At this time of year, osprey watchers throughout the land are twitching with excitement at the return of our traditional summer visitors. And we here at BGGW have extra cause for excitement as we’re likely to see the return of not only our resident pair, but a third female osprey who in recent years has spent the summer in the Glaslyn area – Blue 5F.
The arrival of Blue 5F at Glaslyn has been an exciting development for us here at BGGW, even more so because – unlike our resident pair – we know where she spends her the winters! In fact, if you check out our excellent new Osprey profiles page, you’ll see that Blue 5F was first spotted on the Tanji Marshes (The Gambia) back in December 2013. A year and a half later she put in her first appearance at the Glaslyn valley. So, thanks to intrepid travellers like Chris Wood, we’re finally able to illustrate the full migratory story of one of the Glaslyn birds.
Last year Blue 5F took up residence on a nest platform close to the Pont Croesor Visitor Centre (the Traeth Glaslyn nest), which is just over 2km away from the Glaslyn nest. This season we’ve made the decision to adopt this second platform and to place a camera on it. Yes, you read that right; this year we’re going to be bringing you news from TWO platforms in the Glaslyn valley!
It’s not all sunshine and light, however! As many of you will know, for a while Aran had taken a keen interest in 5F, but once the chicks hatched on the Glaslyn nest he gradually lost interest.
For many people it was worrying to see Aran spend time with 5F away from Mrs G at the primary Glaslyn nest. After all, a similar situation had arisen just down the road at the Dyfi Osprey Project, where a second female (Blue 24) had settled on a platform just 300m away from the primary nest. This led to a similar polygynous scenario, with Monty – the established Dyfi male – making regular visits to Blue 24 away from ‘Glesni’ (Blue 12) on the primary nest. A situation developed where both females were left incubating eggs. This was an agonising sight for osprey lovers, who now had a front-row seat while Monty slowly prioritised the primary nest and left Blue 24 to fend for herself. Sadly, Blue 24 eventually had to abandon her eggs to be scavenged by crows in order to catch her own fish.
The situation we currently have in Wales with a recovering osprey population often leads to more questions than answers. It is, after all, the first time in history that we have observed the return of ospreys to Wales following a long period of absence. To complicate matters, we conservationists have developed methods to encourage ospreys to return to certain areas. Primarily by placing artificial nesting platforms in the right habitats. This works because osprey behaviour has evolved to inherit nests from their ancestors and other large birds, meaning that they will readily settle on a man-made nesting platform. By placing these artificial platforms we have the ability to shape the way ospreys return to our lakes, rivers and estuaries.
So what does this mean for us at BGGW and other osprey conservation organisations? Well, there is a debate to be had about where we should place these platforms and how close they should be to each other. To try and find the answer, Emyr Evans from the Dyfi Osprey Project established the Wales Osprey Forum. Delegates were invited from key osprey projects in Wales as well as conservation bodies such as Natural Resources Wales, the British Trust of Ornithology and the Wildlife Trusts. The forum has met twice since last autumn, and one of the key issues that was discussed was the placement of these platforms. A strategic goal of the Wales Osprey Forum is to establish a knowledge-based protocol to help inform organisations involved in placing artificial platforms in Wales.
Where does that leave us with Blue 5F and BGGW’s second platform on Traeth Glaslyn? And what factors have guided BGGW when deciding to adopt the Traeth Glaslyn platform?
1) Blue 5F has been seen with another osprey on the Traeth Glaslyn platform.
In early July 2016 another osprey put in an appearance in the Glaslyn area, Blue CX7, who was ringed as a probable female chick near Loch Doon in Dumfries & Galloway. Local schoolchildren named her “Elsa” when she was ringed. However, the more we saw of CX7 and in particular the behaviour between her and 5F, the more we began to suspect that CX7 was more of a Kristoff than an Elsa. It is often difficult to accurately sex ospreys until they breed, Dyfi’s Monty is a prime example of this. There appeared to be some bonding behaviour between CX7 and 5F and Aran appeared to be tolerant of CX7’s presence in his territory so long as he wasn’t intruding at the Glaslyn nest. This, of course, left us with a bit of a dilemma regarding the Traeth Glaslyn nest, which is further from the primary Glaslyn nest as the second nest at Cors Dyfi was to the main Dyfi nest.
2) We consulted the experts.
During the autumn we sought advice from experts in osprey ecology regarding the future of the Traeth Glaslyn nest. Not all experts held the same view, but the general consensus was that the distance between the two nests and the fact that they were not in sight of each other allowed for a good chance for a second pair to breed successfully on the platform. Of course, the behaviour we observed between CX7 and Blue 5F, and Aran’s apparent lack of interest in the Traeth Glaslyn nest towards the end of last season were factors that were considered. Over the coming months we will be observing the Traeth Glaslyn nest and Aran’s behaviour towards 5F and other prospecting males very closely. What we learn this season will contribute towards our knowledge of osprey behaviour in the UK which will, in turn, help us with future challenges when considering placement of artificial platforms..
Are we likely to see another heart-wrenching scenario with Aran visiting two females only for him to abandon one to their own devices?
The answer: Yes, it’s a possibility that we should all be prepared for. Polygyny is a well-documented feature of a recovering osprey population, so we shouldn’t be too surprised to see it happen. Of course we could have avoided any heart-ache by removing the Traeth Glaslyn platform. But we would also have removed the opportunity to learn something new and the chance to observe a second pair of ospreys nesting in the Glaslyn valley.
With a recovering osprey population in Wales, we’re going to have to accept that these difficult decisions are par for the course. A big challenge lies in making the decisions themselves, but another perhaps bigger challenge lies in explaining our decisions to those of you who have grown to love the Glaslyn ospreys.
Perhaps we can ask you to consider some of the very-same questions we’ve been asking ourselves…. As an osprey project, what are our goals? Should we stick to conserving our original nest in isolation from all others? Or should we be attempting to encourage other birds who appear eager to nest on the broad expanse of the Traeth?
Whatever the outcome this season, we’re sure to learn an awful lot. And with plenty of excitement winging its way towards us, we should be ready to deal with both the ups and the downs associated with watching a species re-establish a territory after a long absence. This could of course include some difficult times and a little bit of heart ache, but the the big story here is that the ospreys are back, the population is getting stronger every year, our project has succeeded!
And to finish, I’ll just leave this photo of Mrs G on the new Traeth Glaslyn nest here – Yes, that’s where she’s been all this time!
Don’t ask me!