Unfortunately, Nora has not returned this year. We now need to resign ourselves to the fact that she has probably come to grief sometime after leaving the Dyfi last August and has died.
Nora is not satellite tagged so we may never know the reason for her downfall. She may have died on her migration back to Africa last year, on her way back this March, or somewhere in-between. We just don't know. In the recent blog "I'll be Back", I tried to give some estimation of the chances, in terms of percentages, of particular ospreys returning safely. Nora, as an adult breeding osprey, would have an approximate success rate of returning of around 90%. It looks as if lady-luck has been against her and that she has been one of the 10% of adult ospreys that fail to return to the UK each year.
Yes, there is some remote chance that she has been blown so far off course that she can't make it back to the Dyfi. Or that she has returned and bred with another male elsewhere. What we know about osprey ecology and migration however, tells us that these are remote possibilities at best. And to answer many questions we've received, the chances of her staying in Africa and taking a 'year-off' in 2013, are as close to zero as you can get. An osprey's urge to return and breed is far too strong for that.
A red kite looks on as Nora starts her nest duties in 2011
Nora first arrived on the Dyfi on April 9th, 2011. A day that many of us will never forget. She was the first osprey to lay eggs in the Dyfi valley in over 400 years and successfully raised three chicks in her first year of breeding as a three year old. That's some going.
Einion, Leri and Dulas were followed in 2012 by Ceulan - the only survivor of three in a year that will be remembered for the worst summer storms in over 100 years. It's a miracle that Ceulan survived and made it to Africa.
Nora's third son to survive and make it all the way to Africa, Ceulan
We all have fond memories of Nora. She was tenacious and strong-willed. She battled through weather that none of us have experienced before in any lifetime. Her incredible maternal instinct and strength of determination to nurture, shield and protect her young family was extraordinary and very humbling to watch. She also hated flounders!
Nora shields young Ceulan from the rain in 2012
As a first time breeder in 2011, just three years old, here is Nora on June 5th, watching her first ever chick hatch out of his egg. The young osprey is Einion. The video (no HD cameras back in 2011!) is remarkable enough just for that, but what makes this piece of footage truly unprecedented is what happened later that day after Einion had scrambled his way out of his egg.
Having never fed a chick before, Nora was too timid and reserved, never getting close enough to Einion to feed him. Her inexperience was clear and plain to see. She tries, but doesn't get close enough to Einion and if she doesn't master the art of feeding soon, he could well starve to death. First time breeders rarely raise three chicks. Nora then takes her piece of fish to the very edge of the nest and starts feeding an imaginary chick. Call it displacement behaviour, re-directed behaviour, practising feeding, it is what it is. One of the most amazing pieces of behaviour you will ever see.
It worked, just before sunset Nora was feeding Einion his first ever meal.
Taken from the Christmas 2011 compilation video, The Magic Day. (Watch at 720P for best results)
Having seen several females come and go this year, Monty has finally settled with another bird who, like Nora, has a leg ring. The ring is blue with a two digit number - 12. She has now been on the Dyfi for nine days and was here for much of last summer when she was two years old, prospecting for a nest site and mate. Visitors to the Dyfi Osprey Project and to the Facebook page overwhelmingly voted to give her a name - Glesni. It means blue or 'of being blue'. It also means fresh and new.
Despite being spurned by Monty initially, by May 3rd Monty had accepted Glesni as his new partner. Almost a week on and they are getting on famously. The pair bonding seems to be strengthening despite there being other ospreys around most days, and Monty has been supplying his new partner with plenty of fish. Nevertheless, Glesni has been seen fishing, twice to date, for herself. Interestingly, Nora fished for herself eight days after arriving on the Dyfi in 2011. Maybe this behaviour is not as uncommon as we first thought?
We have to remember that Glesni, as was Nora in 2011, is a first time breeder. At three years old almost, again like Nora was in 2011, Glesni has caught her own fish every day of her life so far as an adult - that's over 1,000 days running, so being provided for by another osprey will seem alien to her to start with. The exact opposite was true for Monty when he had to share fish for the first time in 2011.
Several mating attempts per day all help strengthen the bond between both ospreys
If Glesni and Monty continue to bond and mate, will they have eggs? There is an invisible threshold that nature has decided upon, this is true for most bird species. For UK ospreys there is no definitive last date set in concrete, but mid May is a general estimation for cut-off. Fingers crossed.
Glesni brings seaweed back to the nest, a common occurrence for estuarine breeding ospreys
If you've been following for a while, you will have heard me mention Rutland Water quite often. And rightly so.
Twenty years ago, Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust took some big decisions. Some controversial and radical decisions that rocked many people's boat at the time. Knowing that ospreys used to be commonplace throughout England centuries ago before they were persecuted to extinction in the UK, and realising that a few ospreys were stopping over at Rutland Water on their migration to and from Scotland where the population was increasing, they decided on a translocation project.
In partnership with Roy Dennis, over 70 osprey chicks, at around five weeks old, were translocated from Scottish nests to Rutland from the mid 1990's onwards. The objective was simple enough - to have ospreys migrate to Africa and then come back to Rutland and other areas initially to breed as adults, re-establishing this once oppressed species. It worked. The guys at Rutland now have a small population of ospreys breeding with more and more birds turning up each year.
But it's not just at Rutland that the positive effects of those early translocations have been felt. The first male osprey to breed successfully in Wales during modern times was at a nest near Welshpool in 2004. This was a Rutland translocated bird, he had a leg ring White 07(97) - the number in brackets always denotes year born. 07(97) fathered one chick that year, a male. He wasn't ringed, this bird could well be Monty.
The Glaslyn male is also a Rutland translocated osprey 11(98). He's still breeding in north Wales and has, to date, successfully fathered 21 chicks to fledging and beyond. Twentyone!
Of these 21, five have been positively identified as having returned to the UK as adults, at least three of which are currently breeding. Black 80(06) in Scotland and White YA(07) and Yellow 37(05), both of which are the two males at the two Kielder Water nests in Northumberland. And these are just the ones we know about - how many more are there?
Black 80 is now in his fifth year of breeding at his nest in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland
There are other birds too. Rutland ospreys have been sighted on the south coast of England and elsewhere in Wales. 00(09) was sighted in 2012 and another blue ringed bird is currently in north Wales.
And then of course there's us here at the Dyfi. 03(08), Nora, and now 12(10), Glesni, are both direct offspring from two different nests at Rutland. Both of their fathers are first generation translocated birds. They're even related, Glesni's mother, 5N(04) - still alive at Rutland, is Nora's sister. So that makes Glesni, Nora's niece!
Tim Mackrill at Rutland has just written a book about the Rutland ospreys chronicling the story all the way back to the early days. (That's Nora's brother on the front cover flying in!)
Here is that review of the book I said I would write a while ago: Buy it!
If you have even the slightest interest in ospreys this is a must read book. Full of stunning images, many by John Wright who also drew the illustrations, it's one of those 'can't put down' books that is just full of fascinating stories. Copies are available at both Rutland Water and Dyfi Osprey Project.
As the Rutland legacy continues to make huge strides in making good the mistakes of the past, osprey conservation in the UK, and now also in other countries of Europe, is looking good as a result. Difficult decisions, highs and lows, lives and careers, we are seeing positive outcomes from many sacrifices by many people. To say "thank you" seems churlish, let's just raise the metaphorical hat to them and say well done. Better still - buy the book.
And finally, a photograph. At first glance, a simple image of two ospreys on the Dyfi in 2012. However, the poignancy of this photograph cannot be overstated. It's one of the last pictures of Nora, 03(08), taken on 29th July last year, just a week before she started her migration, a migration that now looks to have been her last. She's chasing off another female, a large two year old looking for a nest site and a mate for the following year. Like Nora, the intruding osprey also had a ring on her right leg.
The ring was blue with a two digit number - 12.
To say that this last seven days has been a crazy week would certainly be an understatement. This is the 10th year that ospreys have been breeding in Wales, but the events of last week are certainly the most frenetic and exciting that I have ever seen.
Let's try and break things down into days and try to understand and make sense of what has gone on:
Sunday, April 28th
Nora has not returned and Monty has pair bonded, to various degrees, with two females to date. Both of them are unringed and to avoid confusion we've called them Elin and Seren. On Sunday morning however, Monty had a third female on his nest, but this time a ringed bird - Blue FS.
This osprey was ringed as a chick near Dores, Loch Ness, Scotland on 14th July, 2010, so she is three years old. Blue FS had been with Monty since the day before but despite bringing her 10 fish in less than 24 fours, she showed no interest whatsoever in mating with him. All of his advances were rejected.
Monty, under the claw, big time. This image is called "The Stare"
Monday, April 29th
The day starts as usual, incessant food calling by Blue FS followed by Monty duly obliging.
How about a flounder this time dear?
Despite all the fish deliveries however, Blue FS was still not not interested in any kind of mating behaviour. As a three year old, was she simply inexperienced and not acquainted yet in the rules and regulations of osprey pair bonding? Maybe as a two year old last year she had already bonded with a Scottish male (unlikely to have bred however, although there are records of females breeding at two) and was on her way back up to her nest, Monty being a convenient pit stop? We may never know.
Blue FS did have a bit of a foot fetish though (videos best watched in HD)
At 10:00 the silence was broken by the arrival of another female - again this one was ringed, White UR, and again, this bird was a three year old.
White UR - one of two chicks ringed at a nest in the Ythan valley in Aberdeenshire on 10 July 2010
Shortly after White UR's appearance however, all hell broke loose. Seren, the female that Monty had bonded with most this year so far, was back. And it didn't take long for her to displace Blue FS off the nest, and send White UR packing also, even before she got a look in.
Here's the remarkable video of Blue FS enjoying her last Monty meal, before being ousted by Seren
As soon as Seren had fought Blue FS off the nest, it felt like Groundhog Day all over again. Two years ago on April 14th 2011, Nora had kept disappearing for long periods and only properly took 'ownership' of the nest for the first time, when another female (Scottish White DA) later on that day showed an interest in Monty.
Monty immediately brought Seren a fish, had she come back for good this time?
Tuesday, April 30th
Serenity, and Seren, had returned to the Dyfi valley, peace and quiet once more. Surely Seren would now stay with Monty after being around for over a week, off and on? She had even started to rearrange the nesting material and was allowing Monty to mate with her.
Had Seren had a good look around and finally picked her nest and mate for the season?
Just as we were putting the headache tablets away and starting to breath normally again, we get another visitor, only we know this one.
Blue 12 was back.
A HUGE osprey and an old friend - Blue 12 returns to the Dyfi
Blue 12 is a Rutland female born in 2010 - so again a three year old! She was also around last year, being spotted on the Dyfi several times and also at her natal Rutland Water. Blue 12 is in fact related to Nora. She is Nora's niece, their mothers being sisters. We had thought all winter that Blue 12 may return, she was often seen on the Dyfi nest last August, once Nora had returned to Africa on the 7th. Here is a 2012 blog about Blue 12.
Interestingly, Blue 12 had been spotted first this year by the Rutland guys actually at Rutland on April 27th, three days before being sighted on the Dyfi.
Ceulan receives a visit from his big cousin Blue 12 last August
Then something curious happened. All three birds; Monty, Seren and Blue 12 took to the air.. and stayed there. They soared high over Cors Dyfi reserve and came really low over us at the visitor centre on numerous occasions - the visitors that day got some unbelievable views and so did we.
As we were busy looking up however, we had a power cut and all four cameras went dead. We tripped the switch like we usually do, nothing. It quickly transpired that something had gone seriously belly up and we were looking at the prospect, if the problem was nest side and something had gone bang there, of no cameras for the rest of the season.
Wednesday, May 1st
Our friend and BBC cameraman Jesse Wilkinson had been filming the Dyfi ospreys for Springwatch when we experienced the power cut. He confirmed that the ospreys had continued flying overhead well in to the evening and for at least seven hours until he lost sight of them as it got dark.
In the morning, as we were trying to sort the cameras out, we were getting sporadic reports of two ospreys in the air - it was Monty chasing Blue 12 for all he was worth. He was defending his (and now Seren's) nest from the intruder, despite knowing the newly arrived female from the previous year. Blue 12 was being extremely persistent, she clearly wanted Monty and his nest for herself after doing her homework the previous year. The fact that her auntie, Nora, had not returned must have been an added bonus and must surely have spurred her on even more to try and lay claim to Monty's nest.
Blue 12 - Monty gives chase all day (notice white pigmentation in Blue 12's right wing primary feather, P6, and some tail feathers)
As we were closing up for the day at around 18:30, a male osprey was seen soaring high over the reserve. He wasn't joining in with Monty and Blue 12's hostilities, just keeping his distance. On closer view of this bird on a computer screen, he looks remarkably like Dai Dot, a male that we know calls the Dyfi home and has been spotted several times in 2011 and 2012. This bird's plumage and chest pattern is consistent with Dai Dot and you can just about see white feathering just above the beak, characteristic of Dai Dot's unusual head markings.
Is that you Dai?
Thursday, May 2nd
We finally get our cameras back thanks to volunteer electrician Al Davies and Network Rail. Thanks a million guys. Thankfully, all the surge protection devices we had installed at the nest worked and the only bits that got fried were at the visitor centre end.
No sign of Seren today, but Monty continued to chase Blue 12 away at every opportunity.
Blue 12 lands on the camera post, but not for long..
Monty now had some serious decisions to make. His new mate of a few days, Seren, is nowhere to be seen (by humans anyway) and has shown little appetite in defending the nest as her own. Understandable you may think, as she has probably no idea who Blue 12 is, and that she may be a mate from previous years with a strong urge to defend and fight. Maybe that seven hour aerial stand-off on Tuesday was all about both females trying to weigh each other up and deciding how much to commit, or not?
Friday, May 3rd
It's decision time for Monty and at 10:45 he makes that all important decision. He knows Blue 12 from 2012, he has seen her persistence and commitment to him and his nest site for the last three days. He's seen Seren's seemingly anaemic position on matters. It's turned out to be a no-brainer.
For the first time, Monty accepts Blue 12 and presents her with a fish on his nest. He places the fish on her back, thinks about mating and then disembarks again. With the fish!
Saturday & Sunday, May 4th & 5th
We are all amazed how well Blue 12 has settled in. She's hardly been away from the nest, has allowed Monty to mate with her right from the off, she's even been collecting nest material and scraping out an egg cup. All in just over two days since Monty's change of heart.
Seren nor any of the other females have been seen since Thursday. Seren will not have Monty's eggs inside her, it's not as simple as that. No fertilisation takes place for at least a week after good, strong pair bonding. For new pairs, quite a bit longer still. All the matings, 'successful' or not, are all part of the strengthening (or otherwise) of the bonding between male and female for the first several days. For new pairs, actual fertilisation will not occur for the best part of two weeks.
Given that Nora has not returned, was the pairing up of Monty and Blue 12 kind of inevitable all along? She had shown her cards last year so the crystal ball gazing did not need to be that deep perhaps. It's not too late to breed for 2013 but it is getting close, very close. Blue 12 may actually have timed her arrival to perfection, missing all the action of the initial three year olds and muzzling in there just in time before Monty and Seren really hit it off.
It's been a week like no other, but it does looks good. It's early days, just two days in fact. Time, as ever, will tell.
Friends at last
It's amazing to think that this time last year, we had no live streaming. Since ospreys started to breed again in Wales in 2004, no live streaming of video from an osprey nest had occurred, and there's a very good reason for this. It is very, very difficult to do.
