Winter’s final fling?

We have been enjoying unseasonable warmth since the eggs were laid, but the skies are once again grey and foreboding of colder winds. The higher peaks of the Grampians have been smothered with a fresh coat of snow, and the ospreys’ full attention is turned to smooth incubation changeovers and efficient use of energy resources. The male has continued to bring nest material. It is not obvious if the intention is to alter the form of the nest, or just to carry out running repairs. There have been some subtle changes in behaviour. The male has been spending more time incubating, and is often slow to relinquish his post to the female. Fewer fish have been delivered to the nest in the past couple of days, but as the female is spending more time away from the nest she may be feeding elsewhere or fishing for herself. With water levels dropping, the male has started to fish the inlet in full view of the hide, with varying degrees of success!

Both birds have been observed escorting intruders away from the nest over the last few days – these have included crows, geese, buzzards and other ospreys. Staff and volunteers are delighted that the eggs have been incubated throughout these recent episodes, with only one of the pair leaving the nest site. A strange incident unfolded on Tuesday, as an intruder osprey and a buzzard circled above the nest. The male was incubating and alert, while the female was preening and seemingly unaware of any threat. The intruder hovered for a while as if hunting, then chased off the buzzard to the west before turning east and disappearing. Ospreys often appear tolerant of other individuals, however the story was very different on Wednesday morning as a very large female approached from the east and almost landed on the nest. The male mantled and issued alarm calls, warning the intruder off before taking flight in pursuit minutes later. This seemed to work, but the intruder returned an hour later and aerial combat ensued. The skirmish ended satisfactorily. Such clashes can result in injuries so we do not wish to witness too many, however exciting they are to watch.

The female has been delighting lucky visitors by taking a daily bath in the shallows opposite the main hide. Her plumage was not in perfect condition when she arrived at Lowes, which is typical after migration, but it is also possible she may have been carrying a minor infestation. She is certainly doing everything in her power to keep her feathers in good order with many hours of washing and preening. The nest may not be the most pleasant place to spend time in the wet. Ospreys have a particularly pungent preening gland, and combined with feeding remains and damp nest material may produce quite an odour! This may help explain why the male continues to regularly provide fresh moss to line the nest cup.

As I write, a wintry mix of sleet, hail and rain is falling. Ideal weather for ducks. The goldeneye have now been outnumbered by the swelling population of tufted duck. Their constant diving gives rise to a new game of ‘tufted counting’. The tranquility at Lowes means that even their soft chatter can be heard clearly as they near the hide. The great crested grebes continue to fight over territory, while the first brood of mallards has hatched with ten fluffy ducklings. Mallards will often crèche their young, and these ducklings may have several surrogate mothers before they reach maturity. Other new sightings this week include a common sandpiper, redstarts and willow warblers.

Alex,

Species Protection Officer

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Preface

We have been enjoying unseasonable warmth since the eggs were laid, but the skies are once again grey and foreboding of colder winds. The higher peaks of the Grampians have …

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