Roy's blog

Peregrine memories of an old friend

This evening, in memory of an old friend, I pulled out an old red Ordnance Survey map – number 9 – which Bernard Hendy sent me, long ago, with all his peregrine nests marked on it – a total of 15 sites with breeding pairs in one summer.I learnt this week that Bernard had recently died during a visit to Zambia. I first met him in the 1970s when I was Highland Officer of the RSPB. It was a time when we spent huge effort protecting peregrine falcons from egg and chick thieves. It was not long after the pesticide era had decimated the bird through the UK but numbers were still good in the Highlands. Unlike today, the north-west corner of Sutherland had high numbers of breeding peregrines and these birds brought me into contact with Bernard. He had moved to the Balnakeil craft village as a candle maker. He had a great love of falcons, in fact, his son was called Merlin. I really enjoyed spending time with him in the Durness area and remember vividly one time when he phoned in great excitement to tell me he had found two nests well under a mile apart south of Rhiconich. A few days later I was with him – we looked at the pair on a cliff above the loch – they had young – and then hiked across the other side of the road. There was the second pair. It was a high point for peregrines in the north-west corner of Scotland and we were lucky to have such an enthusiast living there and keeping an eye on them each summer. Bernard left Scotland and we lost contact until a few years ago when he returned with his wife Irene to live at Durness. Immediately there was that old friendship again and I learnt of his great interest in the conservation of tigers in India. My sincere condolences, of course, go to Irene and his family.PeregrineFalcon

Great news – Cromarty’s back on track

Early morning check of my emails gave me three lots of data from Cromarty’s transmitter. I was really disappointed when the transmitter stopped working on 14th March and I wondered whether he had been lost over the Sahara desert on migration. But I was wrong and it seems that either the transmitter went on the blink or the local mobile phone mast has been out of action for a month. Anyway today’s data showed that Cromarty was still living at the same wintering site in southern Senegal and each day 5th to 10th of April he had flown out to fish in the Atlantic Ocean. It is really fantastic that the transmitter is working again, and fingers crossed that it continues to do so, because then we should be able to track his return migration to Scotland. This bird is coming up to 3 years old so should be looking this summer for a nest site and mate. It’s about time that he started his northwards migration so I’ll be checking regularly to see when that happens. On Saturday I checked his favourite roosting area near Aviemore where he spent time last August, but there was nothing on the most likely roost tree. Not surprising as he was still in Africa after all. It’s a reminder that when satellite transmitters fail it doesn’t necessarily mean that the bird has died.

I’ve had a great few days monitoring the osprey nests in my study area and just over half of the birds back at their nests. For once there have been no nests needing rebuilding after the winter – no severe wind damage this time.  I always enjoy finding old regulars back at their nest sites and many of them were there. The male Osprey Red 8T was back at his nest with his regular female, and on the previous morning I watched the female named Morven perched beside her nest with her last year’s mate. Both of those transmitters are old and no longer work. I was looking at the weather forecast last night and it didn’t look very good for the Bay of Biscay, with a nasty low pressure giving strong easterly winds likely to blow a lost migrating ospreys well out into the Atlantic Ocean. Definitely weather conditions to hug the French coast and then there will be a battle against northerly winds through the United Kingdom. Oh well that’s what’s living in nature means. Survival of the fittest and the luckiest.

Loss of an old favourite – Osprey Beatrice found dead in the Basque Country.

I was getting very worried about Beatrice as no signals had been received since 13th March. The weather was still very wet in Northern Spain and she would have found fishing very difficult in the turbulent rivers. This morning my worries were confirmed by an email from my Basque friend, Aitor Galarza of the Urdaibai Osprey Reintroduction Project telling me that Beatrice had been found dead.

This afternoon Aitor emailed again with the following message

“Hi Roy

The body was found yesterday by a birdwatcher (Carlos Area) on the banks of the Urumea river close to Hernani (UTM 586604, 4785491) and passed to the gamekeepers of the area. I have just talked with the head of the forest guards and he has told me that the bird was without the head and looked extremely weak. They did a x-ray in order to rule out that it had been shot. He thinks it died because of weakness and later the head was eaten by an small carnivore. He will send the transmitter and the rings to the Aranzadi Society of Sciences in San Sebastián. From there they can send you the transmitter by mail or I can take it with me when going to Scotland this summer. Attached some pictures by Carlos Area.

