Flying 101

It is true what they say, time really does fly when you are having fun! (Pun intended).

At six and a half weeks old, Bassethwaite’s little osprey is not so little anymore. In fact it is looking so grown up that we do occasionally have to look twice through the scopes to be sure who exactly we are looking at. Of course she is not finished developing quite yet and we aren’t expecting fledging for another week and a half…give or take!  

Mum is now happy to leave the youngster alone on the nest for periods, settling on a perch next to dad where she can see the youngster or taking herself off for some all important me time.

Mum and dad enjoying a moments peace and quiet

The youngster has been making good use of the extra space to get in some exercise: warm up with some stretches, moving on to vigourous flapping before the grand finale…helicoptering! This is named for the way that the chick rises vertically off the nest a few inches before touching down in a manner similar to a helicopter. Friday’s practise was a touch nerve-wracking for those of us watching as it was a windy day but the osprey-copter seemed to handle it with ease!  

One of the things that makes Dodd Wood such a great place to see ospreys, is that not only can we show you them on or around their nest, but we are also well placed to observe fishing and bathing activity. Mum in particular seems to enjoy a good bath, usually in the shallow water right below the viewpoint. It is always lovely to see an osprey enjoying splashing in the water in much the same way that a sparrow might splash in a bird bath. Except Bassethwaite is one really big bird bath! 


Chick Check

The Bassenthwaite chick has had its health check and has been ringed. She is a female and unsurprisingly large as she has the lion’s share of the grub! Her British Trust for Ornithology Darvic coloured ring designation is now Blue 400.  In the short term this should make her easy to identify after she fledges in the next weeks and, if she survives her first migrations, a tool to recognise her by if she makes it back to the North Lakes.

This 5 week old chick below (photo LDOP 2016) shows all the characteristics of a young osprey juvenile. Eyes are orange – in the adult they are yellow. Feather edgings are buff to break up the outline and blend in with nest material. Although bones have grown to nearly full size (enabling a ring to be fitted without becoming tight) muscle has yet to catch up. This means  juvenile ospreys are very docile in the hands of the ringer – an advantage for both bird and human considering the amount of pain an inadvertent talon or beak puncture might inflict.



The North Sea for Breakfast

Number 14, Bassenthwaite bird Extraordinaire!

Hatched in 2013 as one of the three in Unring and KL’s first brood, this bird has taught us more about what an osprey is capable of than any other. As a juvenile he was leg-ringed  as White 14 and a GPS tracker fitted. Since then it has been telling us his story, one more along the lines of ‘Sinbad’ considering the range and length of his adventurous journeys.

His winter home is on the island of Bioko, so the least mileage he does in a year is the 8000 mile round trip.

So, what better on a nice bright Saturday morning – have a quick trip to the North Sea for breakfast. It was approximately a 300 mile round trip, travelling out to sea 40 miles off Grimsby. Yes he did come back!

Of sundials and siestas!

Following on from last week, it appears that the Bassenthwaite nest has become hot property!

Shenanigans have continued all week, with an intruding osprey being seen buzzing over the nest on several occasions. Sadly, as we are unable to see whether it is rung or not during its visits. We cannot tell if this is just one intruder who isn’t getting the message or whether there are several birds with an eye on the nest. What we do know though, is that the bird(s) are certainly tenacious, often taking dad a couple of hours at a time to clear them out.
Saturday’s intruder was particularly determined. It all kicked off before lunch when dad was spotted chasing it down right in front of the viewpoint, much to the delight of everyone watching. In fact, in amongst the excited chatter of onlookers, you could hear the birds vocalising to one another. Then they slid out of sight heading north up the lake and were gone, leaving us to an anxious wait for dad to return.
It is fair to say that we are all a little bit jumpy after dad’s two day disappearance a couple of weeks ago so it was a huge relief when he came gliding onto the nest bearing a silvery gift for mum and youngster, 4 hours later! The relief was short lived though, for no sooner had he handed his prize over then the intruder reappeared over the nest, prompting dad to take to the wing once more to see it off.

Eyes to the skies for that lovely osprey shape

You’ll be relieved to hear that dad isn’t always quite so rushed off his…wings.
In fact, as long as mum and chick are fed and there are no intruders, dad can put his feet up on his favourite perch and while away the hot hours of the afternoon. He did get a little too comfy on his perch on Tuesday though and had to be prompted to go fishing by mum who was less than impressed by his laid back attitude. She mobbed him until he reluctantly sloped off towards Derwent water.

