Whist Monty and I were scanning the skies yesterday afternoon, I took a phone call in the Dyfi Osprey Project office. "I'm just about to board a plane at Glasgow Airport" this gentlemen explained, "I just wanted to know whether Nora is back before I get on?"
The irony of his question struck me. He was just about to fly away and was not necessarily excited about that, but about a bird he had never seen flying in. It was a humbling experience for me. I could hear in the background all the noises that you would associate with the commotion that is last minute aircraft boarding - all the tannoys, the dings, the chatter, the service agent telling people to hurry up (in a Glaswegian accent), but this guy wanted to know if Nora had made it home.
Nora, shortly after arriving back in 2012
Nora's STA, her Standard Time of Arrival is well gone. In fact, she arrived exactly four weeks ago (last year) - on March 24th. As I write, it's Sunday, April 21st. So, what has happened to her?
The answer is of course, we don't know. Nora was born in Rutland Water in 2008 and was ringed as a chick with a white 'Darvic' ring on her right leg - White 03. We last saw her on August 7th last year after she had seen her only offspring of 2012, Ceulan, successfully fledge his nest. Nora is not satellite tracked.
It is true to say that most breeding ospreys are now back in the UK and that the signs for Nora don't look good. Has she settled down with another male elsewhere? Almost certainly no. Ospreys are highly mate faithful and there is very little evidence of osprey divorces in populations with low numbers as here in Wales. Has she been blown off course? Possibly. Those very strong easterly winds were at their most severe at the end of March, just when we would have expected Nora to return.
The rather grim option is that she has come to grief sometime after leaving the Dyfi last August. However - we are not giving up hope just yet. See below.
Nora waited nine days for Monty to arrive last year - is 2013 payback time?
On April 5th, a beautiful female osprey landed on the Dyfi nest. On the same day, to the minute almost, one of our volunteers, Sîan, gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Sîan named her new arrival Elin - and so have we.
Elin (the osprey) was also around the following day, April 6th. She even started doing some nestorations to the nest. Monty did not arrive until the next day, April 7th, two weeks ago today. Had he been the victim of bad timing and missed the gorgeous Elin by less than a day?
Elin arrives on April 5th to snow and no ospreys
It certainly looked like it. Fast forward almost two weeks and who should reappear... Elin was back.
She was around for several hours on Friday, April 19th. Monty and Elin were on the nest together, they were flying around together and Monty was displaying to her. They did seem a bit uneasy of each other however, Monty more so as he kept mantling at Elin on the nest. 'Mantling' is a defensive behaviour meaning 'keep away' - 'this is my territory', that kind of thing. We see a lot of mantling in ospreys and other raptors when they are protecting a prey item once caught. However, this is also normal behaviour sometimes for male ospreys when they encounter a new female for the first time.
Monty mantling as Elin looks on..
So what do we know about Elin? She is not ringed or satellite tagged, so very little actually!
She was on Monty's nest on April 5th, 6th and 19th and has possibly been the other osprey sighted in the valley between those dates. All this means that in all probability, she is not a breeding female on her way up to Scotland or Scandinavia. Being un-ringed also tells us that Elin is not a Glaslyn bird or a Rutland bird, so the most likely explanation is that she is an un-ringed Scottish osprey (less than half are ringed). Finally, we could hazzard a guess that she is a three or four year old (back too early to be a two year old really) seeing as she looks as if she does not have a nest of her own. This is pure guesswork though.
Here's Elin making her grande entrance on April 5th:
Here are some answers to many emails and messages over the last couple of weeks:
Why haven't Monty and Elin paired up yet?
Well, these things can take time sometimes! Maybe he doesn't fancy her - she does have quite fat legs (no, really she does). Seriously, we don't know. Each osprey is different and each pair behave differently when they first encounter. Only time will tell on this one.
Is Monty still waiting for Nora?
Yes he is, but he most probably would pair up with another female, especially at this late stage in the migration season.
What would happen if Monty and Elin paired up and Nora returns?
A fight basically. Handbags, feather pulling, the lot. Nora would most probably win and displace Elin, especially if Elin's bond to Monty was not that strong (i.e during the first few days).
What if Monty doesn't find a mate - would he go?
Almost certainly 'no'. Monty has built this nest up from 2008 onwards and for the first three years, he didn't have a female. Not one that would stay with him anyway. He finally paired up with Nora on April 9th 2011 and raised four chicks with her between 2011 and 2012. This is Monty's nest and his 'home' - he is unlikely to leave.
When is it too late to breed for Monty?
It kind of depends. The earlier he finds a female the better of course, especially if Nora comes back. Around the second week in May would be the cut off point generally. If he finds a female and pairs up with her after this point, say mid May onwards, they will probably not lay eggs but will return next year as a breeding pair after bonding throughout the 2013 summer.
So that's where we are, or more accurately, where Monty is. It's not too late to breed yet and we haven't given up hope entirely on Nora coming back either.
The Glaslyn offspring White YA (2007) is breeding in Kielder Water in Northumberland and his partner only came back two days ago. Our colleagues in Rutland reported a 2010 male as returning only yesterday. Over the years, there have been reports of breeding ospreys returning well into April and even into May, so we, nor Monty, have given up hope of Nora returning just yet. Or for that matter, Monty attracting another female.
I hope that the gentleman that rang me up yesterday from Glasgow Airport rings again once he's back off his holiday. You never know, we may have some good news for him from the Dyfi arrivals gate.
Keep Calm and Look Up.
Many thanks for your patience on Friday during some major improvements to the Live Streaming. You can now watch Monty in his search for a female in High Definition and Hi Fidelity. Yes, after four years, we can finally hear what Monty sounds like - and it's not what you may have imagined!
Please help us pay for all these improvements if you possibly can by donating. We are not SKY or the BBC and the final bill for this year looks now to be horrendous. The equivalent of a bottle of wine or a pizza will make a real difference. Over 8,000 people a day watch the Live Streaming, if they all paid £2 we could pay for everything and then some. Donations are really easy to make, right here on the Live Streaming page
Thank you - Diolch.