Best wishes,

Aitor”

Beatrice found dead by river

Beatrice found dead by river

What a great pity. I thought something might go wrong when she abandoned her normal stop-over location on the River Adour because her favourite fishing areas were no good because of heavy rain. She tried to find alternative fishing sites including going to two small estuaries in North Spain but again fishing was no good – cold water and floods. Turning into the mountains to find the smaller rivers was unfortunately unsuccessful and she starved to death.

Beatrice was an old experienced osprey coming into her 16th year but it shows that even old experienced ospreys make mistakes. She should not have left her wintering site in southern Spain so early and then she could have missed the worst of wet weather. Running into very wet weather in north Spain and south-west France is a hazard for UK breeding ospreys returning north in spring. Remember the old female Logie which got stuck for two weeks in 2008 in Urdaibai estuary and the young osprey, Fearna, died in Rioja region in bad weather in May 2013.

Beatrice was ringed as a chick in Strathdon, Aberdeenshire on 8th July 2000 by Ian Francis and Stuart Rae, and was one of three chicks. She arrived at nest B16 near Forres in Moray in 2003 and was joined later in the summer by a male. She then bred successfully for 12 summers, 11 times at this nest while in 2010 she bred at an old nest K02 in East Moray. She raised a total of 24 young in her life time – 8 broods of two young, two broods of three and two broods of one young. She paired with three different male ospreys.

I caught her in July 2008 and fitted a GPS transmitter which gave us amazing data into the eighth year. Beatrice was a slightly unusual osprey in that she did not migrate all the way to Africa, but wintered in southern Spain, an area which is only a stop-off point for most Scottish ospreys.  On her migrations she had a favourite stop-over location on the River Adour in south-west France. Beatrice became a firm favourite to many people, especially my Scottish friends who could watch the nest from their house, and the local people who searched for and found Beatrice at the River Adour and the River Guadiaro in Spain. On one occasion she also visited Rutland Water.  We will all miss her. I hope a new female will take her place at nest B16 and I hope that bird may look forward to as long and as successful life as Beatrice’s.

Beatrice at Eyebrook 2008

Beatrice at Eyebrook 2008

 

 

Giant Pandas and reflecting on home

Last month I had a most interesting week in Sichuan learning about giant pandas, thanks to Iain Valentine, Director of the Giant Panda Project at Edinburgh. Iain’s colleagues in the China Conservation & Research Group on Giant Pandas (CCRGGP) showed us their work and took us into some amazing places.  This was my first visit to China so everything was new and exciting and different – Chengdu city has a population of 18 million, a far cry from my home town of Forres in Moray. I visited three of the panda breeding centres but Wolong, in its impressive valley in the mountains of Sichuan, was the high point of my visit.

Here we saw the old Wolong base, much damaged by the 2008 earthquake, and the new panda HQ, which is a most impressive place built with funds from Hong Kong – its state of the art tastefully built with local stone and landscaped with trees and bamboos. There were already 8 groups of enclosures capable of holding 30 breeding females, as well as maternity units, laboratories, offices and a most impressive education centre. On two days we hiked to field stations in remote valleys, where teams of field staff carry out field work and have built large electric-fenced enclosures as training sites for the gradual release of captive bred pandas. It was great to see the teams in the field – including graduates and professors dedicated to field conservation, with an ethos based on large ecosystems.

The Wolong Nature reserve itself is 200,000 hectares, while the larger Sichuan panda ecosystem is twice the size of the Cairngorms National Park at nearly a million hectares. It contains 7 giant panda reserves as well as other protected sites and the aim is to improve connectivity throughout the whole ecosystem. The giant pandas are the flagship species but these mountains rising from 1200 to 6250 metres are a biodiversity hotspot: 5-6000 species of plants including magnolias, rhododendrons and bamboos, many of them endemic, making it the richest of any temperate region. 109 mammal species including clouded and snow leopards, golden cat, golden
monkey, red panda, takin and white-lipped deer, and over 365 species of birds, 300 of them breeding including Tibetan-eared and white-eared pheasants.

