Friday, 11 July 2014

Historic year for Scotland’s ospreys

In the late 1950s, when I was in my early teens, my scout group camped for a fortnight on the Rothiemurchus Estate near Aviemore. Our campsite was by the side of Loch an Eilein, which translates from the Gaelic as “Lake of the Island”. 

As a fledgling birder, I was intrigued by the island, because I had read that its ruined 13th century castle was the last British nesting site of the Osprey before the species was driven to extinction at the start of the 20th century.

What I did not know at the time — because it was then a closely guarded secret — was that Ospreys had returned to breed in Scotland. Since 1954 a pair had nested annually at Loch Garten, just a few miles from our campsite. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds had taken on the responsibility of safeguarding the eyrie, mounting a 24-hour guard to defend it against illegal assault by egg-collectors. 

But then the RSPB had a brainwave. Instead of shielding the existence of the Loch Garten eyrie it could instead protect it through the glare of publicity, which would act as a deterrent to anyone with sinister intentions. The society built an observation site at a safe distance from the eyrie and welcomed the public to view the nest and its occupants through powerful binoculars (and more recently via live webcam images). The Loch Garten Osprey Centre became so famous that millions of visitors have now seen the magnificent birds at their nest.

But 2014 is a momentous year for Loch Garten not only because it marks the 60th anniversary of the Osprey’s return to Scotland but also because one of this year’s chicks will be the 100th to fledge at the site. 

The current occupants of the Loch Garten eyrie, Odin and E.J., have produced three young, which should soon gain their flight feathers and take to the air. They are all believed to be female and have been given the names Millicent, Seasca and Druie. The “cent” element of “Millicent” recognises her potential status as the 100th Loch Garten fledgling. “Seasca” has been chosen because it is the Gaelic word for sixty. And “Druie" comes from the name of the river that flows through the Rothiemurchus fish farm and probably provides most of the food for the osprey nestlings.

Over the past 60 years, Ospreys have gradually spread beyond Loch Garten to many other nesting sites, and they can now be found raising young not only at other Scottish sites but also in England and Wales. And I am pleased to see that one of the Scottish sites the birds have recolonised is a 13th century ruined castle on an island in Loch an Eilein.