Archives for August 2017

LS7 sets off

It is now almost a month since the first release of the Poole Harbour ospreys, and the first of the youngsters has set-off on migration. LS7 was the first juvenile to fly after the pens were opened at dawn on 31st July, and, aptly, we can now say it was also the first bird to migrate. Friday dawned sunny and clear with just a very light north-easterly breeze: perfect migration conditions. LS7 was present at the release site at 7 am but by mid-morning, it and the seven other juveniles were widely scattered around the harbour. This exploratory behaviour is typical of young ospreys and is critical to the imprinting process, helping them to learn that Poole Harbour is home. After spending much of the day away, the youngsters usually begin returning to the release site around mid-afternoon; drawn in by fresh fish which is placed on artificial nests at around 4 pm.  Over the course of two-and-a-half hours on Friday evening all of the youngsters returned to the release site; each collecting a piece of fish and then eating it on the T perches on the nearby saltmarsh. All except LS7, that is. Over the years at Rutland Water we learnt that in late August and early September a sure sign that a juvenile had migrated was when it didn’t come into feed in the evening, and so we suspected that LS7 had set-off earlier in the day. Confirmation came 24 hours later when the youngster failed to appear for a second evening in succession. Now, four days later, it is remarkable to think that LS7 may already have reached southern France or northern Spain.

LS7’s migration 25 days after making its first flight is fairly early, but well within the normal range for juvenile ospreys. For example of ten juvenile ospreys satellite-tagged by the Foundation in northern Scotland,  the average length of the post-fledging period (i.e. fledging to migration) was 34 days, but ranged from a minimum of 18 days to a maximum of 56. It is likely, therefore, that the remaining seven birds will set-off on migration over the next two-three weeks. The team at Poole will continue to provide fish for the juveniles until they leave; thereby replicating the situation at natural nests where the breeding male continues to provide fish for his offspring until they migrate. Most young ospreys do not catch a fish for themselves until they have set-off on migration, but it has been encouraging to watch the Poole juveniles making frequent practice dives into the water around the harbour. Although usually lacking the grace and power of adult birds, these dives are a critical part of the post-fledging (or in this case, post-release) period. On Friday last week during one of three successful osprey cruises around the harbour we were treated to wonderful views of a juvenile making repeated dives above the Wareham Channel. It always pulled out just before hitting the water, but you really got a sense that it was learning what to do: instinct is a powerful thing for young ospreys. Like their first migration, juvenile ospreys do not learn to fish by watching their parents, but inevitably it takes some time before they become proficient hunters.

LS1 exploring the harbour (photo by Simon Kidner)

The artificial nest at Middlebere is a great place to see the juveniles. This can be viewed from Arne RSPB or the National Trust Middlebere hide (photo by Simon Kidner)

The three osprey cruises were certainly a resounding success last week, with ospreys seen on each trip, including an adult bird which caught a fish in the Wareham Channel during the first cruise on Wednesday. It is likely that this was CJ7, the two year-old adult female from Rutland Water who has now been present at Poole for at least three weeks. Ironically however the star of the show turned out not to be an osprey at all: on Friday we were treated to incredible views of a juvenile red-necked phalarope just a few metres from the boat. A small number of these diminutive waders breed in the Shetland Isles and Outer Hebrides each year and research using data loggers recently revealed that a bird from Fetlar unexpectedly wintered in the tropical Pacific Ocean. After crossing the Atlantic it flew south along the East coast of America, crossed the Gulf of Mexico into the Pacific Ocean and reached an area between the Galapagos Islands and the South American coast by mid-October; a return journey of 22000km. So if this juvenile attempts a similar migration it certainly has a long journey ahead of it.

A juvenile red-necked phalarope was an unexpected highlight of Friday’s boat trip (photo by Katie Horrocks)

We were treated to some fantastic weather on the three boat trips

The phalarope was only the third Poole Harbour record, but a more familiar sight at this time of year are marsh harriers. Young harriers are now dispersing away from their nests and on Friday evening a wing-tagged juvenile visited the osprey release site. The green tags indicated that this was a bird from North Norfolk, but it didn’t have a chance to linger long. All five juvenile ospreys present at the time joined forces to chase the intruder away. Like this young marsh harrier they will soon be fending for themselves. It will be interesting to see which of the birds is next to leave.