Ospreys don't nest in city centres (not in the UK anyway) like peregrines or in man-made boxes like owls and kestrels. By their very nature, ospreys tend to nest in remote places, often the more remote and nearer water the better. To put a camera and an electricity supply on a remote nest in the middle of nowhere with a main railway track in the way in extreme weather, and then stream that video at 24 frames per second to anyone with an internet connection, anywhere in the world, is a technological nightmare.
Who remembers this image from last year?
Network Rail kindly donated half a mile of super fibre-optic armoured cable to Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust last March, 2012. The search was on to find 100 volunteers for the day to pull two tonnes of this cable through Cors Dyfi, a wet peat bogland, under the railway track (Network Rail did that!) and then over to the nest.
On St. Davids Day last year, 108 volunteers from all corners of the UK kindly donated their time and helped us pull the cable from the visitor centre on the reserve all the way to the nest. We called the event "The Big Pull" and it made national headlines.
The race was then on to fit High Definition cameras on various perches in time for Monty and Nora's arrival. We managed to do this with just a couple of days spare - Nora was back extremely early, March 24th.
We opened the Dyfi Osprey Project three days later by which time we had configured the four HD cameras to NAS drives for recording and to live screens both in the visitor centre and the hide. The cable worked a treat.
Last few minutes before opening in 2012, Alwyn gives the TVs a good wipe while Nora looks on..
Now the difficult part. To stream video from an osprey nest you need a camera, electricity and a whole host of other technical bits and bobs. You also need a BT telephone line - this is where the problems start.
Again, by the very nature of osprey ecology, osprey nests tend not to have BT phone lines anywhere near them. Not only that, to stream video in High Definition you need super fast speeds, the kind of speeds we have recently seen being introduced in big cities, London, Manchester, Edinburgh, Cardiff and the like. Not on our Derwenlas cabinet in rural mid Wales that services less than 100 customers!
Our electricity box underneath the osprey nest with all the networking and streaming gubbins
There is a work-around however, albeit expensive. Bonded DSL.
In simple terms, this means getting numerous BT lines and bonding these together so that the broadband speed of each is added together to make one big faster line. We could only get three BT lines however as the exchange in Derwenlas is already running at close to maximum. Once the three lines are bonded together, they are modulated so that we sacrifice a little download speed and gain upload speed. It's upload speed we need to send video out, and lots of it.
For the techies, with three BT lines bonded and modulated, we are achieving just over 2Mb/s. Still nowhere near enough to spurt out HD video. We finally got the Live Streaming going, the first in Wales, just as the chicks were hatching in June last year.
This year we wanted to continue improving the Live Streaming. We have installed another camera and, for the first time, two professional quality microphones in the nest - right in the twigs underneath Monty's feet. Adding sound brings a new dimension to the experience of watching Monty go about his daily life, it also brings a whole new set of problems.
The audio streaming not only gives us a headache of more data to upload, it needs very careful modulating and configuring so that when one of Monty's girlfriends squeals at him for more fish, you hear it the nanosecond it happens. Not three seconds after.
Alwyn with one of the Sennheiser mics just before installation in last month
In 2013 we wanted to introduce three new things to Live Streaming. The camera, the mics and HTML 5.
HTML 5 is a very modern way of world wide web communications that spans all devices that can access the internet. We wanted everybody with a PC, a Mac, a phone, a tablet, an iPad, a notebook, a laptop and so on, to be able to watch the Dyfi ospreys. Introducing audio and HTML 5 in a rural area without spending silly money is highly challenging.
We couldn't make all these changes and run them in parallel with the old system either. Even though we tested the new infrastructure and systems to the hilt for several weeks and ironed out several issues, it's only when we went live that you get a real measure of how successful the transition over to audio and HTML 5 has been.
That changeover happened just over a week ago. During that week we've received over 1,000 emails, questions and phone enquiries regarding various issues - we now think we have sorted most of the problems out! The following is a brief summary of how to get the best experience on your particular device. This will be a fluid blog with many updates, but as of April 28th, here are a few notes of guidance/troubleshooting:
In very basic terms - the more modern your equipment, the better the Live Streaming is going to be. General rule of thumb - please try and update the latest software you are running to the current version. Because of HTML 5's multi platform compatibility, all users will now just see one Play button in the middle of the video window. Press this to play.
Live Streaming now works on PCs - it shouldn't matter what version of Windows you have. Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 8 are fine. It does matter however, which browser you are using:
Internet Explorer - Live Streaming will not work with Internet Explorer 8 or older. It will work with IE 9 or the most current, IE10.
Chrome - Live Streaming works well with the latest version
Firefox - Live Streaming works well with the latest version
Opera - Live Streaming works well with the latest version
Safari - Live Streaming works well with the latest version
Macs and iMacs
Live Streaming works well with the latest versions of all browsers including Safari (although full-screen does not work with some platforms)
iPads, iPods, iPhones
Issues have now been solved - Live Streaming works well with these devices, best results using Safari.
Android tablets and phones
Most issues relating to these platforms have been resolved. However we are aware of some people who are having difficulties still - we are still looking into this.
VERY IMPORTANT - If you are experiencing problems, please try shutting down your browser, or even your device/computer, and starting again to see if you can get the Live Streaming to work. If you have tried all the above and are still having problems, please let us know in the comments section below. We need to know your device, operating system and versions of browsers etc. We don't need to know where you are in the world though! Check back here over the next few days for updates as we go through your comments. Also, as people leave their comments, have a look if others have a workaround to a similar issue as yours.
Again, many thanks for your patience over the last week or so. We want to give you a phenomenal experience of the Dyfi ospreys whether you are on a train, in the car, in your caravan, in the pub, at work (ahem) or just sat at home. Doing all of these things is not easy. We have come a long way in less than 12 months and we will continue to try and improve month on month, year on year. I watched the live straming at dawn for two hours this morning and it was perfect with no flickering. In fact, the only thing that was flickering was Monty's nerves as his latest girlfriend was calling at him incessantly for more food.
As more people log on, currently more than 10,000 each day, the picture can stutter sometimes - it's all to do with bandwidth again and the lack of it in rural Wales. We will continue to work with BT however and upgrade our hardware to get this issue resolved.
And finally. Just when you think you have thought of absolutely everything, from placing the cameras so they don't point towards the sun and are at the exact angle relative to the nest for an unbelievable view, up comes an osprey and a bit of wind and places a nest twig at right angles, spoiling the view. What do they say, never work with children and animals!
Beautiful light - Monty and girlfriend No 2, Seren
Our aim at Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust is to learn more about these wonderful birds. We want to make the experience of observing them the best we possibly can which will help us do just that. The more we learn, the more we will understand about ospreys so that we can conserve and protect them in the future. They've had enough problems in the UK over the last 500 years. It's payback time.
Thank you to the 223 people that have donated so far, we are now almost half way to achieving our £10,000 target to pay for the Live Streaming this year. If you can donate and help us pay for the streaming, please do. It's dead simple and the donate button is on the Live Streaming page itself. Thank you - diolch yn fawr.
Monty arrived back on his nest on April 7th. Nora was not on the Dyfi waiting for him this year as she was in 2012, and has still not returned. However, after waiting 16 days with just Elin and a couple of passage migrants for company, his perseverance was rewarded on Tuesday morning, April 23rd, when this female suddenly landed on his nest.
Is it Elin?
Just like Elin she was un-ringed and had many similar features. However, on close inspection it became clear the this female was in fact a new female to us and most probably Monty as well.
Hello....Who are you?
She was around the same size as Elin but had a much darker plumage, particularly around the chest and head. She also had thinner legs. She had one redeeming feature that stood her out however - her voice! Since her arrival her continual calling and food soliciting has literally filled the valley with an orchestra of osprey sounds. Not little sonatas or a baroque chamber quartet jobbie; full blown symphonies - percussion, choir and all the woodwind. The lot.
Why is she making such a racket? Lots of reasons, but primarily, to start with anyway, food. She is nagging Monty to go and catch fish for her - he caught four mullet and a flounder for her on the first day she was here. The poor lad was worn out.
Have your fourth mullet of the day luv... still hungry?
There is obviously a reason for all this behaviour. She had a concave chest when she landed on Tuesday, she clearly hadn't eaten for some time. But there maybe another reason, one that is much more deep rooted and scientifically important.
If, and it's a big 'if' at the moment, this female is not paired up and on her way back to her previous nest/partner, she may be prospecting for a nest site and a decent male to boot. She may be a three/four/five year old looking for her first opportunity to pair up and start a family. If she is, she needs to make some huge decisions that could decide her breeding success not just for 2013, but for the rest of her life possibly.
Decision time in the Welsh rain
Her overriding aim in life is to pass her genes on to as many offspring as possible. She can't do this alone. She needs a male to contribute his 50% quota of the DNA but importantly, she needs a male that will be a good provider of fish for her and her (hopefully) many offspring.
Male gorillas thump their chest, red deer roar the deepest and loudest, female ospreys screech and incite a fishing competition. It's a bit more complicated than this, but that's it in a nutshell. This female needs to be as sure as she possibly can that Monty is not a wet drip that catches minnows every other Friday if he can be bothered. She saw him catch five fish on Tuesday - in months to come, he will need to do this on a daily basis with three chicks and a wife to support. For her genes to successfully pass to the next generation, she needs a good fisherman and Monty needs to prove that he is one. Simples.
How will we know this female from others in the future other than from behaviour if she's not ringed? Plumage patterns obviously, her general size and appearance but also her eyes. She has, as many ospreys do, very characteristic dots on her yellow irises, particularly in her right eye. It's a bit like iris recognition technology in humans.
Eye, eye, I know who you are
Will Monty's new girlfriend stay? Well, as I write she has been here on the Dyfi for exactly three days. Each minute, each hour, each day longer she stays, the better the chances. She has allowed Monty to mate with her right from the off - a good first positive sign. Monty is now fishing for all he's worth, his chances of breeding this summer and passing his own genes on, may well depend on his piscatorial performance over the weekend. Try saying that after a glass or two of Mullet wine. Sorry, mulled wine.
This new female has been the star of the show this week here on the Dyfi and certainly a star in the eyes of Monty. We have therefore called Monty's new girlfriend 'Seren' which means star in Welsh. Pronunciation is easy: "SER-EN".
A week ago today we finally, after four years, added audio to the nest pictures. Look out for a bit of a techie blog over the weekend. A blog explaining how we got to today, how to get the most out of your computer/device and some basic troubleshooting advice (everything should be working now). There will also be a blog about Nora next week.
Finally, and just to prove how noisy Seren is, have a look at this incredible video of her screaming over a light snack. Poor old Monty!
Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust has around 20 nature reserves in all, Cors Dyfi is just one of these. Please see the Press release below about a stunning woodland called Dolfowryn Woods which is currently under threat unless we can raise £2,000 to save it. Thank you - Diolch yn fawr.
Cyclist pedals 2000 miles to save local woods!
Newtown cyclist Philip Thomas has volunteered to cycle 2000 miles across Europe to raise money to help save his favourite childhood playground.
Dolforwyn woods is a Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve Near Abermule and has, for the last 4 yrs, been leased by the Trust from the previous owners who transformed the previous Forestry Commission woodland into a high quality wildlife habitat being home to rare species of plants, insects, birds and mammals.
The lease is fast running out and to save this vital habitat, the Trust is launching an appeal at the end of April to help purchase the woods which will ensure they are safe for the future benefit of people and wildlife.
Phil has agreed to use his long distance cycling experience to help get the ball (or the wheel!) rolling and raise money for the appeal.
Starting April 1st he will be cycling a distance of 2000 miles over 6 weeks from Thessalonika in Greece to Estonia in Northern Europe, wild camping along the way despite unusually cold temperatures for this time of year! He will carry a GPS spot tracker which will help supporters follow his progress on his blog – philip89thomas.blogspot.co.uk.
Phillip says “I’m hoping it will get warmer very soon and I’m looking forward to the challenge, I hope people will join me to save this lovely woodland for the future.”
For more information on Phil’s epic journey and how to support the Dolforwyn Woods Appeal visit the MWT website at www.montwt.co.uk.
Philip on his European quest to save Dolforwyn Woods
Whist Monty and I were scanning the skies yesterday afternoon, I took a phone call in the Dyfi Osprey Project office. "I'm just about to board a plane at Glasgow Airport" this gentlemen explained, "I just wanted to know whether Nora is back before I get on?"
The irony of his question struck me. He was just about to fly away and was not necessarily excited about that, but about a bird he had never seen flying in. It was a humbling experience for me. I could hear in the background all the noises that you would associate with the commotion that is last minute aircraft boarding - all the tannoys, the dings, the chatter, the service agent telling people to hurry up (in a Glaswegian accent), but this guy wanted to know if Nora had made it home.
Nora, shortly after arriving back in 2012
Nora's STA, her Standard Time of Arrival is well gone. In fact, she arrived exactly four weeks ago (last year) - on March 24th. As I write, it's Sunday, April 21st. So, what has happened to her?
The answer is of course, we don't know. Nora was born in Rutland Water in 2008 and was ringed as a chick with a white 'Darvic' ring on her right leg - White 03. We last saw her on August 7th last year after she had seen her only offspring of 2012, Ceulan, successfully fledge his nest. Nora is not satellite tracked.
It is true to say that most breeding ospreys are now back in the UK and that the signs for Nora don't look good. Has she settled down with another male elsewhere? Almost certainly no. Ospreys are highly mate faithful and there is very little evidence of osprey divorces in populations with low numbers as here in Wales. Has she been blown off course? Possibly. Those very strong easterly winds were at their most severe at the end of March, just when we would have expected Nora to return.
The rather grim option is that she has come to grief sometime after leaving the Dyfi last August. However - we are not giving up hope just yet. See below.
Nora waited nine days for Monty to arrive last year - is 2013 payback time?
On April 5th, a beautiful female osprey landed on the Dyfi nest. On the same day, to the minute almost, one of our volunteers, Sîan, gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Sîan named her new arrival Elin - and so have we.
Elin (the osprey) was also around the following day, April 6th. She even started doing some nestorations to the nest. Monty did not arrive until the next day, April 7th, two weeks ago today. Had he been the victim of bad timing and missed the gorgeous Elin by less than a day?
Elin arrives on April 5th to snow and no ospreys
It certainly looked like it. Fast forward almost two weeks and who should reappear... Elin was back.
She was around for several hours on Friday, April 19th. Monty and Elin were on the nest together, they were flying around together and Monty was displaying to her. They did seem a bit uneasy of each other however, Monty more so as he kept mantling at Elin on the nest. 'Mantling' is a defensive behaviour meaning 'keep away' - 'this is my territory', that kind of thing. We see a lot of mantling in ospreys and other raptors when they are protecting a prey item once caught. However, this is also normal behaviour sometimes for male ospreys when they encounter a new female for the first time.
Monty mantling as Elin looks on..
So what do we know about Elin? She is not ringed or satellite tagged, so very little actually!
She was on Monty's nest on April 5th, 6th and 19th and has possibly been the other osprey sighted in the valley between those dates. All this means that in all probability, she is not a breeding female on her way up to Scotland or Scandinavia. Being un-ringed also tells us that Elin is not a Glaslyn bird or a Rutland bird, so the most likely explanation is that she is an un-ringed Scottish osprey (less than half are ringed). Finally, we could hazzard a guess that she is a three or four year old (back too early to be a two year old really) seeing as she looks as if she does not have a nest of her own. This is pure guesswork though.
Here's Elin making her grande entrance on April 5th:
Here are some answers to many emails and messages over the last couple of weeks:
Why haven't Monty and Elin paired up yet?
