June 5th was a very special day for Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust. In fact, June 5th was a special day for a lot of people. After three years of breeding attempts, Monty finally became a father and Rutland Water's Nora also became a parent for the first time at the age of three.
Over a thousand people visited the project that Sunday, the highest ever. The news spread quickly. It is difficult to put in to words the emotions of that day; as they watched the events unfold in the hide and on the live plasma screens, people were shouting, clapping, embracing, jumping up and down. I saw grown men cry. Some of you reading this may have been there, then you'll know what I mean.
Below is a six minute video of some of the highlights of that Sunday to enjoy again over Christmas. Four hundred years in the making, it's the day Einion made his way into the world, the first osprey to hatch on the Dyfi since 1604. Six months on and he's spending Christmas day 3,500 miles away in sunny Senegal. What a thought!.
Hundreds of us got caught up with that chick fighting his way out of the egg for the first time, but for me it was what happened later that day that will be indelibly carved into the mind. Cameras are usually placed on nests where birds have successfully bred before, nobody would be foolish enough to put cameras on a nest with only one osprey on it. The Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust did of course, but far from being foolish it allowed us to see some incredible behaviours that have rarely, if ever, been seen before.
Both Monty and Nora were first time breeders in 2011, they had probably never even seen another osprey chick since leaving their own ancestral nest. So when the time came to feed their own chick for the first time, neither of them knew what to do exactly. It was pure agony watching Nora on that afternoon and evening trying desperately to feed her offspring. She was too far away, she was too delicate, she was too inexperienced, nothing would go in. Young ospreys breeding for the first time rarely raise all three chicks, they make mistakes. By around 8pm Nora had seemingly given up and flown off with her half eaten Mullet only to return a short time later. What followed was truly breathtaking.
Dragging the fish to the side of the nest, she tore off tiny pieces and started to 'pretend' to feed imaginary chicks at the nest's edge. Stretching her neck and lowering/raising her head as if feeding young chicks, she continued for around 30 seconds. It looked exactly as if she was practising how to feed, having got it all wrong during the preceding hours. Was this really practise behaviour?
Purists would call this re-directed or displacement behaviour. A behaviour generated as a result from when an animal's instinct or drive to do something specific fails - in this case feeding chicks. Whatever name we put on it however, the next time Nora tried to feed her chick she was successful, it had worked. Ospreys may live to be 20 or 30 years old and this type of behaviour may happen only once and last a few seconds. What a privilege to have witnessed this live as it happened. I have never heard, seen or read of this type of behaviour before - it was up there with Roy's encounter with that osprey in Senegal which he saw feeding other completely unrelated bird species. The decision to put the cameras up in 2009 proved to be an inspiring one.
Last week's blog was about illegal egg collecting. This video shows what happens when eggs are left undisturbed. Turn the volume up, select full-screen at 720p and enjoy some of the magical moments from that magical day.
Nadolig Llawen i chi gyd.
Video time-line of events:
0.20 - Nora had been shuffling like this since day break, something was happening inside those eggs. As people visited the project the anticipation grew. Visitors were texting, twittering, Face-booking…
0.40 - At 3.35pm Nora stood up for the umpteenth time that day only this time one of the eggs looked very much different. For the first time in over 400 years an osprey was fighting its way out of an egg on the Dyfi estuary. This first chick we named Einion.
01.35 - Just a few minutes old Einion falls on his back. Weak and altricial, he struggles to get up whilst exposing a birds equivalent of a belly button - an area of skin where the egg sac and allantois (another sac used for gas exchange) have been reabsorbed into the body now they are not needed.
02.30 - It was horrible watching this live. Einion is desperate for food and instinctively stands up and bobbles his head in the hope that one of his parents will feed him. He's unlucky however, neither his mother or father have bred before let alone even seen an osprey chick. Nora struggles in vain to feed him, Einion went un-fed for the first 18 hours of his life.
03.20 - After a short fly around the nest, Nora returns with her Mullet that she has tried to feed to Einion. With Monty now brooding, Nora yanks the fish to the edge of the nest facing the camera.
03.50 - Now begins that extraordinary piece of behaviour where Nora simulates feeding an imaginary chick. Is this practise behaviour?
04.30 - Slowed down Nora's behaviour is obvious. She has tried in vain to feed her first ever chick and is going through the movements and actions required to successfully feed her offspring. Monty looks on from behind her..
05.20 - As the sun finally sets late into the evening Nora perches on the dead Ash tree 10 metres away from her new born chick. She is still clutching the Mullet and has not fed herself all day. All is not lost however, seven hours after this footage, another chick (Dulas) frees himself from the other egg you can see with a hole in it. The 'practise' behaviour has paid off. By 10am the following morning Nora was feeding her two young sons as if she had been feeding fish to osprey chicks for years.
Music: Nuvole Bianche by Ludovico Einaudi