured chest and belly. It was a bit difficult to distinguish what it was at first and was thought to be a sparrowhawk but after careful scrutiny it was decided that it was one of the young buzzards.

The buzzards remain thoughout the seasons and do not migrate to foreign climates. When times get tough over the winter months with snow conditions they will adopt a localised movement to better conditions and being a bird that relies quite heavily on carrion, it manages to scratch a good living for itself topping up its diet with road kill and earth worms or any other scraps. It is equally equipped for hunting prey such as rabbit or occasional birds and squirrels.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Southern skies beckon soon.

A lonely chick was seen at the main nest site on Monday 12th August, it flew on to the nest and was calling repeatedly. We could not see if there was an adult nearby or whether it was just calling out in the hopes that a parent may be in the vicinity with a tasty fish to hand over. The male bird, white leg ring SS appeared on the nest site on 13th August with a really big fish and was feeding himself. One of the chicks was keeping him close company and calling and begging for food. The chick is a good deal larger than her dad, so this is presumably a female chick. Her hungry father was having a good feed for himself and did not appear too keen to share his prize.

The chicks by now are proficient fliers and we would hope that they are gaining the hunting skills that will make them independent. Survival depends on the young birds being able to hunt for themselves, as soon they will need to make their solo migration journeys to Africa.

It could be that the male may be reluctant to share a meal at this late stage because he will be very aware that the chicks must make their own way without his support soon. He is the parent that will provide the finishing school for his offspring, as by now their mum has broken ties with them and may even have moved on. She will make her way slowly south, feeding up and getting herself back into peak condition after raising another brood over the summer. We have no idea how old she is because she is not ringed. This has certainly been her 10th season with male, white leg ring SS, but we believe that she was possibly the bird that occupied the main nest with another unringed male the year before SS arrived. He is fifteen years old and in his prime and we hope that they will both return next year for their eleventh year together. It is worth visiting the osprey centres to catch a glimpse of the family before they leave and although the nest may be empty sometimes when the family are off hunting, we are still seeing Dad and the chicks popping back to feed from time to time.

The Kailzie Wildlife Festival was held last weekend at Kailzie Gardens and was a great success. The weekend was packed with wildlife themed family entertainment, with demonstrations of bird ringing, bat and bird box making, guided walks, photography, pond dipping, mammal trapping, stalls and birds of prey. One of the star attractions was the magnificent golden eagle called Captain, a ferret on a lead kept what appeared to be a critical eye on proceedings and a mighty Eagle Owl greeted visitors with a steely orange eyed gaze.

The festival was organised by the Friends of Kailzie Wildlife as part of the KLAWED Project with funding from Leader and SNH.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Fledged Ospreys and unusual sightings

We were delighted that the first and boldest chick fledged from the nest on the 14th July and a couple of days later a second chick was practicing the art of being airborne by flying from one side of the nest to another.

The male bird delivered a large brown trout to the nest where one chick took command of the situation by taking the whole fish from his talons and proceeded to feed itself. Shortly afterwards the female flew onto the nest with a fish in her talons and began to feed the chick that already had a fish of its own. Old habits die hard! The chick didn’t complain and gracefully accepted the proffered morsels, maybe keeping the fish in its own talons as a snack for later.

The female flew off after a while only to return later with a change of heart and snatch the fish away from the chick and fly off with it.

On the 17th July, one lonely chick was seen in the nest while all the family were away. Perhaps this one was hoping that a sympathetic parent may pop by and deliver some dinner. This is the time of tough love and chicks can be left without food for a while to drive them on to begin to fend for themselves.

All chicks are now fledged and are gaining superb flying practice and for a change the Scottish summer weather has not been all about deluge and torrential rain, but we Brits are great at moaning about the weather and this seasons chicks have had to contend with searing heat, as we have a proper summer sunny period. This brought about a period of inactivity and the weather was too hot for osprey chicks and volunteers alike!

At cooler times during this balmy summer, conditions have been excellent for fishing and bumper supplies must mean fit and healthy birds getting into prime condition, in readiness for that all important first migration journey which is looming in the not too distant future.

Sightings of a New osprey family in town!

Innerleithen games week parade was visited by a new family of ospreys in town, marching down the high street! A couple of pupils from St.Ronan’s Primary school that had been involved in the osprey project this season dressed up as ospreys and pushed their eyrie along the road complete with little brother as a cute osprey chick peeking out of his eggshell!

They won third prize in the fancy dress competition and we are very proud of them here at the Tweed Valley Osprey Project. Very Well Done. Great costumes!