Well, these things can take time sometimes! Maybe he doesn't fancy her - she does have quite fat legs (no, really she does). Seriously, we don't know. Each osprey is different and each pair behave differently when they first encounter. Only time will tell on this one.
Is Monty still waiting for Nora?
Yes he is, but he most probably would pair up with another female, especially at this late stage in the migration season.
What would happen if Monty and Elin paired up and Nora returns?
A fight basically. Handbags, feather pulling, the lot. Nora would most probably win and displace Elin, especially if Elin's bond to Monty was not that strong (i.e during the first few days).
What if Monty doesn't find a mate - would he go?
Almost certainly 'no'. Monty has built this nest up from 2008 onwards and for the first three years, he didn't have a female. Not one that would stay with him anyway. He finally paired up with Nora on April 9th 2011 and raised four chicks with her between 2011 and 2012. This is Monty's nest and his 'home' - he is unlikely to leave.
When is it too late to breed for Monty?
It kind of depends. The earlier he finds a female the better of course, especially if Nora comes back. Around the second week in May would be the cut off point generally. If he finds a female and pairs up with her after this point, say mid May onwards, they will probably not lay eggs but will return next year as a breeding pair after bonding throughout the 2013 summer.
So that's where we are, or more accurately, where Monty is. It's not too late to breed yet and we haven't given up hope entirely on Nora coming back either.
The Glaslyn offspring White YA (2007) is breeding in Kielder Water in Northumberland and his partner only came back two days ago. Our colleagues in Rutland reported a 2010 male as returning only yesterday. Over the years, there have been reports of breeding ospreys returning well into April and even into May, so we, nor Monty, have given up hope of Nora returning just yet. Or for that matter, Monty attracting another female.
I hope that the gentleman that rang me up yesterday from Glasgow Airport rings again once he's back off his holiday. You never know, we may have some good news for him from the Dyfi arrivals gate.
Keep Calm and Look Up.
Many thanks for your patience on Friday during some major improvements to the Live Streaming. You can now watch Monty in his search for a female in High Definition and Hi Fidelity. Yes, after four years, we can finally hear what Monty sounds like - and it's not what you may have imagined!
Please help us pay for all these improvements if you possibly can by donating. We are not SKY or the BBC and the final bill for this year looks now to be horrendous. The equivalent of a bottle of wine or a pizza will make a real difference. Over 8,000 people a day watch the Live Streaming, if they all paid £2 we could pay for everything and then some. Donations are really easy to make, right here on the Live Streaming page
Thank you - Diolch.
Isn't it funny how things pan out sometimes? At 7am Sunday morning I wrote a daily update on our Dyfi Osprey Project Facebook page saying that many ospreys had been held up due to the unseasonal weather. Several ospreys had still, on the 7th of April, not returned to some of the most well known UK nests. Loch Garten, Kielder and Dyfi were all missing breeding males. I dared to issue a few words of reassurance saying that we will soon get a 'spurt' of ospreys coming through, now that the weather had started to yield up a little on those bitter temperatures and biting easterlies.
Then, two hours later at 9am, this happened..
Ospreys can make you look particularly stupid sometimes, especially if you go down that sticky road of starting to predict events happening. It doesn't happen often, but how utterly wonderful to get one right for once!
Monty looked in good condition too. He was back for his sixth year (at least) and the first thing we were all glued on were those eyes. Just look at those deep orange eyes.
By the time all the excitement had died down, just a little, and Monty had gone fishing at around 10:30, I was speaking to Alwyn about how well Monty looked and remembering the last time we saw him. It was in fact Alwyn that saw him last on September 5th last year. Ceulan, Monty's only offspring from the deluge that was 2012, had departed early on September 3rd for Senegal. Monty, being the good father that he is, waited for another two days, mullet in talon, just in case his son came back. He didn't, and on the 5th, while I was visiting an old friend I hadn't seen for years in Scotland, Alwyn saw Monty lift off and head south.
As people got wind of Monty's return yesterday, people were flocking through the gates as we opened at 10am. Many were saying the same thing, volunteers too, doesn't Monty look better with age? His feathers, his eyes, his overall condition. Was this simply a case of 'absence makes the heart grow fonder', or does Monty actually look better than ever?
Looking good Monty..
Monty returned from his fishing trip an hour or so later with a good sized mullet. He hung on to his prey for most of the day until finally struggling through the last few bones and tail just before dark. All day, he was peering around the Dyfi valley, looking for one bird in particular.
Nora is now over two weeks behind her arrival date of March 24th last year. Is she caught up in the bad weather that most of western Europe has endured too? Let's hope so. After all, it's not just ospreys that are late this year - everything is. Swallows, martins, warblers, wheatears, they are all stuck in that huge toothpaste squeezer somewhere over France and Spain. Someone must have given it a bit of a squeeze yesterday, not only did Monty arrive back, but within the next few hours, the Glaslyn bred male White YA (more about him in another blog) was back at Kielder Water and Odin was back at Loch Garten. That must have been some squeeze, another one today please would be nice..
Monty tucks in to his first Dyfi mullet of the year (press HD, it's better)
The Dyfi Osprey Project is not just about the arrival of one bird back from Africa. It's also about connecting people, wherever they are in the world, with wildlife and osprey conservation. As I write, almost 2,000 people have 'liked' the Monty Returns post on Facebook from yesterday, hundreds have commented and over 42,000 have read it. Unreal. Thousands more have rung, texted, emailed and Tweeted (including Derek the weather man!)
It's also about seeing and engaging with people that come to the project. The excitement on people's faces yesterday as they walked through the visitor centre door was tangible, you could almost hold it. Young people, old people, and everybody in the middle. I've not had time to decide yet which was the most memorable moment from yesterday. Monty arriving completely unannounced at 09:01, Joanna ringing me from Kielder Water at 13:35 saying, screaming, that White YA had just landed on his nest, or that seven or eight year old child that ran in mid afternoon shouting "MONTY, MONTY" - he was holding his new Monty pin badge in both hands as he kept comparing it with the osprey he could see on the big screen.
I think I know.
Whoever stood on that great toothpaste squeezer in France yesterday, give it another good stamping today please. Nora is not far behind, she's just making Monty wait a bit. After all, Monty kept her waiting nine days last year. Never a good thing to keep a woman waiting. I know.
Keep Calm and Look Up.
You may have noticed that this year we have sound also. Two professional mics at the nest provide that extra dimension to viewing the ospreys. We've had some technical issues to overcome trying to get sound over the Live Streaming, but we're almost there. This week hopefully. Soon, we will also have a real time comments box and a live weather widget on the Live Streaming page - straight from the nest.
If you enjoy watching the Live Streaming, or would just like to help Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust pay for these things, you can donate on the Live Streaming page itself. We've just passed the £2,000 mark in our appeal to get to £10,000. Every little helps.
Thank you - Diolch yn Fawr
"I'll be back" said an Austrian 'actor' in a 1980's sci-fi movie.
Bird migration is a fascinating concept - moving between parts of the world, on an annual basis, based purely on the bird's requirements at any particular time during that year. Many animals migrate of course, from butterflies to bats, whales to walruses, salmon to sloths. Perhaps it is bird migration that grabs the imagination the strongest however - possessing adapted reptilian scales formed into feathers which enables a bird to simply up sticks, and be literally the other side of the world a few days later.
Terns, cuckoos, swallows, geese, in fact, almost all bird species that fly (around 40 bird families are flightless, but even some of these migrate - penguins for example) migrate to some extent. Even that garden favourite that you have been feeding and observing through the kitchen window, the robin, is highly unlikely to be the same bird from one year to the next. My particular favourite migration specialist is the manx shearwater. Wales is home to the greatest congregations on earth of these remarkable birds and one particular bird, ringed in 1957 on Bardsey Island, is estimated to have travelled over 5 million miles throughout its lifetime. That's 20 times to the moon and back! They travel across the Atlantic Ocean each autumn to the waters off Brazil and Argentina, only to come back to the very same nesting burrow the following spring.
Can I have twenty return tickets from Bardsey Island to the moon please..
Every time I see ospreys depart their nests for the last time here in the UK each August and September, I can hear those words "I'll be back" in my head (yes, in a dodgy, hybrid European-American accent too). We all want to see our ospreys return six/seven months later, but how likely is it that they actually will come back? The following is an attempt to put some quantifiable science behind the chances, in terms of percentage, for particular birds to return to the Dyfi over the next few weeks.
Please bear in mind this is not an exact science, just an attempt to put some figures on particular individuals with the information we have to hand.
Monty & Nora
Well, lets start off with the good news. Many studies over many years from many counties for many migrating populations, all say the same thing. It is established, full-adult birds that have the greatest chance of returning. Years worth of life experiences and migrations pay off. In the UK, this return rate is high, less than one in ten adult ospreys fail to make it back the following year. Probability of Return = 90+%
The Class of 2011
These three ospreys were the first offspring of Monty and Nora. If alive, we would expect them to return to the UK two years later, probably around May/June time, 2013.
Sweet little Leri. She began her migration on September 13th, 2011 and had successfully reached Senegal by October 2nd. For the next three weeks she travelled around 400 miles north west towards the Senegalese coast until October 24, when she was just a handful of miles from the coastal town of St Louis. Then the tracker started sending signals back from the same position for almost a week and then stopped sending data back altogether.
Nothing happened for over six months and then, suddenly, the tracker started sending signals back again - from the same place as the previous October. Clearly, the tracker hadn't moved significantly, maybe just enough to expose the solar panel on it to sunshine to kick it back into life. Location data from the same area was sent back until August 2012, then nothing again. The resurrection of the tracker coincided with the rainy season - had flowing water turned the tracker upright, facing the sun? Probably.
If there is any chance that Leri is still alive, the tracker would have had to have fallen off her on October 24th. Despite many attempts, our friend Frederic has been unable to find Leri's tracker (the area is very swampy and overgrown). Has a UK osprey ever returned two years later with it's tracker having fallen off somewhere? Actually, yes. Once.
If Leri has survived post-October 2011, for her to return of course, she would still have had to survive for another two years almost in Africa. Probability of Return ≤ 5%
Leri, boss of the Class of 2011, rests on her favourite perch
Dulas was very close to Leri, having his sister constantly bossing him around. Despite being blown wildly off course as soon as he started his migration on September 12th, 2011 (he spent his first night of independence on an off-shore wind turbine off the coast of Essex!) Dulas had made it safely to Senegal just two weeks later on September 27th. He settled on the Gambia River for the next few months, but decided to head south on January 15th (2012) - one day before Janine got to his Gambian location for the previous three months!
A couple of days later, Dulas settled on a huge estuary system in Guinea-Bissau. Everything was going great, he celebrated his first birthday on the estuary several months later on June 6th, but then six weeks later on July 13th, we lost contact.
Despite making it to over 13 months old, Dulas is in a similar position to Leri. His only chance really is for his tracker to have either fallen off completely, or to have suddenly stopped working. Knowing Dulas made it to his first birthday, plus not knowing the tracker's history post July 13th, gives Dulas a slightly greater chance of having survived past this date. Probability of Return ≤ 10%
Warm and snug in an osprey nest in Wales one night - on a massive wind turbine in the North Sea the next..
Well, I'm going to have to be honest here. Einion was the favourite of most of us at the Dyfi Osprey Project in 2011. What a conservation story - the first osprey to hatch on the Dyfi for over 400 years. Einion was fiercely independent, rarely interacting with his brother or sister. The famous artist Terrence Lambert even produced a painting of the very moment Einion entered the world.
Stunning painting by Terrence Lambert - mounted prints are for sale at the Dyfi Osprey Project (not many left now)
He was so independent, Einion had started his migration before August was out. By September 9th he had reached Casablanca, Morocco, and stayed just to the south of the city for three weeks taking in the sights. By early October, Einion had made it to the Somone Lagoon in Senegal - a favourite place for wintering ospreys. It's so nice in fact, a few weeks later Roy Dennis travelled down to the lagoon - and actually found Einion!
Einion too made it to, and passed, his first birthday; although by this time last year, he had found a new base. A coastal lagoon just to the south of St Louis, Senegal, and just 20 miles away from his sister Leri's last position.
By July 15th last year however, Einion's tracker was sending back some worrying signals. Not about Einion himself, but about the voltage take of the tracker's solar panel. In just one week, the voltage decreased from a healthy 4V (which it should be) to under 3.5V, too weak to send signals back. Here's the important thing though - Einion was moving around perfectly normally during this week of the failing tracker.
I've just looked at Einion's last 10 days of GPS signals again. I'm convinced, as I was last year, that he has survived the failing tracker. In a rush to get three trackers in 2011, we managed to get two brand new units and one re-conditioned unit. This older unit had already been to Africa on a Lake District osprey the year previous in 2010; that bird unfortunately died the following January. It is this reconditioned tracker that Einion had. Coincidence?
Wildlife photographer Andy Rouse took this stunning image on Einion in 2011, just before he left for Africa (Einion that is, not Andy!)
Einion looked a strong bird here on the Dyfi in the summer of 2011. He migrated successfully to good fishing areas in west Africa and made it well past his first birthday. Assuming Einion made it through the tracker incident, we 'only' need him to survive another 10 months and successfully migrate back from Africa to make it back to the UK. Probability of Return = 75%
What about other ospreys? We've seen several ospreys on the Dyfi over the last few years. A Glaslyn 2008 osprey, White YC, made several visits to the Dyfi nest in 2011, we didn't see him last year but he could well be around somewhere. A Rutland 2009 female, Blue 00, was around in 2012 as a three year old non-breeder; she was also spotted several times in Rutland - will we see her this summer?
There are two bird in particular however, that we have high hopes for:
This is a male osprey that visited the Dyfi nest several times in 2012. He's regularly seen on a favourite perch on the estuary around four miles away from the nest and made a right nuisance of himself at the end of last summer landing right beside Ceulan on the nest several days running.
More significantly perhaps, is the fact that Dai Dot was also around in 2011. We even managed to video him hovering above the nest. All this means that Dai Dot calls Dyfi home - he does't seem to wander off which is what you'd expect for a male bird of three of four years of age. Probability of Return 80%
Dai Dot - named after his two very characteristic white dots above his skinny beak - will he come back in 2013?
This is a Rutland female, born in 2010. She was spotted in 2012 both on the Dyfi and Rutland Water. This is completely normal behaviour for a two year old female - prospecting around the country for a good breeding site and a half decent male with a nest to entice her.
Significantly though, she was spotted on the Dyfi last year several times, right from May to August. She is also related to Nora. Blue 12's mother is Nora's sister which makes her Nora's niece! Will we see Blue 12 again this year? Probability of Return (to the Dyfi) 75%
Keep it in the family. Blue 12 visits her Auntie in Wales in 2012 - several times
So there we are. Ospreytitis is just about kicking in big time again, the months of waiting and suspense are almost at an end, and soon our ospreys will be back from Africa.
Let's hope that the weather is kind and we have a full complement of birds back for another breeding season. It really doesn't look good for Leri and Dulas but what about Einion? I honestly think the chances of him returning are greater than of him not. Will we spot him though? Of course we will. This week we are putting up an additional SUPER HD camera that has a 360° field of view that will be used for the Live Streaming page on this website. Left, right, up, down - if Einion turns up, we'll see him. Actually, you could be the first person to spot him, watching at home or the office (shh) when he lands on the nest. You'll know who he is - he has a blue ring with the letters DH on his right leg and a useless tracker on his back. He even has Blue 12, his cousin, waiting for him and looking for a mate (is that legal?).
