Proud Parents (terms and conditions apply)

Since our last blog in mid-May, the successes and failures of another breeding season have been playing out.  Immediately in and around our garden, broods of Siskins, House Sparrows, Great Tits, Greenfinches, Dunnocks and Robins have been all been apparent as you would expect.  

Swallows finally occupied the nesting area in our workshop in May, a month later than the 2016 pair, and although initial signs were good, we returned home from a week in Wester Ross at the start of June to find the male on his own.  A repeat of 2016 seemed to have taken place, with 24 hours of heavy rain having taken its toll though the pair hadn't even laid eggs this year.  As I write this, even the lone male now seems to have moved on or succumbed in some way - a great shame.  House Martins prospected the nest bowl we put up last year, but no one has yet taken up residence.

In other 'bad news', our local Hen Harrier pair have failed to breed this year also and their distinct lack of appearances around the back garden has been disappointing, but obviously linked.  When the harriers first return to their breeding territory, they sustain themselves largely with voles however once any young are hatched, small birds (pipits, etc.) become targets.  It's this switch in food sourcing which brings them into the farmland where we are, abundant as it is with various species ideal for a Hen Harrier chick's digestive system.

Ospreys in the distance: mum (left), with the heads of two chicks just visible in front her, and dad on the right

So, what about the 'good news'?  Our nearest Ospreys - as viewed from the garden - have two chicks and most nests in the area have two or three young; all have survived a second spell of bad weather this past week.  Some of these chicks will probably be inducted into Roy Dennis' fifth and final translocation to northern Spain this summer, as well as the first batch for the recently announced translocation to the south coast of the UK - see Roy's Poole Harbour Osprey Project page

Another pleasing sight of raptor young greeted me early yesterday morning - two juvenile Kestrels.  With the species in decline across the UK, affected by various factors including farming practices and resultant eradication/reduction of food sources, in three years we've seen three successful breeding pairs around home reduce to just one.  We're still lucky that farming (of sheep and cattle) near us still embraces traditional, non-destructive methods of fertilisation and other aspects of land management for the animals, and this encourages an optimum environment for the food chain within the countryside.  So, despite this positive, if 'our' Kestrels can still suffer it really makes you wonder how others fare in a less welcoming landscape.

Out on the moorland, young are readily apparent having had a generally good Spring and with the mild winter seeing good survival rates of food (insects, etc.).  Driving slowly along the tracks, you can hear warning and contact calls between parents and young, taking cue to stop and wait for them to reveal themselves.  This juvenile Golden Plover is a good example:

One bird I always eagerly anticipate that should reveal themselves in the next few weeks are young Cuckoos.  It's only been just over a week since I last saw (and heard) a calling male which is quite late for such, considering some tracked Cuckoos have already been shown to be well on their way back to Africa.

Osprey Patterns

As many of you know, I provide one-to-one tuition in photographing fishing Ospreys, using the lochan operated by friend Gordon Macleod of Aviemore Ospreys.  Bird behaviour is always interesting to observe and, in my seven years of photographing at that particular site, 2017 is certainly proving different in terms of when and how the birds are fishing.  

The distinct lack of winter in the Highlands, with resultant lack of melting snow into the burns and rivers then subsequent long spells without rain, has seen a reduction in water levels which the Ospreys are seemingly turning to their advantage.  In the same way that you and I wouldn't drive past a food shop to proceed many miles to another in order to buy exactly the same items, the birds are picking up fish from water courses and bodies closer to their nest sites.  Proof for me that Ospreys were fishing nearer home came recently when sat at the lochan on a glorious sunny, calm morning - only two birds fished.  A week later - on a greyer, breezier day - five turned up.  The River Spey is a true lifeline to the success of Ospreys in the area, but as one of the country's fastest moving rivers in usual, post-winter conditions means it's not always the easiest to fish from...except in 2017!

Add all of the above to the fact the some nests in Strathspey - most of which have birds come to the lochan - have either failed or remained empty.  At least two nests have different partners which means they will found their own favourite fishing spots; one old faithful to the lochan was the previous Loch Insh nest male (once colour ringed Black 6T, but in later years after the glue failed only identified by his metal BTO ring - luckily they fish that close to read the tiny number in photographs!), but he's been replaced with an unringed male this year.

Rainbow trout flying lessons - available May-August each year!

One other no show, not a surprise but sad nonetheless, was the 25 year old female ringed Green J.  Roy Dennis and I found her nesting with a three year old male last year (Blue CL6), and they had young, a great turn events after a lack of breeding with her previous mate for their last two years together.  Her 'low mileage' (as she over wintered in Spain, rather than west Africa) probably helped her longevity, but she was a venerable Osprey and a proper written tribute to her will hopefully see the light of day soon.

Happy birding as always


A9Birds is a birdwatching and wildlife photography company based in Moray, covering the local area including Strathspey, the Moray Firth and Inverness-shire.  Please see our website for details of what we can offer you, including fine canvas prints of some of our images which make ideal gifts.  Also, why not keep up to date with our sightings and photos on our Facebook page.  All photos on this page are copyright Mike Crutch/A9Birds.


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