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Osprey chick brings good news to Loch Arkaig

When a pine marten raided our camera nest at Loch Arkaig back in May, it seemed like our osprey story might be over for the year. But Louis and Aila are still around, and two other lucky parents have successfully raised a chick at the next nearest osprey nest, 2km away.

Osprey success at Loch Arkaig

Two other eggs in the nearby nest failed to hatch, but the chick is healthy and ready to fledge soon. The welcome arrival has now been ringed so it can be identified and monitored for the rest of its life. It will be easy to spot that it originated in Scotland, as Scottish ospreys are given a blue number tag on the left leg, while English and Welsh birds are colour tagged on the right. Measurements are usually taken at the ringing stage to give a good estimation as to whether the bird is male or female, but unfortunately this wasn’t possible as we don’t know when the eggs were laid or when this one hatched. We can't be certain why the other two failed to hatch - they may have been left unattended and got cold, or may not have fertilised properly in the first place. All being well though, Loch Arkaig will be sending at least one new arrival to Africa this year!

The chick raised 2km from our camera nest has been ringed for future identification and monitoring (Photo: Lewis Pate)
The chick raised 2km from our camera nest has been ringed for future identification and monitoring (Photo: Lewis Pate)
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Louis and Aila’s story continues

Life also goes on for our camera nest resident pair, Louis and Aila. They have been continuing to reinforce their bonds with each other and with the nest, even though they have no youngsters to raise. He has been catching fish for her and they appear at the nest almost daily. Every now and then he attempts a mating manoeuvre, although we are well past the possibility of more eggs. Sticks have been brought in, arranged and re-arranged. They must defend the tree or other birds may take it over.

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The new chick is great news for Loch Arkaig after Louis and Aila lost their eggs (Photo: Lewis Pate)
The new chick is great news for Loch Arkaig after Louis and Aila lost their eggs (Photo: Lewis Pate)

Camera catastrophe

Unfortunately, the camera - supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery - is currently offline due to a technical fault. After exhausting every potential fix on site we removed the camera and sent it away for examination. It looks highly likely that the root of the problem may have been a lightning strike which knocked out the camera’s ability to receive power from our solar panel. With this in mind, perhaps we should call the new chick ‘Bolt’!

Thankfully, our brilliant volunteer, Liz has a good view from her home across the loch and is keeping tabs on the activity, so we know that Louis and Aila are still around.

We hope to have the live feed online again before the end of summer so Louis and Aila’s many fans can see them before their migration. See the story behind the camera

Fallen branches are likely to have offered a pine marten a way onto the tree (Photo: Lewis Pate)
Fallen branches are likely to have offered a pine marten a way onto the tree (Photo: Lewis Pate)

Marten-proofing our tree

Ahead of the season, we took various steps to keep pine martens out of the camera tree. There is a slick coating on the trunk to make it difficult to climb, and low hanging branches were removed so that a marten could not jump on that way. But these are resourceful and agile creatures, and are not called ‘pine’ martens for nothing! In early May there was a raid on the nest that resulted in the loss of all three of Aila and Louis’ eggs.

During recent visits to the tree to deal with the camera’s technical issues, potential access points for the pine marten came to light. Branches had partially snapped off, probably during high winds, and were hanging down to the ground. We will never know for sure but this looks like the most likely solution to the mystery. These branches have now been trimmed off, along with some others that looked at risk of snapping in future.

We have been considering what extra steps we can take to protect the nest ahead of next year’s osprey season. While we might give this tree extra security because we have a camera fitted and we want people to see a family being raised, we can’t intervene too much in what are entirely natural processes. Pine marten and osprey populations were almost wiped out in the past due to human persecution – but they are well able to withstand the attentions of each other.

Two eggs from the neighbouring nest failed to hatch. (Photo: Lewis Pate)
Two eggs from the neighbouring nest failed to hatch. (Photo: Lewis Pate)

Will Aila learn from the pine marten attack?

It may be that the best marten-proofing will have been gained through our ospreys’ bitter experience.  When a pine marten approached the famous nest at Loch Garten in the Cairngorms this spring, EJ the veteran female osprey stayed tight on her eggs and successfully stared the intruder out. This bird previously lost a clutch when she came off her nest to fly at a pine marten, so she seems to have learnt that doesn’t work and that sitting tight is best.

When our nest was attacked in May, Aila flew off the eggs and swooped at the pine marten, calling in alarm. Perhaps she might also tuck this experience away in her memory and, like EJ, learn to stay put if a pine marten calls again.   

We bought Loch Arkaig pine forest in partnership with local group Arkaig Community Forest. Aside from ospreys and pine martens, the site is home to a wide range of amazing wildlife including golden eagles, sea eagles, rare butterflies, red squirrels and wild boar.

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