Roy's blog

So far, so good…

Last week, I visited the white-tailed eagle release area where Forestry England and the Foundation are embarking on a project to restore the sea eagle as a breeding bird to the Isle of Wight and the English Channel coast. The first six young have thrived since they were brought south from Mull, Skye and Wester Ross. Of course I had received frequent CCTV footage and photos of them growing up since they arrived there on 25th June; but I was delighted to see them in outstanding condition and ready for release. The hacking cages built by Pete Campbell, his metal work team and Dick Milner, the joiner, were the best I’ve seen. Daily supplies of plentiful fish and dead rabbit carefully threaded through a hatch in the back of the cage by Steve Egerton-Read, the project officer, meant that they young had grown and their plumage was perfect. And they had not seen a single person, important for keeping them truly wild birds.

Continuous monitoring was achieved through a superb CCTV system in each cage and on the roof, which allowed Steve and the team of volunteers to monitor progress. On Tuesday 20th we gathered at the site, with a contingent from Scotland, – Ian Perks, Dave Sexton and me, – joining Tim Mackrill, Steve and the team for the important step to catch up each bird so that our highly skilled raptor vet, John Chitty, could examine each bird before release. He passed all of them fit and ready for release, and also collected tiny blood samples to confirm sexes and for future DNA studies. Then we fitted small satellite transmitters to each one so that their movements post-release could be tracked. At this age these are now powerful birds, with very sharp bills and talons, and require careful but firm handling. By afternoon all was completed and they were back in their temporary homes.

Each of the birds were given a health check by vet John Chitty (right) prior to release.

It was a 4.45am start next day so that the team could lower the cage front door in darkness, which allows the young to come out in their own time when first light starts to illuminate the release area. Finally the big Mull female came out and perched on the front door, bouncing along the branch from side to side. She looked around but was slow to fly, so the male came out in a hurry and beat her to the first flight, which was into the nearby wood. Next morning and another pre-dawn start to release the other four young eagles. It’s a time of change for those who have looked after and watched over them for two months, and a time to wonder about the massive leap of releasing young sea eagles back to the Isle of Wight after an absence of 240 years.

The successful release was covered by a BBC crew and will feature soon on the ‘The One Show’. There has been tremendous interest and support for the project, and we have started to produce podcasts of our fieldwork that are now available on many of the podcast platforms. Our latest podcast covers the release of the eagles last week. To listen, click the link below.

Before release, we were not sure what they would do – would they stay nearby or would they just fly off in all directions and distances? In fact, they all stayed close by, within a few kilometres and three remained in the immediate vicinity. Those ones started to return to the feeding platform and the top of the cages where Steve placed fresh fish each day after dark, so as not to disturb them. Most of the time they perched in trees at the edge of woods, spending their time watching what was happening in their new world. For such a huge bird they can be surprisingly unobtrusive, and despite many reports of people seeing them, we were able to confirm from their satellite tracks that only a couple of people would have seen them in the first days. We are keeping the release location confidential for the welfare of the birds, but as they start to disperse, we’ll be posting regular updates on their movements. We also hope it will be possible to set-up a public eagle viewpoint once the settlement patterns of the birds are understood.

We are very grateful to two generous donors, who have allowed us to get the project underway and to employ a full-time project officer. We are very careful with funds for these projects do cost money and as well as general support donations which come in through our website or mail, we would welcome help with paying for certain equipment. For example someone to sponsor the top-class CCTV equipment (£11,000) or the satellite transmitters at £1200 each and with the white-tailed eagles being so good at hiding in woods a thermal imager for the project would be extremely useful. You can make a donation or get in touch via the support us page if you would like to help this ground breaking project.