Dad in his “arm chair”

With the chick now four weeks old and growing like a weed (albeit a very cute, winged variety) and the weather so good, mum doesn’t need to brood it. Most of the day she sits up on the nest keeping a close eye on it whilst it siestas in the sun. As the hours slip by she moves around the edge of the nest, using her body to cast shade on the snoozing chick, a little bit like an inverse sundial. So any time we want to know the time at the viewpoint, we can take a glance at mum through the scope and work it out from where she is at that point.

Bright blue skies and sunshine over Bassenthaite

With all of this going on, it is a great time to come to Dodd and see the osprey family for yourself. Please be aware that the viewpoint at Dodd will be closed this week from Tuesday 9th July- Thursday 11th but we will resume normal opening (10-5) from Friday 12th. Hope to see you there!

Fisher Kings and Friars

If you have been up at Dodd and Whinlatter this summer you will most likely have been greeted by one of the fantastic Lake District Osprey Project Volunteers. From April 1st to August 23rd the sites are manned, and womanned, without charge, to provide visitors with updates on the ospreys, information on wildlife and passion about the beautiful world around us. Sometimes they take a well-earned rest of course, to go on holiday and it is always good to see pictures of birds and wildlife sent from other places.


Here’s a view of another iconic bird, the puffin, taken by Annie in Shetland last week. In Cumbria, our closest spot to catch a glimpse of these is at St. Bee’s Head, and then only sometimes, in very small numbers.

At first glance the diminutive hole-nester, with its painted Easter-egg beak, appears to have nothing in common with the majestic osprey.  However, like ospreys its main diet is fish, although to achieve the same end, its method of catching its prey and body adaptation is very different.

An osprey, being a bird of prey, catches a single fish with its talons, then tears it to pieces with its beak; a puffin catches with its beak which is modified to be able to hold a full load of sand-eels, heads and tails protruding on each side like a set slippery silver whiskers. These it feeds to its young or swallows whole.

An osprey hovers and plunges into water feet first, the soles of its toes covered in spicules designed to provide grip against fish scales; a puffin dives in head first to chase prey, using its wings to virtually fly under water. Its strong grooved tongue holds the fish firmly in its beak.

A puffin can swim and land on water and has the ability to completely waterproof its feathers; ospreys can do none of these things, usually a fatal disadvantage if blown off course over the Atlantic. This means that a puffin can travel to the middle of the fish rich Atlantic outside the breeding season, a relatively safe environment, (excepting man’s interferences, plastics, pollution, overfishing) whilst an osprey journeys the hazardous way overland, crossing the arid sandy seas of the Sahara to its winter home in West Africa.

A last word in Latin, the puffin with its upright stance, waddling walk and black and white plumage is named  Fratercula arctica, the Arctic Friar. The osprey on the other end of the scale is named after a Greek King, Pandion haliaetus. Both fool the fishes beneath them by having pale undersides, perfect camouflage against the light sky, which of course gives rise to the famous fish proverb,

‘He jumped out of the flying Pan into the Friar’,

warning small fry of those unfortunates that having avoided capture by the one bird meet their ends with the other.

Three is a crowd…

After the excitment of last week, we could be forgiven for wishing for a period of peace and calm.
And it was.
At first.
The day after Dad’s return saw him being very attentive to Mum: sitting with her in the nest at various points throughout the day and bringing in nesting material, the osprey equivalent of flowers and chocolate, I suppose.
Then last weekend, patient visitors spotted an osprey perching very obligingly down in the marsh…not one of the resident ospreys. A closer look at this mystery bird told us it was likely female, based on its size and the extensive “necklace” it was sporting. Mum and Dad tolerated the presence of this female, as long as she stayed perched just outside their territory. For her part, she was happy with her newfound perch and took the opportunity to have a good preen! Unfortunately, it was not possible for us to spy whether she was wearing a ring…ospreys have to have some secrets you know.

