Strange and Outstanding

One outstanding and one strange event has happened over the past 2 weeks.

The outstanding event has been the fledging of two marsh harrier chicks on the National Nature Reserve below the Dodd Wood viewpoints. It is a unique event as marsh harriers have not bred in Cumbria for over a hundred years. In most summers we have seen single birds that have stayed just for a few days and assumed that there was not enough reed bed to attract them to become more resident However, this year has seen a pair hunting throughout the season over the marsh, hunting the swathes of reed canary grass and passing food in courtship air dances.Last Sunday week we were overjoyed to see not one but two dark brown fledglings, with their characteristic cinnamon heads fluttering out of the grass. As their favourite perches are the lines of fence posts they are easily visible through the telescopes and have provided us with hours of interest. It is likely that the recent rise in numbers of the marsh harrier have encouraged pairs to explore more marginal sites but it is not sure fire that they will return to Bassenthwaite next year as marsh harriers may change partner and nest site each season.

The strange incident concerned another pair of ospreys that visited our nest, also on Sunday, All 3 of our chicks landed on the nest in a great state of agitation, screaming,  flattening their bodies and shaking their wings. Suddenly an adult bird flew in with a half eaten perch. One of the chicks leapt forward and grabbed at it, but in the general upset managed to catch hold of the bird’s talon and then grimly hung on to it. This gave us a chance to see that it was not Unring, our own adult, but a blue ringed male. After a short tussle our chick, realising his mistake, let go of the toe and grabbed the fish. At the same time,  landing on the nest, was yet another stranger bird, this time a  rather small looking female with no ring.

On replaying the film footage we found that the ring read 2H. This we discovered was a Kielder Forest bird, hatched in 2012.It had been seen at Kielder on return from its migration  in 2014 and 2015. It is likely that he and his partner failed to breed successfully this year and were attracted to the very successful nest on Bassenthwaite. It appears trying to feed unrelated chicks  is not an unusual occurance in these circumstances but undoubtedly a first for here.



The Names of the Games

Following the naming of our 2016 chick Bega, the osprey chicks this year have also got  monikers

Elter – the U7 female. This is a Cumbrian word from the Scandinavian word eltr meaning swan (eg Elterwater) Elter has particularly lovely white under feathers!

Artegel – the U8 male – this is from Wordworth’s poem ‘Artegal and Elidur’ about Ancient British Kings.

Ulysses – U6 the youngest male – from the ancient Greek adventurer and traveller, who is traditionally seen as small but cunning and feisty. (or just say U6 fast a number of times)


Choosing the names was a really difficult decision, with over 100  names  put forward by members of the public, many of them beautiful and relevant. Over £200.00 was raised for the project which we hope will go towards the fund for new optical equipment for next year. Thank you to all those who took part.  If anyone wants to donate now through  Just Giving there is a link  on the home page of


The chicks continue to do well and are flying around the Bassenthwaite valley and perching on dead trees and branches, which may look like fun and games to us but in fact is serious practice for the long migration in a few weeks time. This uses up a lot of energy and they are generally quite hungry so  Unring the adult male bird is providing them with lots of  plump perch. KL their mother is still here but will be off to Africa as soon as she has built up fat reserves and is in good condition.



Circuits and splashes

The initial good weather gave all our chicks a head start and perhaps a bit of overconfidence. The windy days of Thursday and Friday saw quite a bit of buffeting in the air and in some cases taking off and then flying backwards, which left them a little nonplussed. U7 fled to the nest at one point, as a safe haven, but found that even taking off from there was fraught with danger. She had to experiment for some time, looking a bit like an umbrella on the verge of turning inside out before finding that the trick is to lean into the wind rather than it coming at you broadside.

All the chicks have been seen from the Lower Viewpoint at Dodd flying over the edges of Bassenthwaite and enjoying the occasional splashdown. However, it is Unring that is still doing all the fishing. Today, he caught a fish so enormous that he dropped it – viewed by one of his offspring sitting on a nearby post and KL, bathing just a few yards away.

It could happen to anyone.

Last flier

U7 managed to hoist herself off the nest – largest and definitely not least. This was Saturday’s effort and since then all three chicks have been positively whizzing around the immediate area of the nest in the bright sunshine. lots of lift and a bit of breeze means they wobble a bit but have not crash landed!

Who goes next?

We waited all day yesterday for either U6 or U7 to have the courage of their convictions to lift off. But No! Neither could bring themselves to follow their brother.

Today U7, the bigger female was giving it a really good go, helicoptering feet above the nest and then dropping down. Will she go? Won’t she go? Will she go?

Oh! Where’s U6? A gust of wind, just as he opened his wings, did the trick for him and away he was blown to a nearby branch. And there he has stayed for the day, unable to come to terms with a different perspective on the world. Unring has been bringing fish to the nest this afternoon, eaten by sedentary U7 and visiting U8 and so we are confident that a famished stomach will blow him back before too long.