Two of the eagles perched together after release last week. Both of these birds are females (photo by Tim Mackrill)

The released eagles are now growing in confidence on the wing (photo by Steve Egerton-Read)

Poole Harbour Osprey Translocation 2019

Really great news that 11 young Scottish ospreys, the class of 2019, are now flying free at Poole Harbour, in this the third year of the translocation project we are running in partnership with Birds of Poole Harbour and local Poole-based business, Wildlife Windows. It was a difficult year in Scotland to collect young because the weather was very changeable; we also found that there was tremendous variation in the ages of the chicks. For example, one nest contained three big young of over five weeks old while at the nearest nest, there was a single chick that was less than two weeks of age. This was of course due to the difficult weather on migration in April for the birds coming back through southern Europe from West Africa, reflected by many summer migrants ,including the house martins that nest on my neighbour’s house.

My monitoring in the first days of July showed which pairs had young suitable for us to collect under licence from Scottish Natural Heritage. We also made a decision to delay it for a couple of days so that we knew the young would be larger. Tim Mackrill came up to help me finish off the holding pens where the young live on nice soft beds of moss and hay, just like nests. It’s where we keep the birds for the few days between collection and translocation to Poole. Each day, new chicks are placed together in ‘sibling’ units of three, which very quickly learn to eat the cut-up trout. During this time they cannot see people.

The chicks are translocated to Poole at approximately 6 weeks of age

Ian Perks climbing to one of the Osprey nests

The tree climbing team was again our friends, Ian Perks and Fraser Cormack, who are not only brilliant climbers but are also very careful and competent with the young. During our three days of osprey ringing, we collected nine young ospreys and on the last day Tim had a long drive north to Caithness and back, to collect two young male ospreys from a nest on farm, where a week earlier with our farmer friend we had ringed three excellent osprey chicks, one female and two males.  That night Tim and Ian drove south and the next day the eleven young were safely in the hacking cages at Poole.

In the spring, I had visited the new location for the osprey release, which had been set up on private land by Paul Morton of Birds of Poole Harbour and Jason Fathers of Wildlife Windows. I regarded it as an excellent release site with much better places for the ospreys to perch once released, and with greater security. On 30th July, Tim and I revisited and met up with the full team including Paul, Brittany and Jason, and the two new assistants Lucy and Olivia. I was immediately struck, when viewing with the CCTV in each cage, that the young ospreys were all in excellent condition, with all of them feeding well on trout and looking very ready to be released. During the morning all of them were caught so that we could re-measure and weigh them, and, importantly, to carefully attach a tiny 2 gm transmitter to a central tail feather for monitoring purposes during the first few weeks.  I was immediately impressed that all were in perfect condition. Like many migratory birds they lay down fat on the sides of their breasts as a store of energy for the long flight south. That evening I departed for Scotland very satisfied that the third year of the project was looking great.

Roy with one of the young Ospreys after fitting it with a tail-mounted radio transmitter. This helps the team to monitor the young birds after release.

Four days later, just after dawn, Tim joined Paul and the team at Poole and started to remotely release birds in sequence from the hacking pens. The ospreys quickly found safe perching places in large trees near the hacking site and within a day, the first of them were coming back to the cages or the special feeding platform nests for trout. It was fascinating that within a day of being released the two ‘resident’ ospreys now living in Poole Harbour found the new arrivals.

Adult female, CJ7, on one of the feeding nests with a translocated juvenile

Paul and Brittany had told us about the return in Spring of the Rutland Water female CJ7, which has decided that she wants to breed in Poole Harbour. She regularly visited nests that had been built by us around the harbour and, finally in late June, she was joined by the two-year-old male LS7, which was translocated to Poole Harbour in 2017 and was seen in Senegal that winter. Once they found each other they were regularly at nests, carrying sticks and the male taking fish back to the nest for the female. Of course it was too late this year for them to breed, but we hope that both survive the next migrations and their winters in Africa and that they meet again next spring at Poole. That would be magnificent: the first ’mullet hawks’ to reclaim the ancestral breeding grounds.  And of course others might return and join them, while migrants, especially females, passing over the harbour might decide to stay for it is absolutely top-class osprey habitat, with plentiful supplies of grey mullet.

The Foundation has made a series of podcasts about our projects; the first about the collection of young ospreys for Poole is now out. Click the link below to listen.

