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.