Archives for August 2009

Yesterday, it was a much nicer morning, still and clear, so I got up early and went down to Findhorn Bay to have another try at catching osprey yellow HA, but although four male ospreys were down there catching flounders and sitting around on logs on the mud flats, I was unsuccessful – the high tide was too low to push them up onto the saltmarsh. Two lovely green sandpipers that flew over my head and landed on the edge of the water were a bonus, and a reminder that autumn migration is well under way, as were 11 pale-bellied brent geese, I watched in the Lossie estuary in the afternoon. I’ve just looked at the Argos data for yesterday and it shows me that Beatrice restarted her migration yesterday morning and is now in Spain, while one of the young honey buzzards has also moved away from its breeding area, so I will try to get their webpages up and running in the next day or two.

We went across to Dundonnell to check on progress with our red squirrel recovery project; it’s starting to get exciting as single young squirrels have been seen this month at Dundonnell and also at Leckmelm. It was a wild blustery day so we were lucky to see an adult squirrel at one of the release sites. But there is so much foliage in the deciduous trees and such huge amounts of food for squirrels,that the chances of seeing one were very small. The beech trees, in particular, are laden with mast, but all of the trees this year have big seed crops, and then today there were lots of fungi and brambles (blackberries)- good food for squirrels, and the rowan trees are spectacularly laden with red berries this autumn. Knowing that Breagha has been in the Dundonnell area in the last week, I kept a special eye open for sea eagles, and in the afternoon one came spiralling down over the cliffs and landed in a dead Scots pine. With the telescope, quickly out of the vehicle, I managed to read the wing tag before he flew off – it was red/white 2 – last seen last year on the island of Skye and ringed as a chick in the Loch Maree area in 2005.

At high tide this afternoon, I visited Findhorn Bay to check if the male ospreys were starting to sit around on the fence posts in the salt marsh. It was a very high tide and much of the marsh was inundated by seawater with lots of redshanks, curlews and gulls searching for food at the tide edge. And then as I swept round with my binoculars I could see two male ospreys perched on their usual posts. One was unringed but I was pretty sure that the other one, when I zoomed in with my scope, was ringed with a pale yellow colour ring. This was almost certainly the male that tried to take over Nimrod’s nest in April. I have one satellite transmitter still to use and this male would be an excellent bird to track. Maybe I can catch him in the next week or so.

I’ve seen up to 4 male ospreys fishing in the last week when the tide has been low, and one of them would surely have been Morven’s mate. See the map below to see the locations used by him (white dots) and by his near neighbour Nimrod (red dots). It’s very interesting to see that they regularly use different locations on the coast. Morven came back over the Moray Firth last Saturday and the data suggests she did come back through her nesting area, but she was certainly not there in the evening. Her chick was standing on the nest giving hunger calls to encourage his father to come back with a fish, but he soon flew off and was mobbed by a host of young swallows, which were hawking for insects over the barley field. I guess that Morven’s next signals will show that she is well down through the country like last year.

Beatrice has decided to stop over on the same river system (L’Adour) in south-west France which she visited last autumn and this spring. Just further north is one of the young ospreys from Loch Garten, which I helped satellite tag in the summer, which has decided to stop over in the estuary of the Gironde. We still have three male ospreys and one very late chick to leave Scotland and once they have set off on their migrations, we will update their individual pages.

The female Woodcock,named Askaig , is still on her breeding grounds in Siberia and it’s going to be very interesting to learn when she sets off and which route she will use to come back to Scotland, if in fact that is what she is going to do. The two young honey buzzards, that I satellite tagged, are starting to move around and have been up to 2 miles from their nest. I’m not sure if they are searching for their own food or are following their parents but they do come back to the nest wood in the evening.

Morven flies north to Caithness!