The exciting return of Morven’s son – carrying on from his illustrious mother

Some ospreys remain in my mind for many years. There are old favourites like Logie, the first that I tracked with a new and highly accurate GPS satellite transmitter in 2007. Another was her neighbour, Morven. She tried to take over Logie’s nest in April 2008 but was quickly kicked out when Logie got back from Guinea Bissau. As a five-year-old local bird Morven spent the summer visiting osprey nesting places in the North of Scotland. On 9thJuly I live-caught her and fitted a transmitter when she was near the nest belonging to Beatrice – another of the Forres clan. Soon we learnt about her life. Instead of going south in late August she flew north to the Caithness trout lochs, not far north of the distinctive mountain named Morven. It’s a landmark across the Moray Firth from where I live near Forres. She was observed there by my old friend Stan Laybourne before migrating south. Winter quarters proved to be on the coast of Mauritania.

We satellite-tagged Morven as an adult in Moray in 2008.

Morven migrated to Mauritania after we tagged her in 2008. He transmitter to continued to provide data for a further five years.

Perseverance paid off because the following spring she bred with Logie’s old mate Talisman and reared one young. Logie had disappeared in September 2008 on autumn migration.  Morven’s annual migration pattern was then established; after breeding she flew north each year to Caithness for a few weeks trout fishing and then migrated south to the Mauritanian coast.  On the spring migration north she stopped off for a short break on the Villiviciosa estuary in North Spain, before the last leg to Moray. In 2011 she bred again at the same nest but with a new male, yellow HA, and reared 3 young, they reared one young in 2012 and three in 2013. But in 2014 her mate was killed by a new male, and they were also kicked out by a younger pair and moved to unused nest some miles away.  Morven was too late to breed in 2014 but she and her new mate reared two young in 2015 and one in 2016.  In March 2017 she was live-trapped at an artificial osprey nest on the Villiviciosa estuary by osprey biologist, Doriana Pando, and the defunct transmitter was removed.

Morven and her mate, Talisman.

Some ospreys were very delayed by bad weather in 2017 but not Morven, who gave up waiting for her mate and moved to join an old male at another nest in the Forres area, and there she reared three young. In 2018, she was at the Spanish estuary on 20thMarch and returned to incubate eggs, but the nesting attempt failed, possibly due to pine martens. She has not been seen since.  15 years of age she contributed much to osprey conservation. She nested in three different eyries with four different mates which is unusual for ospreys. Some of her young were translocated to the Basque reintroduction project and one in 2015 to start the Swiss project. We also satellite tagged her single young in 2012 and named him Stan, in memory of my Caithness birding friend, who had died. Sadly, we lost contact with Stan off the Cape Verde islands after an incredible nine day, 5000 kilometres migration over the Atlantic Ocean via the Canary Islands.

Importantly in 2017, one of her young, blue colour ring LS7, was translocated to Poole Harbour. LS7 was a young male, the first to fly from the hacking cages at Poole Harbour when we started the latest reintroduction project in partnership with Birds of Poole Harbour and Wildlife Windows. He was a winner, attacked by a peregrine on his first flight at 05.45am on 31stJuly 2017, he soon settled down to feed up from fresh fish supplied by the project team.

LS7 was the first of the birds to fly after release on 31st July (photo by Tim Mackrill)

He was the first to leave on migration  on 25thAugust and his post-fledging period of 25 days was equal shortest of the eight young that year.  On 22ndJanuary 2018 he was seen and identified on the  Ile des Oiseaux by Adam Lene a ranger in the Sine Saloum National Park in Senegal. Both Tim and I have visited this fantastic sandy island off the mangrove swamps, it’s an osprey Mecca.

LS7 was seen at Ile des Oiseaux in Senegal on 22nd January 2018. Wintering birds – both adults and juveniles – often perch together at this osprey Mecca (photo by John Wright).