What a story that would make. I can barely imagine it. The first osprey to hatch on the Dyfi in centuries, returns after a two year sabbatical in Africa. Mid May, Alwyn shouts from the Osprey Hide "LARGE BIRD OF PREY APPROACHING" and as he does, a blue leg ring and a tracker come increasingly into view.
Would you shout, jump for joy, laugh, cry? All of these things? Not long to go now..
KEEP CALM and LOOK UP
Einion photographed in Africa in January 2012 - he looks in great condition
Nora will be back seven weeks today.
Imagine that! She was back on Saturday, March 24th last year. Who knows, she may even be earlier this year.
March 24th, 2012. Nora returned and looked in excellent condition
We've started work on the new 360 Observatory. The temporary walkway to the Observatory site is being put down as I write - this will enable us to access the site quickly with materials and workmen, rather than wading through some tough reed beds.
This is where we need your help. You may remember in previous blogs me saying that we will have two volunteer opportunities every day, with perhaps something on a bigger scale as a one off event like The Big Pull. We will start off as early as Monday next week, with two volunteers required per week-day to start with.
A temporary walkway to the Observatory site
Our new contractor is Thomas Taylor (he also built the Observatory on Cors Caron near Tregaron a few years ago). Tom has agreed that two volunteers can help in the boardwalk phase of the new build each day to compliment his team. The type of work can broadly be spilt into two main categories:
1. Physical work requiring reasonable strength and agility. For example, lifting existing boardwalk, putting it on a trailer and re-laying it nearer the Observatory site.
2. Less demanding physical work such as fence wire cutting, moving tools, transporting light materials in a wheelbarrow. For example - the same type of physical demands that would reasonably be required to do general gardening.
Fancy helping out?
Sadly, the electronic diary software that I wanted to set up on the website has proved too expensive to install, so we will do this the old fashioned way. Dyfi Osprey Project volunteer Carol Swales, who lives practically next door to Cors Dyfi reserve, has kindly agreed to be the main contact and coordinator for the volunteer stage of the boardwalk build (thank you Carol!)
Carol is on 01654 781 341 and 07849 917 788 and her email is email@example.com
Carol has had several meetings with Tom and is right up to speed with where we are at. If you would like to know more about what is involved or have general questions about volunteering, then please get in touch with Carol on the contact details above.
I'm away next week, but after that expect things to get back to normal with loads of blogs, updates and a load of new stuff to tell you about. Exciting times ahead.
Won't be long now….
Well, what a year!
Dominated by the weather, 2012 was a year that will stay in the mind for a long time. What started out so promisingly ended up as one of those 'once in a lifetime' events - the wettest year since records began all the way back in 1910.
We started off with one heck of an ambitious project, installing four state-of-the-art, 1080P High Definition cameras on Monty and Nora's nest. And then, with the help of Network Rail, Aberystwyth University and over 100 volunteers on St. David's Day, we connected those cameras up to the the visitor centre via half a mile of super armoured fibre-optic cable. We called it The Big Pull - and what a pull it was!
(All images clickable larger)
Camera 3 - the camera that we used for the live streaming
By the time Nora returned to the Dyfi on March 24th, we had set up what was probably the most sophisticated and advanced nest camera system in the world. Never before had anyone observed the life of two ospreys played out in such clarity and detail. What we saw was incredulous, enlightening, fascinating, joyous, scientifically groundbreaking, but at times, utterly devastating.
Nora returns to her Dyfi nest - little did she know what unforgiving events lay ahead
Monty and Nora laid their three eggs and managed somehow to keep them dry, protected and viable through the worst April and May, weather wise, on record. That in itself was an amazing story of endurance and resolve. June however, had in store one of those once in a century weather events that would play havoc not only on the osprey nest, but on all wildlife - people included.
By the first week in June the first chick had succumbed to the rain, he died at three days old. 'The Perfect Storm' on June 8/9th was to claim the youngest chick and almost claimed the last remaining youngster, a bird we came to know as Ceulan. By the time the BBC's Springwatch team had come and gone on that Saturday morning looking for a story, all looked lost - I was more worried about Monty and Nora, having completely resigned myself to the fact that the weather had accounted for all of this year's brood.
It rained for just over 36 hours. Driving, torrential, continuous rain had pelted down on the nest so hard we had lost the electricity to the cameras since Friday afternoon - we had no idea what was happening until the cameras came back on at 11:50 on the Saturday morning, shortly after the rain had finally come to an end. The Dyfi Osprey Project was shut, the roads impassable under several feet of water. There were only four of us in the visitor centre: Al Davies, Hugh Gillings and his son Justin, and myself. The second the cameras came back on, this is what we saw..
Both youngsters were too weak to stand up and beg for food and just moments later, the youngest chick had died. I'm sure you know what happened next so I won't go in to that, but here is the one image that Al took just as he placed Ceulan back in the nest after his 28 minutes away.
Al asked me what should we do with the rest of the fish - I wasn't taking it back to Morrisons!
The remission in the weather was short lived and the rain was back by the end of the day. In fact, Ceulan was over five weeks old by the time he had experienced his first whole day of life without any rain at all. Unprecedented.
By the time Ceulan was next out of the nest five weeks later, he had grown - just a little bit
Many stories and experiences of 2012 will stay with me for a long time, but two things stand out.
The first is the amount that we have all learnt about these remarkable birds this year. The unbelievable tenacity and courage of Monty and Nora as they fought against weather conditions of biblical proportions to protect and nurture their eggs and chicks. I never thought that birds could and would tolerate so much and not abandon their offspring and nest. There were times this summer that I looked at those birds in their nest in complete disbelief - it was very humbling and quite emotional to watch. Who would have thought that Ceulan would not only survive to September, but then fly to Africa in a record 12 days, cutting corners and coast lines as he went? What we observed this summer was truly groundbreaking and something you certainly would not find in any textbook on ospreys.
Secondly, I will remember 2012 as the year that thousands of people from around the world engaged with Monty, Nora and their struggle to live and protect their family. By the end of 2012 over 10,000 people were Tweeting, Facebooking or subscribed to the Dyfi Osprey Project's YouTube channel. Thanks to BT and Openreach, Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust had a Live Streaming facility on this website for the very first time by early June - the first in Wales and in glorious HD too. By the time we switched the cameras off in September almost half a million people had viewed the Dyfi ospreys. Imagine that!
July 21st, 2012 and Ceulan is seconds away from lift-off for the first time
We end 2012 with a greater understanding, and hopefully appreciation of Monty, Nora and ospreys in general. As we start 2013, the whole cycle begins again. In a couple of months, many of us will again have caught the early spring bug - Ospreytitis. A bug so powerful, Norovirus feels like a wet mullet in comparison. In a few weeks, thousands of ospreys will start their long journeys from west Africa to the UK and Europe again, many for their 30th time no doubt. Some, for their first time - will Einion be one of them? Now what a story that would be.
We have no idea where Monty and Nora spend the winter, they may be just a few trees apart on the same stretch of river or on completely different continents. Wherever they go, we hope they have kept safe and will return to Wales once again in 2013. We always keep a warm welcome in the hillsides for them. Will Monty be earlier than the missus this year? Will Nora have overcome her dislike of flounders? Will Dai Dots and Blue 12 come back? All will be revealed of course, plus a whole lot more.
Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust enters its fourth decade in 2013, having been set up in 1982. It promises to be an exciting and adventurous decade to say the least. We start work on the 360 Observatory in just a few days and it will hopefully take the Trust, Cors Dyfi Reserve and the Dyfi Osprey Project to a whole new level - quite literally. Thank you to everybody that has helped in 2012 and for all your messages, donations and above all, support - it really is a privilege sharing the lives of these beautiful birds with you.
A happy new year to you all.
Blwyddyn newydd dda i chi gyd.
See you soon..
For as long as I can remember, Jascha Heifetz has been my favourite violinist. One of the first things I bought with my student grant (yes I know!) as a young 'fresher' in Cardiff in the mid 1980's, was a second hand LP of Heifetz playing Tchaikovsky's violin concerto. Oh, what a record. It is a 1957 recording of one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century right at the top of his game. A desert island disc if ever there was one. If they make records in heaven - this is what they would sound like.
For a reason I have no explanation for, I play the Heifetz record every Christmas. It's become a bit of a routine. I listen to other music throughout the year of course, but not the Heifetz concerto. Maybe it's because I have more time on my hands at the end of December to appreciate it, maybe it's just escapism from the madness that can be Christmas. Or maybe, it's because I know that there is a very special treat coming at the end of every year that fills you with a warm, fuzzy feeling.
At around the same time that Jascha Heifetz was recording the Tchaikovsky for RCA Victor in 1957, a pair of ospreys had just started to nest in Scotland for the first time after many decades of having been extinct in the UK as a breeding species. Three years later, and with still only one pair in the whole country being continually hounded by egg collectors, a young lad from Hampshire was just starting his career in wildlife conservation. In February 1960, Roy Dennis received a letter from the great Scottish ornithologist George Waterston OBE, who was the Director of the RSPB in Scotland at the time, telling him that in April of that year, he would be starting his dream job - Osprey Warden.
Taken from Roy's book - "A Life of Ospreys"
Over half a century later, Roy is still the Osprey Warden. Not in title anymore perhaps, but in those 50 plus years, he has done more for osprey conservation than anyone else on the planet. Roy started ringing ospreys decades ago and much of what we know about British and European osprey ecology and migration is down to his research. He has overseen many osprey translocation projects including the successful Rutland project in the mid 1990's. If that translocation project had not taken place, there would be no ospreys breeding in Wales today - period. And he's surprised that we are so happy to see him every year when he visits!
Roy continues to fly the flag for ospreys, eagles, seabirds and a lot more besides. He was awarded the MBE in 2004 for his of work in conservation over the decades. You can see more of Roy's work on his excellent new website:
There is an old saying in Welsh: "Tri chais i Gymro". Loosely translated it means 'Three chances for a Welshman'. Well, it worked for Monty on his third year of trying to find a female in 2011, so I thought we'd use it again in 2012. When Roy came down from Scotland to the Dyfi in July this year to satellite tag and ring young Ceulan for us, we spent a very pleasurable hour or so afterwards talking to him in the visitor centre before he had to dash over to Rutland. We had a tape recorder handy, so what better opportunity to ask Roy about our favourite subject - ospreys!
The Dyfi Osprey Team; Alwyn, Janine and myself (in that order), each asked Roy three questions which he gracefully answered. The video below contains the full interview of nine questions, unedited, with some images of the 2012 Dyfi Osprey Project season as a backdrop. It lasts 15 minutes, and while it may not be as popular as the Queen's speech at 3 o'clock this afternoon, nor is it in 3D, the messages that it contains are, to us anyway, just as important.
When Tchaikovsky finished composing his violin concerto in 1878, he dedicated and presented it to Leopold Auer, one of the most noted violin virtuosos and teachers of that era. The excitement was short lived however. Auer explained to Tchaikovsky that it was too difficult to play, proclaiming that whilst trying to play some passages of the concerto "the difficulties were terrifying". Auer was resigned to not being able to play it and told Tchaikovsky his violin concerto was "unplayable".
A few years later, Auer was introduced to a nine year old fiddler from Lithuania who would ultimately become his most famous and successful pupil. Jascha Heifetz. Auer died in 1930, so he never got to hear his star pupil play the Tchaikovsky violin concerto in 1957, as we can. Neither did Tchaikovsky of course, but his spirit must still be embodied in that 1957 performance through Auer. Just imagine that.
Little did George Waterston know in early 1960 that his choice of appointment for Osprey Warden would be such an inspired one. When he penned that letter in February 1960, almost 53 years ago, a single pair of ospreys were fighting against all the odds, hanging on by a thread, in a battle to survive and produce young. Fast forward over half a century and there are now almost 300 pairs of ospreys in the UK and their population is increasing. One of the most successful and inspirational British conservation stories of recent times. George Waterston's legacy continues through Roy and now through many thousands of others who have chosen ospreys as their species of interest.
Every time I listen to Heifetz's sublime Stradivarius playing each Christmas, I seem to hear something different, something I hadn't noticed before. Maybe this is what happens when you listen to the best there is. Every time I listen to Roy talk about ospreys, I hear something different, something I didn't know before.
I hope you enjoy Roy's interview as much as we did making it. Wherever you are today, and what ever you are doing and listening to, whether it be Heifetz or Gangnam Style, Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust and the Dyfi Osprey Project would like to wish all of you a peaceful, relaxing and happy Christmas.
Nadolig Llawen i chi gyd.
(Best watched in HD and Full Screen!)
Returning home from Cors Dyfi last Tuesday afternoon, I popped into Machynlleth to do some shopping. Right next to the library there were around 40 or so of these wonderful birds perching in a nearby tree - waxwings.
Will this winter be a 'Waxwing Winter' in the UK? (all images clickable larger)
What an absolute pleasure to see these winter visitors. Waxwings are starling sized birds that breed high up in the coniferous belt of northern Scandinavia. In the UK we sometimes call them Bohemian Waxwings due to their sudden appearance from the east, but there are two other species in the world. The Japanese Waxwing and the Cedar Waxwing that breed in Canada and the northern states of America.
They are called waxwings due to the deep red appendages that are attached to their secondary/tertiary feathers and sometimes tail feathers. The wax in question being sealing wax - the type used to seal letters and important documents in years gone by. Both sexes are similar in size, but the males have a sharper edge to the black throat bib and broader yellow tail band and white 'V' angle on the primary feathers.
Market day in Machynlleth on Wednesday, but this female waxwing had her own veg stall overlooking the town
One of the birds, a juvenile from this breeding season, was a little different. He (I think it's a male) had a metal ring on his left leg. I have written about the virtues and benefits of bird ringing before, and how over the last century and more we have learnt so much about bird ecology and migration patterns by studying ringing recoveries. That's how we know where Nora is from for example, and the Glaslyn male in north Wales - both Rutland Osprey Project birds.
Unfortunately, because I focused the camera on the waxwing's head, the metal ring on the leg is slightly out of focus (you don't get much 'depth of field' with telephoto lenses!) so the numbers cannot be read. Our good friends Tony Cross and Mike Hayward tried to catch this individual on Thursday in a mist net, but without success.
Should have focused on the leg!
Mike did manage to get a shot though. A first year bird and most probably the same bird as I photographed a couple of days before. Infuriatingly however, Mike could still not see enough of the numbers to make a full ID. What Mike and Tony did tell me though, is that these rings are different to the BTO rings that we use in the UK, and are consistent with the metal rings used in Norway. Makes perfect sense doesn't it?
Mike got a better image - almost definitely a first winter Norwegian waxwing © Mike Hayward
Whilst Mike and Tony were busy with the waxwings on Wednesday, I had another meeting down at Cors Dyfi. As often happens, the meeting over ran, and by the time we headed for the car park it was pitch black and I'd brought the camera with me in vain. Or had I?
Directly over the reserve was a full moon in all its glory in a cold, clear sky. To the left of it was another celestial light only much, much smaller. I just about managed to get it, and the moon, into the frame of the camera and took a few shots before heading off home to warm up. I quickly put the best shot on the Dyfi Osprey Project Facebook page and asked if anyone knew what the other lights were.
What were those things on the bottom left?
The answers soon came back. Lo and behold, it was only Jupiter and four of its moons - Io , Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. What a result! So many people commented and suggested different websites to go to and applications to download to view the night's sky in real time.
I quickly downloaded an App called Star Walk, pointed the iPad towards the moon, and there it was. Just to the left of the moon was Jupiter, just like in the photograph I had taken an hour or so before.
