My 60th Anniversary of Ospreys

Today, 8th April 2020, is the 60th anniversary of my first ever sighting of an osprey. I was a week into my new work as warden at the RSPB’s Operation Osprey at Loch Garten in the Scottish Highlands. Each day we waited for the pair’s arrival after their previous year’s successful rearing of three young. It was a very exciting time, but also an anxious one, for this was the only nesting pair.   8th April was cold and grey, and it was raining on my early visit to the still-empty nest. I returned to the forward hide in the early afternoon and checked the eyrie with my binoculars, then scanned the old trees dotted across the peat mosses. And there he was, perched on a branch of an ancient pine, preening his wet feathers. To me he was fantastic – he had just winged in from a 3,500-mile migration flight from Africa. I’ve just checked my diary – ‘after an hour of preening, he carried a dead stick to the nest at 3.35pm, and in quick succession five more, snapped in flight from nearby trees. He rearranged his old nest before leaving to fish at 3.50pm’. I hurried back to our camp to phone the news to George Waterston at the RSPB in Edinburgh.

The nest at Loch Garten

The female arrived ten days later and they went on to rear two more young for the fledgling osprey population in Scotland. They were seen that year by thousands of visitors to Loch Garten – one of the world’s first public viewing sites of a rare breeding bird. It was also the start of my life’s involvement with these beautiful fish-eating raptors, which have contributed so greatly to my enjoyment and involvement in nature. This afternoon I had planned to visit Loch Garten and walk up that long familiar track to view the ancient nest tree – now long-dead but standing, with the present osprey eyrie in the tree next door. But Loch Garten is out-of-bounds in these worrying days of the pandemic. I’m fortunate that I will likely see an osprey passing our house today from one of the local eyries. Early this morning, on my laptop, courtesy of a webcam, I watched the female on a nest at Poole Harbour. Reminding me of the male at the Loch Garten nest in April 1960, she was staring up into the skies looking for her mate, hopefully the male which she met last summer, coming in en route from West Africa. He’s a bird we translocated from the Scottish population to Poole Harbour in 2017; she, in turn, is descended from ospreys moved to Rutland Water from nests in northern Scotland.

Once we get an all clear and are free again to travel, I’ll make a pilgrimage to that special Scots pine at Loch Garten.

Meanwhile, watch out for more osprey news on our first podcast of 2020 – coming soon! You can listen to all our previous podcasts here.