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.