There’s more panda ecosystem in the next provinces to the north and the latest estimate of giant pandas in the wild is 1864, based on field signs and DNA. 66% of them live in panda reserves belonging to the State Forestry of China.  The aim is to restore damaged parts of the forest range and increase their numbers; even now with the lower total and the size of the available habitat the population looks to be long term secure. Looking out over this incredible range of mountains with their jagged snowy peaks and deep valleys of native forests and bamboos I could see the importance of giant pandas. An icon of conservation in China (and worldwide) which forges an incredibly strong worldwide partnership, led by China, to conserve this special bear and its incredible ecosystem.

As ever when abroad, this time sitting on a rocky hillside in the backyard of the giant panda, I thought of nature conservation back home and it’s very worrying. It’s embarrassing to have to tell foreign colleagues that 99% of our native forests have gone. We have to do better and stop kidding ourselves that we are conservation leaders in the world. We must fast track the restoration and conservation of large ecosystems to secure our nature, and our future. For me that means that ecosystem conservation should take precedence over economic activity in some 40% of our land and seas. Pro-active work in the field must be aided by sound research not held back. We need to be more entrepreneurial for nature, always aim high, recognise the importance of icons and remember to say ‘when’ not ‘if’. For example, on the world stage, it would be a shocking failure if the lynx were not restored to Scotland by 2020.

Very best wishes to you all for 2016

nov 2015 281 (Medium)

 

 

 

Quiet pride over red kites

Last week we were in the south for a wedding near Rutland Water and to see family in Hampshire and Buckinghamshire.  Driving on motorways or back roads, we saw red kites as the most common raptor in the skies. The first of them showed up in the grey autumn skies as we headed for my son Roddy’s home in Amersham, with more on the way to Hampshire and north to Stamford. One morning we walked into Old Amersham through lovely beechwoods, kites overhead – even one patrolling the road where my son lives.

That’s what I like about kites: they are so easy to see and identify, and they respond so well to human contact. I find it marvellous that people can now feed red kites in their back gardens. The remains of a chicken leg here or an old sausage there make a welcome meal for this ultimate scavenger. I’m generally not keen on feeding birds and have always felt uneasy about the huge amounts of non-native food such as peanuts which are fed to birds in Britain. I’m not sure it’s in the long-term interest and I also think it obscures the appalling declines of common birds due to intensive agriculture, chemicals and modern life. But feeding red kites is different – they have fed beside humans right back to our earliest ancestors and to the Neanderthals, swooping down for morsels at campsites or after hunts of large mammals. It’s lovely to think they would once have fed on scraps of mammoth or woolly rhino being cut up by humans in ancient Britain. Nowadays there is such a rush to clean up dead animals in the countryside that the supply of carrion is really limited for birds like kites – we are, alas, too tidy and the ecosystem functions break down.

Whenever a kite floated over, I took quiet pride in the fact that 25 years ago, no kites bred in England or Scotland, and that I was fortunate to be one of the RSPB & Nature Conservancy team that restored the red kite. In 1989, after a good few years of opposition and delay, I flew to southern Sweden on the very first kite-collecting trip. Ornithological friends in Lund were so helpful to me and within a few days I had collected 12 young red kites to start what has become an incredibly successful project.  Magnus Sylven drove me over the bridge from Sweden to Denmark and onwards to a military base, where a RAF Nimrod patrol aircraft from Kinloss swooped in to take me back to northern Scotland with my precious cargo. Eight of the young kites were reared and released at a friend’s farm near our RSPB office near Inverness and the other four travelled south overnight to the Chilterns release area.

This was the start of one of the most successful ever reintroduction projects, with red kites now breeding from northern Scotland down through many parts of the UK to the south of England. That’s why I feel quiet pride whenever I see this distinctive-shaped raptor circling town and countryside. How I wish that we could get on and have golden eagles and sea eagles over such a big range. It’s perfectly easy to do ecologically but in the UK, social and political issues too often hamper bold ideals. But remember: it’s never ‘if’, it’s just a matter of ‘when’.