It’s a long two-year’s wait to see which ospreys have survived their migrations and extended stays in West Africa and then return to the UK. LS7 was our first return as a two-year old when he was seen and identified by Paul Morton on 12thJune. Almost immediately he met the well-known female, blue CJ7, which fledged from a nest at Rutland Water in 2015. She has been a regular at Poole Harbour and this spring was building up nests around the harbour and keeping an eye out for a mate.  Too late to breed in 2019, their activity together bodes well for the future. These recovery projects rely so often on small numbers of winners, which have survived their first years learning the migration routes and wintering sites, and the associated dangers of bad weather and predators.

In a few week’s time the next group of young Scottish ospreys will be in the Poole Harbour hacking-cages ready for release from the end of July. I guess both LS7 and CJ7 will take an interest in the new cohort of ospreys and hopefully they will survive to start a breeding population in the south coast estuaries. Then we can say the mullet-hawk is truly back. If LS7 is the pioneer of that exciting future then he will be following in his mother’s illustrious life.

LS7 returned to Poole Harbour on 12th June (photo by Alison Copland)

Four minutes to get under a table

Four minutes to get under a table – the fears of a 15 year old boy

In the 1950s there was much talk of nuclear war, the awesome terror of hydrogen bombs seemed very real to me and my pals at school . We worried about being annihilated. We were told there would be a 4 minute warning if the Russians attacked. We must rush indoors and hide under a table – would that really have helped! Many children went to sleep with bad dreams.

Now times are even more worrying – climate breakdown, chemical contamination of life on Earth, loss of insects, plastic pollution and over-use of the planet’s ecosystem. Nowadays, news reporting is never ending, unlike those naïve days of my youth, and more and more young people are getting alarmed. They want something done now not tomorrow.

Yesterday morning, I drove home from the Cairngorms and saw three smoke clouds from the burning of grouse moors. To me, that’s now like sticking a knife into a wound. In Scotland, we must ban large scale heather and grassland burning and immediately start a massive regeneration of woodland and scrub over all our barren spaces. Turning a ‘wet desert’ as Fraser Darling said in that nuclear era, into a thriving restored land to capture carbon, influence weather and water, and restore damaged ecosystems. Rewilding on a massive scale – our long-delayed contribution to planet renewal. It should become anti-social to own and maintain degraded land.

Too few, in authority, recognise a threat that is greater than the worries of my youth or are they purposely burying their heads in the sand. Thank goodness young people are protesting for the future of our planet – they need to and they must demand urgent action while there is time. It’s important they do not give up for they are the future and they are unlikely to get much support from many of their elders. I say to them – keep going – insist on change.

The young need to have hope and they must be in charge of their destinies. I support lowering the voting age to 16 years, I would go even younger for it’s their future. I asked my ten year old daughter – she thought to vote at 10 or 12 was too young – ‘they wouldn’t understand’ – come on let’s make it 14 or 15. Because of dangerous times I would also remove the vote at 60 years of age. We had our chance and we failed. Tough measures for tough times.

Area of Ecological Importance

I visited Sutherland today – a chance to look for a pair of sea eagles and to check the spread of the red squirrels we translocated in 2013. But I mainly I drove north to pay a short visit to the Public Inquiry about a golf development proposed on the Coul Links Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) near Dornoch. It is being held in the Carnegie Hall, not the famous one on 7th Avenue New York, but the small one built in Clashmore by the same Andrew Carnegie. I quietly slipped into a seat at the back of the village hall and listened to the proceedings. I wanted to be there to show support for those who are opposed to damaging Coul Links. It brought back memories, from the 1970s onwards, of other inquiries where my RSPB colleagues and I were being questioned by lawyers as we fought to protect a nature site. We won some and lost some, but why are they still being won or lost?

Then our focus was on the protection of birds so there were many people who weren’t impressed by that, for the cry then was ‘do you want birds or jobs’. But now it is a much more important matter – we desperately need these special areas of nature to ensure the future of our earth. Outside the hall, it was like a spring day, rather than the 27th February. My car radio told me these were the hottest days on record in a decade of some of the hottest years on record. Flick the channel and a reporter is talking about the massive declines of insects. On another the Green MP is talking about tomorrow’s debate at Westminster on ‘climate change’ or better stated ‘climate breakdown’.

