Viewing ospreys on the big screens inside Whinlatter Visitor Centre is a must, but what else can you see?
Admittedly, this was a one off but a sharp eyed visitor approached the desk this week to ask if we had noticed the beautiful moth snuggled into one of the displays.
We had not, and after looking at it with a number of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ were not sure what it was. Perhaps a hawk moth?? Luckily our moth expert, (and ex-osprey volunteer) Peter MacQueen was on the end of the phone.
‘The eyes have it nailed’ he said. ‘It is an Emperor moth, Saturnia pavonia – but does it have any pink colour on the wings? No? Then it is a female.’ A male is slightly smaller and has more creamy yellow under-wings and pink lines with a bright pink flash on the edge of the upper wing. They fly in April to late May and like all short lived creatures have to make sure that they pass on their genes during that time. For Emperor moths this is more difficult than it sounds.
Watching Unring and his new mate we think that ospreys’ love lives are not simple. For the majority of the year they are not fertile and it is only when they arrive at the Lakes they have the chance, for about a month and a half, to mate successfully. However, where they lose on length of time they make up on frequency. Over the past two weeks our birds will have mated up to 200 times. Once would actually be sufficient to fertilise eggs, but no-one can know if the female has stored sperm from a previous encounter on the flight here (as have those females that visited Bassenthwaite on the way up to Scotland). Unring knows that to ensure that his genes have the most chance of being successful he must continue to mate until a full clutch of eggs have been laid.
For Emperor Moths just meeting is a conundrum. The female flies by night, coming out soon after dusk, letting loose her pheromones to attract males from up to 5 miles away. However, the male Emperor is a day time moth, and flies in the sunshine. Like permanent alternate shift workers who snatch a kiss as one goes in and one goes out, it would seem Emperor moths have to take slim chances. Only in the narrow door-jam of life between day and dusk can they achieve the brief encounters that ensure reproduction of their kind.
Click on link below to find out more.
Is the female osprey that Unring is currently wooing going to be the One? We have been watching the romance unfurl with multiple close encounters of the intimate kind and plenty of fishy presents. The lady seems to like the attention and the sushi and is sitting close by the nest and perch platforms for longer and longer periods. Crossed fingers and toes she will stay!
The glorious Easter weather has made the Lake District National Park into a 2,362 km2 Spring garden. Everything is coming into bud or bloom, sometimes faster than you can turn around to look at it! The Blackthorn blossom has been particularly abundant, covering its wicked black thorns with a churning mass of buttermilk flowers. Spikes a straight inch long stab at any unwary animal that attempts to take a munch, (and later in autumn will puncture the hand and ardour of any lured by the promise of sloe gin.)
More curved, but no less black and wicked are the talons of our ospreys. We were watching Unring fishing over the weekend below the Dodd viewpoint. He made a few passes over the face of the water and then dived in with a tremendous splash of white foam. It was too far to see what type of fish he caught but it must have been a good size because we watched him really labour to leave the water and gain a little height. He flew with slow wing-beats, lower than usual, over the willow car, eventually collapsing onto a low branch to start his feasting.
Wrestling with such success against a large fish that will be objecting violently against abduction from its watery home, is due to the arms race of evolutionary adaptation. The feet of ospreys are designed to catch and hold slippery prey. The 8 talons of course stab deep into the body of the fish but to increase the holding power the soles of each toe are covered with small spicules that latch into the edges of the scales. In addition, where most birds of prey will catch their furry meals with three toes facing forward and one back, the osprey can twist the outside digit so that it can catch with two toes on either side, thus equalising the forces in a final Grip of Death.
Bombus terrestris – Big Earth Bumble bees
Anorak, windcheater, parka, duffle, – we have seen every sort of jacket to keep out the wind on Dodd this last week, and have found ourselves having sad anorak conversations on which brands are most effective. However, as is usual with man made inventions, nature has already done it better. Bumble bees have their own unique brand of covering, in their thick furry coats, which enable them to be one of the first insects to come out of hibernation in Spring and survive the vagaries of changeable weather.
Queen bees that have overwintered underground, are out foraging for pollen and nectar in the early flowers. The biggest are the Buff- tailed bumblebees, Bombus Terrestris. They rumble past, like Hercules planes of the insect world transporting food for their hungry brood of bee larvae. Soon these will pupate and hatch out as worker bees, ready to continue their life cycles, vital in symbiotic relationship with the flowers they will pollinate. There are 26 species of bumble bee in the British Isles – follow the link to find out more https://friendsoftheearth.uk/bee-count/how-identify-bumblebees
The bee above was making its way back to a cosy mouse-hole in the bank late last Monday evening.
Since then the weather has warmed up and so intermittently, has our ospreys’ love life – when a female bird appears there is a lot of mating but it’s all still very unsettled as far as commitment and choice of nest site goes
There is an old saying, ‘When the gorse is in flower, it is kissing time.’ The point being that gorse flowers all year, even in the depths of winter. However, in April it reaches its zenith with the spiny bushes being covered with the yellow pea-shaped flowers, looking from a distance like butter slathed over a rather coarse wholemeal bloomer. If that is not enough a spot of warm sun brings out its perfume and you can walk along the grassy tracks of Lakeland bathed in warm wafts of coconut.
Not that that has been the case over the last week. Sunshine, yes, but there has been a bitingly cold wind that has turned fingers blue and ensured that the thermals are nowhere near being packed away. One would wonder how a migratory bird from the sunny equator finds love attractive in such a chilly spot. But for Easter holidaymakers, striding out to the Viewpoints at Dodd, it is certainly better than the usual cool drizzle of a Northern Spring.
