A (not so) Lonely Vigil

After the summer-like weather of the previous few days, the rattling of rain and blustering of wind against my bedroom window stirred me this morning and well before the alarm was meant to. The skies didn’t looking promising as I left the house in the early light and the windscreen wipers were needed as I drove out through the Cheshire countryside.

Across the border and into Wales, the signs of spring are growing in strength and reaching further and higher. The pastures are becoming a fresher and more vibrant shade of green and the roadsides are dotted with clumps of daffodils. The hedge rows are starting to break out their leaves and blossom, and there are young lambs in the fields on rolling hills. The views started to brighten and the rain died away as I continued on, until above Bala the clouds broke into wide blue skies and the land started to dry, helped by the strong wind. This time I stuck to the main road, rather than twisting moor-topping route, and made more gentle progress.

Turning through the narrow gateway there was no need for this smaller car to breath in so sharply. Onto the track, I opened the windows to let the sounds of the wooded valley wash in. The songs of wrens, tits and robins came through and that of a chiffchaff too, a certainty that spring must be here. The visible signs of the season are few in the Glaslyn Valley; it remains more winter than spring. Only the gorse is in flower and just a few leaves are starting to show. The scene is made all the more chilled with the back-drop of an ice-topped Snowdon and the cooling breeze that the sun cannot warm.

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At the end of the track, across the bridge and over the wet meadow, the copse by the tumbledown barn still has a giant nest, somewhat hovering above the small outcrop. It is more empty than full and there is a loneliness about the ongoing vigil that is making a stand on its long-held claim. Whilst she has returned, he has not; the osprey partnership that has bred in this valley for over a decade has yet to reform. She has been back for over three weeks now and stands alone, waiting for him to join her.

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Both ospreys usually return in the last quarter of March, with the male normally a day or so before the female. Since the nest was first found in 2004, the male has never returned later than 31st March and the female has only once returned in April (22nd). All hope of the male returning is not yet lost as poor weather, first over Africa, then Spain and then France, has led to many ospreys returning late this year. With an improvement in the weather has come a sudden mass movement over the past few days and this has seen many ospreys returning to their nests across the UK, including to Wales. So far, the Glaslyn male has not been amongst them.

Whilst the female is currently without her longstanding mate, she has not been completely alone. Since her return, she has had contact with a number of other ospreys including during my shift today. Just over two hours into my stint, the female had been away from the nest for a short period but then returned. Something didn’t look quite right, she looked different and I almost thought it could be the Glaslyn male for a moment, as the bird had larger white crown. I then noticed the leg ring; the bird wasn’t either of the Glaslyn pair but Blue 5F (blue being the ring colour). Over the course of the shift Blue 5F was seen flying around the area and the Glaslyn female seemed disturbed by her and left the nest on a number of occasions. The Glaslyn female also mantled while on the nest – an alarm or protective posture when the birds crouch down and form a canopy of their wings, in the same way they would when protecting chicks – but I couldn’t always see why. Eventually Blue 5F disappeared and the Glaslyn female was alone again when I left.

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As Blue 5F is leg-ringed, it is easy to identify her; she is a 2012-born bird who fledged at Rutland Water. After leaving the nest, she migrated to Africa and spent 2013 and 2014 in Gambia, and this is the first time that she has returned to the UK. She is related to two other Rutland-born birds that are well known in Wales. She is a cousin of both Glesni and Blue 24, both of whom have returned this year. Glesni is the resident female at the Dyfi osprey nest and Blue 24 is the female who made a nuisance of herself at Dyfi last year (literally fighting Glesni on a number of occasions) and was also seen in the Glaslyn area too.

I’ve got another shift coming up in a couple of weeks, so I’m hoping by the time I return there will be a male in residence too.  Whether that’s the Glaslyn male or not, I’ll have to wait and see.

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