Will I see the ospreys if I visit Loch Arkaig?

Loch Arkaig Pine Forest is a wonderful place to visit, but as far as the ospreys are concerned, the camera live stream is the best place to watch them.

It is not possible to approach the nest tree if you visit Loch Arkaig during the breeding season. You might see ospreys flying around in the wider landscape but you are unlikely to see them fishing as there are no regular spots.

How were names chosen for the Loch Arkaig ospreys?

When the nest camera first went live in 2017 a young male bird took up residence on the nest and began waiting for a suitable mate. He was on his own for three weeks, so Woodland Trust staff nicknamed him 'Lonesome Louis' – pronounced Loo-ee. When a female finally did pair up with him we dropped the Lonesome.

The female was named 'Aila' – a name found in several different languages. It is the Finnish equivalent of Helga or Olga, meaning 'bringer of light'. In Scottish Gaelic, it means 'from the strong place'.

The pair's first chick, hatched in 2017, was named 'Lachlan' by camera viewers. The name means 'from the land of the lakes'.

During the 2019 season we asked camera viewers for suggestions to name the two chicks and put them to a vote. One chick was named 'Mallie' after Glen Mallie where the nest is located. The other was named 'Rannoch' to honour our volunteer Liz Bracken who lives at Loch Arkaig. There was already an osprey elsewhere named 'Bracken', so we used the Gaelic equivalent – 'Rannoch'.

How can I tell which bird is Louis and which is Aila?

Aila, the female, is slightly larger with more pronounced neck and chest feathers. The male, Louis, has a paler chest. Our osprey ID blog will help you get to grips with it.

Why do both birds spread their wings out after landing on the nest?

This is a submissive gesture called ‘coy mantling’ and is part of courtship behaviour. Ospreys will also mantle defensively to protect a fish or the nest from intruders.

How do Louis and Aila divide up the work?

The male osprey brings in all the food during the nesting season. The female does most of the egg and chick sitting, but the male usually takes over once a day to give her a short break. Aila has to tussle with Louis at times to get him to move off the nest – he appears to like sitting!

When the nest is threatened it is generally up to the female to defend. Viewers are often aghast the male doesn’t help, but even the tiniest injury could stop him fishing and threaten the whole family’s future.

Do ospreys need to mate only once before eggs arrive?

No, frequent mating is required to stimulate the female to produce an egg. The egg likely won't be fertilised until the last few days before laying so repeated mating is required for success.

More experienced pairs lay multiple eggs, usually around two days apart. Louis and Aila have produced nine eggs since 2017 and of those three chicks have successfully fledged.

Why doesn't Aila fish for herself before the eggs arrive?

Female ospreys don't normally fish for themselves during the breeding season. As part of courtship, the male brings in food to impress the female with his fishing skills. That way she knows he is able to provide for their offspring.

Where does Louis fish?

Louis doesn’t have any favoured spots on Loch Arkaig so might hunt anywhere along its 12 mile length. He is also seen heading in the direction of Loch Lochy which lies off to the right of the camera view.

He brings in saltwater fish so we know he must be hunting at sea too, probably in Loch Eil. This is only slightly further away from the nest than the Western end of Loch Arkaig itself.

What fish are the Arkaig ospreys eating?

Identifying fish species at the nest can be tricky because our view is limited and the fish are often bashed around and sometimes headless by the time Louis brings them in. But by far the biggest item on the menu is brown trout.

Saltwater flatfish also make a regular appearance as the season progresses. We generally assume these are flounder but it is possible some could be dab or plaice which look similar. In summer huge shoals of mackerel mass all around the British coast and it is quite common for Louis to appear at the nest with these too.

Migratory salmon pass through the loch as they head from the sea to their spawning burns. Most salmon are too big for an osprey to manage, but a few return after just one winter and are well within Louis’ capabilities. These yearling salmon are known as grilse. Just to complicate matters, some brown trout also go to sea and return to the loch to spawn. These are called sea trout. Louis generally brings in a few grilse and sea trout each year.

Deep in the loch there are shoals of Arctic charr which are normally out of reach of a diving osprey. If they do come to the surface they can be taken and we believe Louis has brought in two or three of these fish in the past, but it is a real rarity. It can be difficult to tell brown trout, grilse, sea trout and charr apart on our camera view. If in doubt it is probably a trout! Very occasionally we have seen saltwater species like pollock or coley which look quite similar.

Loch Arkaig contains non-native pike which can grow to be huge. Smaller 'jack pike' might be catchable for an osprey. Pike have a very distinctive shape and fin profile and so are quite easy to identify. We think Louis has only brought in one pike to the nest so far.

Louis frequently catches four or more fish a day, though this varies depending on the weather; when visibility is poor, fishing is more difficult. If the weather is wild when chicks are young and in need of food, it can be a worrying time for viewers. This variability is however completely natural.

Where does Louis sleep when Aila is on the nest?