 

Chance is important for finding very rare birds

In spring 2014, an old friend Tony Marr asked me to come to Port of Ness to open the new bird hide at Loch Stiapavat at the north end of the island of Lewis in the Western Isles. Tony and I both started birding on the south coast – he is Sussex and me in Hampshire.  He now lives at Cley in North Norfolk but to get some peace when birding he chose to buy a cottage at Port of Ness. There he can birdwatch every day and when he finds rare birds he can watch them without a large gathering of twitchers. I said I’d come back in the autumn and have a few days looking for rare birds with him.

Recently hurricane Joaquin was heading for Scotland from America and I thought that might be worth watching, but it veered off to Portugal. Nevertheless on Sunday I set off on the ferry to Stornoway for two days of birding with Tony. Yesterday was a quiet day – barnacle geese coming in off the sea, a few blackcaps and then great views of sea eagles at Uig in the afternoon, and a glorious sunset at the Callanish stones.

Today, we were out early again with a most beautiful clear sunny morning with all the mountains of Wester Ross and Sutherland showing clearly fifty miles over the Minch.  Tony is a dedicated ‘local patch’ birder – nothing new at the Butt of Lewis lighthouse but a lovely young merlin mobbing a hen harrier. We checked various gardens for migrants but drew a blank, and a careful search of a big flock of golden plovers found no stray American waders. After a visit to the bird hide it was lunch time at his house.

Tony and I have so many old mutual friends that our lunch became extended with tales of old times and favourite stories. Suddenly it’s 2pm and we’re here to bird not talk, so we get our bins and coats and head out again. First stop is next door’s excellent wooded garden and ten minutes later we are watching a Wilson’s Warbler. A small beautiful North American warbler, brilliant yellow with a tiny black crown. The briefest of views before it dives back into the little wood. Twenty-five minutes later we get another good but brief view to confirm our identification.  This is a mega-rarity, being the first ever identified in Scotland, second for Britain and third for Britain and Ireland. There was also a yellow-browed warbler in the garden, all the way from Siberia.

Of course it is Tony’s dedication in birding every day during the migration seasons at the Butt of Lewis which gives him the excitement of finding rare birds and witnessing the annual migrations. But it’s also chance. If we had not regaled each other with stories of old friends we might have visited the garden ten minutes earlier and missed the warbler, and if we had talked too long we might have missed it as well. And then of course you need to be able to identify species you’ve never seen before.

Tomorrow I go home after a brief but brilliant birding trip, with the icing on the cake being a magical Wilson’s Warbler all the way from the States. Great fun with great company. In the morning Tony’s day will be taken up with hosting birders from around the UK keen to see a new bird for their Scottish and  British life lists. I hope it’s still here.

A great day rebuilding an ancient golden eagle eyrie

A few years ago, one of the young golden eagles that I was satellite tracking spent two nights at a wooded crag in the Scottish Highlands. I knew this crag as an ancient nest site for golden eagles, which featured on my OS maps of the 1970s but which I had never known occupied. Nor had any of the locals and I think it must have been a record from the middle of the last century or earlier.

I promised the people that own this land that I would come some day to explore the possibility of rebuilding the nest, because golden eagles prefer to use big old nests than start their own. Today was that day, the last day of our beautiful Indian summer which has given us day after day of the most beautiful weather, some little compensation for the miserable weather of this past summer. They had organised an expert rock climber to come with us and at mid-morning the small team from the estate were busy collecting eight bundles of dead sticks in the woods – once I had explained the sort of sticks that eagles prefer to use to build nests. An all-terrain argocat took our equipment and the sticks reasonably close to the crags.

With the estate keeper I walked to the hillside opposite the line of crags and viewed it with binoculars. I could see two places which looked possible as ancient nest sites, so we carried all our gear along the valley to the bottom of the crags. The climber found secure places to anchor the ropes above the cliff, and then clicked me on the double ropes so I could abseil down to the best ledge. He followed closely behind.

