Buckle up, its a rollercoaster ride!

Where do I begin! Watching the ospreys is many things: rewarding, entertaining, and sometimes, downright hard. Much like the nations 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 mums 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 hero’s 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 mums 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 everyones lips:

How many chicks are there?

Oprey 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.

Flocks of Pandion and carpets of Pteridium

Bracken (Pteridium aquilinium).

The higher slopes which were bleaching and cracking with the run of dry weather have had a soaking and the chance to green up again. Bracken fern is pushing through the hard top soil of many of the steeper slopes and high grazing areas. Nowadays it is often looked at as a pest and certainly it is a most successful plant, growing with slight variations in every continent except Antarctica. A bit like the osprey, which is not endangered globally, and again is found in every continent in its 4 subspecies.

Pandion haliaetus haliaetus in Palearctic Europe/Asia, South Asia and Africa.

in Australia, P.haliaetus cristatus

P. haliaetus carolinensis in N/S Americas and,

odd one out, an island variety, P. haliaetus ridgwayi in the Caribbean.

Our pair are Pandion haliaetus haliaetus of course, Pandion after a mythical Athenian king and from the Greek, haliaetus, hals = sea and aetus = eagle.

Wherever there are shallow swimming fish there too should be ospreys, highly adapted to successfully fill this fishing niche. Bassenthwaite is a perfect example for both where shallow bays and inlets provide ample hunting grounds for the bird and steep dry slopes for the bracken plant to grow unchecked.

Bracken has a number of adaptations, one of which can be seen here where the stem takes the brunt of the first growth spurt instead of the more tender shoot, forming these croquet hoops. Deep rhizomes store food and water and tough stems prevent dehydration.

In the past it was much more highly regarded, in particular for its high potash content, both as a soil top dressing, and as a lye for soap and wool preparation. Burning Kilns were constructed over the Lake District. http://www.cumbria-industries.org.uk/a-z-of-industries/potash-kilns/

Maybe this is one way that small scale farms could make their own fertiliser rather than buying in?

It was also used as bedding and carpeting for both animals and humans. Containing a variety of natural anti-insecticides, it keeps down the bugs, is fully recyclable, great insulation and easily replaced.

Eco thought for the day might be to try bringing in a load of bracken each summer, instead of buying a synthetic carpet for the kitchen. Or at least question if the floor covering of your choice is recyclable/biodegradable!

 

 

Too fast to live too young to die

                                           Juvenile Blackbird 

The first broods of garden and woodland birds are now wobbling their ways out into the wide world. Very often they are quite without fear, which paradoxically gives us the joy of seeing a wild creature close up, but also the worry that such naïveté will lead to an early grave. This is indeed the case. These fluffy morsels are at the very bottom of the food chain and are sitting ducklings  for all the predators that are also raising their own young.

For osprey juveniles it may seem that the mortality rate of about 70% is unusual, and due generally to the rigours of migration, but in fact the same percentage of the smaller birds die to tooth and claw. All things being equal, any couple only has to reproduce themselves once in their breeding lifetime. So, looking at the Bluetits, taking on the nesting box at the lower viewpoint, a brood of up to 10 chicks is never going to be viable. Unless the world is to drown in a Bluetit inundation all that green energy from the sun, transmitted through leaves, champed up by caterpillars, and poked down the throats of hungry chicks, must pass on in flesh to the top predators. So, the sparrowhawk couple visit the feeders every day. Somewhere in the forest their brood of chicks will live or die, depending on the source of supply.

Cruel? It’s a fine line of balance, with the creatures within the cycle doing as they have to.

We don’t need telling, but real cold-bloodedness lies with us; although we are superficially touched by the helplessness of young things; although we wonder intermittently at the intricacies and fine weightings of our amazing planet, yet deep down we condone comfortable lifestyles which depend on our deliberate manipulation and destruction of the building blocks of our world. Over the past week some of the children and grandchildren of the volunteers of the osprey project have been striking from local schools to join with the millions of other young people standing globally, pressing governments to work together to find a solution. They are the ones who will inherit the earth. There is no Planet B.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘All quiet on the nesting front, honey.’

With only a couple more weeks to go with incubation our female bird has surpassed expectations in her commitment to brooding. Bathed in bright sunlight and open to every breeze that blows she has been diligently turning the eggs and keeping them alternately warm or shaded by lifting her body up or snuggling down. Unring, as we would expect has been keeping them both supplied with fish as well as taking his turn with daytime sitting.

As Spring warmth has been seeping into the bones of the earth insects are now waking up or hatching out in their myriads. A dull rumble filled the air late one afternoon last week – another Chinook approaching up the valley perhaps? But no, the rumble took on a more sizzling tone, reverberating closer at hand and directly above. For a moment or two the sun lost its radiance and our black shadows faded as if a cloud was passing. We all stared up as a swarm of bees undulated through the tops of the pines, each individual weaving its own way to avoid collision with its sisters and the waving branches, following their Queen to a new home.

A swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay.                                                                A swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon.                                                             A swarm in July isn’t worth a fly.

Sadly, they passed too quickly for us to follow, so we missed out on the load of hay!

 

A weary worker, left behind.