The snap-shot feature of the Star Walk App 'took' this image
Next month Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust will start building the 360 Observatory on Cors Dyfi. It will be a fantastic place to watch and learn about birds and wildlife. But it's called '360' for a reason.
All living things are a product of their environment. We are shaped and designed to best fit and survive based on what is around us. The moon, for example, has a gravitational force on the earth, which in turn dictates tidal patterns. Tidal flows on estuaries govern what fish survive there, which in turn has a direct affect on osprey populations. It really isn't that hard to connect astronomy and wildlife. The moon influences reproductive behaviours and strategies in a host of living organisms from insects to amphibians to us.
The '360' part of the 360 Observatory means not only that we will be able to see in every direction, but also experience and learn much more than just about ospreys or birds in general. 360 degrees - the big picture. How about astronomy nights led by an expert now and again, moth evenings (there's the moon connection again), photography events, botany, history, geology? The list is almost endless. And yes, we will have birding events too of course. Nightjars anyone? Dawn chorus?
Nora's surprise. An osprey, a mullet and a barn owl. Nocturnal meets diurnal.
In the last Ceulan blog, I spoke about Citizen Science and how much of a powerful tool it can be in improving our understanding and learning of what exists around us. Within a matter of minutes of putting the Jupiter image up, people from literally around the world were sharing their knowledge and experiences on our Facebook page (thank you). Advice on the solar system, websites, apps, telescopes and even offers to help set up the Astronomy nights once the 360 Observatory is built (yes please Kris Fry!)
Just over 400 years ago in Italy, this was happening (from Wikipedia)..
As a result of improvements Galileo Galilei made to the telescope, with a magnifying capability of 20X, he was able to see celestial bodies more distinctly than was ever possible before. This allowed Galilei to discover sometime between December 1609 and January 1610 what came to be known as the Galilean moons.
On January 7, 1610, Galileo wrote a letter containing the first mention of Jupiter’s moons. At the time, he saw only three of them, and he believed them to be fixed stars near Jupiter. He continued to observe these celestial orbs from January 8 to March 2, 1610. In these observations, he discovered a fourth body, and also observed that the four were not fixed stars, but rather moons orbiting Jupiter.
I find it utterly amazing that I, and millions of others around the world, were looking at the exact same moons that Galileo was on that January night 400 years ago. If only we could send a Leica or Swarovski back in time a few centuries to help him. Galileo and his peers were observing the world around them and starting to learn and make sense of how things worked and how they were related and interconnected to each other. Just a few years later, Isaac Newton was sitting under an apple tree in Cambridge, England doing exactly the same thing. The study of birds and wildlife in general however, was still in its infancy.
At the same time as Galileo was peering through his home-made telescope in Padua, northern Italy, people in the UK thought that Barnacle geese came from shellfish. In fact, Barnacle geese were considered to be fish and were therefore eaten on Fridays by Catholics. The renowned English ornithologist Gilbert White, much later in 1789, thought that swallows hibernated in the winter, thereby explaining away their complete disappearance from his Selborne home in Hampshire.
Today, we know differently of course. British swallows migrate to sub-saharan Africa. Barnacle geese are certainly birds, not fish, and breed on Arctic islands of the North Atlantic. We know where ospreys go to in the winter and we also know where waxwings come from. Of course they don't come from Jupiter, but 400 years ago they may as well have done.
I suppose this week more than any has reinforced in my mind that wildlife does not exist in isolation. To learn more about ospreys or waxwings or Barn owls, it helps to understand how the whole system works - the big picture. In school, we walked from the History class to the Chemistry class to the Maths class, because it is easier to learn that way. The 360 Observatory will be a classroom specialising in everything for everybody from everywhere. Can't wait.
It is probably fair to say that this year we have observed an osprey family like no-one has before. Four 1080P High Definition cameras gave us unprecedented angles, literally, of the lives of Monty and Nora and how they fought against all the odds to raise a son. This week we took all of the cameras down for winter testing and storage.
The image below, taken by Camera 2, is from April 6th, four days after Monty arrived back from Africa. Nora had already been waiting nine days for him, she was back March 24th. As they started the 'nestoration' work and pair bonding for another summer, little did they know that the weather that day was hardly going to get any better during the months ahead.
(click images for larger size)
Come back a little earlier next year Monty - never a good idea to leave a woman waiting
As the four of us approached the nest we were struck by how autumnal everything looked. Apart from myself there was volunteer Al Davies, and Andy and Oly from CCW Solutions who are our IT experts for the cameras and live streaming.
After all the goings on in the nest over the last six months or so, there was a solitary magpie there to greet us. How ironic.
The ash tree perch and Camera 1 (left) are 10m away from the main nest
While Andy and Oly were sorting all the electrics in the green boxes below, Al soon had all four cameras down after several trips up a three storey ladder.
These cameras are designed to be fully operational in all weathers. They are actually tested to - 40°C; even in Wales it doesn't get that cold! They have intricate heating systems and fans inside them however, (that's why you never see condensation on the video images) that require electrical power at all times. We couldn't take the risk of a power cut say in mid January, potentially harming the electrics inside.
Al carefully takes Camera 3 down - this is the camera we used for all the live streaming this year
Considering that these cameras are very new on the market and represent cutting edge technology in terms of High Definition PTZ (Pan/Tilt/Zoom) cameras for external use, they have performed extremely well. There are a few issues however we need to improve on and test over the winter. We'll be back next March to reinstall the cameras and make some fine tweaking.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of Ruth and Hefin's company - they farm some of the fields around Cors Dyfi and Monty and Nora's nest site, including some of the wetlands where Monty sometimes eats his dinner on an electric pole.
Hefin took us high up on the south side of the Dyfi River where Monty has another favourite perch. This one is a lot more inconspicuous and is hidden away, next to a forestry plantation. He used to spend a lot of time here as a single bachelor, scanning around for any female ospreys that would pass through his territory.
Ospreys have between four and six times the visual acuity of humans. Think of it this way... you're having an eye test and you have perfect vision. You can see the very bottom letters (the smallest) clearly on the chart from 10m away. An osprey would have roughly the same visual acuity as you but from four to six times further back, 40 - 60m away. The minute Nora came within a few miles of his nest, Monty would have been down like a shot from his high vantage point on April 9th last year.
A perch with a view, with the mouth of the Dyfi on the left as it meets Cardigan bay
The best landscape photograph I've seen this week however, was not taken by me. Once he'd taken all four nest cameras down on Wednesday, Al set up his own camera in the nest. And I mean in the nest!
On a small mobile tripod placed right in the middle of the nest where Nora spent much of her time over the summer, Al took a series of photographs, moving the camera a few degrees across the horizontal axis as he went along. He then digitally 'stitched' these images together to represent a 180° view, just like the ospreys would have seen. A stunning panoramic image.
A big thanks to Andy, Oly, Ruth, Hefin and of course, Al.
Work on the 360 Project has started.
Soon, tenders will go out to potential contractors to start building the new boardwalk and 360° Observatory. Two new posts that are part of the project will also be advertised: a Conservation Officer and a Learning Officer. We have one objective with this project - to make Cors Dyfi reserve and the new 360° Observatory one of the most exciting and inspiring places in the UK to come to experience and learn about wildlife and the natural history around us.
A room with a view - taking wildlife watching to a higher level (Click to see bigger image)
With a new team of staff complementing the current Dyfi Osprey team, visitors will receive the Rolls-Royce standard of wildlife experience. We aim to make this the gold standard, a premium service. The pointy end of the aeroplane.
Gone are the days of reading poorly designed, moss and rust covered interpretation panels in the rain. We will engage with visitors in a new and modern way, befitting the richness we see around us. Cutting edge technology using iPads, sound systems, HD cameras, stunning military grade observation binoculars and new technologies that haven't even come to the market yet. Continuing on from the Dyfi Osprey Project model, we will also use the best format of visitor interpretation yet invented - actually talking to another human being. There will be experts on hand in key areas to explain what you can see, hear and feel around you, and we will be hosting workshops in the 360° Observatory on all manner of subjects. Botany, bird ringing, wildlife art, moths, geology, bird calls, invertebrate identification, otter and nightjar events, dragonfly days, wildlife photography. The list is almost endless!
Getting the perfect shot - explained
Thank you to everybody that commented after the first 360° Observatory blog. Three main questions were raised in the comments section, Facebook and Twitter. Here they are explained:
1. Disabled Access
Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust want everybody to benefit from this project. We have based 'inclusiveness' as a key objective at every stage of the design and planning process.
- New toilets will be disabled friendly
- New boardwalk will be wider than standard boardwalk widths to allow two wheelchairs to pass
- For people that find it difficult to walk far, we will have a wheelchair lease system. The boardwalk will be 500m in length from the visitor centre to the 360° Observatory. There will also be someone available, if required, to assist in travelling between both areas at all times
- More and better disabled parking bays in the car park - right next to the visitor centre, just a few feet away
- The 360° Observatory will be built over 2m (around 8 feet) above ground level. We will ramp the boardwalk up to the 360° Observatory at a gradient of 1:20, reaching and exceeding DDA (Disability Discrimination Act 1995) recommendations. Furthermore, the approach to the 360° Observatory will be staged with level 'landing' areas
- For people that use a wheelchair but can walk a little, the stairway to the top level of the 360° Observatory will be staged (rather than a spiral staircase for example) with rest points
- All the viewing windows at all levels will be low enough for wheelchair users to see through comfortably
2. Are we too close to the ospreys?
In a word, no. Each bird species has a 'circle of confidence' which is different for each species (think of robins and magpies and how close you can get to each of these). Additionally, individual birds of the same species have varying degrees of confidence depending on their life experiences and where they hatched. Ospreys in some parts of America will practically nest just outside your kitchen window!
"These humans are strange animals aren't they.." (Hellgate nest, Missoula, Montana)
We know how much 'disturbance' Monty and Nora will tolerate. After all, they do nest just 55m away from a main railway line..
Click 720 or 1080 for HD resolution
The 360° Observatory will be built over 200m away from the nest (kind of behind Monty in the first clip of the video). The main Dyfi Junction station platform is more or less the same distance away from the nest as the 360° Observatory will be, with people moving around and making noises. The ospreys are used to this. Moreover, the ospreys will only see one side of the 360° Observatory, the gable end side (right hand side of the first image above). The part of the 360° Observatory that is external has been designed to be the other side, blind side of the nest, so that the ospreys will not see anyone moving around other than through windows.
We have one year to build the 360° Observatory and we'll do our very best to finish it before the ospreys return in 2013. If we can't however, we will not risk building while the birds are here.
We designed the Dyfi Osprey Project from the ground up with the community at it's heart. Volunteers play a fundamental role in every aspect of it's operation, whether that be the everyday running of the project, or one off events like The Big Pull.
The 360 Project will be absolutely no different.
106 volunteers helped with The Big Pull on March 1st, Tim and John Parry start us going..
The 360° Observatory will enable visitors to experience the most amazing views of the ospreys and the other wildlife on the reserve and Dyfi River. We will need more volunteers to help us explain, translate and interpret what's happening around us. If you fancy joining us as a volunteer, look out for more details in the new year.
Over 8,000 hours were donated by over 100 volunteers at the Dyfi Osprey Project in 2012, the most yet. Purely in financial terms, that's the equivalent to over £100,000 on an average wage basis. Incredible.
360° Observatory - amazing views of amazing wildlife linked together by amazing volunteers (Click for larger image)
There is a lot of hard work in front of us and no doubt the odd hurdle or two. I will keep the updates coming throughout the winter so that by next March, we'll all know where we're up to. Again, if you have any questions, please ask them below or on Facebook/Twitter, and I'll answer them in the next update in a few weeks.
Onwards and upwards. Literally.
"Hey, Blodwen, we won't be able to hide on Cors Dyfi from now on innit.."
Today we have some wonderful news to share with you.
For the last two years, many of us at the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust have been working hard behind the scenes on an ambitious and groundbreaking project. It's called 'Dyfi 360° Landscape - For People and Wildlife'. It's a £1.378 million initiative that will enhance the features and visitor attractions of Cors Dyfi Reserve, where the Dyfi Osprey Project is situated. At the heart of the project will be a new, flagship, wildlife watching 360° Observatory, seven meters tall (23 feet) situated slap bang in the middle of Cors Dyfi Reserve, and just 230m away from the osprey nest.
Today we can announce that our funding applications have been successful, and that work on the project will start immediately.
Dyfi 360° Observatory - Click to get a bigger view
- Passion to defend the natural and intrinsically linked cultural heritage of the area
- Desire to create a sustainable 'Living Landscape' for people and wildlife to live and thrive, and a safe place where people can learn, build confidence and be inspired
- Response to a call from the local community and visitors to offer more than we currently do
- Recognition that Cors Dyfi has the potential to become a major education resource for local schools, Aberystwyth Universitiy and real life work placements
The funding for the 360° initiative will come from two main sources. The Heritage Lottery Fund will grant £928,000 and ERDF's Communities and Nature project will fund £228,500. The remainder will be made up of volunteering time as in-kind contributions (£195,000) and Countryside Council for Wales (£27,000).
Looking forward - to a bright future
Around half of the grant will be spent on the 360° Observatory and boardwalk to it from the visitor centre. The genesis of the new 360° Observatory was inspired, of course, by the Dyfi Osprey Project. Around 140,000 people have visited the project since we opened in 2009 and every year we have been asking those visitors, via a visitor survey form (thank you if you're one of the thousands that filled one in), what more they would like to see from the project.
Additionally, over 150 people, organisations and community bodies were consulted. So, based on the feedback we received from visitors, volunteers and the local community, the 360° Observatory and wider Living Landscapes project was born.
Why call it a 360° Observatory? There are three main reasons:
1. The view. This will be no bird hide on stilts. We will be able to see all the way around, a 360° panoramic vista following Monty and Nora as they fly around the reserve, the Dyfi River and Snowdonia National Park. We'll be able to see Monty fishing - how fabulous will that be! We'll be able to see other birds too - wildfowl, waders, marsh harriers, kites, owls, warblers, nightjars, migrating birds. And all with a 360° view with superb optical equipment and a person there to help you and explain what you are looking at and for. In Welsh and in English.
2. It's not just about the ospreys and other birds. 360° means all of nature - the plants and animals that thrive on Cors Dyfi and beyond. It's important to understand that animals and plants don't live in isolation, they are all interconnected together with varying degrees of dependency on each other. At a great height looking around, we'll be able to focus on the ecology of the whole ecosystem around the Observatory in fantastic detail, helping us to ultimately understand it better.
3. Just like plants and animals don't live in isolation from each other, neither does wildlife exist as a single entity. We will focus on the geography and geology of the Dyfi, the history of this once vast ship building river, the culture and the Welsh language, education, children, communities, socio-economic benefits to the area and tourism. We will have more and greater ways of engaging with people, with better interpretation and technology at the forefront. We'll use cameras, microphones, new network technology, the internet, better imagery and social media to connect people with the project the world over. Finally, no 360° project can be open for five months of the year only as we are now. We will be open for 12 months of the year.
Can you see me? Bank vole on Cors Dyfi
The 'Dyfi 360° Landscape - For People and Wildlife' project will also fund four new jobs, including a Learning Officer and a Conservation Officer for Cors Dyfi. These new posts will enable us to do much more than we can now and forge greater and better links with education and universities, communities and the wildlife itself of course. Cors Dyfi is also in the Dyfi Bioshphere, Wales' only UNESCO Biosphere Reserve designation of a "special place where conservation and sustainable development go hand in hand".
