This blog is written by Abernethy staff throughout the changing seasons here on the reserve.
During summer it's likely there'll be more frequent blogs as the ospreys return to breed at the Loch Garten nest and the drama unfolds.
We hope you enjoy following life at Abernethy reserve.
Thanks for reading!
Another season has come and gone. We have officially closed the Osprey Centre (the pit traps and electric fences are all in place), we’ve removed the cameras from the osprey nest (carefully trimming the newly sprouted lawn at the same time) and we’ve tidied EJ away in her box (that’s a joke, of course – we actually rent her a room in a hotel in Aviemore for the winter). We’ve also been busy preparing the reserve and its inhabitants for the onset of winter. We’ve sellotaped ear tufts onto all the red squirrels, wrapped scarves around all the Scots pine trees (that was no easy task) and this morning I’ve been leaving tiny sacks of logs outside all the fairy doors (fairies absolutely love a roaring log fire but they hate chopping wood themselves. They can actually be very lazy).
EJ on her nest...on a screen...on a wall.
Now that the end of season tasks are more or less complete, it’s always nice to reflect on the season and pick out some of the highlights (some seasons have more highlights than others). In case you’ve already forgotten the events of this summer, here’s a quick recap.
21st March – EJ the female osprey arrives back. It’s the joint earliest she’s ever been seen back at the nest here and is a little bit annoying as we’d paid for her room in Aviemore until the end of March.
31st March – A white-tailed eagle flies past the nest, prompting EJ to repeatedly mob the larger bird. It’s not often ospreys are made to look so small!
17th April – The first egg is laid. We assume it belongs to a dashing, young male osprey who has recently been mating with EJ and who we call George (after George Waterston, not George from Rainbow as Blair suggests).
20th April – A second egg is laid.
24th April – The third egg appears on the nest. EJ is incubating, George is providing fish. What can possibly go wrong?
16th May – After one fish from George in about 11 days, EJ’s survival instinct kicks in and she leaves the eggs to fish for herself. Initially she returns to incubate the eggs but alarm bells start ringing at the centre (not literally).
30th May – After several fishing trips away from the nest, EJ abandons the eggs realising, no doubt, that they are no longer viable and further incubation is probably futile. George looks rather sheepish.
19th June – Overnight, a pine marten sneaks onto the nest and removes the eggs for a tasty snack. Eggs that have been sitting in the hot sun day after day for about a month. Yummy, that’s good eatin’!
3rd August – EJ is sighted from the Osprey Centre for the last time. She heads south and is last heard muttering something about useless men...
Depite the flippancy of this round up (apologies), it was obviously a very tough season for all of us at Loch Garten and, I’m sure, for many of you too. Nature is often heart warming and regularly uplifting but can also frequently be brutal and exceptionally difficult to witness. For two years now at Loch Garten, we have experienced this reality first-hand and it’s certainly not easy. Hopefully, next year George (or whichever male takes EJ’s fancy) will step up and we’ll have a successful season with no drama (well, maybe a little bit of drama is fine)!
Anyway, before I give you my reflections on the season, here is the outgoing Loch Garten team to say good bye and tell you about their thoughts on all that has happened (and what might be happening next...). First up is the man, no, the legend they call Blair.
Hello Bloggers, Long-time no hablar! It’s the end of the season now, and like the ospreys it’s time for me to also spread my wings and migrate south. Just like EJ (we presume) I will be flying off to southern Spain to hopefully learn the local lingo, drink plenty of sangria and maybe sample the local nightlife! I have thoroughly enjoyed my second season here. Even though I’m clearly a jinx and it is my second failed season in a row, I have enjoyed every second of working in the Osprey Centre and I feel so honoured to be able to watch these magnificent birds every day. I hope to come back next year and finally see EJ have a successful season, but you never know what might crop up in life. So if this my last blog, I would like to say a massive thank you to all of you who have supported us throughout my last two seasons. Your kind words and support really do go a long way here. Adios mis blog-migos,
So, anyone who was planning on travelling to Valencia over the winter, it’s not too late to change your plans...
What a fantastic 6 months living on Abernethy! It sounds a bit cringe but my summer working at RSPB Loch Garten has been one of the best I’ve ever had. How could it not be? I’ve been surrounded by the magical pine forest and majestic mountains on a daily basis. I’ve often cycled past roe deer and red squirrels on my morning commute to the OC. I’ve spent my lunch break on the shores of Loch Garten spotting otter, goldeneye and sometimes osprey flying over. I’ve gorged myself on the wonderful chocolate, biscuits and home baking (Julie Q) that volunteers and colleagues bring in for everyone to share. I’ve got to know our wonderful team of local volunteers; Jean, Frank, Mike, Alison, Kenny, Sue and the late Rob Ballinger. It has been a pleasure working with you all.
