Osprey Update 25th July

Not much in the way of osprey activity at our Loch of the Lowes nest over the last couple of days- though both birds have been seen around the loch briefly. We suspect they may like most of us- sheltering in the deep shade during the heat of the day during this stunning weather , sitting deep in the canopy of trees around the shore.

There has , however, been a  lot of osprey intruder activity over the loch this week- on Wednesday there were four birds in the air at once, and some seriously loud alarm calling going on from our male bird who is ensuring everyone knows this is still his territory. We suspect that the two intruders may be another local pair who have also been unsuccessful breeding this year, as so are ‘dropping in on the neighbours’ so to speak. It is also possible that they could be chicks fledged from another local nest, out visiting, but this seems less likely as we know from our own young birds, they stay very close to home after their first flights. Interestingly more than one visitor and volunteer has thought they’ve caught a glimpse of a blue leg ring on an intruding bird but so far no one has been able to get a clear enough view to read the numbers – who could it be?

Another couple of  osprey questions have come in to ospreys@swt.org.uk

Q: Could ‘Lady’s’ infertility be related to her illness in 2010?

A: Our female was famously taken ill in 2010, but made a remarkable and unexpected recovery. Whilst it is true that she had a higher chick hatching rate per year before her illness, and a lower one since then, we don’t think her illness is the cause of her infertility, or she would be completely barren. She did raise two more chicks in 2012 and 2013, after her illness, and in 2013 even laid a record four eggs which is a sign of a very healthy bird. Though we can’t be absolutely sure, the most likely explanation for her low fertility is her advanced age.

Q:Is there any discussion about keeping Lady in Scotland given her age and the hazards of migration? Taking her out of the wild? She is a national treasure and deserves to end her life (eventually) in Scotland.

A:  “Lady” is a wild bird and there is no question of us “keeping her” anywhere- she is free to do as she choses. As she has lived her entire very long life in the wild, she would  be extremely unhappy in captivity ( almost all ospreys are) and this is not an ethical or indeed legal option to take forcibly a wild bird into captivity. Although osprey life in the wild is hazardous, I am sure if we stopped her ( or any migratory species for that matter) moving with the seasons as nature intended, this would induce extreme  stress.

Though we all think of our beloved bird as Scottish, perhaps it is better to think of her as “borrowed” from Africa each year- she spends as much time abroad each winter  as she does on the loch and glens of Scotland each summer.

We agree she is a national treasure and a great ambassador for her species and their remarkable recovery story in the UK. The best way we can help her is to support conservation work being done worldwide to protect osprey flyways and bird migration routes to make them safer for all in future.

Ranger Emma00408CF54880_31-03-2014_07-12-15.533

Posted in Diary 2014 |

A Spiky Tale: Hedgehog Rescues at Loch of the Lowes

This month began with a bang, not only did the volunteer assistant rangers and I get our first sighting of a pine marten, but we also came across a wee hedgehog looking rather lost and confused in the road. We observed and watched its behaviour for some time to decide whether or not it was a true orphan and required rescuing. It soon became apparent it was not alone as we were being watch by a very still, but super alert adult hedgehog on the wall above the road. First thoughts were that the juvenile had fallen from the wall and couldn’t find its way back up to its mother, but it is very unusual for hedgehogs to be out during the day as they are nocturnal creatures and spend their days sleeping in a nest. A few steps on and the story unfolded, as a second juvenile was found frantically running up and down . This now began to look more like a case of possible nest disturbance – possibly by a person or dog or accident when nearby farm equipment was being moved.  Juvenile hedgehogs live in family groups in nests and tiny babies will only leave a nest if there is a problem or when they are at weaning age and ready to learn to forage for food at night.  Young hedgehogs will make a very shrill, loud, call if they are in distress and this is exactly what we began to hear.

Hamlet the Hedeghog

Hamlet the Hedeghog

Did you know?  In hedgehog families the Males have no role in rearing the young called ‘urchins’. The female gives birth, after a 35 day pregnancy, to typically 4-5 babies. She will have prepared a nest as a nursery under a hedge or in a pile of leaves, or frequently a shed or outbuilding.

In this case it appeared their nest had been accidentally disturbed on the local farm and sadly 2 other siblings had already met their fate on the road.  So the luckier two juveniles and adult hedgehog were picked up, with the plan to release in a safer location after dark that evening.