Gorse, of course
Over the past week we have been plunging between emotional highs and lows as Unring’s love life unfolds. Sometimes he wakes up in the morning and there is a female waiting for fish and sometimes he wakes up and there is no bird in sight! When this happens he dashes back to his nest and spends time gathering nest material to put in it. When a female is around he is naturally somewhat distracted. Because of this flighty behaviour we are not even certain whether we are looking at one or more ladies. Is it the same female coming in and out of his life or is it a series of them, moving on up to Scotland after a free meal?
He is certainly working hard to attract a mate, one morning he spent a long time calling – probably because he spotted a bird flying over.
Here he is lying on his tummy using his feet and breast to hollow the sides of the nest cup out.
Spring is such a vital time of year! Outside in the Northern Lakes is the only place to be when everything is changing on an hour to hour basis. In the morning the hawthorn buds are brown and round; by afternoon they are a burst of green, turning the twiggy hedgerow to a ribbon of viridian. And the flowers of course, popping up in profusion as the sunlight filters through bare branches just starting to unfold their leaves. Primroses on mossy banks;a swathe of them come up every year beside the car-park barrier gates at Whinlatter. Look carefully into their creamy eyes, the mirror of the soul in humans, but in this case the seat of their sex. They are hermaphrodite but have a gender preference, ‘thrumb’ or ‘pin’. If you can see the fluffy tips of male, pollen filled anthers winking at you they are a ‘thrumb’ flower, if the rounded sticky tip of the female stigma is boldly staring back instead, they are a ‘pin’ flower. A visiting bumble bee is all that is needed to complete the union.
There’s something about Blighty that says ‘Home’. Just look at those yellow lines from the coast straight up North – he seems to have lapped his own red blips in the urge to reach the Lakes! What a contrast within a few days from the searing heat of the Sahara to the snow topped mountains of Cumbria. Let’s hope cold does not damp his ardour as at the age of six he should be nest building and looking up the numbers of any un-attached ladies he met last year.
Meanwhile his Dad, Unring, has certainly not let the hail, sleet and a brisk chill breeze deter him. On the 2nd he met up with a new female osprey and they were getting along fine on the 3rd, but on the 4th she was no-where to be seen. Yesterday however she was back and spent all morning with him. Seeing the two big birds flying up and down the length of the marsh was great viewing from the telescopes at Dodd. And on a smaller scale the nest box of the Lower Viewpoint was being investigated by a couple of cheery coal tits. Spring is definitely in the air.
Here is the map from yesterday, 2nd April. It looks like No 14 is headed to Cherbourg for his channel crossing…..
The location where he has stopped for quite a few hours yesterday is an area with dozens of small etangs [lakes] , probably slightly less cold looking than Bassenthwaite does today. Here in Cumbria it is all steel grey skies and water, and a thick covering of snow on the fell tops.
Also very good news from yesterday – a female osprey turned up on the nest. Unring was extremely excited by this, mantling and fluttering his wings, whilst she calmly consumed a fish. We are not sure if he had passed on the remains of a pike he had caught earlier, or if she had caught it herself. Whichever it was, the chemistry appeared to be right between them and romance blossomed. This is very different behaviour to that which he displayed last year, when KL did not turn up.
We have tried to identify her as one of the female birds that we saw around the nest last summer by comparing markings on video footage. However, it is still inconclusive. Crossed fingers that she stays!
At 10.00 yesterday the Viewpoints at Dodd opened to a dull day with a wind interested in chilling fingers and finding every gap between hat and scarf. However, as the telescopes scanned the fields and trees around the nest site, lo and behold there sat an osprey! Although too far away for a positive identification, further watching confirmed it was using the same perch sites as our resident birds from last year.
At last at 17.15 it landed on the nest itself and at Whinlatter we had a good view of it. Hurray! From his head markings and behaviours we could see it was our dear male bird ‘Unring’ (so named because he does not have a leg ring.)
He first arrived in the valley in 2013 together with his feisty female KL. Together they flew in out of the sun and chased off a hopeful pair of young birds from the nest in an aerial battle planned out by KL. She lay on the nest, kicking and pecking whenever a rival came close whilst Unring flew around the nest to challenge either enemy trying to fly in. KL was a determined General and as hard on her troop of one as she was on herself. We saw her nip and clout Unring off the nest with her wing when he was inclined to give up the chase.
Of course, their take-over bid was successful and they produced a fine brood of chicks, subsequently ringed. One of them was ringed White 14 and a satellite tracker fitted. The gene pool produced a winner in him and we have been following his extensive travels ever since.
Meanwhile, with some ups and downs Unring and KL produced chicks every year, until last year when KL did not arrive from her roost in Senegal in the Spring. Sadly, this meant that she had perished at some point in the winter. The saddest seemed to be Unring, dejectedly waiting for his partner and mentor. Despite visits from a number of interested females his heart didn’t seem to be into wooing them. The upshot was that although by the end of the season there was one female (also not ringed) who had the tenacity to hang around, there were no chicks. But, swings and roundabouts, it was a most interesting time for watchers as we monitored the behaviours of an off-on romance and had constant views of the two in various perches close by the Lake.
We hope this lady will come back this year and the two can make a new start together – all eyes watching out for a first sight of her – or indeed any other female that may catch Unring’s own eye!