 

 

Ferns and Fresh Water

Photos Liz Baum

Warm sunshine and bitingly cold wind kept the sky blue over the weekend. What to wear on the trek up to the Viewpoints? T shirts and shorts in the sun and padded jacket and trousers in the shade. For the ferns coming out in the forest – curl or uncurl? – that is the question. Like sleepy mice the furry brown fiddle heads, are stretching out their Spring limbs from under every tree stump and stone and covering up a lot of the brash left from the felling of last year. As the dead wood is shaded from the drying winds and sun it can start the first stages of rotting down into soil again.

The chilly breeze whipped up quite sizeable wavelets on the shingle bank below the Lower viewpoint, and we were fascinated to see our female’s ablutions when she down to bathe after eating a hearty fish lunch. Standing in the shallows she kept bending her head and shoulders forward to duck under the waves and then surge upright again to let the water run down her back, until her feathers were saturated. When thoroughly soaked she rose into the air, flying back and forth over the water whilst shaking herself as vigorously as a brown Labrador dog.

 

 

Puddles, Pollen and Piriton

If you live or work or visit a forest at the moment, tree pollen can pack quite a punch!  For example, wild cherry is in blossom, the petals as white as the flurries of sleet and hail still sweeping the fell-tops and anthers  packed with golden pollen. The first honey bees are venturing out to carry this from flower to flower in their search for nectar, and making sure that a crop of fruit develops in the summer.

Wild Cherry at Whinlatter

More prolific still, the conifers are shedding their pollen for the wind to blow where it will to fertilise the young pine cones. Cars left in the car parks at Dodd and Whinlatter are covered in a fine golden dusting and after rain it is floating on all the drains and puddles in swirls and tide marks of bright yellow.

Necessary for plant reproduction, handy for honey bees, but for the susceptible the itchy eyes and sneezes are the same whether it is hay fever or tree fever!

Pollen water marks

For ospreys along with many other birds, and reptiles, irritation of the eyes due to pollen is a low risk. A ‘third eyelid’ or nictitating membrane sweeps their eyeballs, lubricating and protecting them from dust and foreign bodies. For a fish-catching bird it also cushions the impact of the water as they plunge in to grab their prey. Sadly, we humans only have the vestigial remains of this useful feature –  It would  seem a better solution than taking piriton all summer!

No simple life

Crows, magpies, buzzards, and four pairs of herons keep house around the new nest site. It’s a crowded and diverse neighbourhood, unsurprisingly, on the border of a National Nature Reserve. The arrival of two huge predatory looking characters with sharp beaks and claws, taking over one of the properties is not something anyone can blame them for objecting to. They are not to know that it is only the fish in the Lake that need shudder. So, there has been a fair amount of hassle on the street. However, with Unring being a mature bird and, as we will see, the new lady a pretty feisty one, the ospreys have not been driven off. Their biggest test yet came on Thursday. Not from the neighbours but from strangers out of the blue.

It was mid afternoon and suddenly above the nest we could see two more dark shapes diving onto the platform; another pair of osprey attempting a well planned coup. Our female rose into the air accompanied by Unring and for about 8 minutes they were swirling in a series of dog fights over the marsh and field. Then our female realised that the priority was her eggs and swooped back down on them, holding herself flat against the bottom of the nest. Meanwhile Unring chased the attacking female up towards Derwentwater.

This left the attacking male with a clear run for the nest. All to gain, nothing to lose, but it was a lady he was dealing with! A softer touch was needed and he already had a plan B for this eventuality. During the whole fight he had been carrying a fish, which to onlookers had seemed a mad idea but now it looked as if he hoped it would tip the balance. He landed on the nest and thrust the fish towards our female. For a few moments they confronted each other, then after an initial reaction of shock she leaned forward snapping at him. Not good. He did a quick turn in the air around the nest waving the fish seductively and landed again. This time she was prepared and before he had time to balance she went for him beak and claw. No way was she to be lured or bullied off the nest she had chosen for her first offspring. Taken aback and with his own female far away he retreated.

Half and hour later Unring was back on the nest side and all returned to relative peace and tranquillity.

Oh! I forgot to say, whilst all this was going on a fifth osprey flew across the Viewpoint, seemingly uninterested in the fracas below.

The million dollar question is of course, who is this new pair and where are they based? Any ideas or sightings please contact NathanFox.

nathan.fox@forestryengland.uk

 

Egg. Eggs?

Yes, she is the one! Last Saturday evening the behaviour of Unring and his new mate changed. Gone were the care-free days of flying together around the valley, gone were the intimate tete-a-tetes whilst perched together on branches. Instead all activity was focussed on to the nest, with the female sitting down in the nest cup on the platform they have decided upon this year. From the telescopes though, we could not see if there really was an egg or not. We looked out for further signs that would indicate she was really brooding. Sure enough over the next few days she continued to sit low in the nest cup, displaying the  distinctive ‘shuffle’ where the egg would be turned over. A good clutch for an osprey is 3 eggs, laid at 2 day intervals. As a young bird this female may not have achieved this – but certainly she has at least one. Unring was doing his job too, fetching in fish, sitting within earshot and giving her the occasional spells. All looked to be going well and we decided that we could breath a sigh of relief.

However, Elyssium is hard to hold onto and there were a number of irritations for the couple to deal with. A move of house always means new neighbours – not all of them ready to welcome incomers with open wings. ….. To be continued.

As the birds have moved nest site we don’t have a close up picture from this season. Here is a picture of Unring (left) and the young female he was with for the last part of the season 2018. We have been trying to see if the head markings of  lady above match the ones on the head of this year’s. We are still not sure!