Coul Links with Loch Fleet is a SSSI as well as being a Ramsar Site and a Special Protection Area. There are just over 1400 SSSIs in Scotland covering just under 13% of our country, so why are we putting any of them at risk at a time of great risk to the future of our grandchildren. Some world visionaries believe that to ensure long-term survival of the earth’s ecosystems we will need to have 50% of the earth’s land and seas dedicated to nature and natural processes. I am a firm believer of that target. We cannot lose any more nature sites and the huge areas of land degraded by fire and livestock require to be ecologically restored. Ecological restoration on a large enough scale to attempt to ameliorate the increasing levels of carbon and to restore earth’s ecological processes will be job creation on a truly massive scale. It will require bold far-seeing political leaders and the diversion of major funding from other budgets. It is no longer a choice. As I listened to this morning’s evidence, expert against QC, I also thought that the term SSSI is now antiquated and does not command public respect. They need rebranding in today’s perilous times – may be something like – Areas of Ecological Importance.

 

Three cheers for beavers

I’ve just heard that the beaver is to be protected in our country. That’s welcome news from the Minister, but oh dear how long that took. And that’s only a first step, the next is to return the species to all suitable wetlands, to aid the future of our planet. A week ago young people were reminding us adults that the future of a living earth is in serious danger, yet how quickly that goes off the headlines. The young will need to be more demanding to secure their future. It is an unrelenting struggle to effect meaningful change. Many ecologists have tried over the last century but after an initial breakthrough the old ways of politics and power continue. So this time, young people, keep pushing! The beaver should encourage you to note that yesterday’s total opposition can change to a recognition of its value.

Last summer, I wrote that I visited an osprey nest in Strathspey and ringed the single chick, the first young there after a gap of eight years. The eyrie is atop an ancient Scots pine growing in a bog. I remembered on earlier visits having to jump ditches and wade through swampy areas to reach the tree, but now everywhere is dry and the patches of open water I remembered have all vegetated over. This was such a special forest bog where the ospreys had as neighbours nesting teal and very rare green sandpipers. This forest has every sort of conservation designation possible but it has lost a lot of its value through the uncontrolled growth of excess vegetation, due to lack of big herbivores, originally auroch, moose and beaver. It was clear to me that the immediate remedy for such a special area would be the return of beavers. In a few years their activities would bring those forest bogs and pools back to life, as well as opening up and rewetting the other low-lying parts of the forest. They would slow down the small river and create even more wetlands. I firmly believe that the Scottish government’s refusal to allow beavers back in all these wet woodlands is seriously detrimental to wildlife conservation and our international obligations.

Earlier in the year I was asked to address the annual conference of Forestry Commission England at the University of Exeter and give my views on where they should be heading ecologically after their centenary year of 2019. One of the delegates was Dr Richard Brazier, of the university, whose team had carried out detailed scientific studies on beavers which had been placed in a wet woodland reserve in north Devon. Their results were very impressive and showed how the beavers had changed the ecosystem by building a chain of dams that slowed down the small river coming from the adjacent farmland. Water flows had been ameliorated as water was held in the dams, sediments and chemicals had been deposited within the site. The water coming out of the wood was much purified and the wildlife benefits for other species outstanding. In fact, the 14 dams held 1,000 cubic metres of water and had captured 100 tons of silt. I remember walking there nearly ten years before with Derek Gow, who is the pioneer and champion of the return of the beaver to the UK as a water engineer and ecological improver. Just about everything we talked about then has been proved by these studies and others.

Similar results have been obtained by PhD researchers on beavers and their impacts in the River Tay catchment in Scotland, yet we are still experiencing resistance to the return of the species to the UK. It saddens me greatly that board members and staff of the then newly created Scottish Natural Heritage discussed the need to reintroduce the beaver in the early 1990s and here we are, 25 years later, still dithering about full-scale recovery. Then, our interest was very much about the ecological and wildlife benefits they would bring. Now, though, with an ever-increasing recognition that we must restore natural processes for the benefit of people as well as wildlife, we have the evidence that beavers can help alleviate downstream flooding, maintain water in streams in times of drought, slow down the run-off loss of soils and help prevent agricultural chemicals from pouring down rivers and into lochs, estuaries and the sea. You would think it’s a no-brainer. Sadly, that’s not how it works at present, but it has to change. That’s another area where our young people  can encourage adults to see sense before it’s too late.