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

First Chick fledged.

On Sunday 14th July, one of the young ospreys at the main nest became quite bold and flew up on to the perch beside the nest. It was more like a flapping hop than a true flight, really. It remained perched there for quite some time while the other two chicks remained in the nest, seemingly unimpressed by the show of sudden adventurous activity. A great deal of wing flapping and wing stretching has been taking place at the nest, as the young birds flex their soon to be tested flight muscles. The more they practice and exercise, the stronger they will become which will make the first flights less feeble and more purposeful which would give a young bird greater confidence.

The boldest chick was clearly ready to make that move from flightless to flight, as having remained on the perch for quite a while, it decided to take the plunge for a maiden trip. The volunteers on duty at the centres of Kailzie Gardens and Glentress Forest, missed seeing it go but they were faced with the obvious fact that the camera clearly only showed that there were now two chicks in the nest.

This can be a worrying time but the chick is the right age, weight and ready to go. The less brave siblings must follow soon. The male bird (white leg ring SS) came into the nest bearing a good sized fish and began to feed the two remaining young birds later in the afternoon. The young explorer did not return for a feed, perhaps it was enjoying the newly found freedom as the world suddenly opened up and the surroundings of the nest became shrunken as the open countryside beckoned for further exploration. Then again it could have been so alarmed at the surprise flight that it was clinging by its talons, to a nearby branch of a tree and wondering how it was ever going to return back to the nest.

It did manage a return flight later in the day and landed confidently on the nest, giving the appearance that it had done all this flight sort of thing before!

On Monday 15th July, two chicks and their mum were at the nest and the errant fledged chick was off exploring again.  There is only a day between the ages of the three chicks but it doesn’t always follow that they will all fledge together or on consecutive days. The chicks will go when they are ready and sometimes need a fair bit of encouragement from mum and dad. They will try to starve the remaining youngsters from the nest so that they will fly when they are hungry enough to get to dad with a tasty fish.

The family will use the nest regularly as a feeding place and a place to safely rest during the next month but as all the chicks master flight, there will be longer periods away from the nest, as they become fitter and lose the baby fat from their bodies to become finely tuned muscles.

This time of year in the Scottish Borders is a great time to try to spot families of ospreys out on flying and hunting trips together. It is good to keep a look out over any stretch of water where there is good fishing, including the River Tweed, as birds patrol the territory finding favourable hunting areas.
Please do report any sightings of the ospreys to us, especially if the leg ring lettering and colours are visible and make a note of them. Please also note whether the coloured ring (Darvic ring) is on the birds left or right leg and if possible take a photograph. We can then find out which bird it is and where it is from.

Here  are some more photos from the ringing of the ospreys last week and the children of St.Ronan's Primary School who came to see the ringing.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

St Ronan's kids are treated to osprey ringing

On Monday 1st July, the chicks from the main osprey nest were ringed. The adult birds, (white leg ring SS) and his un-ringed female are in their tenth season at the nest and this batch of three chicks brings their total number of chicks raised in ten years to 26.

Tony Lightley with pupils from St.Ronan's Primary School
Tony Lightley with pupils from St.Ronan's Primary School

The children from Class P4/5 have been working all summer term on a celebration book for the ospreys 10th anniversary and to thank them for all their hard work and enthusiasm, a special trip was organised by Forestry Commission Scotland to take the children to see the young ospreys being ringed, as they are now six weeks old and soon will be making their first flight.

The chicks were lowered to the forest  floor where Tony Lightley, (Conservation Manager for FCS) and his colleague Ronnie Graham put the leg rings on to the birds, weighed them and measured them. The birds were fitted with unique BTO rings on their right legs, which carry a serial number which identifies the bird and a large Darvic ring on their left leg which is an alpha numeric identification ring which can be read at a distance through a telescope or binoculars, so that birds can be tracked over their lifetime to study their movements and progress in the future.

The class of P4/5 children were further treated, in that Tony arranged for the leg rings to have lettering that relates to their class number. So, the chicks were given rings with the letters CL4, CL5 and the third chick CL6, as the pupils will be moving into Class 6 next term.  It will be lovely if we hear of these birds in the future, whether they return to this area to breed when they are old enough, or if we receive sightings of them wherever they may turn up.  The young chicks will make their very first migration to Africa by the end of this summer, once they have mastered flight and fishing techniques, which their skilled parents will teach them.

Ronan Ted, (the school mascot ) gets a surprise visit too!
Ronan Ted, (the school mascot ) gets a surprise visit too!

