Scots osprey chicks bound for Spain as dad’s catch plummets

Osprey chick
-Credit: (Image: Supplied)

Two young ospreys from a nest in Lochaber have been taken into a translocation programme after their father’s plummeting fish catch began to raise concern.

Woodland Trust Scotland has been operating a live nest camera at Loch Arkaig Pine Forest in Lochaber since 2017, with support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

Louis was the first osprey to touch down and has been the star of the show ever since. His first mate Aila was with him until 2020 when the pair and their chicks became a huge online hit during Covid lockdown.

Aila did not return from migration in 2021 and Louis found a new mate, Dorcha and followed her to a new nest. This year they hatched three chicks two of which have survived and are now approaching six weeks old.

Trust spokesman George Anderson said: “Male ospreys feed their whole family during the nesting season with the females occasionally fishing a little towards the end of the summer. Louis has always been a very dependable provider.

"At this time of year he would normally be bringing in four or five fish a day. His record is nine.

“He has been off his game lately, often bringing in only one and sometimes none. We didn’t see him at all on Thursday and Friday.

"Bad weather is likely part of the problem and lots of nests appear to have had a poor year. But we think there is something not right about Louis. It could be his age, or he might be ill. We don’t know.

“In these circumstances the chicks will die. It is our default position not to intervene in the ospreys’ lives and we would generally let nature take its course, only stepping in to correct any problems caused directly by humans.

"However, in this case we became aware that there was an opportunity for the chicks to go into a translocation programme reintroducing ospreys to the Valencia region in Spain.

“We think it would be needlessly dogmatic to let the chicks die when this option is available. We waited to see if Louis’ performance would pick up but it hasn’t. A licensed raptor worker removed the two chicks from the nest on Monday.

“They have been handed to the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, a partner in the project reintroducing ospreys to the Valencia region in Spain, and leading experts in raptor translocations. Roy and his team have impeccable credentials and we have every confidence that while the chicks’ survival is not guaranteed, they will have a vastly better chance.

“It will take the pressure off the adult birds, who will now only need to feed themselves and can hopefully get back in condition before migration. It will contribute to an excellent conservation initiative expanding the range of the species to make it more resilient in the future.

“Scotland has reintroduced species such as beaver, red kite and sea eagle thanks to other nations gifting us their animals. I think it is great that Scotland is giving this gift to Spain and we are proud this Arkaig pair are going to be a part of that.”

Both chicks will receive a thorough health examination before they are translocated to Spain. The project, based in Pego-Oliva Marsh Natural Park is led by the Generalitat Valenciana in partnership with Fundacion Migres, and supported by the Town Halls of Pego, Oliva, Xabia and Denia. 2024 is the second year of a five-year programme aimed at restoring ospreys to the region.

Louis is thought to have been two or three years old when he first appeared at Loch Arkaig in 2017 so he is probably now around ten or eleven. While some ospreys live well into their twenties a typical lifespan seems to be around 10-15.

With the chicks gone the adult ospreys are likely to stay around the nest to assert their possession and stop other ospreys taking up residence. They will likely migrate a bit earlier than usual at the end of summer. The Arkaig nest camera will continue to stream for the rest of the season.

Woodland Trust Scotland and Arkaig Community Forest bought Loch Arkaig Pine Forest in 2016 from Forest Enterprise Scotland under the National Forest Land Scheme. Their joint aim is to restore native woodland habitats including Caledonian pinewood; re-connect local people with management of the land; and using the woods to encourage sustainable rural development in the nearby communities of Achnacarry, Bunarkaig and Clunes.

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