Sea eagles on Sunday!

My friend Mike Crutch of A9 Birds invited me to join him and two Inverness birders, Sam and Debbie, on a day trip to Skye to photograph sea eagles. Although I have been involved in the reintroduction and conservation of white-tailed eagles since 1968 in Fair Isle, I’d never been on one of the amazing boat trips to feed them. I had seen loads of incredible photographs back to the earliest days of the 1990s off Portree.

Weather forecasts were poor in August until Steve Hooper of Wild Skye Bird Trips phoned Mike to say there’s a brief calm period on Sunday. As we drove through the Ross-shire mountains it was looking good and our arrival at Carbost pier revealed a calm sea. Soon the MV Wild Skye was heading through Loch Harport, with a distant view of a sea eagle, before passing the lighthouse and aiming for a section of the great western cliffs of the Isle of Skye. A perfect morning – we could see the hills of the Uists away over The Minch and two porpoises broke the glassy surface.

We headed to the main cliffs where very quickly we found the pair of sea eagles and their exceptional brood of three flying young. This pair of eagles, like many others around the coasts, learnt early on that fishing boats are good for scraps of fish. This was taken up by tourist boats giving people incredible views of these great birds and excellent opportunities for photography.

The boat engine was cut and we could hear the young eagles calling. The adults were looking down from the cliffs as they knew full well what happens next – Steve throws a dead fish well away from boat. “Here he comes” as the male plunged from the cliffs and in a sweep of huge wings grabbed the food from the water to the noise of camera shutters. What a fantastic sight – something I never foresaw when I released those first four young Norwegian sea eagles on Fair Isle in 1968. Close up sea eagle viewing has become one of the most exciting wildlife experiences in modern day Scotland.

In a sweep of huge wings the adult sea eagle grabbed the fish from the water (photo by Roy Dennis)

Listening to Steve’s enthusiasm for the sea eagles I thought of another era at this very same cliff. There were no sea eagles when I first visited Skye in the early 1960s but I knew of their sad history as I’d often read Harvie Brown’s county faunas written at the end of the 19th century. He detailed the sad history of persecution and extinction, as well as individual visits, such as the Victorian collector on 20th April 1868 to this very cliff, who took two eggs and shot an adult. As one of the adults circled out to sea to take a fish from the water with a backdrop of the dramatic sea stacks called Macleod’s Maidens, I thought how times have changed. There are now over a hundred pairs of white-tailed sea eagles in Scotland; they are admired and enjoyed by thousands of people, locals and visitors, and contribute remarkably to jobs and incomes in fragile rural communities.




An unexpected visitor

It is now two weeks since we released the first of the Poole ospreys and its been encouraging to see them becoming increasingly competent on the wing. All are now making longer exploratory flights; an essential part of the imprinting process when the birds start to learn that Poole is home.  Most young ospreys do not catch a fish before they set out on their first migration, but Poole Harbour provides the perfect conditions for the young ospreys to practice fishing and several of the birds have already been seen diving into the water.

Last Monday we released the final two birds, LS2 and LS4. Like their older compatriots they did not venture far from the release pens for the first few days after release, but they too are quickly growing in confidence and starting to explore further afield. The frequency and range of exploratory flights will increase over the coming days but all of the birds will return to the release site to feed, particularly in the early morning and evening. The team at Poole will continue to provide fresh fish twice daily on artificial nests; thereby replicating the situation at natural nests, where the male continues to feed his offspring until they depart on migration. This is an essential part of the post-release phase; helping to ensure that the young birds are in the best possible condition for when they set-off on their first migration. In some ways this puts the translocated ospreys at an advantage compared to birds at natural nests, because we can ensure that they receive as much fish as possible before they set-off on migration.

Fresh fish is placed on artificial nests twice daily (photo by Simon Kidner)

On Tuesday afternoon last week the juveniles were joined by an unexpected visitor. During a particularly long soaring flight over the harbour LS1 attracted the attention of an adult female osprey. She followed LS1 back to the release site and then landed on one of the T perches in the saltmarsh adjacent to the release pens. We immediately saw that she had a blue colour ring on her right leg and were able to read the inscription: CJ7. A quick phone call to Kayleigh Brookes confirmed our suspicions that this was a two year-old female ringed as a chick at a nest close to Rutland Water in 2015.