The production of the tenth anniversary book has been the joint project between Tweed Valley Osprey Project and the Friends of Kailzie Wildlife, working with the P4/5 pupils of St. Ronan’s Primary School and we received a grant from Awards 4 All to produce 10,000 copies, which will be available from August.
The school have a mascot called Ronan which is a little teddy bear, decked out in school uniform complete with school tie. Ronan Ted accompanied the children on their visit and was treated to a surprise of his own. Tony took him up to the nest for a quick look when he put the chicks back after they had been ringed!

Three ringed chicks back in the nest after ringing.
Three ringed chicks back in the nest after ringing.

The children thoroughly enjoyed their visit, it was a very special day out to see such a wonderful osprey family and a thoroughly deserved opportunity for children who have immersed themselves in this project work with so much enthusiasm.
Depute Head, Jan Lister who accompanied the children on their visit said, ‘’ Today has been a great opportunity for the children to see at first hand , the splendour of these young ospreys before they embark on their remarkable journey to West Africa. In school for the last few weeks the children have been learning about the conservation of these remarkable birds and their successful return to breed in the Scottish Borders. Today, that learning was brought to life and has given them many memories which will last a lifetime. We are very grateful for having had this opportunity”.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

St.Ronan's Primary School guest blog for Tweed Valley Osprey Project

St Ronan's Primary School Osprey Watch visit

The children from class P4/5 visited the Osprey and Nature Watch centre at Kaizlie Gardens to see the ospreys on camera. They got together back at school and wrote a collective piece about thier visit to share with the public on this blog.

Below is their account of the visit:

On June the 6th, P4/5 from St Ronan’s Primary School in Innerleithen went on an adventure to Kailzie Gardens to see what happens at the amazing Osprey Centre.

We saw live footage showing us ospreys, blue tits and herons but the most important thing for us were the ospreys because we are learning about them in our topic.

St Ronan's Primary School Osprey Watch visit
 We saw three baby osprey chicks being fed by the mum. She was giving them raw fish that the dad had just caught fresh from the river. Their mum tore off tiny little scraps of fish, the right size for the osprey chicks, and the size would be dependant on the age of the chicks.

The chicks got fed one at a time, getting equal amounts. They didn’t push and shove, they waited patiently, they took turns to feed. They were very civilised. The chicks had a wee sleep after their meal and mum got to eat her share.

Dad came back to eat last after the chicks and mum. He took what was left and flew off the nest to finish all that was left, including the head and the brains. It is very nutritious! The ospreys are really good parents - we saw that the chicks were never left alone.
St Ronan's Primary School Osprey Watch visitWe saw the chicks exercising by stretching their wings and moving around the nest. Another reason the chicks move around the nest is to move to the edge of the nest to poop. They poop over the edge to keep the nest clean.

This also gives Tony Lightley, the man who rings the chicks, an estimate of how old the chicks are because of how far away from the nest the poop goes. The older the chicks, the further the poop! Whenever the birds pooped out of the nest, Di missed videoing it!

The parent birds can get quite bored protecting the chicks so they entertain themselves by moving sticks around the nest. We saw how the nest was as big as a double bed. The nest needs to be that big because the chicks grow so quickly and they are so big when they stretch their wings out, they need the space to not knock each other out of the nest. We saw mum redecorating the nest by moving moss and sticks around. She also moved the moss to keep the nest clean of fish bones and fish blood, to stop diseases.

We enjoyed watching the ospreys. We could highly recommend visiting the centre to watch the live footage, play games and learn new things about the ospreys.

Thank you for reading our blog entry!

P.4/5, St Ronan’s Primary School, Innerleithen

St Ronan's Primary School Osprey Watch visit

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Our hungry osprey chicks have an appetite for life!