To the Loch Garten Osprey Centre team, class of 2018.
Thank you and goodbye, Emma x
Thanks Top Dog. Next up is Lorna.
Well, it’s been an unexpected but brilliant 3 months. Although I came along halfway through the season, the Osprey Centre quickly became a second home to me. I shared everyone’s frustration at EJ’s new man not providing for her, marvelled at my first sighting of a crested tit and was reminded of the beauty of a red squirrel. I loved sharing these moments with visitors to the centre and they reminded me daily how lucky I was to spend a summer here. I’ll miss searching for EJ on the camera (often in vain) as she moved to hidden branches and I feel honoured to have been able to see such a majestic bird everyday.
I’ll miss you Loch Garten. Until next year...
Already looking towards next year? Amazing! Let’s hear from Steven.
I bid you farewell for the season and hope to be bringing you wildlife updates in the spring as the forest once again comes alive with birdsong. I have most enjoyed meeting so many wonderful volunteers. If this includes you, we hope you enjoyed being a part of the team this season with all the exceptional weather, unpredictable ospreys and exciting wildlife highlights – including the woodpeckers, fly-by red kites and, of course, the red squirrels. Listening to the eerie sound of a young white-tailed sea eagle soar across the loch as I stood on the shore will also stick with me as a highlight of the season. Sightings of otters have been irregular but not infrequent. I was even lucky enough to wake up early and see one hunting and diving on a still morning with the loch’s surface smooth, reflecting a clear sky.
My thanks to the team for an excellent season. Here’s hoping for a more successful, although still not without drama, season for the ospreys next year. For the winter I will be volunteering with the RSPB at several locations including the Somerset levels and the Flow Country at Forsinard.
Best wishes to all the bloggers and goodbye for now.
Thanks Steven. Last, but not least, is Raquel.
Hope you are all keeping well! I can’t believe that the season is over; these six months have gone so fast! It feels like yesterday when we all arrived at Loch Garten with all the spring snows and started setting up the Osprey Centre. Now we are all packing and tidying everything up and it feels so sad! I’ve had so many really good moments here; it is a lovely place to work and live, and the people I've met are just amazing. But winter is coming and we all have to move on and leave the Osprey Centre behind (until next year). I don’t have many plans at the moment: I’m gonna go home for a while and spend time with my family and friends because I have not seen them in a long time! I might spend the winter south, in the warmer climate, just like the ospreys! And maybe migrate back again next spring to spend another season here. See you soon!
Let’s hope we see you again when the weather gets warmer, Raquel! That’s all from the team who, as you heard, are all heading off for exciting new adventures. It’s not uncommon for some of the team to reappear the following season and I sincerely hope we see at least a few of this year’s return. They have been an amazing bunch to work with – dedicated, passionate and knowledgeable. More than this, though, they are just nice people, who care about doing the right thing and being good to each other. Regardless of whether they make it back to Loch Garten, I know that all of them will be incredibly successful and they have the potential to make a real difference in the world. Remember the names!
OC team 2018: (clockwise from top left) Chris, Raquel, Steven, Emma, Blair and Lorna.
It's been another dramatic and difficult season for the team this year. There have been a few lows and many highs but as always, it has been a pleasure to work in such a magical place and with such incredible people. Next year, let’s hope that EJ finds a male worthy of her and that we hear the flitter-flutter of tiny wings on the nest.
I’d like to say thank you to all our volunteers who helped throughout the season. Our residential volunteers have, as always, been a great help and a constant reminder of how much people care about the wildlife of the forest, especially ospreys. Our local volunteers Mike, Frank, Jean and Sue have been invaluable as always and have become such an important part of a Loch Garten season. Their willingness to help and their enthusiasm for sharing nature with our visitors in inspirational to say the least. At this point, I’d like to briefly mention Rob Ballinger, who sadly passed away this summer. Rob was a volunteer at Loch Garten for many years and the Osprey Centre, like the world, is a poorer place without him. We miss you Rob.
I’d also like to say thank you to our army of internet followers (“the bloggers” as you affectionately known). Your diligence in monitoring the nest is quite incredible and much that would go otherwise missed is reliably passed on to us on many mornings. Thank you all for your ongoing support and your infinite passion!
I think that is all I need to say…I’m pretty sure there is no one I’ve left out…let me think…no, I don’t think so…(this is actually an hilarious joke because last year I unforgivably forgot to mention the amazing retail team at Loch Garten and had to face the wrath of Julie Q – not a pleasant experience). So, thank you to Julie Q, Julie S, Julia and Alison. Between them they have such a wealth of knowledge and experience that they become unofficial mentors to the Osprey Team. My advice to our team at the start of each season now is “If you need to know something, speak to one of the shop team”! On top of this they are all lovely people and great fun to work alongside.