No wonder I didn’t see Morven on the 18th when I checked her eyrie – she had flown north instead of setting off for Africa! Her transmitter is unfortunately playing up and only when it is in full sunlight does the battery charge enough to transmit. But three signals came in last night which showed that when the rainy weather cleared late on Monday morning she set off across the Moray Firth to Sutherland and almost certainly on to her last summer’s haunts in Caithness. What an interesting bird she is – I did not expect her to follow her last year’s behaviour now that she has a mate, a nest and a chick, but there goes. I hope some of the Caithness birdwatchers report her fishing at Loch Calder or Loch Olginey for that is where I expect her to go. Then will she come back and call by her nest to check out her chick before the southward migration?

This afternoon, when I checked, I saw that Beatrice had reached her River Adour stop-over in SW France, so I decided to go round the local ospreys this evening and found Nimrod flying over his eyrie; his mate saw me first and had flown up alarm calling, and in the distance I heard the youngster sqeaking. This chick will probably take until early September to depart so Nimrod will be around for a while yet – but it was good to see him before he heads off back to Africa. I found Morven’s nest empty but with careful searching I found their chick perched low in an oak tree on the woodland edge several hundred yards from the eyrie. There was no sign of Morven and it would not surprise me to find, when her transmitter next sends in data, that she has set off on migration. Down at Findhorn Bay the tide was out and after searching the mudflats with my scope I found one male osprey perched on an old log eating a fish, and then another male flew inland with a flounder over Culbin Forest, for quite a while he was mobbed by a young female sparrowhawk. But the weather was more like autumn than summer – windy, cold and grey. Various birds have been updated on the website and I’ve put up a page for the Bar-tailed Godwit I tagged with the Highland Ringing Group in the late winter.

The satellite-tracked ospreys are off!

It was great this morning to logon to the Argos tracking station and find that Beatrice had started her migration. She left on 9th August, just one day later than last year, so it will be interesting to compare the two autumn’s migrations. She has reared two more young and they were both at the nest when I had a look on the 11th August. She travelled expertly down the eastern side of the country and last night was roosting near Retford. This is just under 50 miles north of Rutland Water, where she called by last year at the time of the Bird Fair. I telephoned Tim Mackrill and they will look out for her at Rutland today; she’s a bit early for the Bird Fair, but maybe she’ll hang on there. Richard Thaxton texted me yesterday to say that one of the young ospreys from Loch Garten had reached Wales – here’s wishing it a successful migration. Finally, I took Gandalf, the eagle owl, who has helped me catch some adult ospreys this summer, back to his home at the Falconry Centre at Huntly – his summer holidays are over!

It’s been a real rollercoaster in early August with many projects on the go, but sadly it started off badly with the news about the illegal killing of the young eagle, named Alma, which we had been tracking for two years. On 3rd August, this involved me doing a live interview to the evening BBC programme The One Show, from a satellite truck parked at Loch Morlich linking to the studio. It followed on from a story that they had filmed earlier in the summer at Glenfeshie on the satellite tracking of Tom and Alma, which also included the schoolchildren at Alvie primary school. Fortunately the weather held that evening which gave a beautiful backdrop of the Cairngorms. There’s been lots of contact about this disgraceful affair. The owner and manager of Glenfeshie are very annoyed that this bird has been killed. It demonstrates that there are hunting estates, like Glenfeshie, which carry out excellent ecological and ethical management, but there are also places where everything is killed which might be thought to interfere with red grouse. People have asked what they can do about it. Well you can express your concern and anger, by writing to the Minister of the Environment in the Scottish Government, your MSP or MP, and the chairman of Scottish Natural Heritage.

Then things got better, and I was absolutely delighted to get an email from John Lycett telling me he had seen a young red squirrel in his garden near Ullapool, which is the first evidence that our red squirrel project to translocate and restore red squirrels to Wester Ross is proving successful. I’ll try to find time to put up a web page on the squirrel project . It was then exciting to find this year’s nest of the pair of honey buzzards we studied last year, and to find two big chicks in the nest along with a good supply of wasp comb and grubs. We ringed and tagged them as part of the honey buzzard migration project, and will paste up details of their migrations when they start to move in the autumn. And then today, I ringed the latest young ospreys I’ve ever ringed, a brood of three in excellent condition, which will still be with us in September.