When we got there I was amazed to find the remains of an ancient eagles nest, tucked in under a superb overhanging rock. Most of the nest had been overtaken by moss and heather over the decades, and a small conifer obscured the front of the ledge, making it no longer suitable for eagles.

Ancient remains of nest

Ancient remains of nest

It was really encouraging to find this evidence and it meant that our task had a real opportunity of being successful. When we arrived at the cliffs some of the team saw an eagle soaring about half a mile to the north, another good omen for our day’s work.

After cutting down the tree on the edge of the ledge, and clearing away most of the moss and debris, it was time to start hauling bundles of sticks up to the nest ledge. The team below clipped each bundle onto the end of our rope, the climber pulled it up and then I arranged the sticks into a big nest. As we built it up, we filled the centre with moss and then with several sacks of dried peat and earth to make a big solid eyrie – well over a metre in diameter and 35 cms high. Finally I decorated the centre of the eyrie with a few sprays of wood rush. This is a favourite plant for eagles to line their nests.

The rebuilt eagle eyrie

The rebuilt eagle eyrie

The whole purpose was to create a big obvious nest on an ideal crag in a quiet undisturbed part of a Highland estate, where the owners would be proud to have a pair of breeding eagles. This big nest should be easily seen by passing eagles, looking for a home range, and they would think it had been built by a pair of eagles and was now ready to be taken over.  It’s going to be an exciting time to see if sub-adult eagles find the nest, decide that they like it and finally decide that they would like to breed there. If they do then our day’s efforts will have been worth it and will contribute to golden eagle conservation in the Scottish Highlands. On top of that, it was just great fun to be out doing something so practical with a group of friends on a fine October day.

 

A good day with red squirrels

Yesterday, I had a day’s fieldwork with red squirrels rather than ospreys. It was a magic day – the last day of August. At midday, I called in on old friends at Amat in Sutherland to see how the squirrels in their woodlands had done. We sat at the kitchen table looking out at their bird table – soon there was one squirrel, then another and in the end a total of seven beautiful red squirrels, all of them, but one, had been born in 2015. This was where we, the Highland Foundation for Wildlife, with The European Nature Trust and the landowners and staff of Alladale, Amat and Croick estates translocated 36 red squirrels, which we had caught earlier in the day in Moray and Strathspey during February and March 2013. When I left the house I saw three more in the gardens and then one ran across the public road as I drove off. Eleven squirrels – no wonder they said to me how much they loved the project and what pleasure so many visitors had gained from our successful project to restore red squirrels to this part of the Highlands, where they had died out nearly 50 years before. Earlier in the day, I had also proved that squirrels were alive and well in the Alladale pinewoods from the amount of eaten pine cones on the forest floor and a report of two really young squirrels seen there recently.

Later in the day, after checking out a satellite tagged golden eagle location, I drove along Loch Broom from Ullapool. It was great to know that those pine woods also have red squirrels again. In the winter of 2008 and 2009, we did first translocation of red squirrels under a licence from SNH. This pioneering project was carried out with the enthusiasm and support of Dundonnell Estate. We moved 43 red squirrels from Moray, where I live, and Strathspey, with the support of private landowners and people who feed squirrels in their gardens. Two squirrels were live trapped in any one place, checked by the vet and then driven the same day to the release site. Each squirrel was transported in a nest box containing hay, nuts and sweet apple, which was fixed in a tree in groups of four. At each site six nut feeders were also erected and these were kept restocked during the first winter. Young were found in the first summer and the population grew rapidly. One enterprising squirrel walked over the mountains to Leckmelm near Ullapool. In March 2009 I released a female in the same garden and that spring they bred and reared young.

The translocation of red squirrels to Dundonnell was so successful that in March 2012 we moved 20 squirrels from Dundonnell to three private estates on Loch Broomside. Again the squirrels responded and it’s wonderful to know that red squirrels have spread throughout all the available woodlands and now occur in some of the gardens in Ullapool. The squirrels were last seen in these parts of Wester Ross in the 1960s and 1970s, and it’s wonderful to think there are probably now between 500 and a thousand squirrels between Dundonnell and Ullapool. At the Sutherland site red squirrels have spread five miles or more down the glen and I received a wonderful eye-witness account of a squirrel boldly swimming across the River Carron to get to conifers on that side of the water.  Given a chance it’s been wonderful to see how well these wonderful wee creatures have responded.