Our hungry chicks jostle for food
Our hungry chicks jostle for food
The chicks are now three weeks old and have begun to move around the nest a lot more. They spend a lot of time sleeping and only become very active once they begin to feel hungry.
When dad arrives with a big fish, the hungry chicks become very animated and jostle for best position in the nest to be fed.
 Mum takes the fish from dad and then in an orderly manner, feeds the chicks with strips of raw fish. She will continue to feed, until all three bellies are full and the chicks begin to shuffle away and lose interest.
Our new osprey family
Our new osprey family
Once they are well fed and satisfied, they will usually indulge in a bit of stretching, then they empty their bowels over the edge of the nest. When all this activity is over, they snuggle down for another sleepy rest. 
Occasionally, the parents may look skyward with alarm as other birds fly over the nest. Often, this may be harmless passers-by or inquisitive ospreys.
At the young chick stage, this could be a threat if it was a crow or a buzzard but the parents are nearly always nearby.  
If one of the adult birds is not actually sitting in the nest with the chicks, then they are usually on a nearby perch and can protect the young when needed to. The chick response when there is any sign of danger is to lie flat in the nest and play dead. The parents give off high pitched alarm calls and this alerts the chicks to be on their guard.
The chicks usually have darker more orange coloured eyes than that of the parents’ bright yellow irises and this begins to change as they develop. Their faces have changed in appearance and they are beginning to look more like little ospreys, with large hook ended strong beaks for tearing fish and the stripe down the crown of the head, as well as the dark eye-stripe. The wings are showing the first signs of feathering breaking out down the shafts of the pin feather, the mid rib tube, which splits to unfold the genuine feather. The soft grey down of their bodies will also become covered over the coming weeks with their first true feathers, which will be brown in colour with a golden edge to each.
The heron nest on camera remains empty and is a sad reminder of the differences between the species, with ospreys being great parents and protective of their young, whereas, the heron’s lack of good parenting led to the two chicks being left in the nest alone and it was raided by an opportunistic crow. Both chicks have gone and then the crow obviously made a return trip to take the third egg too. Although this is a sad occurrence to us, it is nature in the raw and the hapless heron parents will hopefully have better luck next season. The crow family would have full bellies and this struggle of the survival between species is on a grand scale, biologically, likely to balance out over time.  Only if the crow population becomes overly large which can happen, to tip the balance and then conservation action in the form of intervention or population culling could be an option. Mostly nature does a good job of ensuring the survival of the fittest and apart from local fluctuation, populations between predator and prey species tend to reach a balanced proportion.
Blue tit 
The blue tit family have grown and are squashed into the cup of the nest. We have counted nine chicks but often when the parent comes in to feed them, only six or seven gaping beaks can be seen as they all struggle in the small space to reach up for feeding time. It will be a matter of maybe a week or so now until they will fledge and leave the snug little nest box.
The swallows have made their nest on the edge of the fishery building at Kailzie, and a camera has been put into position to watch them for the season. The swallow is incubating eggs at the moment and all that can be seen is her head and tail poking out of the mud cup nest. As soon as the eggs hatch, the young chicks will line up at the edge of the nest for feeding and we will be treated to superb views of this little family.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Our osprey chicks are now over a week old

Our three chicks and proud parents
Our three chicks and proud parents
The osprey parents have settled into the routine of family life and in just one week since the three chicks have hatched, they have grown considerably. From the tiny, fragile, wobbly chicks that they were, they have become strong and sturdy and covered in light grey downy feathering.
These soft fluffy type feathers are excellent insulation against cold weather but are not waterproof, so the young chicks are very susceptible to cold at this stage in their lives. Because of this, the osprey parents remain very attentive of their young until they can become more independent. In cold or wet weather the female will shelter the young chicks beneath her. The warm sunny weather means that the chicks can be left for short periods but the parent birds will never be far away, perhaps sitting on a nearby perch to preen, to keep their feathers in prime condition. Any sign of danger, such as a passing crow or predator and the adults will be back on to the nest and ready to protect their young straight away.
The female appeared to be pre-occupied with some nest adornment during the week as she returned to the nest with a larch stick which must have been at least 1.5m in length. She put it across the centre of the nest and perched on it for a while with the young chicks below, looking up at her. Eventually she decided to move it into a side position along the flank of the nest and seemed to be satisfied with her handiwork. Throughout the season, the adult birds add material to the nest and they will often grab a clump of moss from the forest floor and add this to the occupied part of the nest. This will help to keep their living space clean and to prevent from attracting flies.

The young chicks are pretty well house trained too and they can be seen moving into position to point their rear end towards the outside of the nest, to fire excrement away from the eyrie.  This is essential hygiene to keep the nest site clean and free from flies which could carry disease. 

The heron nest remains abandoned since the sad demise of the two chicks and the disappearance of the third egg. It is far too late in the season for the parent birds to attempt to breed again for this year.