Well, that’s it from me. A long blog but then, there always seems to be so much to say! I hope you’ve all enjoyed your summer and I wish you well for the long, cold winter ahead. Look out for blogs from me over the winter and if anyone visits the Osprey Centre to look for crested tits, you might even be lucky enough to bump into me there. I’ll be the guy placing tiny sacks of logs outside all the fairy doors…
Until next year...
I’ve not written a huge number of blogs over the years – Chris and the team do the vast majority, but of all the blogs I’ve ever written, this is by far the hardest.
Those of you who have visited the Osprey Centre in the last few weeks will have seen that this season we have had to say goodbye to one of our trusted and valued friends and volunteers – Rob Ballinger, who has passed away after a short illness.
Rob was one of our local volunteers and had been coming to share his passion for wildlife and knowledge of the Caledonian forest and ospreys, with visitors to the Osprey Centre for five years. He would turn up on Mondays, walking into the centre in his jeans and Converse All-Stars with a big smile on his face and a positive, open, friendly nature in his heart. He was one of life’s givers, and was always keen to help – offering his volunteering services to the wider reserve as well, by helping with survey work. A keen photographer, Rob also spent time capturing wildlife on camera and with an almost schoolboy-like enthusiasm, would delight in sharing his latest shots with his friends.
He also spent six weeks last year working as a Visitor Experience Assistant at our Caper-watch event at the Osprey Centre. A job not for the faint-hearted, Rob had to be at work at 5.00am and then had to spend the next three hours, binoculars at the ready, searching the bog woodland from the Osprey Centre viewing flaps, for lekking capercaillie to show our visitors. Unfortunately for Rob, 2017 marked the last ever Caper-Watch, as the lek had gradually been dwindling and had moved out of sight of the centre, but he still approached each shift with the same up-beat, positive attitude and used the time to inspire our visitors about the forest and the wildlife which depends on it.
As well as volunteering for us at the Osprey Centre, Rob had started his volunteering with the RSPB in Scotland at our Loch of Strathbeg reserve, where he began inspiring visitors in 2006. He also spent ten years as a weekend warden at Sands of Forvie National Nature Reserve, for Scottish Natural Heritage, helping to inform and engage visitors about the nesting terns there. He loved Sands of Forvie and the terns, and I have no doubt that he left a lasting legacy there, as he has done here at Loch Garten and Abernethy.
We will remember many things about Rob, but most of all we will remember him as one of the team, a man with a big, caring heart, a great (and cheeky!) sense of humour, and a genuine passion for all wildlife (and Derby County FC!)
On behalf of the team here at Loch Garten, the wider reserve team at Abernethy and the thousands of visitors who have been lucky enough to cross paths with you over the years, I want to say thank you, Rob. It was a pleasure and an honour to have you as part of the team and we will miss you x
You’ve not heard from us in a while so here we go with a short update of the situation in Loch Garten. The highlight so far is that EJ has finally gone! She was spotted for the last time on the 3rd of August, so after a week we can say for sure that she is definitely gone. Farewell EJ! We wish you a safe travel and favourable winds. We’ll all be waiting for you in March! George has not been seen recently either…not that he’s been seen a lot during the season, but now it seems that he’s gone on migration as well. George, we hope you use well your winter time, and if you come back next season we hope to see an improvement in your fishing skills.
Image 1: Empty osprey nest.
Even though our resident ospreys are gone, we are still spotting ospreys from time to time. Today we saw a male with the blue ring NF2 perching on the camera tree. He stayed there for only five minutes, but it’s good to know that there are still ospreys enjoying this amazing summer.
Image 2: NF2 perching on camera tree.
Although the ospreys are starting to migrate, there are still plenty of things to see around! Last Wednesday we saw a white-tailed eagle! It was a juvenile, and was spotted during the weekly guided walk. We’ve also seen other birds of prey: a few sparrowhawks, buzzards and a kestrel flying around the Osprey Centre. This week has been really good for crested tits as well! They have started to come to our feeders again and we’ve had really nice views of them from the centre. Chaffinches, siskins and tits are still around, both adult and juveniles that have just fledged, all together having a feast. The wood pigeons don’t miss the party either, they are always there making sure they have a place on the feeders. Small frogs, toads and lizards along the path, dragonflies and damselflies on the pond, red squirrels jumping from tree to tree and bank voles running everywhere. The summer is still going on for the wildlife in Abernethy! We hope to see you around!
Image 3: Juvenile buzzard spotted from the Osprey Centre.