Photo by Laurie Campbell

 

Red Kites

In a few weeks the red kites will be soaring above their nesting sites, nowadays throughout Scotland and England, yet 30 years go before reintroduction the only ones were in Wales.

Today I came across this link to a specially commissioned engraving by Alison Kinnaird in 2003 for the National Gallery of Scotland of the kite story.

https://www.nationalgalleries.org/art-and-artists/76227/roy-dennis-born-1940

Altruism and profligacy

The jays are flying high again and that’s because it’s October. For the rest of the year they rather skulk around the woods yet you know they are there from their raucous calls. But now the oak trees are full of ripe acorns and that’s what the jays are harvesting. For some reason after they have stuffed four or five acorns into their gullets and they’ve got the last one gripped in their bills they leave the trees and fly high across the countryside instead of low into woods. I saw them yesterday morning when I was out for a walk and they were taking the acorns about three quarters of a mile to a scraggy area of small trees and grassland. This is where they must have been burying the future food supplies. But why do they fly so high, it cannot be that they want to know where they’re going, but I wonder if it’s to avoid predators. Jays feature regularly in the diet of goshawks living in the forests.

What that flight does do is to announce that the acorn harvest is underway. Jays collect prodigious amounts of acorns and spread them over such large areas of the countryside. Several thousands per individual and up to a mile or more away from the harvested tree. Of course most of the acorns are eaten, not necessarily all by jays but also by small rodents, but sufficient remain to allow new oak trees to grow in new places. The jays often hide them in bramble patches and  places with cover and that’s exactly where young oak trees prefer to grow because they get an early break from being browsed down. Jays only reached the North of Scotland thirty years or so ago and evidence of them moving oaks, and in a few places sweet chestnut, is really noticeable. As they fly day by day through the acorn season, the jays work hard in what is really a true act of altruism. Of course for their species planting acorns ensures that there are more oak trees in the future, but they, as individuals, are not going to benefit. But future jays will and so will an incredible number of species that benefit from the growth of oak trees. Even we do in many ways including the photosynthesis ability of oak trees to take in carbon and release oxygen.

As the jays start their autumn harvest, the red squirrels are finishing theirs. They have been so busy through September gathering hazelnuts from the grooves of hazel trees that grow along the bank below my house. They come from the pinewood about 100 yards across the road but there must be others as well from further afield that know that September is the month to gather nuts. Some days as I sit at my desk I watch them scurry back and for. They come round house, run across the lawn, climb up over my woodpile, through the lilac hedge and into the first hazel tree. I can see them clambering around in the upper branches and then in no time they return over the woodpile and across the lawn with a mouthful of hazelnuts. Usually they head off for the pinewood to store their haul of nuts in secret places.

But other days they just potter around on the lawn, choose places that seem to have no merit, then a quick little dig, a nut is pushed into the hole and the grass quickly patted down. Then onto the next. Some days they bury dozens. I never know how they find them again, but they certainly don’t find them all because young hazel trees are always popping up in unexpected places in the garden. And in many places in the surrounding land. The red squirrel is just such a great creator of new hazel trees, and another example in my view of altruism towards future squirrels, but how wildlife and we appreciate hazel thickets. When I was young I remember us, boys, searching for really good hazel sticks to make bows or catapults; while older people in the farming districts did an annual harvest of hazel wands to season for walking sticks and handles for various farm implements.