Blue Tits

The little blue tit family has finally hatched but over the past few days the number of chicks is going down. The blue tit had a clutch of ten eggs and it seemed to be a full clutch of chicks that had hatched but there were only 6 heads reaching up to be fed today. The very cold spring and the awful summer last year has brought about a decline in number of butterfly and moth caterpillars. Usually the young tits would be seen being fed on juicy green caterpillars but again it would seem that flies and spiders have been offered to the young chicks. This is not as nutritious as the caterpillars which are high in protein and water content. Most of the insects are made up of exoskeleton and are of little value to young which need to grow quickly. The adult bird removes dead chicks from the nest to prevent attracting predators.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Highs and Lows at the Tweed Valley Nests

Three tiny osprey chicks hatched
Three tiny osprey chicks hatched

A hat trick of osprey chicks, have hatched this week. The first osprey chick hatched on 22nd May exactly 40 days since it was laid,  followed by the second and then the third chick on consecutive days.

The chicks are so fragile and tiny looking when they first hatch, looking like tiny fluffy ping pong ball heads with the characteristic dark eye-stripe marking their osprey identity.

After hatching, they wobble about and strain to reach up to mum as she leans in to feed them with tiny scraps of raw fish torn straight from the live catch brought in by her faithful partner, white leg ring SS.

After only a couple of days the chicks begin to find strength and they are reaching up and stretching and holding their heads steady, to receive meals. They grow at a phenomenal rate on the diet of raw fish which is superbly rich in protein. Dad will have to work really hard to make sure that he brings in enough fish to feed his family, so that they will become big and strong. He is a very good provider and this is his tenth brood of chicks this year with the same unringed female. They are very experienced parents and they take great care of their young.

Tragedy Strikes

Sadly, the heron family that was on camera with two chicks hatched and one egg still not hatched, has been struck by tragedy. Firstly one chick seemed to have disappeared followed by the second chick gone by the next morning. This just left the single egg and the next day when the cameras came on, even the egg had vanished. We keep seeing the sad parent birds dropping in to the nest and standing and looking but their whole brood for the year have vanished. We did not see what happened but we have witnessed the shadowy black form of a crow lurking in the tree top and it would seem that it must have predated on the young chicks and then returned to take the egg too.
We have often made reference to the contrasting parenting skills of the two species of osprey and heron. Herons make little effort to safeguard their young and leave them for long periods of time which leaves them open to all manner of dangers. The birds have paid a high price this year for their nesting strategy. The ospreys, by comparison are very attentive to their young and there is always one of the parents at the nest to guard their brood. They will see off any threat with tenacity and this has made them the successful breeders that they are on the main nest.

The chicks will grow quickly and the daily family life can be viewed on high definition camera in real time in the two visitor centres of Glentress Wildwatch room in Glentress Forest and in the Osprey and Nature Watch Centre at Kailzie Gardens.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Borders osprey visits France and new arrivals for the herons!

We have had some further exciting news of a Borders bred osprey, (hatched in 2009 and fitted with a blue leg ring VA, whilst still a fledgling), has been caught on camera catching a super fish in South West France, in a place called Banc d’Arcachon. It first appeared on 11th May and was seen catching a fish and then disappearing off into the forest area and then sighted again on 12th May in the same area.

Scottish Borders chick ringed as VA in 2009 with siblings

It is always so delightful to hear news of birds bred in the Borders returning after a few years when they are ready to breed and prospecting for nest sites. This is the first record of one of our birds turning up in France. It proves the value of ringing the birds with the large lettered and coloured, Darvic rings, so that individuals can be identified. We have learnt so much about osprey movements, dispersion and behavior since the ringing scheme began.

VA photographed in France 11th May 2013
We are delighted that two heron chicks have hatched out so far and they are very cute with spiky tufted heads and grey down all over.
We were even treated to the rare sight of both parent birds at the nest, as they did a parenting swap over at the nest site, in order to keep up the continuous duties to look after the young chicks.
This allowed one of the birds to go off and have a stretch and feed for a while. There is still one egg remaining and it is hoped that it too may hatch to give a third heron chick.
The blue tit has finally laid eggs in the
Two heron chicks with parent 19th May

nest box that she has been tending to since late March. It would seem that she instinctively delayed laying eggs until conditions were suitable and weather improved enough to guarantee a good food supply for chick hatching time. She has ten eggs and she has now begun to incubate.
Unlike the heron and osprey, she also delays incubating until all of her eggs are laid. This ensures that all chicks will hatch out at roughly the same time and will all fledge together at the same time too. It is a survival strategy of the blue tit to have ‘all the eggs in one basket’, so that when they fledge together, the family quickly disperse and become independent. Most of the young birds will not make adulthood and will be picked off by predators such as sparrowhawk and corvid species but at least two or three of the brood will make it hopefully.

The jackdaws in the owl box at Glentress have three chicks and two of their eggs did not hatch. The three chicks are doing really well and have grown substantially in just over a week.
All of the nests have cameras linking them to screens in the two centres at GlentressWildwatch Room and Kailzie Gardens Osprey and Nature Watch where the family life of the birds is revealed in intimate detail without any disturbance to the birds themselves.



