August Ospreys

 

photo James Vaitkevicius

Now

Blue 400 and Unring are still to be seen around the valley together with other migrating ospreys , so it is worth taking your optics and having a look! Let us know if you see Blue 400 catch a fish!

August review

After a much wetter than average August it is time to take stock of the Bassenthwaite osprey family.  Blue 400 has had a difficult time learning to fish after her very successful fledging. This has not been for lack of trying!

Rain in itself does not bother ospreys, although they always look very bedraggled and miserable in a downpour with the rain dripping off their beaks. The problem is in the quality of the water they are trying to fish in. Rain on Lakeland’s bare fell tops loosens soil already eroded by centuries of overgrazing and mining and the many feet and bikes that churn up the paths. Streams in spate, with little in the way of bigger vegetation on their banks pull away more earth and this all rolls down into Bassenthwaite. Indeed Bassenthwaite, having one of the largest catchments, is the Lake most liable to silt up. Estimates put this at being between 15% and 20 % faster than it should. Nearly every day this month we have seen the Lake water turn milky brown spilling from Newlands Beck and the Derwent River. Ospreys hunt by sight so murky water inhibits them. (It must be uncomfortable for the gill-breathing fish as well) . Rain also creates flooded areas in the marsh and Blue 400 did much of her practising in these clearer lagoons. Wonderful viewing, with her wings held back like an avenging angel’s in classical pose, head forward til the last second and then feet plunging in the water. However, lagoons will only have a very few stranded fish in them so we have not seen her catch there.

It is always difficult to know how much behaviour is instinct and how much learnt. Fishing itself we know is instinctive, as has been proved by the re-introduction programs of osprey to Rutland in the early 2000’s and now at Poole in Dorset. Young birds are transferred to large open fronted cages so they can fly over the water and supplementary fish are posted in from behind a screen to keep their energy levels up. (A surrogate Dad technique). We also know also from our own observations that osprey Dads encourage their chicks to fledge initially by holding out fish as they fly past, so Blue 400 will have been watching both parents’ fishing patterns and picking up skills that way. At 5 weeks she was a big strong bird but has she caught enough and fed enough to make the migration?

 

 

Lunchtime, but not Cowed by Longhorns!

Photo L Baum   Rutpela maculata

Lunchtimes at the Viewpoint always give bonuses, in between looking at ospreys. Sometimes it’s a large slice of home-made cake on your plate, sometimes it’s a large beetle on your water bottle.

It’s quite a big beetle, 20mm long,  and although common in the South of England becomes rarer the closer you get to Scotland so we don’t see them that often. Due to its long antennae and colour its common name is ‘the black and yellow longhorn beetle’. No surprises there. It’s one of a herd of 68 different longhorn species in Britain, many of which are equally beautiful with patterns of orange, green and yellow but sadly, along with most other insects, in decline.

Dodd Wood is an ideal spot for it to live, particularly as the forest has been thinned over the past couple of years. Its larvae feeds on rotting wood, favouring the damp debris  of birch and pine and as an adult it eats nectar and pollen from flower-heads such as hog-weed and cow parsley that spring up as more light hits the forest floor.

Its life cycle can take up to 4 years but for nearly all of that time it is a pale grub and then a pupae. The colourful adult only lasts a couple of months in which it needs to find a mate. This one is probably a female as her ‘horns’ are more stripy than the males’. They are valuable members of the forest eco system, as decomposers when young and pollinators when adult.

However, not all longhorns are so benign, as the world warms the their Chinese cousin the Asian long horn beetle Anoplophora glabripennis  is able to advance North, often brought to Britain in consignments of untreated wood  and, as with many non-native species, this beefy individual has no natural predator. Unlike our natives it does not confine itself to dead wood but lays its eggs in living branches, its larvae creating long galleries, invisible inside the tree, until at last it hatches out from holes larger than 5p pieces. Attacking both timber and fruit trees it is of top concern to the Forestry Commission,  Forest Research Department and is a notifiable insect -this means  if you see one it is vital that you report it, following this link, through Tree Alert

Here’s its picture.

Asian long horn beetle Anoplophora glabripennis

The only way to control the spread is through felling with a buffer zone of 2km The last outbreak in Kent in 2012 saw 2229 trees felled of which 66 contained larvae. Only the quick response prevented 1000’s more trees being felled.

Forest Research is at the forefront, protecting our trees from pests and diseases. Find out more and see what other fantastic and fascinating work Forest Research does. Click on this link .https://www.forestresearch.gov.uk/tools-and-resources/pest-and-disease-resources/asian-longhorn-beetle/

We have lift off!