The Dyfi Biosphere - Click to get a bigger view
Volunteer Heather pointing out the osprey nest to Ffion, a young visitor. Interpretation means much more than just panels on a wall.
I think it's fair to say that we are all pretty excited here at Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust. Two years of dreams, aspirations and a lot of hard work is about to become a reality. Many observatories now in use to watch birds and other wildlife started out as something completely different - lighthouses, buildings, signal boxes. The 360° Observatory will be built with people and wildlife as it's main focus, right from the off. An iconic place to come and watch, learn and engage with wildlife in the UK.
The work starts now, we have planning consent and we have one year to get everything done and built. We are hopeful, however, that the 360° Observatory will be built before Monty and Nora come back next year. If you have any comments, do please leave them below. If you have any questions, please ask them on our Facebook page or via the contact email at the top of this page.
Finally, a big thank you to all the people that have made this possible, especially those guys at the Heritage Lottery Fund and Communities and Nature, who have worked so hard with us over the last two years. Diolch yn fawr.
Monty and Nora's nest is around 9m high. Standing in the 360° Observatory, your eye level will be around 9m high - we'll see straight across to the nest on the same elevation as the ospreys. Now that, is cool!
How big is an osprey nest? Ask four year old Owain, he knows, but we all will from next year onwards.
Exactly two weeks ago, Sunday evening, I was in the middle of closing an osprey project for the season and preparing for a long trip the next day. Ceulan was doing exactly the same.
The day after, Monday morning at around 09:15, I headed off north to Scotland. Around 10 minutes later at 09:26 Ceulan headed off south to Africa.
You always try and keep a scientific view of these things, but with all the trials, tribulations and coincidences this summer, you can't help sometimes but think there are other forces at work. By sundown that Monday evening, I was 150 miles away from the Dyfi, so was Ceulan.
Ceulan had started his journey south to better weather, and to where he would meet up with many more birds of his kind. I was heading in the opposite direction, to Castle Douglas, Dumfriesshire, to see an old friend. Black 80.
Black 80 in 2006, age 39 days. Does this image look familiar?
Animals are special to many of us, some animals more than others. Black 80 is a male offspring of the Glaslyn osprey pair that are still breeding in the Glaslyn valley near Porthmadog, some 30 miles north of the Dyfi. He hatched on May 20th, 2006, and was one in a brood of three - two males and a female. His big sister, Black 2J, died in the nest at quite an old age, 43 days, probably due to excessive heat. It was around 30°C that day.
Both brothers survived to fledging and migration age. Black 80 fledged at 52 days old and started his migration 55 days later on September 4th.
Black 80 being ringed as a chick, June 28th, 2006. He weighed a healthy 1460g (exactly the same as Dulas last year)
What makes Black 80 such a special bird is the fact that he was the first Welsh osprey, ever, to have been positively sighted as having coming back to the UK as an adult. He returned two years later in 2008, and was seen holding a territory and displaying at a nest near Threave Castle, a couple of miles west of Castle Douglas.
Threave Castle - the name derives from the Old Welsh 'Tref', meaning home or town. Another Welsh connection!
Black 80 didn't breed in 2008, but he did manage to attract a female. Both birds returned back from Africa the following year and bred successfully - they raised two chicks. The same osprey pair returned in 2010 and 2011 and successfully raised five more chicks, three and two respectively.
The female didn't return this year and all hope was lost by May that Black 80, who had returned as usual at the end of March, would breed in 2012. But he did.
On May 11th, a blue ringed female showed an interest in Black 80 and his nest - what happened next broke all the records. The pair laid eggs in June (unprecedented in the UK) and two chicks, a male and a female, survived the severe 2012 summer weather and fledged at the end of August. A time when most UK ospreys are just setting off to warmer climes. They were so late breeding in fact, that on the weekend that both chicks hatched, their auntie and uncles in the Glaslyn were fledging!
So, what an opportunity to see an old friend again, one which I hadn't seen in six years. Late on the Tuesday, when Ceulan had just arrived in France, I spotted Black 80 in glorious Scottish evening sunshine. He had eluded me all afternoon, but I finally spotted him as a goose flew straight over his head, giving up his position. What a feeling, what an emotion. Looking through the viewfinder, it was difficult to focus the camera on him.
Black 80, September 4th, 2012. Six years exactly, to the day, since I last saw him in the Glaslyn when he started his first migration
He looked exactly like his father. He was almost completely white on the chest and underwing, and had a kind of semi-colon shape as a head pattern on his crown. As Ceulan was making his way across the Bay of Biscay, I watched Black 80 all day Wednesday. He seemed to have a good strong bond with his female and a strong healthy family.
Black 80 brings a flounder back to his two chicks and female (middle)
Black 80 brought three flounder and two coarse fish back to his family in one day
One of Black 80's chicks (male I think), around a week after fledging
Both youngsters were gaining confidence in their flying skills but one, the female, looked much more proficient than the other. She may well have fledged a few days earlier than her brother giving her a bit more experience.
The Glaslyn Grandchildren - brother (left) and sister follow each other around Threave Castle
The National Trust for Scotland have done a wonderful job in Threave showing their ospreys off to visitors. There's a viewpoint with a volunteer at hand to explain all about Black 80 and his family, a beautiful 800m walk with a really comfortable, modern hide at the end, just 350m away from the nest. As I was leaving that evening, I met up with Karl Munday, the National Trust's ranger for the Threave site and we had a good old chin-wag about Black 80 and ospreys in general.
After speaking to Karl, we realised there was one piece of the jig-saw still missing. Nobody knew the ring number of the new Threave female. Karl knew it was blue and on the left leg (so Scottish bird) but nobody had been able to make out the characters on the ring. I decided to stay another day.
Looking through the photographs - I couldn't quite make out the female's leg ring details. So frustrating.
Thursday was a manic day. Find the little cafe in Castle Douglas with wi-fi and download Ceulan's latest GPS points, drive six hours back to Wales, but before that try and figure out two characters on a leg ring, just half an inch wide, from a quarter of a mile away! The long camera lens I had with me was not up to the job, unless the female flew closer to me in the hide. There was only one thing for it. Digiscoping!
Two tripods, a beanbag, a magnifying glass, a telescope and a modified compact camera with all settings on manual. Proper hit and miss photography, but it worked, eventually.
Some crazy photography finally gave up the Threave female's ring number - Blue XC
I've emailed Roy in Scotland to try and find out where Blue XC is from and how old she is. At a guess, she may be a Scottish three year old, so 2012 would be her first year breeding.
I struggle at this time every year. After spending every day with ospreys over the summer, the scientific part of you knows the odds of these fledglings coming back in future years. You try and put a brave face on it and explain everything away in terms of biology, statistics and natural selection. The odds of Ceulan coming back in 2014 are less than 50:50. In fact, there's only about a 30% probability that he will survive and return, and less still that he will breed and have young of his own. But Black 80 did.
I know that thousands of people have grown an emotional attachment to Ceulan, as we all have here at Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust. A feeling of happiness that he has made it through this far, but also an overwhelming feeling of sadness that he has gone, and with all the hurdles he now has in front of him.
I remember many years ago, Richard Burton explaining to an American chat show host what the Welsh word 'Hiraeth' meant. Even with all his communication skills and oratory prowess, I don't think he managed it. It is something that doesn't translate well across languages. It's a deep, heartfelt feeling of loss but, also perhaps, one of optimism that whoever or whatever you are missing, may return one day.
As I write, Ceulan's GPS points have just come in for today. He's reached the Senegal River, and he's got there in less than two weeks after leaving Wales. He's reached water and he's reached food, he's reached his promised land. His environment has suddenly changed green again. If I could somehow tell Richard Burton Ceulan's story today, it may well have enabled him to better explain Hiraeth in another language.
The three day trip to Scotland cost £200. The tracker on Ceulan's back cost £3,000. The feeling of seeing Black 80 for the first time after six years the other day was indescribable, priceless, it has no cost value. The best remedy for Hiraeth is to see your young osprey return home as an adult in years to come. Yes, the odds are against Ceulan; yes, it's 30% or whatever, but if he does make it and return, we can all see him again and share that feeling. And it's the best feeling in the world; I know, I've just experienced it.
Dai Dot has been with us again at the start of the week. We established during last week's blog that he was around at the end of August last year, as we have a video of him. Maybe he is a Scottish or Scandinavian bird on his way south, following the same route and timeframe at the end of the season?
Apparently not. You may remember a blog I wrote at the end of July entitled 'Blue 12'. In that blog there was a photograph of an osprey on 'Pete's Post' that I suggested was a male bird. The photograph had the bird looking to his right, concealing any characteristic head markings that he may have. A quick look through some other images taken at the time turned up this..
Is that you Dai?
This bird looks remarkably like Dai Dot doesn't he? Male, same chest markings, bleaching on the wings, no leg rings and of course, those two characteristic white dots above his beak. This bird has been spotted on that log since at least the end of June (thanks to Posh Pete and Judy for sending me the sightings) on an almost daily basis. Now this is incredible news.
Adult males don't wander around as much as females. They tend to stay in one area and try and attract females to breed with them. Dai Dot could be another Monty from 2008/09, the Dyfi being his 'home', prospecting for a good nest site and a female to settle down with. I wrote in the Blue 12 blog - "It seems that the case for putting up more osprey nests on the Dyfi is as compelling as at any other time." Indeed.
Today we close the Dyfi Osprey Project for another season, we've been open five months and welcomed over 30,000 visitors.
The Visitor Centre - Four live images at the front, live bird feeder cam on the right, season highlights on the left. All in HD!
Have a look at the image below - it was taken a year ago to the day almost
We were testing one of the first demo models of this type of High Definition camera in the UK. We placed two replica osprey eggs in the demonstration nest we had outside the visitor centre, hooked everything up via some fancy electronics, and waited for the images to appear on the 50 inch screen. The excitement was palpable, the tension tangible. We could hardly speak when those HD images started to come through. It reminded me of what Howard Carter said when he peered into that hole he had drilled into Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922 and shone a light through it. "I see can wondrous things".. or something like that.
The rest, as they say, is history. We managed to find the funding for the cameras through Communities and Nature and get the whole lot up, tested and operational before the ospreys came back. Just!. Network Rail were immense with their donation of the 800m of fibre optic cable which enabled us to connect the cameras to the visitor centre and, by the first week in June with the help of two additional BT lines, the world via HD live streaming. A first for Wales.
This website will be a year old in two days time (here's the first ever blog!) and in the first year it has attracted over 20 million 'hits' - insane. Along with Facebook and Twitter, it has allowed the Trust to keep people around the world up to speed with all the goings on from Cors Dyfi.
As I write, Ceulan is still with us, as is Monty. He's just delivered a large mullet to his son. Nora left Ceulan in Monty's sole care almost four weeks ago and is now probably at her wintering grounds in Africa. What a strange thought.
Nora is probably on another continent by now, thousands of miles away
It's impossible to predict Ceulan's departure day, as those of you who entered the Facebook competition know! I think it's safe to say however, it won't be long now. This week? Probably. He's 96 days old today.
It's time to go son..
What happens now? Well, Alwyn and Janine finish today, but they will be back again next year welcoming people to the visitor centre and hide as they have done so well for the last four years (we open in five and a half months - not long!). You've still got me I'm afraid throughout the winter - the blogs will continue as normal, as well as updates following Ceulan's progress hopefully down to Africa. I'll still continue with the updates on Facebook too and Janine will be doing our Twitter tweets (is that what they're called?) as always.
On behalf of Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust, I just want to end by thanking a few people. Our two seasonal engagement guys - Janine and Alwyn, 78 incredible volunteers who have donated over 8,000 hours this year (that's the equivalent of employing one person non-stop for five years!). Network Rail, Andy and his IT team from CCW Solutions, Communities and Nature, Heritage Lottery Fund, Countryside Council for Wales, and you. All of you that have followed the Dyfi Osprey Project on various websites and supported us on so many levels, including financially.
And finally, we are expecting some news in around 10 days time. Not any old news, BIG news! In a couple of weeks, I'll write a blog about all the changes and improvement's the Trust will be making over the winter months at Cors Dyfi. Improvements to the Project, to the cameras, nest audio, to the live streaming and to the website. I will also explain a bit more about erecting a series of osprey nest platforms on the Dyfi next March. We will need your help - it will be a bit like The Big Pull we did last March. Can you think of a name for it? I can.
And the BIG news? We're just going to have to wait until the end of next week to find out. Let's just say that we're hoping to take Cors Dyfi and the Dyfi Osprey Project to even greater heights next year and beyond. It's been one hell of a ride this year - thank you all for engaging with us and for all your support, it is greatly appreciated. Diolch yn fawr i chi gyd.
Warming up - 28 minutes that saved a young osprey
We've had a few visitors this week that were just a bit out of the ordinary. It started when the Mid Wales Classic Car Rally decided they wanted to come and see the Dyfi ospreys - all 71 of them in 39 cars! With some volunteers, high-visibility vests and some smart parking, we got them all in. Just.
Thanks to all the volunteers that quickly turned from birders to marshallers and then back again
On Monday we had another visitor. Our 53rd intruder osprey of the season, but this bird had something about him. There was something familiar about him, as though we had seen him before, but could not quite remember where or when.
He was a male bird, had no rings of any kind (only around a third to a half of Scottish ospreys are ringed each year) and had two extremely characteristic markings - those two splashes of white feathers just above the beak. We quickly named him Two Dots.
So characteristic, we should be able to identify Two Dots if he comes back next year
He still looked familiar, so we decided to look back at some videos from last year. Lo and behold, Two Dots had landed on the Dyfi nest on August 21st last year. The head shape was the same, the beak, the chest band, the bleached feathers, lack of rings, sex, everything. And the two dots of course. His visit was just a few hours short of being an exact year since his last visit in 2011. Unreal.
Two Dots visits on August 21st in 2011 - look at the two white markings above the beak
Here's a video of Two Dots landing on the Dyfi nest in 2011 - Dulas and Leri look on in amazement..
A few people have commented that they thought Two Dots was a fledgling from this year, due to his bronze coloured feathers. Some ospreys have lighter colour feathers than others - just natural variation within a population. The pattern of the bronzing is quite different however, between adults and juveniles. In young birds, the feathers are generally dark brown with the tips and some edges having the bronze colour, the appearance looks quite clinical. Adult birds on the other hand have the bronzing on other parts of the feather structure also, particularly on the edges. (I call this bleaching on adult ospreys, although I'm not sure how much, if any, effect the sun has on this phenomenon. It aptly describes the appearance however, irrespective of morphological accuracy).
The real give away is the eye colour of course - yellow in adults only. (Unless you're Monty, but that's another story!)
Bronzing differences between juveniles and adults (Ceulan above, Two Dots below)
Monty has some bronzing as well - here he is demonstrating just that:
Watcha looking at handsome boy?
Ceulan is still with us and Monty is still catching his fish for him. As I write, Ceulan is 89 days old and just at around the average age that British ospreys start their migration. How long will he be with us for before he goes? Who knows, look out for Ceulan's own blog tomorrow.
And finally, many of the warblers that have kept us entertained with their wonderful calls and songs this summer are also now on the move. Their urge to head off to Africa just as strong as Ceulan's and Monty's. Around a million whitethroats arrive in Britain each year to breed and, just like the osprey, they winter in sub-saharan Africa, over 3000 miles away. This one was just outside the osprey hide yesterday afternoon.