Wednesday, 22 May 2013

First osprey chick hatches in Tweed Valley

First pic of the new osprey chick in Tweed Valley
First pic of the new chick in Tweed Valley
 Volunteers on the Tweed Valley Osprey Project are celebrating as they’ve spotted the first chick of the season.

The chick is hopefully the first of three eggs to hatch at the secret nesting site in the heart of the Tweed Valley.

The proud parents have been together for 10 years and if all eggs hatch successfully, they will have brought 26 ospreys into the world.

The new chick can be seen on high quality CCTV footage which is beamed back to Glentress Forest and Kailzie Gardens viewing centres, both just outside Peebles.

Osprey information officer Diane Bennett said:

“We are thrilled to bits that the first egg has hatched and that it could be the first in Scotland.

There’s a lot of fussing going on at the moment by the adults, making sure the youngster is warm and fed.

We’re hopeful that the other eggs will also hatch over the next few days so that visitors to our popular viewing centres can watch all the antics live.“

Ospreys have been nesting in the Tweed Valley for more than 15 years.

The Tweed Valley Ospreys Project, a partnership between Forestry Commission Scotland, Kailzie Gardens and RSPB Scotland, has helped safeguard the birds and allowed the public to enjoy them through two viewing centres.

The visitor centres at Glentress Forest and Kailzie Gardens, near Peebles, are open to the public.
As well as ospreys, visitors can also see a range of other wildlife at the centres including heron and jackdaw chicks.

We hope to have some images of the new arrival very soon....

Friday, 10 May 2013

Possible hatching dates for ospreys and herons....

The waiting game has begun in earnest as we watch the two live screens with the heron nest and the osprey nest on camera at Kailzie Gardens Osprey and Nature Watch Centre and the osprey nest at Glentress Peel Wildwatch room. The ospreys and herons at the nest are engaged in full time incubation duties and it is fascinating to watch the behaviour and different strategies adopted by the two different species towards their nesting activities and in the rearing of their young.

Glentress Peel Wildwatch
The osprey pair at the main nest behave as a very close partnership. The incubation duties appear to be equally shared and there seem to be genuinely affectionate moments between the two expectant parents. They sidle up close together, often the male will gently nudge the female until she is persuaded to rise up off the eggs and let him take a turn at incubating.

During this period a lot of nest scraping takes place and fiddling about with sticks to move from one side of the nest to the other, possibly a way to occupy the time. It is easy to tell the difference between the adults not just because the male has the leg ring white SS but he is about one third smaller than the female and has a pure white chest, whereas the larger female has a streaked chestnut band of feathering on her chest and the markings on the back of her head crest look like a chocolate coloured concorde. 

Heron adults appear to be identical to each other, the text books tell us that the parents share incubation duties but we have never witnessed a swapping over at the nest, so perhaps this only happens infrequently. We have not witnessed any interaction between parent birds and never know if it is the male or the female that is sitting on duty. Apparently the male heron is the larger of the two but only really noticeable in wing length and beak length which is not obvious at all when they are sitting incubating. Both birds are strikingly handsome with long black head plumes and sleek grey plumage with streaked black, speckled, neck feathering. They sit motionless when incubating for long periods and often we double check that the camera is still working, when suddenly, the bird will stand and reach down to turn the three blue/green eggs.
Osprey incubation takes between 37 and 42 days and the first egg was laid on 12th April, so we can expect that the earliest likely hatching date for the first egg could be 19th May.

Kailzie Osprey and nature watch
Kailzie Osprey and nature watch

The heron eggs were laid on 20th April, 24th and 27th April and they take 25 to 26 days to incubate, meaning that we will have live hatching on camera anytime from the 16th May. Because they have nested so late this year it will be the first time we have ever seen the heron chicks when they have just hatched. We are very excited about watching the heron chicks develop this year as we get to see the family raised right from the very start. Heron siblings behave with a great deal of rivalry and there can be many dramas, often with older siblings killing off younger ones and even eating them.

Ospreys have never displayed such behaviour in the nest in the ten years that we have watched this family. The parents are very attentive to their young whereas the heron parents have a very different approach, delivering food and leaving the chicks for long periods in the nest alone.