“The bird who dares to fall is the bird who learns to fly”
Thankfully falling was far from what happened on Tuesday, when at 16:45 the not so little osprey chick took to the sky! And didn’t she keep us guessing?
In front of a packed viewpoint, just as we said that she hadn’t been flapping much at all and didn’t seem in a rush to fledge, blue 400 decided to find her wings. Her leap of faith was a strong one, and she maintained height really well. Heading out towards the “spindly tree”, somewhere she has seen her parents fly to and from hundreds of times in the last eight weeks, she had only one slight wobble. Once over those twiggy perches though, the realisation seemed to dawn on her that she didn’t actually know how to land… lift off was the easy bit!
Getting tired she seemed to visibly falter in the air. Luckily mum was close by and rose up into the air to join her. Staying close, mum appeared to herd the youngster back towards the nest where the very large, stable and reasonably level surface provided a safe landing pad. There was a moment when the youngster was bombing back towards the nest at speed that I did wonder if she was going to land with a crash but she managed to apply the air brakes, executing a very tidy hover over the nest before plopping down to safety. Mum hovered overhead to supervise the landing before disappearing back to her perch. Osprey-copter safely landed!

Family photo- blue 400 sitting with her parents

Amidst the elation, the excitement and the pride (because how can we not be proud) there was hugging and a round of applause. Fledging is something all chicks must face, but it can be an incredibly risky occassion with chicks sometimes crashing into trees or ending up grounded. Though blue 400 had left it till late in the day, she was safely installed back on the nest and we could pack up the viewpoint with huge grins on our faces. In the days since then we have seen her start to tackle perch landings…not always the most gracefully. She had also started to explore the many trees scattered throughout the marsh, going further and further afield, leaving us to play a game of “spot the osprey” as we try to keep track of her. The distance she is flying in one go is increasing rapidly so whilst the sky isn’t quite her only limit at the moment, it will only be a matter of time!
Come along and see her as she gets more and more confident every day.

Blue 400 is exploring further from the nest

That’s one small step for Blue 400

For the past two weeks Blue 400  has been stretching and then flapping her wings, straining toward her birthright, the miracle of flight.

Just three weeks ago, when she was ringed, she had so little muscle development that she could not even stand upright and used her puny wings to help prop herself up. Mum was still feeding her as her neck muscles were not strong enough to help her tear through fish skin and her talons could barely grip.

However, all this changed within a few days as the inexorable processes of development, fuelled by fish, forced growth to maturity. Her feathers lengthened and lost their downy edges, her legs stretched and stamped; talons gripped wriggling fish. The nest suddenly appeared small and there was a world out beyond it waiting to be discovered. Orange eyes stared out to map the branches and trees where her parents sat and instinct that had kept her firmly in the centre of the nest now reversed and she teetered on the outermost sticks.

The huge pectoral muscles to power flight expanded, filling in the spaces either side of her sternum and like a dancer poised for her first solo Blue 400 practised over and again the wing movements that would eventually steer her to the sky. They were slow at first, ungainly and lopsided, but the pace became fast and faster and faster until they were a maelstrom of brown and white. Sometimes she managed to keep her grip on the sticks but latterly she found her toes were hanging onto ghost branches, and in sudden panic dropped back to safety.

With visitors we waited on tenterhooks for that first wild terrifying jump into space. It  might happen at any second and so often it happens just when everyone is looking away. Turn around and she’s gone! But not today.

This afternoon she floated up and away and everyone watching saw her do it!

(Picture LDOP flight of her half sibling in 2017)

 

Royal raptor rumble

It is hard to believe that only seven and a half weeks ago the Bassenthwaite chick emerged from an egg the size of a duck’s egg and now it is as big as its mum. Every time I see it sat up on the nest, I marvel at how quickly it has grown before my very eyes. Without exception, visitors are amazed to discover that the very adult looking bird they can see is actually the youngster.  

We are now in the period approaching fledging. Assuming this chick was from the first or only egg to hatch, it will be 8 weeks old on Tuesday, and therefore fledging is imminent. Having said that, the youngster doesn’t seem to have got the memo, for her flight preparations seem to be a little behind schedule. We are seeing a little bit of wing flapping, but no real consistency to her efforts. Perhaps she is a late bloomer!  

Instead the skies above Bassenthwaite and Dodd have been filled with other, equally enthralling winged residents. Lets take a look at some of the raptors! 

King of the marshland is a male marsh harrier who has been working really hard to steal the ospreys thunder this week. He has been putting in several appearances a day, demonstrating that distinctive low flight with his wings held in a ‘V’ position or perching on fence posts, flashing us a set of very yellow legs! 

