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!

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.