That’s why I have had discussions with SNH over the past year and now have a 5 year licence to carry out further translocations in the ScottishHighlands, north and west of the present range. It’s a great way to create new populations isolated from threats from grey squirrels and their disease risk. This time, Becky Priestley, the new wildlife officer with Trees for Life will be part of the project and the aim is to carry out a series of translocations to suitable locations.

Giving back a mountain to nature.

As a young nature loving child I was lucky to grow up in a countryside surprisingly wild in nature. I could secretly camp in hidden places in the New Forest, unknown to the keepers, and earlier, before I was ten and knew better, I collected birds’ eggs, tamed young jackdaws and kept newts in my aquarium. Very few people went bird-watching, wild camping or long distance hiking – we naturalists had no real impact on nature, but others killed wildlife, sometimes in large numbers, like raptors, or hunted otters. The pesticide era set off a massive chemical impact on wildlife in the 1950s and 60s. The way my mum used DDT on house flies I’m surprised I survived. Then came ever increasing mechanisation of farming with dramatic changes that finally led to the loss of once common things of my childhood – grey partridges and yellowhammers, poppies and corn marigolds. Glorious hedgerows, farm ponds and gnarled old trees, we climbed, disappeared. Our food got cheaper but our enjoyment grew less.

Each new generation of my nature loving friends accept lower experiences and expectations. It’s called baseline creep so that what we have now does not seem so bad if we compare it to the 1990s or the 21st century rather to the 1960s.  But there is one other change that has been massive in the second half of my life and that’s called leisure and recreation.

I’m fortunate to live in Moray, a beautiful county much of which is still very rural and unchanged, but if I drive south over the Dava Moor I’m in the CairngormsNational Park.  Is nature better looked after there, sadly not because of burgeoning recreational activities and increasing numbers of people. How does society look after wildlife when increasing numbers of people use the same land.  The Scottish Access laws gave everyone the right to roam (responsibly) but how does that work. The slogan ‘respect wildlife’ is only meaningful if people not only know what that means but how to behave.

May be it would be better to agree that activities like taking dogs into nature reserves or carrying out disturbing recreation everywhere  is not in the best interests of nature. On the coast in winter most of the wader and wildfowl roosts, even the remote ones, I knew when younger are now regularly disturbed by dog walkers. I think it’s time our Scottish Government and Scottish Natural Heritage completed the thinking on nature conservation in the access legislation. Surely the 10% or so of the countryside specially designated for nature should get a better deal from us. They should be places where nature comes first, and we tread with a very light foot. Giving nature real respect.

The interesting thing is that countryside users often blame developers, farmers, foresters, landowners and the like for damaging wildlife and the countryside, and often rightly so, but rarely think that their activities do any damage.  In essence, it’s not restrictions that will solve the problem but a genuine change in our attitudes, where we truly respect nature and give it room to live and evolve.  A conscious decision that we don’t need to go everywhere.

Last month, on a beautiful evening I looked across the Swiss countryside to the Matterhorn, and my friends told me that Zermatt was celebrating, that very day, the 150th anniversary of Edward Whymper making the first ascent of the mountain.. They also said that as a respect for the mountain it would be unclimbed on the actual date 14th July.  Other countries have sacred places for a variety of reasons. Famous mountains, like Kailash in Himalayas, are held in high esteem and where spiritual reasons preclude human access. It’s OK to look at it and revere it from a distance but not to climb and despoil it.

I think it would be a wonderful gift to nature if Scotland had one mountain which no one would ever climb again. I’m not spiritual but what a way to show our love of nature. I wonder which one it should be?  Any ideas!