 When and how to assist  a hedgehog

 A hedgehog is in real trouble if:

  • The hedgehog is out during the day, and is looking wobbly or disorientated.
  • The hedgehog is asleep away from its nest e.g. lying in the middle of a garden or path during the day.
  • It is a single orphan on its own- after surveillance to check if mum is around.
  •  Once you have established that a hedgehog is in need of aid, pick it up with thick gloves and put it in a cardboard box with newspaper and an old towel. Thick gloves help, as their spines can hurt and they sometimes bite, it also prevents the transfer of human smell.
  •  If the hedgehog is very dull/flat a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel, (or any plastic bottle filled with warm water), can be provided. Ensure the hedgehog has ability to move away from heat if it becomes too warm.
  • Do not try to force the wee hog to eat or drink – this can be traumatic and keep handling to an absolute minimum to prevent stress.
  •  A small bowl of water should be provided and then contact and take the hedgehog to a professional wildlife rehabilitator.
  • Always get expert advice on what to feed your hog- the wrong food can make them very very ill.

At dusk we attempted to release the hedgehog family, the adult female and one juvenile did set of from the box foraging and finding their way, but sadly the smaller of the two juveniles began a high piping distress call and circling frantically. It was therefore decided that he needed to be assisted and after initial first aid from the staff here at Loch of the Lowes he was taken to a professional wildlife rehabilitator.

Rearing of orphaned hedgehogs is not easy and should be undertaken by wildlife trained individuals. If you uncover a nest with urchins (young hedgehogs who have not been weaned and usually have very few spines) you should not disturb it, but covered over again and left. The mother will usually return, if there is no human scent on the babies.

If you are ever unsure about what to do contact your local specialist wildlife rescue centre for advice or the  SSPCA 03000999999  or RSPCA 0300 1234 555 .

The happy postscript to this story is that “Hamlet”, as the smaller hoglet was named, has progressed quickly in care and has now been successfully rereleased here on the reserve to re-join his family. However, another unrelated wee hoglet was also found on our footpath by a member of the public last week and so we had to repeat the whole process- but this wee one is also doing well.

Sarah Close, Volunteer Visitor Centre Assistant


Posted in Diary 2014 |

Osprey Diary 21st July

We are still receiving lots of good osprey questions via email to :  ospreys@swt.org.uk. What’s yours?

Q: I keep seeing movement of small birds on the osprey nest – what are they and why are they there?

A: There have been lots of small visitors to the osprey’s nest- blue tits, great tits, and even a young Great Spotted Woodpecker this morning. These birds are often seen on and around the nest tree but have gotten a bit bolder now no ospreys are in full time residence. They are being attracted by the tiny insects inhabiting the nest lining and structure- these are living off the scraps of old fish, bird feaces and feather dander.

 Q: When will “Lady” leave on migration this year?

A: This is difficult to answer- she is on the loch today sitting on flat top tree this morning so she is still around. Last time she failed to breed in 2011 she stayed around until   7th August which is just a wee bit earlier to leave on autumn migration than usual. What she will do this season is anyone’s guess right now.

Q: As the ospreys haven’t raised any young this year will they return to the nest next year?

A: Yes, if they both survive the winter and migration, they will come back to the same nest and try again. Their loyalty to a successful nest site is very strong and one year of failure won’t be enough to put them off.

 Q: Do ospreys breed every year? How many chicks do they usually produce over a lifetime?

A: Yes ospreys generally breed every year, starting at between 3 and 5 years old and continuing as long as they survive-average life expectancy is estimated to be between 10-15 years in most osprey populations.

On average most pairs have 2 chicks per year with good years of three chicks balancing out poor years of only one or even none. From an ospreys perspective therefore, one year with producing chicks isn’t a huge deal in terms of lifelong productivity but when you have a species trying to recover from local extinction it is a lost opportunity.

All this just goes to highlight how remarkable the achievement of our female osprey is- 50 chicks have survived to fledging from her nest so far!

Photo by Mark Westgarth

Photo by Mark Westgarth

Ranger Emma

Posted in Diary 2014 |

A Fishy Story 17th July

 Here is a great story from locals George and Sheila McLuskey from Perthshire, who have kindly given permission for us to share their great story with you all.

“George and Sheila McLuskey got a surprise when they came home one evening recently. George got out of the car and, looking up, saw the gutter was smashed.

The broken gutter. as you can from the picture, even had fresh blood where something had hit the roof.

The damaged gutter

Sheila also got out, looked down and saw a large trout lying on the mat at the back door. George is a keen fisherman but they were puzzled to work out how the fish had arrived. Was it a flying fish? They are not known in Scotland! Then they spotted claw marks on the body. Had a cat got it? No cat could have hauled that fish around, certainly not up to the roof!

