Just like two weeks ago, I wake on a day more dull and grey than the previous few, the weekday summer turned into weekend winter. The rain falls lightly as I head out, the roads turning more wet by the minute. Despite the chilly dampness of the early morning, spring is in full flow and even as I head across the border into Wales and up into the hills, the signs show no doubt that the season is here. However, the weather turns for the worse as I head onwards and higher, the clouds close in further, enveloping the road; surely I’ve just driven out of April and into December?
Dropping down into the Glaslyn Valley, below the cloud base, spring reappears, even if it is trapped beneath a dark, brooding grey cloak. As I turn onto that wooded track, I’m met by fresh, renewing life, the past two weeks have given time for a transformation. The landscape has a growing richness as if a giant has thinly draped sheets of green tissue paper over the hills and fields. The trees all around are breaking out into leaf, the grass has a new richness and the bracken is starting to unfurl. Under the canopy, the bluebells are breaking out their blooms and even the irises and foxgloves have begun their growth. In through the car windows comes a woodland chorus of song, now given greater dimensions by the arrival of the summer migrants. The wrens, robins, great tits and song thrushes have now been joined by the chiffchaffs and redstarts, with the willow warblers giving more voice than most. Out into the open amongst the wet meadows, the wind has an edge, adding a bit of extra sharpness to the chill in the air. This may be a day to stay in the ‘warmth’ and shelter of the caravan. However, I leave the door open, away from the wind, to allow the sounds of the valley to flow inside.
My blog post after my last protection shift wondered whether my next visit would see a male at the nest or any ospreys at all. Well, when I arrived, the nest would have been totally empty had it not been for the broken eggshell lying discarded to one side. There was no sign of the Glaslyn female or male nor of either of her two recent suitors. Over the past two weeks, it has become clear that the male osprey (11/98) who has been paired with the female since 2004 will not be returning this year. His fate is very unlikely ever to be known and all manner of things could have stopped him from returning. Despite the sadness that he has not returned, there has been some hope for successful breeding this season with two males showing keen interest in the female.
The first to make concerted effort to pair with the Glaslyn female was CU2, born in Dumfries in 2012. He arrived at the nest on the 15th April and over the course of a couple of days tried to mate with the her, however, on the 17th another osprey appeared at the nest. This second male was Blue 80, a Glaslyn-born chick from 2012 and the son of the Glaslyn female – a fledgling from the first brood I helped to protect! He immediately took ‘possession’ of the nest and on 20th, after mating with Blue 80 several times, the female laid her first egg of the year. By the following day, the egg had been lost in the nest and CU2 was back with the female and Blue 80 nowhere to be seen. On 25th (yesterday), a second egg was laid but unfortunately was soon broken, while at the time of posting, CU2 hasn’t been seen since 24th.
The female arrived at the nest at 12:40 this afternoon with a flounder in her talons. For a moment she appeared to have lost it as she was chased off her perch by the local crows but she soon returned, and still with her fish.
There has been a lot of discussion about the possible pairing of the Glaslyn female with her son and whilst is does seem odd to us humans, it is perfectly natural in ospreys – here’s a link to a great piece written on the subject by Emyr at the Dyfi Osprey Project.
During the day, other birds kept me entertained too and not least the ravens and crows around the protection site. There seemed to be ongoing antagonism between the two species throughout my shift with the ravens frequently floating past, cronking loudly, and pursued by a band of angry crows. I also watched the newly-returned swallows as they made their jinking flights over the fields, their passes getting gradually lower as the rain forced the insects towards the ground.
In the afternoon, as the wind picked up and the rain became heavier, I closed the caravan door and tried to keep warm – it became decidedly cold inside. The weather we have had this week lulled me into thinking I didn’t need to dress warmly for a shift; next time I’ll take my woolly hat and sleeping bag!
With the female still alone when I finished my shift today, it looks like she may be starting her lonely vigil once again. This time I will only have to wait a week for another stint down at protection and to see whether she will continue to have to wait for a new partner.