Posted: Monday 25th July 2016 by Emyr MWT
This is the third and last blog regarding the events that happened up to and immediately after Ceri's sad demise last Wednesday evening, 20th July.
I realise that often people read blogs months and years after they have been written. It is important to understand what has been said previously - first blog here and second blog here. There is much more information on social media too including Facebook and our DOP Youtube Channel. However, to try and get all the information succinctly in one place, particularly with respect to people reading about Ceri long into the future, the following is a summary of the key events lasting just over a week, in chronological order.
Thursday (14th July) - Ceri Fledges
At 09:25 Ceri takes her maiden flight aged 51 days, just about average age. As fledging flights go, it is rather uneventful lasting some 24 seconds - blog here
Friday (15th July)
Ceri completes several flights and becomes familiar with landing on the various perches around the nest including the camera pole. Everything is normal.
Saturday (16th July)
Ceri continues to fly well and is tackling her own fish by now, grabbing them off Monty and eating them herself - although she doesn't turn down a free feed when offered by Glesni. She is strong and healthy and behaving completely normally for a 7½ week old fledgling.
Ceri's weight is probably approaching 2Kgs by now, she weighed 1.69 Kgs 17 days prior when we ringed her.
Oon Saturday night she roosts on the nest with her younger brother Tegid.
Sunday (17th July)
Ceri roosted on the nest with her brother Tegid - everything is normal. Tegid is yet to fledge.
3am - Ceri watches her brother Tegid doing some wing exercises as she spends the whole early morning in the nest.
Ceri eats a mullet and a flounder throughout the day. Shortly after eating, for what turned out to the be her last time at 21:03 Sunday evening, she flies off and lands on the larch perch, 10m away from the nest, next to her mother, Glesni.
23:52 - there seems to be a commotion with Glesni alarm calling for around 20 minutes. On Sunday evening it is not known what causes the commotion, it is pitch black - the IR lamp is designed to illuminate the nest only.
Monday (18th June)
At daylight Ceri is not around, but she did fledge four days prior, so not to have her on the nest or in immediate view is not unusual. However, when Monty later brings a mullet back to the nest shortly after 08:00, Ceri does not return.
We start to look for her using some of the nest PTZ cameras and we find her on the ground shortly before 10:00. Within an hour Ceri takes off from a standing position on the marsh and flies immediately to the larch perch. She had been on the ground just short of 12 hours.
This is not unusual - birds often end up on the ground in the hours and days following fledging.
Ceri stays on the perch for just over three hours. She is preening normally, but on closer inspection, it appears that her left wing is ever so slightly lower than her right wing - it is very subtle at this stage. This is 14 hours after initially falling from the perch. Here's a video of her on the larch perch at 13:25 - look at her left wing..
At 14:10 her brother, who only fledged a few minutes before at 12:35, tries to land on the larch perch in what was only his second flight. He tries to land next to Ceri and manages to cause her to get airborne again. She flies for 18 seconds, finally landing back on the nest. This would turn out to be her last flight.
Here's is the video of these events from the previous blog, the sequence where Ceri falls is extremely enhanced to make it brighter and therefore visible:
Immediately after landing Ceri's behaviour looks fine, but after around 10 minutes she starts to show signs of distress and adopts a head-down posture with her left wing slightly drooped. She refuses food for the first time when offered.
Ceri's condition remains the same through to Monday evening, but she is fully aware of what is going on around her and even responds to a few parent alarm calls, adopting the usual thanatosis posture when she does.
We decide not to intervene for the reasons given in Blog 1. Essentially, she is fully capable of flight as she has demonstrated and would bolt as soon as we got anywhere the nest. She would have probably grounded herself and never been seen again. Tegid at this stage has only fledged a few hours prior, we would probably have lost him as well.
Tuesday (19th July)
Ceri remains in a hunched over position, squatting on her knees rather than standing up and is refusing food still.
We consult with experts at other osprey projects as well as animal rescue centres here and in the US. We also ask our local vets at Cambrian Veterinary Centre in Machynlleth who also put us in touch with Dr Roy Earle, an experienced veterinarian with years of expertise with birds.
The general consensus coming from all of these guys is the same as we have formulated ourselves. Ceri has probably sustained some injuries, but not broken any bones. Her best chance is to stay in the nest and regain her appetite. We again decide that intervening would cause much more damage than any good it may bring.
Wednesday (20th July)
Ceri looks brighter and is now standing up on her two legs, not her knees. Her eyes look more open than on Tuesday and she looks more alert with her head upright, rather than hunched down, although her left wing is still in a drooped down position.
We ask several experts their opinions and again there is consensus that Ceri looks a lot better. By mid afternoon, she seems to be taking a visual interest in food and has been observed exhibiting some food soliciting calls, albeit weak calls.
This video shows how close Glesni got to feeding Ceri on Wednesday afternoon
As it gets dark on Wednesday evening, Ceri is stood upright in the nest facing the wind. At 23:53, exactly three days to the second almost since she fell off the perch, she lays down in the nest and dies.
Thursday & Friday (21st and 22nd July)
We decided not to retrieve her body from the nest as Tegid is still relatively inexperienced at flying - there is still a risk he would be disturbed and flee, not to return. Osprey parents, usually the mother, often take the bodies of deceased chicks away and deposit them over the nest.
Saturday (22nd July)
Early on Saturday morning, we take the decision to remove Ceri's body from the nest.