Last week while I was watching the first of the jays and the last of the squirrels carrying out their annual harvests, I listened with incredulity to a news report on the radio that a bottle of whisky had been sold at auction in Edinburgh for £840,750! I suppose my first question was why – the purchaser is not even going to drink it. My second thought was what a weird world we live in. Such a huge amount of money for an item of no true worth at a time when our planet needs every effort to prevent climate breakdown. That will require massive funds being redirected to conserve and restore planet Earth rather than profligate spending on luxury non-essentials of all kinds. I gather the whisky, which was specially bottled in 1986, had been made in Speyside in 1926. Then, at least, it would have been truly organic, the barley would most likely been grown on a mixed farm, with cattle, sheep and poultry, and horses to draw the plough and do the work on the farm. The rotational crops would have included barley, oats, turnips, potatoes and grass fields for making hay and for grazing. Annually, the fertile soils would have received farm manure and lime. Now those same fields that supply barley, for ever-increasing whisky production, are deep ploughed and instead of organic dung the crops grow due to copious supplies of artificial fertiliser and chemicals. Surely it’s essential we think more seriously about the future for most of present farming systems do not have long-term sustainability unlike the altruistic activities of the red squirrel and the jay.

33-year-old Golden Eagle – longest recorded ringed golden eagle in the world.

Way back in 1985, my diary for 30th June records that I was monitoring golden eagles in the north Inverness glens with my daughter Rona, home from Uni. We climbed to an eyrie near Cannich, which I had monitored for many years, and ringed a single eaglet – ZZ0005. I also attached two small yellow wing tags but the eagle was never identified alive. In fact like most ringed eagles nothing more was heard of it – until out-of-the-blue, I received two emails yesterday. One was from the BTO ringing scheme and the other from Gabriela Peniche, a PhD researcher on golden eagle health at the Dick Vet at Edinburgh University.

The remains of this eagle had been found near Loch Assynt in Sutherland on the 10th August and sent to the lab. It was thought it may have been dead for about 6 weeks and a male. The cause of death was unknown, but there was bruising in the skull and a suggestion of starvation. This is a ‘safe’ area for eagles, free from illegal persecution. My view is that a likely end to a very old breeding adult, of either sex, is to be defeated or killed during a challenge by a young adult to take over a nesting site. That’s how nature works for long-lived raptors.

The BTO Ringing Scheme longevity data gives the present longest recorded life of a ringed golden eagle as just over 16 years – a Kielder Forest chick 29th June 1991 found dead in the Scottish Borders 7th August 2007. In some ways this bird’s death stimulated the South of Scotland Golden Eagle recovery project started this year. In Europe, the Euring database records longevity records for two Swedish ringed golden eagles at 31 years and 32 years, while 23 years is the oldest record in the United States. So ZZ0005 at 33 years appears to be the oldest recorded ringed golden eagle in the wild in the world. There is a record of a captive one reaching 46 years, while very expert fieldwork on breeding pairs of golden eagles on the Isle of Skye by my old friends Kate Nellist and Ken Crane gave an annual adult survival rate of 97.5% suggesting that some adults could reach 40 years of age.

From its recovery location, it may have been the local breeding adult male living in a home-range some 90 kilometres north of its natal site. I know those local eyries from my eagle fieldwork in the 1970s and 1980s. By 2010 Doug Mainland had ringed 18 young at this location since 1990 (when ZZ0005 was five years old). On 17th June 2010 I visited the eyrie with Doug, Derek Spencer and Lorcan O’Toole, who collected one young for the Irish Reintroduction Project. The other eaglet, a male, was satellite tagged and named Suilven: to read more click here. There’s just a chance that ZZ0005 may have been its male parent. This eaglet ranged widely when young, even briefly visiting Skye but when sub-adult returned to an area just east of its natal nest. In the spring of 2015, when Suilven was 5 years old the transmitter fell off (as they are meant to do) and we guess he may still live and breed in that area of Sutherland. It’s lovely to think what a couple of emails can do and how worthwhile was that hike up the mountain in 1985. Bird ringing at its best.