The camera nest box became occupied with a blue tit nest building very early in April and then all activity seemed to come to a halt. The warm sunny weather seems to have kick-started the nesting imperative and the blue tit has been seen actively nest building again, although we have not seen any eggs yet. It would appear that the cold snap has caused the blue tit to delay laying which is good because they need to wait until there is a plentiful supply of caterpillars to feed any young. Last year they were caught out by laying early and the wet weather meant there were no caterpillars. We watched as one chick after another starved and the sad image of the blue tit removing dead nestlings is hopefully not to be repeated this year. Populations do fluctuate due to seasonal variations but over time should even out.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Three eggs each for our ospreys and herons!

Male brings a fish for the female and then takes a turn to incubate.
Male brings a fish for the female and then takes a turn to incubate.
The ospreys have settled in to a routine of incubation shifts at the main nest now that they seem to have reached a full clutch of three eggs. The camera has been remotely switched on to the close up view, so we now have stunning views into the nest. Much of this month will be taken up with incubation duties and it is always a pleasure to watch the swap over as the parent in the nest stands off the eggs, gently curls in their talons to make sure that they do not accidentally pierce the eggs and then carefully backs out of the nest as the next shift is deftly taken over by the other waiting parent bird, who quickly takes up the incubation spot and continues to keep those precious eggs warm.

The appearance of the sun and a spell of warm weather will be most welcome to ospreys all around the region as when reviewing last years’ report of nesting activity in the area it would seem that one of the factors affecting nest failure correlates to poor weather. Of a possible ten osprey nest sites as part of the Tweed Valley Osprey Project, only seven were successful in rearing young last year. Of the seven successful sites, all were early returners from their migration and had time to take full advantage of the early warm spring that we had last year. The disastrous wet summer that followed made it very difficult for not just ospreys but for many invertebrate feeders too.

Male white leg ring stands to reveal 3 eggs
Male white leg ring stands to reveal 3 eggs

Our male bird, White leg ring SS is fifteen years old this year and he came from a nest in Aberfoyle originally, he is with his unringed partner and this is their tenth season together. They have raised 23 chicks in total since they got together and there will be three more to add to the list this year if all the eggs hatch out.

To date, we can celebrate that the Tweed Valley Osprey Project has raised a minimum of 160 osprey chicks since the start of the project in 2000. This is a fantastic conservation success story for the region and it is thanks to the Forestry Commission Scotland, in particular to Tony Lightley, Conservation Manager for South of Scotland and his team for creating nesting platforms to encourage the ospreys to breed here, monitoring sites and ringing the chicks.

The project is a partnership between Forestry Commission for Scotland , Kailzie Gardens and RSPB working together to provide the public viewing centres and trained volunteer staff who educate the public all about this great project and help to spread the news of the amazing story of the return of the iconic ospreys to full breeding success here in the Borders.

We are very grateful to Bill Irvine and his technicians from FCS because they do all the technical work, setting up the cameras and making the live images possible in the viewing centres with amazing new technology.

Heron turning her three eggs.
Heron turning her three eggs.
The centres are open daily from 10am to 5pm. On camera across the two centres there are the heron nest with three eggs, blue tits that are still nest building, jackdaws with 5 eggs, pond camera, meadow and river camera, and bird feeding stations as a constant hub of activity.

Golden Eagle flying over Innerleithen - photograph by Jan Lister
Golden Eagle flying over Innerleithen - photograph by Jan Lister
Another exciting bit of news for the area was the presence of a white tailed sea eagle spotted flying over Cardrona Forest in the Tweed Valley on 10th April, this was reported in the bird listings, in Birdwatching magazine, so it is a reliable record.

Last year on 13th April, a Golden Eagle was photographed by Jan Lister as it flew over Innerleithen Town and she kindly sent the photographs to us at Tweed Valley Osprey Project. This is another exciting species to add to the list for the area.

Friday, 26 April 2013

One, Two, Three Osprey Eggs!

The ospreys now have three eggs and the season looks set to be on course for early chicks again this year.

Our ospreys acan be viewed live via our camera viewing
Our ospreys acan be viewed live via our camera viewing
facilities at our two Wildwatch centres at Kailzie Gardens
and Glentress
  This is in contrast to the lateness of all of our other breeding birds which have been delayed by the poor spring weather.

The ospreys are doing their shared incubation duties at their tree top eyrie, they are very territorial at their nest site and will not tolerate other ospreys coming too close. They defend their site rigorously with posturing and flights to scare off any unwelcome ospreys in the vicinity. Other ospreys often will pop over to have a look at other sites in the area, known affectionately as ‘buzzing’ the nest. Often, it is just harmless nosiness but the territorial pair need to safe-guard that it is not a serious attempt at site stealing.