A perfect perch for an osprey (Image taken from archive)

The fun didn’t stop there. Well, it wouldn’t be Ospreywatch without a bit of excitement would it?!
Fast forward a few days and another unknown osprey joined Dad in circling over the lake. This bird looked paler and similar in size to Dad, leading us to tentatively ID it as male. Initially we thought it could be just visiting the lake for a spot of fishing and indeed the two males ignored each other at first. That all changed when the interloper flew by the nest and dared to have a peep in whilst both Mum and Dad stood guard over their young. What followed was an afternoon of catch me if you can with Dad following this unknown male as it flew around the valley. Although seeing off intruders is a serious business for Dad, it gave visitors to the viewpoint a wonderful spectacle to watch. The pair spiralled higher and higher until they were lost as two tiny specks against the cloud. Who is this male? Could it be the other “local lad” here at Bassenthwaite being a little too nosy about the business of his neighbours? Could it be a youngster migrating back for the first time or roaming the countryside looking for a place to call its own? Could it even be one of our own youngsters from 2017, returning home for the first time? So many questions!

Soaring over the lake

As well as these unknown birds, we were incredibly lucky to identify another new bird to the area, a female wearing a ring on her left leg, telling us that she hails from bonny Scotland. We will be keeping our eyes peeled for her to see if we can glean any more information from her ring. Time will tell if she is here for the long haul, or only passing through, but one thing is for sure… there is plenty going on here at the moment to get excited about.

Our previous resident female KL feeding chicks (Image from archive)

It has been three weeks since hatching, and it now appears that there is one chick in the nest, but what a chick it is! Young ospreys have a lot of growing to do in the 2 months they are in the nest, and this chick is no different. In a week, it has gone from being so small that we could only just see its head at dinner time, to stomping around on the nest after mum like a mini-me giving us amazing views of it, top to talons! As the only chick, it gets Mum and Dad’s undivided attention and doesn’t have to share any of its dinner with siblings. It is no wonder it is growing so well. It is already showing great spirit, and we always know when to look out for Dad flying in with a food parcel because the hungry youngster pops up and begins tapping away at mums feet. Usually Dad is not too far behind!
Things are really hotting up at this point in the season (and I don’t just mean the weather) so why not pop along to the viewpoint at Dodd Wood to say hi and see the action for yourself.

Shopping, Lakes style.

It’s quite crowded in the long shopping-mall of the Lake. When Unring goes hunting in the morning there is all the jostle and push of the Keswick Saturday Market, groups walking along chatting and bickering over the merits of balti or vindaloo, individuals eating chips from greasy paper cartons, families queuing slowly for the fast food stalls, Grans and Grampas perched on damp benches unwrapping picnic sandwiches. On the Lakes the behaviour is the same – only the species change from human to avian.

Geese in moult 

Here’s Unring swooping over to grab a quick bite fish in a splash of silver. Here’s a couple of herons staring unwinkingly over by the reed bed spearing a kebab of unwary frogs to feed to their grey mothball chicks. There’s a single egret, mincing along the margin, hoping no doubt to meet up with another lonely bird to share a minnow. Here’s a school of swallows, uniform in their blue-black plumage darting everywhere snacking on mayfly and midges. Here’s the swans with their 7 cygnets gracefully dipping into the Bento box at the bottom of the Lake, and all around the gaggling paddlings of tour-bus geese, geese and more geese. Over 300 Greylag, 150 Canada and 2 Embden crosses have been assembled floating on the water in big rafts at the South end of Bassenthwaite over the past week.

Discarded quill – wing pinion feather

More potter about on the shore line, but are wary enough to waddle at speed to the water when the questing nose of a hungry fox pokes out between the tufts of canary grass. And all along the shingle beaches and muddy promontories are drifts of grey and brown feathers, discarded like winter gloves,scarves and bobble-hats at the warmth of the Soltice sun. The geese are in moult and like their chicks completely flightless for a few weeks. The whole family will grow their new feathers together and by the end of July will be ready to take to the air again. But in the meantime there are the bargain counters of water-weed and grass to mow through.

All that is gold does not glitter

All that is gold does not glitter

Not all who wander are lost  (Lords of the Ring)

Since wandering off for a while last week ‘Unring’ has been a model father, fishing and keeping guard from his habitual perches.

                 2011 – No-ring standing guard over his Mrs.