Poole Harbour translocation – year two

Our planning and preparation for the second year of Poole Harbour Osprey Project, a partnership between the Foundation, Birds of Poole Harbour and Wildlife Windows, started at the end of winter when we checked nests that looked fragile the previous year, and others that had been damaged by winter storms. In early March 2018 we rebuilt two that were no longer usable and it was pleasing that both were subsequently used by ospreys on their return. In April we started our regular monitoring of about 50 sites in Moray, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey, and in northern Sutherland and Caithness. This year more than usual of the adult birds were either late or missing, almost certainly due to bad weather in Morocco and Iberia during migration.

Two nests were interfered with by pine martens taking them over in winter, with one of them becoming the den for young martens. Those that did breed had a good season because of the excellent weather, but this year there was a marked contrast between the normal broods and very late chicks due to the delay or loss of breeding adults. In late June our monitoring is aimed at identifying which nests have young, how many and what age. Last summer was the first year of the Poole Harbour translocation and so we only collected eight young to get the project started. 2017 was also the last year of the five-year project to reintroduce ospreys to the Basque Country of Spain and we were delighted this spring that two of the males had attracted females which laid eggs. One failed during incubation but the other pair have young close to fledging.

Checking and ringing a brood of three young ospreys. One of this brood was subsequently translocated to Poole (photo Emily Joáchim)

Two young Ospreys ready for translocation to Poole. The birds are moved when they are five-six weeks old.

Our licence from Scottish Natural Heritage allowed us to collect up to 14 chicks this year, and so the next task was to  plan how and when to collect them from nests containing two or three young throughout our study area, liaising with owners of private land holding osprey nests or on Forestry Commission forests. Our team includes two expert tree climbers, Ian and Fraser, while Emily Joáchim again took on the feeding of the young in special pens at my home. The chicks are fed fresh trout from Rothiemurchus Fishery. We aim to collect the birds in as short a time as possible, but our first nest was a disappointment as it contained only one young. Thankfully Monday and Tuesday 9th – 10th July turned out to be excellent days, with great help in particular from Alan Campbell of the Moray district of the Forestry Commission on Monday. By Tuesday lunchtime we had reached our total, with all chicks in excellent condition. This summer Brittany Maxted came north from Poole to learn this end of the project, and on Tuesday evening Tim drove the young ospreys south in special travelling boxes to a stop-over with Barry Dore and Jakkie Tunnicliffe in Staffordshire, where Brittany and Tim fed the chicks fresh trout for the next stage of the journey.

With temperatures in southern England soaring, Tim and Brittany set-off on the final leg to Poole early on Wednesday morning to avoid the worst of the heat. Thankfully the roads were clear and they arrived at the release pens on private land adjacent to Poole Harbour shortly before 1 pm. Jason Fathers of Wildlife Windows had been busy constructing two new release pens to go with the three that we used last year, and we had already decided on the allocation for each pen, with the birds divided into groups of two or three of similar age according to wing length. The largest birds with the longest wings were places in pen 1 and the smallest in pen 5. This should ensure that we can release the birds in stages in a few weeks’ time according to when they are ready.

Having placed the birds in the relevant pens the team retreated to the monitoring caravan where Brittany and the group of volunteers monitor the birds via CCTV images. We were pleased that within a few hours all had fed on fresh fish kindly provided by local distributor Sea Fresh, and were settling in well. In fact the oldest two birds, 013 and 014 were already wing flapping strongly.

Paul Morton feeding the birds. Fish is placed into the pens through a flap at the rear in order to minimise human contact.

Over the past few days the birds have continued to be fed three times per day by the team. Fresh fish is cut up into thumbnail sized pieces and then placed on a paper plate that is passed through a hatch in the rear of each pen. This ensures that the birds are well fed prior to release, but that human contact is kept to an absolute minimum.

All being well the first birds will be ready to be released in about two weeks’ time and in the intervening period they will continue to be monitored closely.

We’re delighted that the second year of this exciting project to restore Ospreys to their former haunts on the South Coast of England is underway.

For the most recent updates on the Poole Harbour Osprey Project, please check out the Birds of Poole Habour website.

CCTV images from each pen allow the development of each bird to be carefully monitored (photo by Paul Morton)