The day before I spoke with other osprey colleagues in the UK and based on their advice and the following developments, we took the decision the remove her from the nest
1. Neither Glesni nor Monty have been seen to show any inclination to remove the body - it is probably too heavy.
2. As the body decomposed, it poses a contagion risk to the other ospreys, especially Tegid, who iss eating his food practically touching the body.
3. Tegid has been on the wing for five days by Saturday morning - he is a strong flier now. We'd seen him soaring high on extended flights, landing on far away perches on the marsh and on Friday he had a dip in the Dyfi River.
Tegid (left) and Glesni - photographed over Cors Dyfi reserve by volunteer Jamie Maclauchlan
We felt it was the correct decision to remove Ceri as the balance of risks had tilted. The risks of Tegid grounding himself on the marsh were very low by Saturday, whereas the risks of leaving the body in the nest, with little chance of it being removed by Glesni or Monty, were becoming greater to the three other ospreys.
On Saturday afternoon we took Ceri's body to the vet so that they could have a look at her and take X-rays. She weighed 1466g.
Monday (25th July)
We collect Ceri's body back from the Cambrian Veterinary Centre and we also get the results of their post mortem:
Here are the main points:
1) No signs of infection, poisoning or disease
2) No fractured bones or damaged joints - see X-ray
3) There are signs of trauma sustained to left side of the bird with soft tissue swelling centred around the proximal humerus, affecting the upper part of the left wing and left upper leg. These injuries would have been sustained in the original fall and taken 1-2 days for the inflammation and bruising to peak.
It now looks beyond reasonable doubt that Ceri died due to the shock from the injuries she sustained following her fall from the larch perch. We did not send her for toxicology tests nor for an autopsy, there was too much internal autolysis (cell and tissue breakdown) for that. This afternoon we buried her on Cors Dyfi Reserve.
Ceri was a strong, healthy osprey and at 54 days old, out of thousands of decisions she took that day, she made one seemingly insignificant and innocuous call - she decided to roost not on her nest, but on a perch for the first time having taken to the air just two days before.
The learning curve for any flying bird species significantly steepens once they take their first flight. Their genes can only take them part of the way to adulthood, luck and random events play a big part too.
The talons of a bird of prey have a mechanism whereby they can sort of 'lock-on' to a perch. Maybe this locking mechanism failed somehow as Ceri made micro-adjustments on the perch?
We first thought this was a tragic freak accident - but was it? I'm not saying young ospreys make a habit of falling off perches, but how often does this type of thing happen? I remember a nervous few hours back in 2007 when a young Glaslyn female, White YB, fell several feet only to find her balance and grasp onto another branch lower down to save her from falling to the ground. Only last night, 24th July, coincidentally exactly a week since Ceri fell from the larch perch, Glaslyn's Blue W8 fell several feet only to be saved by a branch lower down the Silver Fir again. He only fledged the day before.
During the last few years we have seen a huge increase in bird of prey live streaming websites. They have the potential to teach us so much more than we ever though possible before recent advances in cameras, NAS Drive recordings, internet bandwidths and other technologies. But even with all of our cameras and night vision equipment at DOP, we almost missed an osprey falling from a perch - just 10m away from the nest.
Perhaps 10 years from now we may be in a better position to know whether accidents like this are indeed freakish and extremely rare events, or whether they are much more common than we ever thought. Fledglings go missing all the time soon after taking their first flights, I know of three birds from two nests in England that went missing just last week - two of these three are yet to return and by now, probably never will. What happened to these - did they have an accident like Ceri and never made it?
Time, and technology, will answer many questions.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but knowing what we do now, could we have done anything differently?
Ceri had no broken bones - she was capable of flight, just as we had thought. The nest is situated on boggy, tidal marsh on an estuary which takes some time and effort to get to. There is no doubt she would have bolted and probably got grounded somewhere. Without the strength to get her back to the nest, she would have died where she lay. Ceri's best chances were to stay exactly where she was and regain her appetite, after all, bruising and swelling are temporary - they peak at 1 - 2 days as the vets said. We'll never know how close Ceri got to feeling better and starting to eat again.
Every fibre of my being wanted to run out there on Tuesday and Wednesday and 'do something'. My head, and many osprey experts, were telling me different, there was no other way. With 20:20 hindsight, I still can't see another option.
We had to think about Tegid too of course. He hadn't even fledged when Ceri first fell off the larch perch and returned to it the following morning. Losing both of them would have been unimaginable.
Nevertheless, making the right call doesn't make the world a better place all of a sudden. We still lost her, Ceri still died. My conscience is clear, but it still eats at you, it bothers me, it consumes you.
Finally, and for the last time, I'd like to thank all of you for your amazing support. DOP would be a very lonely place without you and even if you've never been, we still see and feel you.
Many thanks also to Sian, Daniella and the guys at Cambrian Veterinary Centre. Thanks also to Dr. Roy Earle and everybody else that have helped and advised over the last week. Finally, thanks to Tony Cross and Kim for retrieving Ceri's body with me on Saturday.
Pending some final planning approvals, soon we will start work on a wildlife watching hide over the water pools we created in March on Cors Dyfi Reserve. It will be a brilliant place to see, learn about and photograph wildlife close up, especially all the plants and animals that live and breed on Cors Dyfi's pools.
We were going to call it the Water Hide, but that doesn't really sound that sexy does it? So what else could we call it that would also serve as a lasting tribute to someone we loved but lost far too soon last week? She even flew over the new pools on Sunday morning and clearly saw them.
The "Ceri Hide" it is then.