 

Osprey reintroduction update

After a very busy field season with ospreys I’ve found time to write an update on the reintroductions. On Tuesday night, I got back from Geneva after a very exciting trip to Switzerland with six young Scottish ospreys to help Nos Oiseaux, the Swiss ornithological NGO, get started with their project to restore the osprey as a breeding bird in their country after an absence of 100 years. Scottish Natural Heritage issued a special licence for me to collect six young from nests in Scotland for their inaugural year, always making certain one healthy young is left in each nest. The young were flown by BA from Aberdeen airport, fed on fresh fish by Tim Mackrill and I at the Heathrow Animal Reception Centre that evening, and were in the hacking cages near Lake Neuchatel on Tuesday. The hacking cages were excellent and it was wonderful to see the young ospreys start feeding themselves on pieces of fresh lake fish soon after reaching their new home. The weather was brilliant – bright blue skies and 37C – instead of the cold and rain of northern Scotland. Next morning, I checked their progress with the Swiss team, led by Dr Wendy Strahm, and all looked good for their new project, so time for me to return home.

hacking cages Swiiss

Hacking cages for young Ospreys in Switzerland

Michel Baud

Michel Baud, Chair of Nos Oiseaux Osprey Project, ready to put osprey in hacking cage

Dr Wendy Stahm and Denis Landenberque (project organisers) watching CCTV of chicks

Dr Wendy Strahm and Denis Landenberque (project organisers) watching CCTV of chicks

Earlier in July, we completed the year-three collection of young ospreys for the Basque country reintroduction. It has not been such a good year for breeding ospreys as the excellent 2014 season. We found that chicks were about 10% or so lower in weight and put this down to the very cold winds making the chicks use energy keeping warm in their eyries instead of putting on weight. At a few nests the removal of one young for translocation would have made it easier for the remaining chick to thrive. On 8th July 13 young ospreys were flown out from Aberdeen to the Basque Country of Spain via Heathrow, in the care of Dr Aitor Galarza of the Urdaibai osprey project. Once again we are very grateful to private landowners and the Forestry Commission Scotland for access to nests, SNH, Cites and Animal Health officers for permissions and permits, our vet Jane Harley, and to our excellent tree climbers, Ian and Fraser, and many other friends and colleagues who helped with this great project. It’s always a big team effort. This spring saw the return of the first translocated chicks, of the 2013 cohort, from Africa to north Spain. P2 returned to the exact area of the Urdaibai nest where he was released and is frequently using one of the man-made nests in the marsh. P1 was observed further west in  a coastal estuary in late April and it might have been this bird or a third yellow-ringed bird which was seen briefly at Urdaibai in July.

Osprey P2 in Urdaibai Estuary - photo Aitor Galarza

Osprey P2 in Urdaibai Estuary – photo Aitor Galarza

 

Osprey P1 on northcoast of Spain 27th April. Photo by FAPAS

Osprey P1 on northcoast of Spain 27th April. Photo by FAPAS

 

2015 chicks feeding inside Urdaibai hacking cages

2015 chicks feeding inside Urdaibai hacking cages

I also received recent news from Andalucia that Blue 18, from Scotland, was successful with her two year old mate and they have one young. Her nest is on top of a kestrel nest box – where the kestrels reared three young!  She is now 6 years old and I wonder where she was in her 3rd, 4th and 5th years – hopefully she was at an unknown nest successfully breeding.

blue 18  17715

Blue 18 with single chick at Odiel, Spain  16th July 2015  Photo Jose Sayago

Finally, Luis Palma of the Portuguese osprey reintroduction project sent me this photo of the pair of ospreys feeding two young on a sea stack, a very dramatic nest site he showed me many years ago on the Alentjo coast, when he first started discussions on restoring ospreys to Portugal. Luis and his team have released translocated young ospreys from Sweden or Finland in recent years at an inland lake. This new pair are unringed and their origin is unknown, but it would not surprise me that the presence of young ospreys in Portugal and breeding ospreys on the Odiel coast may have encouraged this pair to reclaim the ancient nest. Another encouraging sign of the recovery of breeding ospreys in southern Europe.

Breeding ospreys with two young coast of Portugal  Photo Luis Palma

Breeding ospreys with two young coast of Portugal Photo Luis Palma