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Nora, Glesni and the Rutland Legacy

Posted: Thursday 9th May 2013 by Emyr MWT

Dyfi Osprey Glesni in flightDyfi Osprey Glesni in flight


Unfortunately, Nora has not returned this year. We now need to resign ourselves to the fact that she has probably come to grief sometime after leaving the Dyfi last August and has died.

Nora is not satellite tagged so we may never know the reason for her downfall. She may have died on her migration back to Africa last year, on her way back this March, or somewhere in-between. We just don't know. In the recent blog "I'll be Back", I tried to give some estimation of the chances, in terms of percentages, of particular ospreys returning safely. Nora, as an adult breeding osprey, would have an approximate success rate of returning of around 90%. It looks as if lady-luck has been against her and that she has been one of the 10% of adult ospreys that fail to return to the UK each year.

Yes, there is some remote chance that she has been blown so far off course that she can't make it back to the Dyfi. Or that she has returned and bred with another male elsewhere. What we know about osprey ecology and migration however, tells us that these are remote possibilities at best. And to answer many questions we've received, the chances of her staying in Africa and taking a 'year-off' in 2013, are as close to zero as you can get. An osprey's urge to return and breed is far too strong for that.

A red kite looks on as Nora starts her nest duties in 2011
Dyfi Osprey Nora and kite

Nora first arrived on the Dyfi on April 9th, 2011. A day that many of us will never forget. She was the first osprey to lay eggs in the Dyfi valley in over 400 years and successfully raised three chicks in her first year of breeding as a three year old. That's some going.

Einion, Leri and Dulas were followed in 2012 by Ceulan - the only survivor of three in a year that will be remembered for the worst summer storms in over 100 years. It's a miracle that Ceulan survived and made it to Africa.

Nora's third son to survive and make it all the way to Africa, Ceulan
Dyfi Osprey Ceulan in the rain

We all have fond memories of Nora. She was tenacious and strong-willed. She battled through weather that none of us have experienced before in any lifetime. Her incredible maternal instinct and strength of determination to nurture, shield and protect her young family was extraordinary and very humbling to watch. She also hated flounders!

Nora shields young Ceulan from the rain in 2012
Dyfi Osprey Nora with Ceulan

As a first time breeder in 2011, just three years old, here is Nora on June 5th, watching her first ever chick hatch out of his egg. The young osprey is Einion. The video (no HD cameras back in 2011!) is remarkable enough just for that, but what makes this piece of footage truly unprecedented is what happened later that day after Einion had scrambled his way out of his egg.

Having never fed a chick before, Nora was too timid and reserved, never getting close enough to Einion to feed him. Her inexperience was clear and plain to see. She tries, but doesn't get close enough to Einion and if she doesn't master the art of feeding soon, he could well starve to death. First time breeders rarely raise three chicks. Nora then takes her piece of fish to the very edge of the nest and starts feeding an imaginary chick. Call it displacement behaviour, re-directed behaviour, practising feeding, it is what it is. One of the most amazing pieces of behaviour you will ever see.

It worked, just before sunset Nora was feeding Einion his first ever meal.

Taken from the Christmas 2011 compilation video, The Magic Day. (Watch at 720P for best results)


Having seen several females come and go this year, Monty has finally settled with another bird who, like Nora, has a leg ring. The ring is blue with a two digit number - 12. She has now been on the Dyfi for nine days and was here for much of last summer when she was two years old, prospecting for a nest site and mate. Visitors to the Dyfi Osprey Project and to the Facebook page overwhelmingly voted to give her a name - Glesni. It means blue or 'of being blue'. It also means fresh and new.

Despite being spurned by Monty initially, by May 3rd Monty had accepted Glesni as his new partner. Almost a week on and they are getting on famously. The pair bonding seems to be strengthening despite there being other ospreys around most days, and Monty has been supplying his new partner with plenty of fish. Nevertheless, Glesni has been seen fishing, twice to date, for herself. Interestingly, Nora fished for herself eight days after arriving on the Dyfi in 2011. Maybe this behaviour is not as uncommon as we first thought?