We have now had a chance to think back to the other males of that have nested on Bassenthwaite over the years. Did they ever go AWOL? – The first ‘No-ring’, here from  2001 – 2011, was  the most paternal of birds, and had a passionate interest in his chicks, standing on the edge of the nest to view them as they hatched and defying all his mate’s efforts to preclude him from feeding and sitting on them. Then there was YV, his son, in 2012, who appeared to have no interest in his offspring at all. However, both of these birds took time out mid season, YV on a rather regular basis which caused his mate to spend much of her time screaming at him but No-ring also took the odd day off. There is no doubt that although it is the female that has the bulk of the incubating and nurturing of the young chicks to do, the role of the guarding male also has its stresses. A good Dad will sit on perches where he can both see and hear the female on the nest and be constantly on high alert to her body language and calls, whether for giving her a break, food, or distress at an intruder.  He must be ready to react at any moment to go out hunting, or see off a buzzard, or most stressful of all, chase a rival osprey with intentions towards his wife and property. Is it then surprising that he occasionally feels the need to stride off to his man shed sometimes for some well earned time out?

Not all who wing their ways around the lake are of the feathered variety. The mixed habitats at Dodd cast up a huge variety of insects. Some are easy enough to identify and some we haven’t a clue. This one, taking a stroll along the fence line at the lower view point seemed a rather drab little creature, uniformly brown, although sporting some natty antennae.

Then a shaft of sunlight split through the rather hazy cloud cover and an entomological transfiguration took place. As if touched by King Midas wings of umber turned to pure gold. It glittered like an Inca finger ring, blood of the sun running through the reflective lattice work of its body.  We watched it in wonder. For itself, happily oblivious to any curse of immobility, it walked on in royal state, until reaching the shadow, it abruptly reverted to commoner status again.

Buckle up, it’s a rollercoaster ride!

Where do I begin! Watching the ospreys is many things: rewarding, entertaining, and sometimes, downright hard. Much like the nation’s favourite soap operas, it gives us plenty of drama, suspense and, as has been the case over the last couple of days, mystery.

The week started reasonably uneventfully (which believe me, can actually be a good thing). First time mum was feeding the chicks and sitting with them in the sunshine. Dad was seen sitting out on his favourite perches, keeping an eye out for threats and bringing in fish for the family. Until he wasn’t.
All day Tuesday we didn’t see him. Not a glimpse of glossy brown or a flash of white. Where could he be? Mum found an old bit of fish in the nest with which to feed the chick(s), so whilst it is unusual for the male to be gone so long, there was no cause for alarm.

A family photo from a previous Bassenthwaite brood.

Wednesday dawned with still no sign of Dad. Mum was clearly getting antsy and as the second day wore on, faced a choice. At two weeks old, the chicks are still a little small to be left alone on the nest, but they also need to eat. She could go and try to bring in fish herself, but in doing so, leave the chicks at risk of being predated, or she could sit and wait. But for how long? There have been females that have chosen to wait, and tragically lost their chicks to starvation. As a young, inexperienced bird, we really had no idea what she would do.
With a hungry brood pecking away at her feet, mum decided on very short forays along the nearby beck and over the end of the lake before returning quickly to sit with the chicks once again. Each time, we crossed our fingers and toes that lady luck would smile on her. Finally, just after lunch, SUCCESS! I am not ashamed to say we may have cheered a little when we saw that silvery snack clasped tight in her talons. She made short work of lunch, diligently feeding the chick(s) before taking some for herself.

A beautiful day in the valley and some good fishing conditions helped mum out

Thoughts turned to the mystery of where Dad might have got to? Perhaps there had been a tenacious intruder on the nest early the previous day and Dad was busy trying to drive it away? It seems we may never know for certain, but I am pleased to report that late on Wednesday, Dad came winging his way home across the water. Though he didn’t exactly get the warmest welcome as Mum’s first reaction seemed to be quite similar to ours;
“Where an earth have you been?!”
But he is home. A little worse for wear, lending support to the intruder theory, but safe. It didn’t take him long to catch himself a fish supper, which he devoured with relish. This is great news for the whole family and we hope Dad will resume his normal duties tomorrow, bringing in plenty of food to smooth over any ruffled feathers.
As always it is a privilege to get a glimpse into the lives of these fascinating birds and their struggle to survive and raise chicks and times like this are no exception. I for one think mum deserves a round of applause, after all, not all heroes wear capes!