It is actually quite uncomfortable for ospreys to stand on a flat surface, so both Louis and Aila roost on one of several nearby branches at night time. When eggs and chicks are present Aila will sleep on the nest through the night.

Are there other osprey nests nearby?

There is an osprey nest at the far western end of the loch and another at Bunarkaig towards Loch Lochy to the east. Both of these nests have fledged chicks in recent years.

Where do the Loch Arkaig ospreys spend the winter?

We don’t know for sure. Most Scottish ospreys migrate to the wetlands and estuaries of West African countries such as Senegal and Gambia, but birds seem to be increasingly spending time in Spain and Portugal too. We know that a chick which fledged from the nest at the west end of Loch Arkaig settled in Spain before unfortunately dying on a faulty power line.

Does the osprey family travel together when they migrate?

Ospreys migrate individually. Aila will leave first. Louis will wait until the chicks have all left before setting off himself. Louis and Aila won't meet up again until next year at the nest. The chicks don't intentionally meet up again with each other or Mum and Dad. So, our livestream covers the entirety of their time together as a family. 

Are the Loch Arkaig ospreys ringed?

A licensed raptor expert from the Highland Raptor Study Group records and rings chicks at our nest and the other two nests in the area. Scottish ospreys have a metal British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) ring fitted to their right leg and a plastic blue Darvic ring on their left leg.

The Darvic ring has unique letters and numbers which allow the bird to be identified from a distance. English and Welsh ospreys have the Darvic ring on their right leg.

What are the Loch Arkaig chicks' ring numbers?

JH4 – Lachlan, male, fledged in 2017
JJ0 – Mallie, female, fledged in 2019
JJ2 – Rannoch, female, fledged in 2019

Why don’t you satellite track the Loch Arkaig ospreys?

We believe satellite tracking is only appropriate as part of scientific studies with clearly stated aims to benefit the species concerned. Woodland Trust Scotland is a woodland conservation charity and we share the nest camera with you as a slice of wild forest life. Osprey research is outside our remit. We don’t feel it would be right to add satellite tags to the birds just to satisfy viewer curiosity.

Are the ospreys from the nest male or female?

The only members of our osprey family whose gender we can be sure of are Louis and Aila. Based on various measurements taken when they were ringed we can estimate that Lachlan is male, and that Mallie and Rannoch are female. We will only know for sure if they are observed nesting in future.

Will the chicks come back to Loch Arkaig?

To avoid in-breeding, male ospreys tend to return to nest in the area where they fledged, while females tend to travel elsewhere. So we might expect to see Lachlan again at some point in 2020 or later. There have so far been no sightings of any of the three chicks Louis and Aila have raised. Some regular viewers are convinced Louis fledged from the Loch Arkaig camera nest.

Where is Loch Arkaig in relation to the view on the nest cam?

Loch Arkaig lies in a dip near the top of the camera view and runs off several miles to the left. The eastern end of the Loch is just off the screen view to the right. Everything above the yellow line is on the north bank. Everything below the yellow line is south of the Loch.

What are 'the stick tree' and 'the pole tree'?

There are two dead trees in the camera view where the adult ospreys regularly perch. The pole tree is the straight one on the left. The stick tree is the forked one further away.

What is 'Boaby the birch'?

The birch tree immediately behind the nest and to the left has been nicknamed Boaby (a Scottish pronunciation of Bobby). Boaby’s foliage is often remarked on by viewers as it changes through the season.

Is the nest protected against pine martens?

Pine marten predation of eggs or chicks is as natural as osprey predation of fish. As we have invested in the camera equipment and hope to show everyone a full season of osprey activity, we think it is reasonable for this nest to benefit from some protection.

The lower part of the nest tree trunk has a slippery sleeve fitted which is covered in grease so martens cannot get purchase. Lower branches have been removed so there are no jumping-on points. Further up the trunk there is an electrified wire wrap which will give any raider a mild shock. The nest platform also has a layer of chicken-wire through it which stops martens burrowing through.

What were the notable dates in each season?

2017

10 April - Louis arrived 
28 April - Aila arrived 

10 May - first egg laid
13 May - second egg laid
16 May - third egg laid

7 June - first egg hatched
18 June - second egg hatched
21 June - third egg hatched

23 July - Lachlan ringed
9 August - Lachlan fledged

2018

6 April - Louis arrived
6 April - Aila arrived

23 April - first egg laid
26 April - second egg laid
29 April - third egg laid

11 May - eggs taken by pine marten

2019

4 April - Louis arrived
4 April - Aila arrived

23 April - first egg laid
26 April - second egg laid
29 April - third egg laid

1 June - first egg hatched (Mallie)
4 June - second egg hatched (Rannoch)

4 July - Mallie and Rannoch ringed
20 July - Mallie fledged
27 July - Rannoch fledged

2020

5 April – Louis arrived
6 April – Aila arrived
23 April - first egg laid
26 April - second egg laid
29 April - third egg laid

29 May - first egg hatched

1 June - second egg hatched
3 June - third egg hatched

 

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