A whitethroat on Cors Dyfi - also preparing from an imminent African departure
Britain's largest Bird Fair is just coming to an end at Rutland Water. A fabulous weekend of watching, listening and talking birds. Whilst our own Janine managed to pop over for one day, I was left pondering back at the Dyfi about all the birds we've seen here over the last five months.
98 bird species in total for the reserve this year - not bad, but how many had we photographed actually on the osprey nest and perch?
The new cameras were up by March 20th - the first thing we photographed was a pair of buzzard feet!
I chose this particular camera system not only for the High Definition video capability, but also for it's still image quality. Video is useless for newspapers, magazines and print media where the humble photograph is still king, so getting quality images was paramount.
A few hours after the buzzard departed, this male stonechat landed on the nest perch in glorious evening sunshine
The following day and a male chaffinch is intrigued by the new cameras
After the warm-up acts, the main event started on March 24th when Nora arrived back from Africa. She looked in great condition which was just as well. She had to wait nine days in all for Monty to return and in that time she was constantly harassed and mobbed by carrion crows.
Just what you need after a 3,500 mile journey..
As soon as she got rid of the crows, a red kite kept Nora company whilst she fixed her nest
In all, we've photographed 19 bird species in 2012 on the osprey nest with a couple of weeks of the project left. The only disappointment has been not seeing the merlin that we've seen for the last three years on the nest, mind you she did make a late appearance last year so there's still time.
Alright, these 19 species might not quite constitute a Bird Fair but it's a surprising amount of birds on one osprey nest in a single season. They've been fabulous to watch and they also help us at Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust engage and educate people along the way about bird life and nature in general. Here's a video of just some of these birds:
(Change the settings to HD)
Here are all 19 species:
Buzzard Mistle Thrush
Red Kite Whitethroat
Barn Owl Magpie
Carrion Crow Greater Spotted Woodpecker
Jackdaw Great Tit
Willow Warbler Starling
From 19 species to over 450. That's how many moth species our intrepid volunteer Maria has now recorded and photographed on Cors Dyfi reserve. That's a phenomenal amount of diversity for such a small 30 acre reserve. Around 40 people came to the moth evening on August 11th and between everybody, over 120 species were recorded, some new for the reserve. A huge thanks to Maria and county moth recorder Pete Williams for arranging and hosting the event - their enthusiasm and commitment is off the scale and they do all of this work voluntarily.
A drinker moth (Euthrix potatoria) attracted to Maria's light trap has a liking for dew drops - hence its name
Finally this week, some other highlights and we're back to birds again. A small flock of black tailed godwits have been feeding just below the osprey nest for the last few days, all in brilliant summer plumage. These will probably be early arrivals from their breeding grounds in Iceland although some do breed in the UK, but these tend to migrate to west Africa for the winter just like our ospreys. A female marsh harrier has been around also, these raptors are very scarce in Wales and do not breed here. A similar looking bird was photographed on the Glaslyn marshes yesterday evening (August 19th) just a few miles north - I wonder if it's the same bird?
Just when you thought you've seen all there is to see on an osprey nest in one season, we were surprised on Saturday to find an apple in there. Has Ceulan turned vegetarian or did the carrion crows bring it in? Very strange. We have herbivorous ospreys that should be piscivorous and piscivorous corvids that should be omnivorous. Try saying that after a few shandies.
Nora has started her long migration south. We last saw her at 14:26 on Tuesday afternoon, August 7th. She was being mobbed by crows as Ceulan was eating a flounder just a few feet away on what we call the goalpost perch, around 200 metres away from the nest. She looked a bit uneasy being so close to several crows and a flounder at the same time and eventually she took off, circled the nest one last time and disappeared into the distance. She went exactly a week earlier than she did last year. It was 17 days after Ceulan fledged the nest.
Nora arrived at the Dyfi this season on a beautiful, unseasonably warm day on Saturday, March 24th - very early for an osprey. She was a four year old in 2012 and this year was her second year of breeding. The moment she arrived we took a photograph of her with one of the new cameras that so many volunteers had helped set up. We knew they would be good - but never this good. The Big Pull was worth all the effort.
Nora lands on her Dyfi nest at 15:34, March 24th, in glorious spring sunshine
For the next few days Nora got to work on her summer home, rearranging what the British weather had done to the furniture whilst she was away and adding some more when required. The wait was on for her mate - when would Monty return from Africa?
The following weekend on April 1st, Monty was still nowhere in sight. Being April fools day, I photoshopped two enormous curlew on the nest and proclaimed that the nest had been taken over by these gigantic waders and that Nora had gone.
Little did I know that the joke would very quickly turn and that the one ending up being the fool would be me! At 10am that morning this happened…
The significance of what happened on April 1st can not be overstated. Just a few decades ago, within living memory for many, a red kite on a nest was as rare a birding site in the UK as they come. Breeding ospreys were a pipe dream - not even rare, they were extinct. The sight of both species on the same nest just a few years down the line, Nora completely ambivalent to the young kite's presence, has herculean significance in the conservation and recovery of both raptor species in the British Isles. And no, I couldn't have photoshopped this masterpiece.
Ironically, Monty wasn't far away. The following day at 15:35 there was an almighty cheer from the visitor centre - Monty had landed. He'd missed the kite and the new species of Goliath Curlew, but his partner of 2011 was there to greet him.
April 2nd and Monty is back
Nora waited nine days in all for Monty to return. It is usually the male osprey that returns first - he'll have to get his skates on next year. Sixteen days later Nora laid her first egg followed by a second three days later and a third in another three days.
On May 28th, 29th and 31st all of Nora's eggs hatched, but sadly only one chick would survive. The three months April - June proved to be the worst on record for rain and wind. The Dyfi nest took a battering of biblical proportions, it's a wonder that Nora and Monty didn't just give up and wait for next year. The tenacity and determination of Nora to protect her eggs and young chicks during this unprecedented time was inspirational and very emotional to witness.
The 'perfect storm' June 8/9th. The worst summer storm on the Dyfi in over 100 years
Throughout June the weather didn't let up. Nora's surviving chick was a male and we named him Ceulan after the local river that burst it's banks in the great storm. As each day passed however, young Ceulan got stronger and stronger, and despite the rain he made it through to fledging at 53 days old on July 21st.
Ceulan was over four weeks old before he witnessed a whole day without rain
They say a woman's work is never done, but by early August Nora had given everything she could possibly give to raising her young chick, and more. Her remit for this year was complete. Female ospreys tend to migrate earlier than their offspring and partner - they need to. Nora will have lost body mass and muscle tone, she needs to build up her reserves and get into the hang of catching fish again before her 3,500 mile journey. Her investment to raising young in 2012 was immense and on Monday, August 6th, we thought that she had gone at around midday. Eight hours later however, she was back.
Nora came back on Monday evening and stayed one more night on the nest
The following day Nora did start her migration. She stayed 136 days in all on the Dyfi in 2012 - that's around 37% of the year. She waited nine days for her partner to return, caught 14 fish in all (all mullet), laid three eggs and raised one very special osprey in the worst summer storms imaginable. She's also been on Springwatch, news programmes and countless magazines. She's raised awareness of conservation and the importance of protecting her species and by doing that has made thousands of people happy.
Until next year - Hwyl fawr cariad
August 7th - the last image of Nora leaving her favourite perch
August is a funny month for British ospreys. It's an evolutionary 'buffer' month. Those birds that have had text-book breeding up to now will be preparing for migration. Those that were a little late breeding still have enough time to get everything sorted with an African departure date in early September. Late breeders, however, will take advantage of warmer August weather and hope that harsh Autumn rain and winds don't appear before they go. For British ospreys, August is a month of change and preparation.
Ceulan with Mum - Nora migrated on August 14th last year, when will she go this time around?
It has been known for some time that early breeding ospreys tend to have better productivity (fledglings) on average than later breeding birds. The Glaslyn ospreys are a good example of this. They are some of the earliest breeders in the UK each year and they have fledged 15 birds, three each year, for the last five years. That is some going. The Glaslyn chicks tend to fledge during the first week in July.
At the other extreme, Black 80, a Glaslyn (2006) male now breeding in Scotland, currently has two chicks which are not due to fledge for at least another three weeks - the end of August!. These must be some of, if not the, latest breeding ospreys in the UK. These youngsters won't be ready to migrate until early-mid October - let's hope the weather is kind to them.
Ceulan - looking more like an adult everyday. When will he migrate?
The Dyfi ospreys this year are about in the middle, around average. Their chicks hatching at the end of May and fledging (just Ceulan of course) mid July. Ceulan has now been flying for two weeks and he's doing well. After the odd bumpy landing and a few cow encounters at the start, he's now progressed to at least a flight engineer level, so we'll give him his metaphorical second pilot's stripe today.
By adjusting slightly his wing and tail feathers, Ceulan is quickly mastering the art of aerial maneuvering
After the first few days consisting mostly of take-offs and landings, Ceulan has progressively been getting more adventurous. We've seen him land on the T perch, the nest perch as well as perches on the reserve near the Dyfi River. He's spent a few hours on these over the last few days just gazing in to the water - wouldn't you just love to know what he's thinking?
Ceulan's first attempt at landing on the nest perch - not as easy as it looks..
As expected, his tracker information has shown exactly where Ceulan has been for the first two weeks of his short post-fledging life so far. Other than the nest, he seems to spend his time at three main locations. Low down perches by the river, an electricity pole used by his Dad for eating, and the other nest platform (remember that one son!). He's not been more than a mile away from 'home' yet, but we'll probably see his range expand in the next week or two, just like his brothers and sister did last year
Ceulan has not been out of Montgomeryshire yet (green line) - he will do soon though
You can follow Ceulan on his journeys on Google Earth (instructions here). The table below show his transmissions schedule, that is, how often we receive data from his tracker at different times of the year. During those times that we would expect him to be migrating, the transmissions are at every two days, stretching to every six days when he should be more sedentary.
Up to now, the time-keeping of our osprey family has been pretty standard and predictable. Egg laying is determined by how long the birds have been together (around a fortnight usually), incubation by chick development (around 37 days) and fledging by age and development (around 53 days usually, males slightly earlier than females). These key events are determined by factors such as physiology and innate behaviour.
What happens in August is a lot more tricky to predict. During the past week we've seen stonechats on the nest, a mistle thrush chasing Nora off her perch, another osprey on the nest for almost an hour, carrion crows looking for fish scraps and a shrew. A kestrel had the shrew to be honest so that doesn't really count. We've seen Ceulan become more independent and his mother is now catching her own fish. Nora's work is almost done for another year and we will probably see her for the last time this season pretty soon.
Nora is spooked by a hugh mistle thrush..
Ceulan will hang on until at least the end of August and probably into September, as will Monty. But who knows? August is a funny month. A time of sadness that our ospreys will be leaving soon for Africa for sure, but also a time of happiness that they have returned, survived the worst weather on record, and raised one, very special, young bird.
The time-scale of the Dyfi ospreys to date
I'll let you into a bit of a secret. Three weeks ago, myself and three colleagues from DOP - Alwyn, Posh Pete and Justin, popped down to the mouth of the Dyfi River for a couple of hours. Why? We've seen more ospreys on the Dyfi this year than in any other, and by quite a margin. We wanted to see if we could spot any ospreys fishing or flying around. It was a day we won't forget in a hurry.
First off, we saw this fellow perching right bang in the middle of the Dyfi Nature Reserve, owned by the Countryside Council for Wales. It looked like a male to me, but had quite a broad beak so difficult to tell from the 250m distance we were away.
Osprey, possibly male, but not ringed.
Next up, Alwyn shouts "OSPREY, TWO O'CLOCK". In very murky conditions this magnificent female was circling high above the estuary, only this time we could see leg rings. A BTO metal ring on the left leg and a white Darvic ring on the right. Unfortunately, we couldn't make out the ID characters on the Darvic, but being on the right leg we know she must be a Welsh or an English bird (Darvics go on the left leg in Scotland). Between 2008 and 2010, seven female ospreys have been ringed as chicks in the Glaslyn nest just 28 miles north of the Dyfi. Surely there must be a high probability that this bird is a Glaslyn osprey looking for a mate?
A ringed female osprey - is she a Welsh bird?
"TWO OSPREYS TOGETHER BEHIND - EIGHT O'CLOCK" - Alwyn was on form. "It's like being in the Gambia" roars Posh Pete. Sure enough there were two ospreys soaring together very high up as if they were pair bonding ready for next year. In all, there were four ospreys in view at the same time, I didn't know which direction to point the camera next.
The female of the pair had a leg ring, a Darvic, and this time we could make it out. It was blue with the numbers 12 clearly etched in white on the ring.
Blue 12 - moulting some primary and tail feathers
It was fantastic seeing Blue 12 again - she had already visited the Dyfi nest on May 21st. She is a Rutland Water osprey born in 2010 at Site N. She is also related to Nora. Blue 12's mother is Nora's sister which makes Ceulan a cousin to Blue 12.
Blue 12 tried to land on the Dyfi nest in May - fish in talons
So the two year old Blue 12 had been positively identified on the Dyfi on two separate occasions around seven weeks apart. She was next identified a week ago - at Rutland! Volunteers Monica and Tony spotted her at Manton Bay on July 23rd. Fast forward six days and you'll never guess who lands on the Dyfi nest for over 50 minutes..
As ever, change settings for High Definition
Blue 12 sightings this year:
May 21st - Dyfi
July 9th - Dyfi
July 22nd - Rutland
July 29th Dyfi
July 30th - Dyfi
So what's going on - what is Blue 12 doing? As adults, ospreys need two fundamental things in order to breed: Good fishing areas and a good nest site close to these fishing sites. Blue 12 is looking around for a nest and preferably one with a single male with it. It's too late this year to breed, but Blue 12 will be making mental notes of all the nest sites she has visited this year, her first year back in the UK as an adult, and will hopefully be back in 2013 to make claim to a nest and mate of her own.
Ceulan - saying 'Hello' to his cousin from Rutland
Males are slightly different. Whereas females will roam around until they find a suitable male holding a nest site and home range, a male will return from Africa and look for suitable areas to set up a nest. They prefer to take over a vacant nest (like Monty did). They will of course build their own, but herein lies a problem.
Hundreds of years ago there would have been numerous good areas to set up a nest next to a good fishing area. The irony is that today, the good fishing areas are still here - but the nest sites are not. Ospreys like to nest on damaged or dead trees and even on fallen trees if they are high enough off the ground. The problem is that over many years these kind of trees have been removed to make way for developments, agriculture, roads and so on. Others have been removed because of health and safety concerns - if they've been struck and damaged by lighting for example, perfect for ospreys. Furthermore, there is an artificially low number of ancestral nests due to centuries of persecution, so male ospreys are seldom in a position to take over a nest once it's owner dies.
This balance between prey availability and the number of osprey nesting sites needs to be re-calibrated. We have a situation where there are fishmongers everywhere but no houses to live in, and of the houses there are, none of them were built before 1960. Imagine that!
On a recent visit, Roy Dennis demonstrates a perfect location for a nest site on the Dyfi
So there you go, the secret is out! There are far more ospreys around than we think - many of them young birds looking for nest sites. We've just filled in our 50th "Intruder Sheet' yesterday. Imagine saying that just five years ago - 50 separate sightings of ospreys on or around the Dyfi nest since April - and those are just the ones that we have seen, there will have been many others. I will write a blog after the season finishes about building more nest platforms but, for now, it seems that the case for putting up more osprey nests is as compelling as at any other time.
Oh, and the male bird that Blue 12 was seen flying around together with for a good half hour as if they were pair bonding? Monty.
