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!

Heads up!

Tuesday saw us celebrating two weeks since the eldest chick made its entrance to the world and the chicks thought they would mark the occassion by giving us our first glimpse of one of them over the lip of the nest!
This was an especially exciting event for us as the loss of our “third eye” beaming us footage from up close and personal inside the nest has meant that we are having to resort to good old “boots on the ground”observation to see what is going on. And a great big dollop of patience!

Two of Bassenthwaite’s young chicks enjoying some sunshine. Look how small they are in that great big nest!

At this stage the chicks are still quite small so we are just seeing the head wobbling around at Mum’s feet when it is dinner time, but as they grow we will be able to see more and more…and maybe finally answer the question on everyone’s lips:

How many chicks are there?

Osprey chicks are hatched at 2-3 day intervals, resulting in a brood that resemble Russian dolls. This means that the oldest is the biggest and the one we are most likely seeing at the moment, but any siblings it has should be hot on its heels. For the moment, visitors, volunteers and staff alike are enjoying the frisson of mystery and anticipation as we gaze intently down the scopes for those precious glimpses of the chick(s).
Come join us at Dodd viewpoint daily 10-5 and see what you can see!

(Please note: images of the osprey nest are from archive)


Welcome to the world little hatchlings!

Five long weeks and the wait is finally over…

It is our pleasure to annouce that our hard working osprey pair have chicks!

As the hatching date approached, visitors, volunteers and staff were glued to the scopes looking out for the tell-tale signs that the first chick might have chipped its way to freedom. The reward came right on schedule on the 4th June when mum was seen dipping her head into the nest offering food, dad went into fishing overdrive and we even thought we caught a glimpse of eggshell before it went tumbling over the side of the nest.

Although we can’t be sure how many chicks are tucked away up there, the movement of mums head at dinner time suggests there may be more than one (fingers and toes crossed!). It will be another week or two before we will see their heads poking above the lip of the nest and know for sure.

Bassenthwaite chicks from a previous year showing this early “bobblehead” stage

It has been another soggy kind of week this week as the chicks mark their one week milestone, but the rain hasn’t stopped play. Dad has been a busy boy and we have been spoiled at the Dodd viewpoints with fantastic views of him plunging into Bassenthwaite for fish to feed his hungry brood. Mum meanwhile has been a living umbrella, protecting the youngsters from the worst of the Cumbrian weather. Covered in soft downy feathers that are not waterproof and unable to regulare their own temperature, the chicks would not be able to stay warm and dry without her. Good job mum!

But it is not just the ospreys that have been keeping us entertained up at Dodd. Ever cheeky, the red squirrels have been visiting our feeders and have been seen by many lucky visitors.

Adult blue tit doing a bit of housekeeping!

The brood of blue tits in the nest box at the lower viewpoint fledged successfully and have even been spotted on our feeders. In fact the woodland is alive with young blue, coal and great tits at the moment, with their lemon sherbert cheeks, begging noisily for food off their parents.

A young great tit fluttering its wings whilst begging noisily for food

With so much to see, it is a great time to visit both Dodd Wood and Whinlatter where there are staff and volunteers on hand to chat to you about the unfolding story of the ospreys and much more.