Putting the sections of No 14’s migration journey together into one map is always fascinating and always begs the question, ‘Why do they do it?’ The simple answer is, of course, for food. Swallows and other small migrants take advantage of the burst of Northern insects hatching out in their myriads in the Spring. Anyone taking a late stroll around Bassenthwaite must have been aware of the clouds of midges glowing like back-lit ballerinas dancing their short lives away in the setting sun. Similarly ospreys home in on the supplies of fish rising in the warming waters. 10,000 years ago when ice still held much of Europe in its grip ospreys must have been largely confined to the Tropics. As the ice receded young birds would have pushed out across the Sahara, as it developed into a much damper place supporting trees and grassland rather than today’s searing waste. By the time the desert came into being the migration was already established and so they continue to this day. But how the instinct or physiological mechanisms to support this global journey developed we still have very little idea.
Today saw a further visit from Longstreak, so 2 ospreys were skimming over the valley. Then suddenly a silhouette cut the sky line and there was a third one high above. After a few investigative twirls over the lake Unring swooped back to lay claim to his nest. On his first pass both resident crows, who were obviously alarmed with the sight of so many birds of prey in the immediate vicinity, rose up and one after the other buffeted him off the branch he had been meaning to perch on.
On the second pass he landed on the nest and mantled, spreading both wings wide, looking up with one eye after the other at the intruder bird. An instant later Longstreak joined him. As it is not ‘her’ nest she was quite unfazed by the bird overhead. However, the fact that she was there seemed to indicate she felt some loyalty to Unring or the site. Indeed, after Unring flew off again a few minutes later, presumably to see if the other bird was on its way, she turned over a few sticks. This was something we had not seen before and an encouraging indication that she approves of the site. Or maybe, only the threat awoke her instinct to lay some claim to it.
Leading a bachelor life has its joys and its betrayals!
The young woman in Unring’s life is as unpredictable as one might expect, coupled with her winsome beauty. She has a brown smudgy chest and a long dark streak on the back of her head. Perhaps ‘Long streak’ would describe her appearance and nature.
Their relationship started on rocky ground on May 6th with Unring clearly stressed with the whole process of sitting close to a strange female. However, familiarity breeds confidence and through her sporadic visits he has come around to appreciating her charms and does not turn his back the minute she approaches.
However, this increasing warmth may only be because he realises that he has a rival – and it appears she is not subtle in pointing this out. Last week as Unring sat in the alders having his usual post-prandial nap Longstreak lured another young male onto the nearby platform to share an intimate lunch. Opening an eye after some time Unring spied this betrayal and rose into the air to defend his territory. There was an aerial battle in which Unring managed to put in a few punches and the trounced suitor flew off rapidly North. Meanwhile Longstreak sat on the side toying with her sushi and mentally giving marks for stamina and style.
The next day, Sunday, unsurprisingly, she spent hours basking on the nest of the victor and graciously eating the fish that he had provided. Ah -ha we thought! Have they bonded at last?
But no – come Monday she had disappeared again.
This behaviour would indicate that the female is young and not really ready to settle down – compare this with the flightiness of no 14 over the previous seasons. But who knows, maybe the groundwork is being in for next season?
Longstreak on the left – you can just about see this mark on the back of her head.
Has our wandering lad settled on a site? It looks like there’s particularly good tree to roost on or fish off. Ospreys hunt by sight and use their talons to catch their prey. This means that they hunt over shallow water, as they have to be able to reach into the depths with their long legs for fishing spears. Characteristically they hover over a chosen patch and then folding their wings back, dive head first towards the water, their eyes locked on to their prey. At the last second their feet swing forward and they plunge in feeling for the fleeing fish with their four toes and clutching with terrible talons.
Back on Bassenthwaite there is still a roller coaster of sightings as young and unmated birds fly in and fly out. Every day one or two birds are spotted singly or together at various locations from the Dodd viewpoints. Usually one of the birds is Unring, although he is off fishing for part of the day. Sometimes this is in full view of the Dodd telescopes and sometimes to the North end of the Lake, or local reservoirs. Without a mate he is fancy free to go where he wants.
Depending on the gender of the visitor he is still carrying nest material around – as much for display purposes as nest construction. He has been seen putting material into a couple of sites, other than the nest. Last week he caused watchers consternation as he managed to snag a large piece of black plastic from the Lake side. He has gathered environmentally unfriendly material before, but never of such a size. It trailed from his talons like a malevolent kite tail threatening to drag him into the water. Then as he gained height the wind took over and buffeted him and his dark luggage, reminding us of just how light even a large bird is. Eventually he disappeared into trees and we were left wondering for some time if he had been able to disentangle himself, or whether we might need to lead a rescue mission. Luckily, he appeared sans plastic a while later, but it was a chilling reminder that our plastic pollution can kill in all sorts of ways.
At the North end of Bassenthwaite Lake lies Silver Meadows, a nature reserve named for the sight of silver undersides of willow leaves as they turn and flutter in the wind, or perhaps after the silver water that creeps up silently into the grasses and sedges in winter until the whole area transforms into a shining inlet of the larger Lake. On the first Sunday in May a band of 20 or 30 Friends arrive at the break of day for the annual Dawn chorus walk. This year as well as the 32 bird species counted Peter McQueen set up a moth trap. With the soft fog and windless conditions it was ideal weather and lying in the upturned egg- boxes under the lamp was a sheaf of over a hundred of these beautiful insects. And their names are almost as beautiful as themselves – Hebrew Character, Luna Thorn, Green Carpet, Quakers and Drabs. The walk finished with very welcome bacon butties as we watched the moths rouse out of their light induced stupor and drift off like ascending snowflakes, into the vegetation to sleep the day away.
At the South end of the Lake the Osprey’s date seems to be extending. She hasn’t left yet, so he must be doing something right!
After the fiasco with the young lady in the second week of April. (A relationship that was as unromantic as it was brief) It had seemed that Unring had settled down into the carefree, if slightly lonely, life of a bachelor. His days have consisted of getting up in the morning to a nice fish breakfast, a turn about the Lake followed by some DIY repairs to an already perfect nest and then the rest of the day free for preening. No stress!
Then this afternoon everything changed again with the arrival of another female contender for the bargain package-deal of home, food and husband. That’s her on the left, a young and very vocal virago upsetting Unring’s placid routine with demands for fish and frolic.
You would have thought he’d have jumped at the chance of passing on his genes to posterity, but with shoulders hunched, back turned to her, head down and wings splayed out it appeared if ever a bloke disliked the very idea of a blind date with an unknown bird, it’s him.
We will see if she’s still around in the morning!