Nora sees off her niece Blue 12, but will she have more intra-family competition next year?
UPDATE - AUGUST 1st. Many thanks to Tony and Monica for getting in touch. Here is their image of Blue 12 when she was at Rutland on July 23rd. Excellent shot Tony.
© Tony Shooter
Cometh the hour, cometh a young osprey. At the age of 53 days and three hours at 09:29 on Saturday, July 21st, Ceulan took his inaugural flight. But just like any aviator would tell you, there was a lot of flight simulator training to be got through first. Leading up to his first controlled flight, here are some pre-flight checks from earlier in the week..
Of the 25 ospreys that have fledged nests in Wales in modern times, we know how old all of them were when they fledged apart from one (and that is possibly Monty from the 2004 Welshpool nest). On average, males have fledged at 52.1 days and females 54.2 days. So by this morning, Ceulan was 53 days old and just passed the average age for males. The day started with bright sunshine and no wind, quite the opposite to the weather we've been having this 'summer'. Nora stayed on top of the T perch for most of the early morning staring intensely at her son - maybe she knew that this was the day that her only offspring to survive in 2012 would take his first flight.
Nora is transfixed by Ceulan's attempts to get airborne for the first time
It began to look good from the Friday night - the weather had improved and importantly the high winds from earlier in the week had died down. The family had enjoyed three fish between them and young Ceulan had been at his most determined to get to the air. From very early on Saturday morning, Ceulan looked as if he was ready to go. At 09:29 and 10 seconds he jumped off his nest and home for the last 53 days and headed west. And then south, and then east and then north. He was up and away, he'd made it, he was flying free.
Ceulan's first flight lasted just over a minute and he landed on the ground between the nest and the Dyfi River. Our first thoughts were of the fox we'd seen prowling under the nest just a couple of days before. Then he was approached by a grazing cow - could he get trampled?
These cows are a lot bigger than I remember..
After three quarters of an hour he'd had enough cow watching and was airborne again. After a flight of around 30 seconds he landed safely, but rather unceremoniously, back on his nest. Big exhalation of breath all round. Ceulan's first foray from the nest lasted just over 48 minutes.
As I write, Ceulan has had two more adventures off the nest since his first this morning, the most recent ending with him grappling perilously to the very top of the ash tree perch whilst Nora circled around him. He's now back in the nest after Monty returned at 17:40 with a decent sized mullet.
Not as easy as it looks, flying - landing is even worse!
It's been great week for Welsh ospreys. With Ceulan, four have now fledged with just one to go at a private nest just to the north - he's also a male. Black 80 (Glaslyn 2006 male osprey) has two chicks with a new partner in Scotland, they are just over two weeks old. And on Wednesday last, the third Welsh osprey ever to have been re-sighted as having returned to the UK was confirmed at the Loch of the Lowes nest. She landed on the nest for a couple of minutes, whilst 'Lady' was away feeding her chick who had fledged, but had not returned to the nest (he has now - great news). This Glaslyn osprey is a 2009 bird with a leg ring White 91, curiously the BTO ring which was placed on the left leg at the time had fallen off shortly after being fitted in 2009. Three years on and indeed, the left leg was ringless. Strange old world.
White 91 - she has that very characteristic broad chest band that her mother has. Image Scottish Wildlife Trust
Finally, many congratulations to two people who won the "Guess the Fledging Time" competition on Facebook. Both Tiger and Nan Kirk tied, predicting Ceulan would fledge on July 21st and just six minutes from the actual time - unreal! A Monty fridge magnet on their way to you both.
Finally, finally, a big thank you to Alwyn who came in on his day off and manned the cameras from 6am to 10am, without whom, we would never have got those fantastic shots of Ceulan fledging and flying around the Dyfi for the first time. Diolch yn fawr Al.
A very pround Dyfi osprey family
July, Friday 13th didn't start very well. At 5am it was raining and misty, not the kind of weather to be ringing an osprey. Ceulan was 45 days old and Roy Dennis and Tony Cross had joined the Dyfi osprey team to ring young Ceulan and, if he was healthy, tag him with a satellite transmitter.
By 7am the rain had stopped and by 9am Ceulan looked dry in the nest. After the umpteenth coffee, we decided that the weather had, probably for the first time this year, been kind to us. We quickly gathered our things, set off and by 9.30am Tony had the ladder up to the nest and was bringing Ceulan gently to the ground.
I must admit, I had a tear in my eye when I saw Ceulan again - he looked a lot different to the last time we met.
Same bird, same place, five weeks apart.
As soon as Roy saw Ceulan he uttered one word - "male". It confirmed what we had been thinking for the last couple of weeks and by the time Tony had weighed him, it was beyond doubt. Ceulan weighed 1415g - a good healthy weight for a male osprey at six weeks old. Ceulan is a boy.
Next up was ringing. The plastic ID rings are called Darvic rings and in Scotland these are placed on the left leg. In Wales and England they go on the right leg - this then allows the same number to be used twice. All new rings for osprey are now blue, so in time this will become synonymous with British birds. (Some ringers do have some old stock of rings however, so not every single osprey ringed this year will have a blue ring, but the vast majority will). Different European countries have different colours for ospreys - Germany black, France orange, and so on.
Ceulan is the third male osprey to be ringed from the Dyfi nest, so 3C is quite apt!
Finally, we gave Ceulan his satellite tracker. Roy and Tony checked him over thoroughly and could find no signs of weakness or stress - Ceulan's weight also confirmed that he had been fed well and was in excellent condition. Yes, they've only had one chick to feed this year, but Monty and Nora have done an incredible job of raising Ceulan this summer - the worst breeding season, weather wise, in over 100 years since records began.
Aberystwyth University have kindly funded the tracker project and I will be writing a blog about this exciting new partnership, and the role satellite positioning plays in aiding osprey conservation and recovery, in the next few days. If you have any questions regarding satellite tracking ospreys, please keep them and ask them after the next blog - I'll do my best to answer all the questions. Here's a quick fact for now; the weight of the tracker we put on Ceulan yesterday is 30g. Bearing in mind he weighs 1415g, this represents around 2% of his body weight at the moment, but will be less by the time Ceulan migrates to Africa as he will have put some more weight on.
Roy fits the satellite tracker on to Ceulan's back as Tony holds him.
Ringing and satellite tagging ospreys is stressful at the best of times, but doing it in the public gaze takes it to another level. Every decision has to be a quality decision and the correct decision. Mistakes cannot be made. Every time I meet Roy, Tony and many other ringers I am humbled by their enthusiasm and professionalism. At 2pm I took Roy to Machynlleth train station to catch his afternoon train to Rutland, where he will be satellite tagging two ospreys there. As I shook his hand and thanked him he said to me - "It looks good for ospreys in Wales, doesn't it?"
Indeed it does. A third and new osprey nest, just 26 miles from the Dyfi nest as the osprey flies, has produced one chick this year - a male. That's five young ospreys in all this year from three nests, surviving through in the most hideous of conditions, and four of them are males. It is male ospreys that tend to come back close to where they were born to set up nests of their own once they are old enough.
Ceulan will fledge in around a week's time - probably next weekend (Sunday is my bet). As we placed him back in the bag to return him to his nest yesterday, I was struck by two things: how warm he was and how orange his eyes were. Then I thought - I wonder if he remembers me? Probably not, it doesn't matter, I just hope I see him again in two or three years time, only not so close next time.
A huge thanks to Roy and Tony once again.
Mother and son were soon reunited in the nest
This week's blog is all about one very special bird. On Tuesday, Ceulan will reach the grand old age of six weeks young - something that, at the age of 11 days old, we never thought would happen.
May 29th - Ceulan receiving his first ever bit of food. Sadly the first chick to hatch (left) died two days later
The age of six weeks old represents something of a milestone for young ospreys. Ceulan will now be almost fully self thermoregulating - he can look after his own body temperature without assistance. He's also big enough to have escaped the clutches of all but the most desperate of avian predators. In fact, he's so big, Ceulan will be around 90% of the body mass of what he'll be as a juvenile migrating to Africa for the first time. He looks quite a bit smaller than his parents, especially when he's wet, but a lot of this is due to feather development - over the next two weeks there will be a huge spurt in feather growth, particularly the flight critical feathers: primaries, secondaries and 12 tail feathers.
Day 38. Despite a month's worth of rain (61mm) falling on him in a day, Ceulan is much better equipped now to deal with adverse conditions
Monty has brought 17 fish back to the nest this week so far with just a few hours to go, the (equal) highest weekly total so far this year. Interestingly, only two flounders this week and domestic relations seem to be good again between Monty and Nora after last week's altercations. Another species this week too - a garfish. Monty brought two garfish in last year, they seem to be a speciality of his.
This is not turning out to be a good day
Roy Dennis will be joining us later on this week as will Tony Cross from the Welsh Kite Trust. Young Ceulan will have a Darvic ring placed on his right leg and a BTO ring on his left. Over the last couple of weeks I have been zooming in on some of Ceulan's feathers looking for fault-bars with our HD cameras. These are tell tale signs depicting lack of growth/feeding during young age and the general healthiness of a nestling - I haven't found many. In collaboration with Roy and Tony, we will make a decision whether to satellite tag Ceulan on the day of the ringing. If we see any signs of weakness or decide that Ceulan is not in the best possible health, he will not be tagged.
The day of the ringing has not been set yet as it is dependent on many things, including the weather, but we will aim for Thursday or Friday. We need to pick a time basically when it is not raining or blowing a gale.
Rain, rain go away
I said in last week's blog that during the week we will start to see developmental clues as to whether Ceulan is a male of a female. Thanks to many of you that 'voted' on our Facebook page. Males tend to be smaller, whiter and thinner as a general rule with a narrower beak and skinnier legs. Without other chicks in the nest to act as a comparison however, it is extremely difficult. Here's Ceulan today - what do you think?
Ceulan age 40 days. Boy or girl?
Finally, excellent news from the Glaslyn ospreys just 30 miles north of us. They have, for the fifth year in succession, successfully fledged three chicks from the nest - that's 21 birds in all since 2005. That's some going, particularly considering the weather we've had this year. They had two males and a female - let's hope we see them back in a few years time - llongyfarchiadau. The first Rutland osprey of the season fledged today (male) also from their Site B nest (that's Nora's Dad so it's her half brother). Many congratulations to them. And at the other extreme, Black 80 (a Glaslyn 2006 male osprey) has just become a Dad for the fourth year running at his Scottish nest. What a strange season it's turning out to be - ospreys hatching at one nest and fledging at another within hours of each other!
And finally, finally - Bob has asked me to thank everyone that sent him good wishes following last week's blog. He popped in quickly this morning to give us a cake - he's well back on the road to recovery. (The cake didn't last long Bob)
Here's a short video from today - it promises to be a special week this week for you-know-who.
It’s been a funny old week. The Met office have confirmed that the three month period April to June 2012 has been the worst since records began over 100 years ago. We’ve had more than three times the ‘average’ amount of rain here on the Dyfi – unprecedented and, hopefully, something we'll witness just once in a lifetime.
We’ve had a few unusual things happen on the Dyfi nest during the week to say the least. Aggression, mating attempts, a fight with a cormorant; in fact – the only thing that has stayed consistent throughout is the weather. A few things to address this week, so this week’s blog is divided into sub sections.
Nora checks on young Ceulan during a brief sunny period inbetween the rain showers on Friday
Things have been a bit tense between Monty and Nora over the last few days, they’ve certainly not been seeing eye to eye.
Family squabbles - happened last year too
On Friday and Saturday (June 29th and 30th) we observed Nora mantling at Monty and pecking at him, almost as if he was an intruder osprey. What on earth would give Nora reason to behave in an aggressive way like this? Interestingly, we saw the same pattern of behaviour at around the same time last year. Roy Dennis was with us when it happened in 2011, filming for Autumnwatch so we asked him. He was quite worried and said that he had not seen this type of behaviour in ospreys before.
Nora chases Monty off the nest even before he gets a chance to deliver his freshly acquired nesting material
Roy also said that with controllable cameras, we were picking up on all sorts of behaviours that would be difficult to pick out using a more conventional telescope and notebook approach. Maybe aggression between two breeding ospreys like this is more common than we thought? Maybe similar events at osprey nests in the past have been ticked off as an intruder passing by? They happen so quickly we often have to slow down the recordings, frame by frame, to check which bird is which.
We have a theory! In 2011, Monty brought four flounders back to the nest in quick succession just before the mantling and aggression started - we’re convinced Nora does not like flounders, she’s not used to them. They take a lot of work to get the calories out and Nora would not have dealt with many, if any at all, before arriving at the Dyfi as a three year old. (She’s from Rutland Water – no flounders there).
She doesn't look too impressed does she!
This week Monty has caught four more flounders, one on Sunday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday – is there a correlation between the amount of flounders brought back and Nora’s aggression? We’ll continue to look at this as well as other possible links. Maybe the fish stats complied later on tonight (published on Facebook) will reveal something?
The Nest Perch
Before the start of this season we made two very simple perches and placed them around three feet above the ground a few yards away from the nest. We thought the ospreys would use these low level perches if we had particularly windy days – we’ve certainly had plenty of them! We also placed a dead branch to the side of the nest, elevated a few feet above the upper most sticks. This perch was intended for either parent, particularly at this period of the breeding season when they have growing chick(s) in the nest.
The new nest perch is certainly proving useful for both Monty and Nora. Here’s a short video of the various activities carried out on it just from this week.
Ringing and satellite tagging
We will ring Ceulan when he is around six weeks old, but we need decent weather to do it. As I write Ceulan is 9 days short of six weeks. A decision whether to satellite tag Ceulan will be made on the day of the ringing, when we will be able to assess his condition and how healthy he is. He looks great on the TV screens and by being the only chick of the brood to survive he will hopefully be stronger for it.
The satellite tracking of Leri, Dulas and Einion over the last year has provided an enormous amount of information about osprey ecology and migration. Already we have made strong links with communities and schools in Africa as well as here in Wales. Tim Mackrill from the Rutland Osprey Project is keen on developing further links with communities, schools and universities all the way down the osprey migration route as part of the West Africa Project. Ospreys are still shot in many countries on their migration to Africa. Five ospreys have been shot dead recently - in the UK!
I'm as guilty as anyone for calling Ceulan 'he'. It's just easier than saying 'he/she' every time and a lot more endearing than calling Ceulan 'it'! From about this age onwards however, Ceulan's phenotype (what he looks like) will start to give us clues. For a female look for darker chest plumage as the feathers start to come through and a thicker beak. If Ceulan had sisters or brothers in the nest with him it would be a lot easier of course, so it is extremely difficult saying with any degree of certainty whether Ceulan is male or female at this point. When we ring him he will also be weighed and his wing length measured - this will give us a better idea.
Finally, the weather. It’s amazing that so much wildlife has made it this far considering all the rain and winds we’ve had – more than 200% of the usual amount of rain for the time of year. The forecast for the next week is not too clever either – when will it all end? Here’s a quick video of Nora shielding an ever expanding Ceulan from the weather – inspirational Mother nature in both senses of the word.
This week’s blog is called ‘Bits and Bobs’ for obvious reasons, but it is also to wish our committed volunteer Bob a full recovery. Bob was the first person to see Nora back in the UK at 7am on April 9th last year, but he’s not been very well for a couple of weeks and has not been down to the project. It’s his birthday today as well, so all the best Bob – hope to see you back to full fitness soon mate.
Young Ceulan being fed by his Dad - growing up fast and looking more like an osprey everyday