CJ7 appeared over the release site on Tuesday afternoon (photo by Simon Kidner)

After circling the marsh CJ7 attempted to land with two juveniles on one of the T perches (photo by Simon Kidner)

CJ7 (right) eventually landed next to one of the juvs, allowing us to read the inscription in her blue ring (photo by Simon Kidner)

CJ7 (left) spent the rest of the day with the juveniles, some of whom began food begging to her

This was the first time that CJ7 had been seen back in the UK since her first migration in September 2015 and so it was exciting to see her. Although clearly nervous at first, she spent the rest of the afternoon and evening with the juveniles. With food begging calls filling the air (normal behaviour for juvenile birds of this age, even when they are not hungry!) we wondered if the young female may even be persuaded to catch a fish for the translocated birds, as adult birds did at both Rutland Water and Urdaibai in the past. Although she didn’t do that, she did roost with them before heading off to another part of the harbour next morning.

On Saturday morning CJ7 returned again and, like her previous visit, perched with the juveniles on the saltmarsh. The presence of other ospreys in the harbour, and particularly food-begging juveniles, may well persuade CJ7 to stay in the area for longer than she might otherwise have done. We know from colour ringing and satellite tracking studies that two year-old ospreys wander widely when they first return to the UK, helping them to map the location of other nesting ospreys. We hoped that the presence of the translocated birds would act as a magnet to other young ospreys and it is very encouraging that it is happening already. Who knows, CJ7 may even return to breed at Poole Harbour in the future. For now it is just great to see the translocated ospreys exploring Poole for the first time.

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Successful summer

Roxy reared her first young eaglet in 2017 and in last month has always been within 2.5 km of the nest site

Usual wandering in National Park

Mackay was north of Ben Avon in mid July and on 16th flew to the south edge of Glenfeshie Estate and north Perthshire until 2nd August, when flew to Brown Cow Hill.

July 13th to August 4th

Usual two area behaviour

Loyal was in SE Caithness in July, Knockfin and then just inland from Berriedale until 21st July when she flew all the way west and north to roost that evening south of Sandwood Bay. She then moved to Cape Wrath and Clo Mor to 4th August.

July 13th to August 4th

Usual behaviour

Globe was west of Alladale in early – mid July and on 28th moved to Ullapool area and then on 29th July flew to Foinaven and then remained in the SPA area.

July 15th to August 4th

No Change

Canisp remains living in the Foinaven SPA in North Sutherland, but did not breed in 2017

Over and out

Agnes’s transmitter has been running intermittently in May and June, and has now stopped sending in good data. In July just a non-GPS from between Ben Dronaig and Loch Monar. This is one of her favoured areas and it looks as though this is the area she has chosen to remain.

Poole Harbour Ospreys released

It’s always exciting watching a young osprey flying for the first time, but this week was particularly special with the release of the first Poole Harbour Ospreys. We released six birds on Monday and its been fantastic watching them growing in confidence over the past five days. The undoubted highlight was an incredible soaring flight by LS5 just two days after she had flown for the first time. We plan to release the two youngest birds at the start of next week. The first few weeks of flying are a hazardous time for the young ospreys, but they are being extremely well monitored by the team in Poole – Paul Morton of Birds of Poole Harbour, Jason Fathers (Wildlife Windows) and Brittany Maxted and her team of excellent volunteers. Here are a few photos from the birds’ first few days on the wing.

LS7 was the first bird to fly early on Monday morning. It landed safely on the release pens after a short but very competent flight.

Fresh fish has been put on the release pens and nearby artificial nests twice a day since release and all birds are feeding well. This process will continue until the last bird has migrated – ensuring that they are in the best possible condition for the long journey to West Africa.

The birds have grown in confidence over the past five days and are flying between favourite perches.

The young ospreys are likely to remain in and around Poole Harbour for four to six weeks before migrating. It is during this period that they imprint on the area and recognise it as home.