It has probably not gone unnoticed among the keen eyed of you that 2019 marks a significant landmark in the history of Loch of the Lowes; not only are we celebrating 50 years of managing a very special habitat, but we are also celebrating 50 years of ospreys on the reserve. I’d like to take you on a trip through the years and share some of the noteworthy moments in the history of our much-loved feathered friends.
Osprey Beginnings; 1969-1970
The Loch of the Lowes reserve was purchased in 1969 and designated a SSSI for its underwater plant communities, specifically slender naiad, and wildfowl populations. Within a few weeks the first ospreys turned up at the reserve, although too late to breed that season.
Since their extinction in 1916 due to persecution, this was the 5th known nest since ospreys began recolonizing Scotland in 1954.
The following year the birds (Anthony and Cleopatra as they were known) laid eggs however, their nest was blown down in a storm and the eggs destroyed. The pair built a frustration nest in response.
This was also the year the first observation hide opened to the public.
The Early Years; 1971 – 1984
1971 saw the first successful breeding season at Loch of the Lowes, with 2 chicks being fledged. The following year the Duke of Atholl opened the Visitors Centre and despite human disturbance to the nest the pair managed to fledge 3 chicks.
1973 saw a 3rd nest being built and the following years saw mixed breeding success, including one season when two females bred side-by-side. Needless to say the chicks failed.
By 1978 the reserve saw a new pair dominate the waters and over the next 7 years the birds managed to fledge 11 chicks.
The Lean Years; 1984 – 1990
Another new pair took over the nesting site in 1984, however a combination of poor weather and sustained disturbance saw the nest continually fail, even after a new artificial eyrie was built in 1985, which the birds promptly ignored.
The eyrie was rebuilt by staff in 1987 after sustaining damage in winter storms and then following persistent disturbance, in 1989 it was decided that a further artificial nest would be built under license and closer to the hide to improve security. The base of the nest was constructed on top of a 60ft Scots Pine using a tattie basket and is still site of the current nest 30 years later.
The Reign of Lady; 1991 – 2014
Another change in birds and with it a change in breeding fortune at the reserve with the arrival of the famously enduring female ‘Lady’; a remarkable individual who over the following 24 years laid 71 eggs, fledged 50 chicks and had 4 male partners. Given the average osprey lives 8 years and produces 20 chicks it is a remarkable achievement.
Notable events during those interim years included receiving funding in 1995 from Scottish Natural Heritage to pay for the first surveillance cameras, following two raiding attempts on the nest. Lowes chicks were recorded as breeding in Glenshee, Tayside, Perthshire, Angus and Tayside.
In 2005 Lady laid a clutch of 4 eggs for the first time. She would go on to do this one other time.
2007 saw the reserve install an infrared camera, which along with funding the following year from the SITA Tayside Biodiversity Action Fund to employ dedicated species protection officers enabled 24-7 monitoring. The new HD webcam also went live in 2008, receiving some 1.5 million hits in the first year.
Near death, new males and satellite tags; 2010 – 2013
A new male appeared in 2010 from a local nest near Ballinluig. Very quickly he stepped up to the plate, taking over caring for the chicks during a period when Lady was seriously ill. Many thought she wouldn’t make it, but true to form she bounced back, with the webcam recording over 3 million hits during the tense breeding season.
Despite his heroic efforts a new male (LM12 – our current male) appeared in 2012 (Lady’s 4th partner). Chicks were satellite tagged for the first time however Blue 44 disappeared on migration after France and Spain.
In 2013 female (Blue YZ) was tagged, however her transmitter stopped in Guinea Bisseau. Both body and tag were recovered in 2014.
Tree of the Year and end of an era; 2014
The Scots Pine that has hosted the nest over the years and is still home to our current ospreys wins the Woodland Trust’s Scottish ‘Tree of the Year’.
2014 also sees Lady’s last year of breeding. Sadly, no chicks were hatched, following a pattern of declining fertility. However, it doesn’t undermine the phenomenal contribution she made to the osprey population. It is widely speculated that Lady is the oldest known breeding osprey in the UK and possibly Europe.
The New Guard; 2015 – Current Day
After an incredible 24 years ruling the skies at Loch of the Lowes a new female took up residence at the reserve; LF15, pairing with Lady’s last partner LM12. She got off to a flying start producing 3 chicks, 2 of which were satellite tagged (FR3 and FR4) and were tracked to Gambia, FR4 making the 6812km journey in 17 days!
Unfortunately shortly after arrival FR4’s transmitter has stopped working. FR3 was sighted as recently as 2018 in Gambia and could return to the UK this year to breed for the first time.
To date the current pair have fledged 10 chicks in four breeding seasons. There are currently around 224 breeding pairs of ospreys in Scotland, 32 of which are in Tayside. As a species they are still well below the likes of Golden Eagles, so there is still some way to go in terms of carrying capacity of the population.
We hope that 2019 will see that number increase, with the birds at Lowes continuing to contribute to the recovering population. The 40+ local volunteers, staff and some 16,000 members of the public who visit during osprey season each year wait in anticipation to see how this season will unfold!