The Lodge Forest Visitor Centre in Aberfoyle is a five-star visitor attraction run by Forest Enterprise Scotland. It has a wildlife room - which is a joint project between Forest Enterprise Scotland and RSPB Scotland - where visitors can watch fantastic wildlife nearly every day, with webcams showing live nests and highlight reels. It’s been a brilliantly busy summer this year - wildlife officer Jenni Fulton brings us this summary.
During 2016, a pair of ospreys provided no end of drama in Aberfoyle. The male and female were both completely new to the site, having not settled here before. Neither of the birds had been ringed so unfortunately we didn’t know anything about their history, for example their age or where they came from. The pair quickly learned to build and defend a nest, bond with each other and produce three blotchy brown eggs.
When the first was laid, the male was curious about this new object in his nest, but the female was initially reluctant to let him observe or sit on the eggs, until he literally shouldered her aside. He spent ten minutes repeatedly sitting down and standing up, before seemingly getting bored and flying off! Luckily mum was on hand to take over again.
Despite weeks of snow, heavy rain, gales and unseasonably cold temperatures, the birds’ patient egg incubation paid off and they were rewarded with three healthy young chicks - two males and one female. At six weeks old, all three chicks were ringed and both males also had satellite trackers fitted so they can be monitored as they make their first migration to North or West Africa, where they will spend the next few years of their lives.
The osprey chicks fledged in August at around eight weeks of age, although the first flights were heart-stopping as first one, then another failed to make safe landings - clinging on to the edge of the nest before struggling to get back on board. Ospreys can perish if they miss the nest as they may not be able to take off again from a busy forest floor, and they are still dependant on fish being brought in to them by their parents.
Sadly, many ospreys don’t make it to adulthood and often we don’t understand why. But with trackers fitted, the data gathered will allow us to see exactly where these young birds go and whether they survive, which will contribute to the valuable knowledge needed to offer protection for this amazing species in future.
This year at Aberfoyle, we were also privileged to be able to watch a pair of peregrine falcons nesting on a nearby cliff edge. They found a south facing ledge with a slight overhang above, where they were warmed by the morning sun and protected from rain or snow. Four nut-brown eggs hatched after five weeks, producing four perfectly white chicks, which quickly became four boisterous young male birds.
Day after day they grew, until they were no longer fluffy bundles - but slightly smaller versions of their parents, with handsome barring on their chests and distinct black eye masks. With the ledge available to clamber about on, the chicks gradually wandered out of sight more and more often, although at meal times they were quick to reappear for a frantic feeding frenzy. Now in August, they can still be seen and heard flying around nearby.
Unfortunately owls have had a pretty tough season at Aberfoyle, with many of the nest boxes that have been installed to give these animals a home going unused. However, this has been to the benefit of other species such as gooseanders, which have been taking advantage of the spare space and moving in – some managing to lay 12 or more eggs at a time!
As the forest is home to pine martens, the owl boxes need to be positioned so these predators can’t climb down from adjacent trees and get inside. The tree trunks also have to be covered with material they cannot scale. One box we had a camera on was inhabited by barn owls and we knew at least two eggs had been laid. We eventually saw two white fluffy bundles, but then eventually only one chick reaching fledging age.
From the hide, viewing areas and on the wildlife cameras at the site, visitors can also see red squirrels, great spotted woodpeckers, jays, and nuthatches, as well as great, blue and coal tits. Recently a sparrowhawk has taken to catching unwary prey down by the feeders too.
The ospreys may have fledged and left the site now, but you can still view live wildlife footage of plenty of other species, and special films of this year’s families, at the Lodge Forest Visitor Centre. There’s also a special bat event taking place on Saturday 27 August 27. For more information, click here.