A first day’s flight

Like Harry Potter U8 is a ‘natural’. Although only into his first full day of flying he is managing very well with no crashes or bludger hits that we have seen. He is staying close to the nest and making short forays out and back. Sometimes it takes a few circuits to get into a good position for landing back on the nest but he has avoided his sedentary siblings so far.

U6 and U7 are looking with great interest at the gyrations of their brother and have had us with hearts in mouths a few times when they have teetered on the edge flapping wildly. But as of 16.00 hours neither had had the courage to jump.

An interesting incident today involved an extra osprey around the nest. The intruder, flying overhead had a fish (seen catching below the viewpoint) and as in a previous incident this year it dived from a height above the nest and delivered the fish (a perch) to the 2 cowering chicks, bypassing KL, Unring and flipping past U8. What is this all about?

Congratulations to the Kielder Forestry Commission team who are celebrating their 50thchick. They currently have 4 breeding nest sites in the forests around the huge reservoir.

Nearly airbourne

No pictures for the moment can be uploaded onto this site.

However, hopefully the chicks can be seen on the live stream. They are now into their 7th week and their muscles are developing with exercise  interspersed with rest. In week six they were also preening vigorously to release their feathers from the sheaths. This process is now  largely complete although there still looks to be another centimetre or two to grow on pinions and tail feathers. Flapping is now strong enough to carry the birds in hops across the nest and they are all spending time balanced precariously over the void and looking down.

Like many birds of prey they stare at a particular point and then move their heads rapidly from side to side. They are probably triangulating distance as they have no other practical way of knowing how far things are from the nest and thus where they might land on that important first flight.

Join in with the Work-out.

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Until now our chicks have only had a couple of goals in life – to eat and to sleep – and as a by product of that, to grow.

But now another element is added on to the equation. Exercise! For the next 2 weeks they will be putting in the hours with a gruelling training programme, worthy of Olympic contenders.

Fledging is comparable to ski jumping, combining the elements of great height, fast descent and the real possibility of a fatal crash landing. But whereas a ski-er can build up from small to large jumps our chicks will have only one chance to get it right when they launch themselves for the first time into space.  It is not just the glory of winning a gold but a question of survival.

So, between feeds and snoozes our chicks are now stretching, extending and flapping those unwieldy wing appendages that have developed so fast. Legs are also being strengthened with a regime of knees bend. If you’re feeling a bit unfit yourself feel free to join in. Before you know it, there may be a new Eddie the Eagle in the making!


Ringing – Sub-culture.


Where ospreys dare


U6 – a steely orange glare!


U7 and U8 heads in the sand


Hatched on 18th 19th and 22nd of May the chicks are now entering  into their 5th week of life. It is a constant source of amazement  how fast they grow; from fluffy ping-pong size to fully feathered rugby balls with wings.

It is at this time that we fit on their identification rings. This year, the first since 2009, we have 3 beautiful chicks. They are a credit to the care that KL and Unring have lavished on them, catching fish and feeding them throughout the hours of daylight and keeping them warm or shaded, depending on the variable Cumbrian weather.

Early this summer morning the trained and licenced ringing team walked quietly over to the site. Looking up through the green oak leaves to a pale blue sky we could see both KL and Unring flying over the nest and soon could hear their cries, warning their chicks to lie down, stay still and rely upon their camouflage for protection. Darren, veteran tree climber, ascended and peered over the nest edge. The two eldest chicks lay just as Mum could wish, flattened out and holding on with both feet. But youngest was not going to take things passively and had already reared up on its wings and legs with its neck feathers raised, like a fierce little Lygon. Gently, Darren picked it up placed it in a sports bag and lowered it to the bottom of the tree where our Ringer was waiting. Placed on the ground the young bird held its stance, looking around with orange-iris eyes at a different world of grass and buttercups. It managed a nifty peck at the Ringer’s thumb as firstly its metal ring with unique serial number was placed on its left leg and its Blue colour ring U6 was placed on the right. In future years it will be this means of identification that will tell us if it has survived the migration and returned to Cumbria.

‘ It’s so feisty, I’m guessing it’s a male, but it’s weight should confirm that.’ At 1,320 g the spring balance told us it was indeed within the male weight parameters, being lighter than females of the same age. With a flurry of quill dander and a drift of baby down it’s – no, HIS –wing measurements were taken and feet examined. Smallest and youngest but superbly healthy and bursting with attitude, U6 sat to one side watching on whilst his more docile siblings went through the same process, fitted with leg rings U7 and U8. From the weight of 1,470g  the middle chick is probably another male and at a buxom 1,570 g the oldest should be female.

‘Fly well little birds’, we whispered as they were hauled up one at a time and replaced in the nest. Then we walked away to let them resume their avian lives again.