New footage has revealed this year’s osprey chicks survived two close shaves with a tenacious pine marten. The Loch Arkaig youngsters were named Mallie and Rannoch after a vote among nestcam viewers worldwide. But it could have been a different story. It seems the clutch of eggs were almost a late night snack for the hungry predator.

Repeat invaders

We launched our live internet camera stream, supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, in 2017. Despite a marten checking out the Loch Arkaig nest early on, novice parents Louis and Aila successfully raised their first chick, Lachlan.

But in 2018, the season came to an abrupt end when a pine marten managed to steal all three eggs from the nest.

We have since discovered a marten attempted another egg raid this year. Fortunately this one was repelled by our first line of defence.

Well, we woke this morning to a very sad sight at our Loch Arkaig osprey nest. An empty nest. And when we scrolled back, we discovered that a pine marten had actually been in the night and taken all three eggs away. Now this is very upsetting to see, but actually it’s part of the natural way of things and that’s what we set out to show when we put this camera in. We hope that people won’t think of the pine marten as any kind of villain. This camera really gives a very specific slice of Loch Arkaig life and, you know, every time Louis has brought in a fish, we celebrate that but perhaps if we’d been following a fish this summer you know, we would have seen him as the villain for taking a trout and if we had a camera in our pine marten den, then we might be celebrating a good job this morning for dad bringing home some eggs.  

I think the difference between being an animal lover and being a wildlife conservationist is that an animal lover tends to dwell on the individual creature and its prospects, but as wildlife conservationists we really have to look at the bigger picture and think of whole species and how they fit into the community of life. So, while we have every sympathy for their predicament, it’s important to realise that across Scotland and Britain ospreys are doing really well and there will be chicks raised this year and there will also be eggs predated. There will be chicks that don’t make it but somewhere along the line some of these birds will make it to Africa and then they’ll make it back to here and the whole thing will go round again. So, I think we’re really saying to people: grieve a little while for the loss of these eggs but remember that the wider picture is a lot more positive than that and that the important thing is that we look after these special places like Loch Arkaig where a whole multitude of wildlife can live its life and the cycle can go on. That’s the important thing. What we can provide for wildlife is the habitat for them to get on and do their things, face their challenges. We can’t help them through all the challenges of life, but we can give them the habitat to have a good crack at it and thats what we, the Woodland Trust, are doing at Loch Arkaig by maintaining this amazing pine forest and it’s what we do at sites all over the UK.  

Wellwhere there are pine martens and ospreys, there will always be pine martens taking osprey eggs. There always has been and there always will be as long as both of these creatures are around. And remember that both of these creatures have actually nearly been wiped out in the past, not by each other but by people, the persecution they suffer at the hands of people, so they’re well able to cope with each other aa threat. So, we’re not saying don’t grieve for these birds. We’ll be grieving at the Woodland Trust too – for Louis and Aila and the loss of their eggs  but I think we should reflect that they’ll get on with thingsmaybe not this year but they will try again and hopefully succeed next year, and they’ll throw themselves into being ospreys. It’ll be beautiful. It’ll be harsh. It’ll be cruel sometimes. But that’s the way it is with wild things  little triumphs and tragedies are constantly taking place across the natural world. What’s important is that places like Loch Arkaig Pine Forest continue to offer a stunning home for the wide range of plants and insects, birds, fish and other creatures that live there. Wild animals have it hard and I think our camera has shown that, but they are also tenacious, and they keep at it and they keep coming back, so we’ll keep coming back and we hope that Louis and Aila do as well, and whilst our season has been cut short at Loch Arkaig, it has always been a privilege to just have a peek into part of this wild heart of the forest. 

 

 

Marten-proofing measures

In a bid to protect the osprey nest, we have put several measures in place:

  • a slippery sleeve around the base of the trunk, covered in grease so martens can't grip to climb
  • a band of electrified wire further up the trunk to gently jolt any raiders
  • removal of all low hanging branches so martens have no jump-on points
  • a layer of chicken wire running through the nest platform. Martens have been known to tunnel through the bottom of nests to remove eggs from under a sitting osprey!

All these measures except the electrified wire were in place in 2018. The marten’s entry route appears to have been a large branch, blown down from a neighbouring tree, which ended up leaning against the ospreys’ tree.

Caught on camera

To monitor how the marten-proofing was performing this year, our osprey adviser Lewis Pate left a trail camera at the foot of the tree. This motion-triggered camera captured shots of every visitor who came to call.

When Lewis ringed the osprey chicks on 4 July, he retrieved the memory card, revealing shots of the would-be egg thief! The marten had tried and failed to scramble up the slippery covering at the base of the tree.

Less of a threat to the nest, a young badger was also snapped having a look around.

Our osprey audience around the world has been fearful of another marten raid, so it’s good to see that the defences have been effective.

However, we don’t think the species need to be protected from each other in a wider sense. We have intervened because we want people to be able to follow this osprey family raising chicks. A lot of time and effort has been put in to offer the livestream so we feel it is reasonable to fit some marten-proofing.  

It is entirely natural for pine martens to take osprey eggs and the mammal is not a threat to the ongoing survival of the bird.

Their biggest problem has been people.

A shared history of human persecution

Ospreys and pine martens were both wiped out from vast areas of the country by the actions of people.

Ospreys were shot for taxidermy, or because they were seen as a threat to game. Collectors also took their eggs. Appallingly, they became extinct in the UK in 1916. The last pair nested on an island in Loch Arkaig.

The comeback began in 1954 when a pair settled to breed at Loch Garten in the Cairngorms. Now thanks to decades of work to reintroduce this magnificent bird and protect its habitat, we have more than 300 breeding pairs in Britain. 

Although the pine marten was one of the most common carnivores in Britain, it is now one of the rarest. Their dramatic decline was caused by loss of habitat, the fur industry and predator control associated with game shooting. By the early 20th century, the species was close to extinction, surviving in just a few scattered pockets.

Fortunately, pine martens are now protected and numbers are growing as conservationists work to save the species. We have joined the Pine Marten Recovery Project with the Vincent Wildlife Trust and others to help boost pine marten populations. In fact, 51 pine martens from healthy populations in Scotland have been carefully moved to Wales. After a good deal of research and survey work, they are now well established in the Welsh forests.

At Loch Arkaig we have taken marten-proofing precautions at our nest as far as we think it is reasonable to go. Both now back from the brink of extinction, these two species are likely to remain at the heart of the drama for years to come.

Don’t miss the ospreys’ summer in Scotland

Oblivious to all this activity from the heights of their nest, Louis and Aila have successfully raised two females, Mallie and Rannoch.

There are a few more weeks to enjoy the family yet before the youngsters fledge and all migrate south. Follow all the action on our live streaming nest camera supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

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