We have to remember that Glesni, as was Nora in 2011,  is a first time breeder. At three years old almost, again like Nora was in 2011, Glesni has caught her own fish every day of her life so far as an adult - that's over 1,000 days running, so being provided for by another osprey will seem alien to her to start with. The exact opposite was true for Monty when he had to share fish for the first time in 2011.
 Several mating attempts per day all help strengthen the bond between both ospreys

Dyfi Osprey mating

If Glesni and Monty continue to bond and mate, will they have eggs? There is an invisible threshold that nature has decided upon, this is true for most bird species. For UK ospreys there is no definitive last date set in concrete, but mid May is a general estimation for cut-off. Fingers crossed.

Glesni brings seaweed back to the nest, a common occurrence for estuarine breeding ospreys
Dyfi Osprey Glesni with seaweed

Rutland Water

If you've been following for a while, you will have heard me mention Rutland Water quite often. And rightly so.

Twenty years ago, Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust took some big decisions. Some controversial and radical decisions that rocked many people's boat at the time. Knowing that ospreys used to be commonplace throughout England centuries ago before they were persecuted to extinction in the UK, and realising that a few ospreys were stopping over at Rutland Water on their migration to and from Scotland where the population was increasing, they decided on a translocation project.

In partnership with Roy Dennis, over 70 osprey chicks, at around five weeks old, were translocated from Scottish nests to Rutland from the mid 1990's onwards. The objective was simple enough - to have ospreys migrate to Africa and then come back to Rutland and other areas initially to breed as adults, re-establishing this once oppressed species. It worked. The guys at Rutland now have a small population of ospreys breeding with more and more birds turning up each year.

But it's not just at Rutland that the positive effects of those early translocations have been felt. The first male osprey to breed successfully in Wales during modern times was at a nest near Welshpool in 2004.  This was a Rutland translocated bird, he had a leg ring White 07(97) - the number in brackets always denotes year born. 07(97) fathered one chick that year, a male. He wasn't ringed, this bird could well be Monty.

The Glaslyn male is also a Rutland translocated osprey 11(98). He's still breeding in north Wales and has, to date, successfully fathered 21 chicks to fledging and beyond. Twentyone!

Of these 21, five have been positively identified as having returned to the UK as adults, at least three of which are currently breeding. Black 80(06) in Scotland and White YA(07) and Yellow 37(05), both of which are the two males at the two Kielder Water nests in Northumberland. And these are just the ones we know about - how many more are there?

Black 80 is now in his fifth year of breeding at his nest in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland

Osprey Black 80 at nest

There are other birds too. Rutland ospreys have been sighted on the south coast of England and elsewhere in Wales. 00(09) was sighted in 2012 and another blue ringed bird is currently in north Wales.

And then of course there's us here at the Dyfi. 03(08), Nora, and now 12(10), Glesni, are both direct offspring from two different nests at Rutland. Both of their fathers are first generation translocated birds. They're even related, Glesni's mother,  5N(04) - still alive at Rutland, is Nora's sister. So that makes Glesni, Nora's niece!

Tim Mackrill at Rutland has just written a book about the Rutland ospreys chronicling the story all the way back to  the early days. (That's Nora's brother on the front cover flying in!)

Rutland Water Ospreys Tim Mackrill

Here is that review of the book I said I would write a while ago: Buy it!

If you have even the slightest interest in ospreys this is a must read book. Full of stunning images, many by John Wright who also drew the illustrations, it's one of those 'can't put down' books that is just full of fascinating stories. Copies are available at both Rutland Water and Dyfi Osprey Project.

As the Rutland legacy continues to make huge strides in making good the mistakes of the past, osprey conservation in the UK, and now also in other countries of Europe, is looking good as a result. Difficult decisions, highs and lows, lives and careers, we are seeing positive outcomes from many sacrifices by many people. To say "thank you" seems churlish, let's just raise the metaphorical hat to them and say well done. Better still - buy the book.

And finally, a photograph. At first glance, a simple image of two ospreys on the Dyfi in 2012. However, the poignancy of this photograph cannot be overstated. It's one of the last pictures of Nora, 03(08), taken on 29th July last year, just a week before she started her migration, a migration that now looks to have been her last. She's chasing off another female, a large two year old looking for a nest site and a mate for the following year. Like Nora, the intruding osprey also had a ring on her right leg.

The ring was blue with a two digit number - 12.

Dyfi Ospreys Nora and Glesni


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