The female osprey has been hunkered down deep into the cup of the enormous nest to keep her eggs safe in the high winds while the male continues to bring in fish. The weather has meant that the main rivers such as the Tweed have been in ‘spate’ and too difficult to hunt from but he seems to have secured a good loch from which to provide a steady supply of fish.
Heron nest with eggs
Two heron eggs
The herons have only just laid their eggs and the nest that is on camera now has two beautiful bright blue eggs with a very proud mum. When she laid her first egg, volunteers on duty at the Kailzie Gardens Osprey and Nature Watch Centre, watched and said that she stood up and peered down below and seemed surprised at the sight of an egg there. The herons are very late nesting this year and would normally have chicks by now. But the lateness does not seem to have hampered their progress in any way as mum appears to be in fine breeding condition and is settled at the nest site and has begun to incubate. They nest in a heronry, a colonial nest site with other family groups. Sometimes the female will leave the nest and take a flight to the flooded pasture to forage for food. We have been able to follow this activity on the meadow camera.

The jackdaws have taken up residence in the owl box at Glentress and this can be seen in the Wildwatch room in the Peel Centre, on the windows on wildlife cameras. They now have 5 eggs, which will take up to 18 days to incubate. It will be fun to watch the antics of this lively little family on camera over the next few weeks.

The pond camera in Kailzie has revealed that the frogs have left masses of frogspawn and the pond camera at Glentress which was showing lots of toads in the water now has long strings of toadspawn on the rocks. This will be interesting to watch as the spawn develops and the little tadpoles break out and become free swimmers.

More volunteers are needed to help to staff the two centres and if anyone is interested in becoming a volunteer please get in touch with Tweed Valley Osprey Project Officer, Diane Bennett by email on Tweedvalleyospreys@gmail.com

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Two eggs now and counting!

A second egg has been spotted in the nest and this was first seen late on Monday 15th April when the volunteer on duty at the Glentress Wildwatch room realised that when the female was turning what he thought to be one egg, there were actually two! We will keep a watchful eye for more eggs over the next few days.

Ospreys at the nest now with two eggs
Proud Dad to be looks down as female reveals 2 eggs

The birds have begun their incubation duties and as ever the male bird from this pair is always keen to take his turn. Both birds appear to be relaxed and very settled. The eggs are gently and carefully turned regularly and the adult birds curl their talons in, to make sure that they do not accidentally pierce the eggs while they lean down and roll the eggs into a favoured position using their beaks.

The weather has been very stormy with high winds. The female has been hunkered down into the nest cup which she frequently scrapes and shifts about material, so that it is to her liking. The male bird has been perching above the nest looking down like the proud father to be.

More wildlife news from around Tweed Valley

The pond camera at Glentress is now showing lots of toads mating in the water. The one at Kailzie has revealed masses of frogspawn and frogs lumbering about.

Heron on the nest
Breeding condition - Bright orange base to the beak
At Kailzie Osprey and Nature Watch Centre, the ‘live’ heron camera is giving superb views of the female heron in impressive breeding condition.

Her beak has a very bright colouration with a vivid orange base and yellow tip. During rest periods at the nest she has been seen resting her long beak on the sticks in the nest. She continues to re-arrange the sticks and there is a lot more fresh grassy material which has been added to the top. There has been no sign of any mate, but she certainly gives the impression of a bird with egg laying on her mind!

The first swallows appeared hunting over Kailzie fishery today and the blue tit has begun to build her nest in the nestbox with a live camera link into the centre at Kailzie.

Monday, 15 April 2013

First Osprey Egg of the Year!

Female stands to reveal egg
At just after 3pm on Friday, the female osprey laid her first egg. Two volunteers were at the centre and spotted the egg when the female stood up.

One of the volunteers is new to the project and so this is a lovely surprise for her to be the first to see the egg and a great start to the season.

We believe that this may be the first osprey egg this year in the Scotland. The Tweed Valley birds have wasted no time since their return and have been spotted frequently mating at the nest site. We will keep a watchful eye for more eggs over the next few days. 
Male flies off with fish.

At around 5.30pm, the male was up on the perch next to the nest with a fish and taking a leisurely meal while the female took her place, to begin incubating straight away. Both birds appeared to be relaxed and very settled. 

Egg rolled into position and female begins to incubate again.
The male flew off with his fish and a few seconds later the female stood up, peered down between her feet and began to nudge the egg with her beak to turn it, which was clearly seen. She soon settled back down to incubate again, very satisfied that all is well and the position of the egg is just as she would like it.