The only thing it could have been was an osprey, probably from nearby Loch of the Lowes, where they breed. Carting its fish supper back to feed its family, the bird must have found it too heavy so had dropped it on their house as it flew overhead. Just as well no one came out of the door at the time!”

fish on mat

It is not unusual for ospreys to accidentally drop their catches on route, and the usually don’t pick them up again as they dislike being grounded where they are vulnerable.  I also have had farmers ask my why they keep finding fish tails in their fields far from rivers- these had been dropped by the birds as they are inedible and they don’t want them on the nest attracting flies.

Ranger Emma

Posted in Diary 2014 |

Wildlife Diary 15th July

What a warm summer it is turning out to be here in Perthshire, with properly sunny days suiting us and the wildlife alike! That is of course, except for Saturday, the one day we needed sunshine as we hosted a free workshop and guided walk by the British Dragonfly Society’s Scottish officer Danielle, to learn to identify damselflies and dragonflies! Despite the drizzle we saw dozens and dozens of Common Blue Damselflies and learnt a lot more about where to look for them and how to get involved in their conservation- we have lots of information here if you are interested, just ask us next time you are in the VC!

A Speckled wood butterfly

On a similar note, we’ve had an exciting siting of a rare butterfly here this week- a Speckled wood. This butterfly is expanding its range in Scotland as the climate warms and is turning up in new places each year. Butterfly Conservation are looking for reports and sightings- ask us for a submission postcard or check out their website.

Elsewhere in the reserve we have been surveying for Beaver activity and vegetation impact – the resident family on the loch consisting of two adults and their two kits from last year, have been showing a remarkable preference for Rowan saplings recently around the loch. Interestingly initial results how that more than 80% of the small trees felled by the Beavers over the last 18months have already coppiced (i.e. regrown from the stumps).

Lastly, on the lochs we sadly we did have to catch a mute swan today on Craiglush with a badly broken wing ( thanks to the visitors at Craiglush House for reporting this to us) which was unfortunately not fixable and was euthanized to relieve its suffering by the SSPCA inspector who kindly came to assist. The swan seems to have had a bad collision with something- possibly during a fight or with a solid object. Sadly this leaves its mate alone on the loch without a spouse as swans are monogamous - hopefully next spring it might find a new young mate.

Ranger Emma

Posted in Diary 2014 |

Whats Happening with our Ospreys? 11th July

Both our resident ospreys are still in the area although their visits to the nest are getting less frequent.   The male delivered a fish this morning to his mate just before 9am and both birds showed normal behaviour towards each other. Both have been spending time on perches around the Loch and in particular flat topped tree, where the male was seen delivering a stick yesterday- is he beginning to build a frustration eerie? If you visit us you will need some patience to see our birds but they are still about.

Q: The ospreys seem to have been mating again – why?

A: Yes there have been quite a few mating attempts between our pair- mostly the female has given him the brush off and we don’t think any have been successful. In all the footage we have recorded, there have been no attempts where the female’s tail height and the male’s position have been right for successful fertilization. This is obviously the strong hormonal urge in the male to procreate, but the mating won’t be successful if females reproductive cycle isn’t right in terms of timing.

 Q: Will they still lay more eggs this year?

A: No, it is highly unlikely the female could lay a second clutch at this very late stage. Ospreys do sometimes second clutch if their eggs are lost or destroyed very early in the season but not this late in the year. The birds know that if they laid now, the chicks would not have time to mature enough before the autumn migration window to survive.

Q: Is Lady moulting- she seems darker? Is it still the same female on the nest?

 A: Yes, it’s still our old lady, but yes she has had a makeover! She has almost completed her annual moulting and has new darker feathers growing in all over. She seems very dark by comparison to April when her old tatty feathers were very faded but these have now been replaced.

Q: Will you be doing any satellite tracking of other chicks this year?

A: In the absence of Loch of the Lowes osprey chicks this year we had looked into the possibility of satellite tagged another young osprey from an SWT reserve in Angus. This is the same place Blue YD came from- this year the parents are doing well and have two chicks. However, the timings on this nest and the availability of the expert team to do the tagging unfortunately haven’t worked out. There is only a very small window of opportunity when the chicks are around 42 days old when they are the right size and temperament to ring and tag. If they are too old there is a chance they will try to fledge as the climber approaches instead of ‘playing dead’ and this introduces a risk of injury etc. We feel the bird’s welfare must always be paramount so have decided to not attempt this nest this year.

This sadly means a fallow winter season this year for our exciting satellite tagging project, but we have high hopes that the transmitter will be used here next year and continue to reveal more migration secrets of ospreys.

Ranger Emma

Posted in Diary 2014 |