Not to be outdone, the peregrines have upped their game. Usually we hear them before we see them, their distinctive scream ringing out over Dodd like a phantom’s cry before that classic “anchor” shape scythes across the sky. Visitors have had amazing views of peregrines passing over the viewpoint with lunch clutched in their talons, pursued by some very unhappy crows. On another occasion, the peregrine put one of the local ospreys (2H) in its crosshairs, or rather, the fish he had just caught. After stooping on the poor, unsuspecting 2H, who very quickly and understandably scarpered, it helped itself to the fish and contemplated its success for a couple of hours sat on a post in front of the viewpoint. When it crossed paths with the osprey mum whilst she was bathing, just a couple of days later, it took her warning bop with good grace.  

The list of raptors on view at Dodd goes on, with both sparrowhawk and goshawk haunting the woods here, kestrels hang almost motionless in the air below the viewpoint and buzzards soar with masterful ease wherever their broad wings take them. In any one day we can see as many as 8 species of birds of prey here.

So don’t hesitate, come along and see us at the viewpoint, open every day 10-5. How many will you see? 

Blue Ring Over Water

At last, thanks to Gwyn Lewis we now have a picture of the other male osprey who has been living at the more Northern end of the Lake for the last few years –

Blue 2H

Taken late afternoon 20thJuly at Overwater.

Here is Gwyn’s exciting account:-

At the time I just thought maybe it was the male from Bassenthwaite. I lost sight of it as it dropped to the lake. I was driving along the lane back towards Overwater Hall Hotel, when I stopped to check around with the binoculars.

I spotted it fairly close by and was able to see it was ringed, so knew it wasn’t the ‘Bass male’ …I wasn’t sure about the female being ringed or not, that’s why I called by at your viewpoint so you might identify it.

I took the close ups from inside the car with window down so as not to cause it to fly off if I got out. I wasn’t a great distance away at all.

It was still there when I drove on.

(note the fish under its left talon).

I hadn’t been near Overwater for a couple of years now, so this was just the ‘one off’ sighting this Sunday.

Pleased that you could identify it and that I contributed something to the Bass osprey project!!

You certainly have. Thank you Gwyn!

Ospreys truly belong to all of us and to none of us: we are privileged that they live and breed in our community and can be spotted going about their daily lives by anyone, but they are also wild and free to make their own choices and hold their own secrets. Who knows how many thousands of miles Blue 2H has travelled to make this his summer home?.

 

 

Bad neighbours

Where do I even begin… 

Here at osprey watch we have exciting days, we have nerve-wracking days, we have calm and quiet days and then we have THOSE days. Days so thrilling, so action packed, where viewing is so excellent, we daren’t look away.  

The day began, as all good days do, with a visit from a red squirrel at our lower viewpoint feeder, where it spent a little while taking its breakfast, much to the delight of our visitors. A sparrowhawk gave us a fly by, along with a young buzzard and ravens danced in the air in front of the viewpoint. Little did we know, that was only the start of the day’s excitement. 

 

Just before lunch we observed dad cruising off towards Derwent water, presumably to do a spot of fishing. All in a days work for a busy dad. So, when we spotted a male osprey displaying over our heads at Dodd wood, parachuting down whilst calling and clutching a fish in its talons, we were a little confused… was this dad? Thankfully, mum recognised the bird as an intruder and scrambled to intercept, chasing it up Bassenthwaite lake before returning to the nest.

The break was short lived, however, for quite soon after a pair of osprey began to circle over the nest containing mum and youngster. With dad still away it was up to mum to handle them. And handle them she did. In a remarkable display of stoops, swipes and passes on a much larger female, it was quite clear that mum was pulling no punches. This aerial battle went on for some time before finally she was happy that they had got the message, having chased them 5 miles from the nest site! Over lunch and clearly fired up the parents spent time bringing in nesting material and venting their frustrations on some (well grown) heron chicks in a nearby nest. 

Quick pit-stop in a hectic day!

If we thought that the morning had been busy, it was nothing compared to what was in store for us in the afternoon for the rogue pair weren’t finished. Again and again the four adult birds clashed in dramatic scenes over the lake, so clear that we had no need of scopes or even binoculars. A passing kestrel found itself in the crossfire as one osprey stooped on another. Needless to say it high tailed it out of there. To cap it off, the elusive marsh harrier chose this day to make an appearance, quartering over the marsh.  

The spectacular viewing of the day was topped off by dad FINALLY getting a moments peace enough to catch a fish just below the viewpoint to feed his hungry, and undoubtably bored chick! 

Whilst we can’t say every day is this busy, we are certainly spoilt here at Dodd! Come along and see for yourself.

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!