The story of 08(97)... or...the trials and tribulations of life as a single osprey

On 20 July 1997 Roy Dennis collected a young osprey from a brood of three in the Highlands of Scotland. A metal BTO ring (no 1348934) was fitted to its right leg and on its left he placed a white plastic ring, inscribed with two black characters: 0 8. The osprey was about six weeks old and, as 08(97), he was to become a most well-known and well-loved bird.

Now aged 9, this male Osprey is still to breed, despite returning every year since 1999 and despite attracting a succession of females for short-term relationships. He has become Rutland's most famous, but perhaps not so eligible, bachelor and this is his story.


Roy Dennis
Translocation

The same day that 08 was taken from the nest, he was driven to Edinburgh by Roy, along with 07 who had been taken from another nest. From Edinburgh the two ospreys were driven overnight down the A1 to Rutland and placed together in a pen alongside the six young birds that had been brought down 8 days earlier. 08 was well advanced when he arrived and immediately became active within the pen, moving from perch to perch. He was described as "an alert bird, very aware of the external environment."

He was released at 8:20 on 28 July, took his first flight an hour and a half later, and landed in a tree on Lax Hill. In the days after release he quickly became a strong flier. He fed well, though was often recorded food-begging. Records indicate that "on 4 August he was seen to be struggling to keep his food and the following day a fish was stolen from his possession by another bird."

08 was last recorded on 4 September at 13:30. It was a bright, sunny day with breezy westerly winds.

You can read more about the translocation phase of the project here.

First return

Nearly two years later, on May 29 1999, John Wright, now one of the project's Field Officers, and Tim Appleton, the Reserve Manager, saw an adult Osprey in the South Arm of the reservoir. On closer examination they were delighted to find that it was wearing a white ring (number 08) on its left leg. He was the first of the Rutland Water translocated birds to return, so this was a significant milestone for the project, raising hopes that the project's aims to establish an English breeding population would be achieved.

08 had not been satellite tracked, so we assumed that like most Scottish ospreys he had spent two winters and a full summer in West Africa. After his first arrival, 08(97) was seen around the reserve for several days. He was observed taking fish of various species and was often seen sitting on the artificial nests and perches in the Manton Bay area of the reservoir. His return as a two-year old raised hopes that he might return in future years to breed on the nature reserve. In Scotland, male ospreys do not usually breed until they are at least four years old, but they often establish territories in their second or third year, and so the behaviour 08 was exhibiting was certainly encouraging.

2000 and 2001

08 returned to Rutland Water in spring 2000 and began to show a more serious interest in breeding. He was observed carrying nesting material to several potential nest sites, including one of the artificial nests in Manton Bay.

Then, rather excitingly he was joined by a female with a metal ring on her right leg. The female remained with 08 from 20th May to 21st August and the pair was observed copulating on a number of occasions. Although the female's arrival was too late for breeding to occur it raised hopes that she may have returned in 2001 to breed.

Unfortunately this did not prove to the case and the female has never returned to Rutland. Perhaps 08's courting behaviour was just not up to scratch?


The Manton Bay nest: 08 and one of the females

Shallow Water Hide. Over the years thousands of visitors must have watched 08's exploits from here

Despite this set back, things seemed to be back on track by late summer in 2001. After brief appearances by two females in the early part of the year, an unringed female arrived on July 14th and remained in the Manton Bay area with 08 until 6th September.

Although she never seemed overly convinced by 08's advances with regard to copulation, she readily accepted the fine selection of Rutland fish that he provided her. In addition the female was regularly seen defending the nest from intruders, namely the twelve juvenile ospreys that had been released on the nature reserve that year as part of the translocation project

 

 

2002

Expectations were high as spring 2002 arrived. But 08 and the project team were in for more disappointments. The female who, by the end of 2001 had appeared so attached to the Manton Bay nest, failed to return.

Another unringed female was present in May, but only stayed five days.

Yet another female to receive 08's brief attentions was the sub-adult translocated bird, 05(00). The photo on the right shows this female with a fish in front of Heron Hide. The following year she was to become the successful mate of 03(97). So 08(97) rather wasted his chances. That's him behind her on the perch and perhaps the picture tells us something about his approach to this breeding business!

However, on June 12th, once again things began looking up. Another unringed female, perhaps also a sub-adult, arrived in Manton Bay, and remained with 08 for most of the summer. The familiar pattern of behaviour returned. 08 provided the female with a regular supply of fish and both birds were observed adding nesting material to the nest. Surely this time things would be different and the female would be back and ready to breed the following year? We were ceratinly to see her again, but not in the way we hoped!


08(97) and a very young 05(00) Photo: Ray Broad.

2003 - off to a good start

08(97) arrived in March and soon succeeded in attracting a new, very large female, (someone dubbed her, Brunnhilda) raising hopes of successful breeding. The pair favoured an artificial nest on Lax Hill because 08's nest in Manton Bay had been taken over by a pair of Canada Geese.

These pictures show clearly the difference in size between the male above and the very large female.

However, the relationship was not to last and the large female disappeared. For several weeks 08(97) was also absent, perhaps accompanying the female further north and trying to woo her back.

 

A familiar female, later known as U3

 

On 6 July, 08(97) - tucks in to a fish, with the female looking on. He had fed her with a much smaller fish earlier.

Then in June, another female was seen with 08(97) in Manton Bay. He began his usual behaviour, offering her fish (after he had eaten the best bits) , bringing sticks and grass to the artificial nest, and sitting beside her on the perch for much of the day. A pattern emerged of the pair leaving Manton Bay during the middle of the day and returning mid-afternoon. They often gave superb from the hides on the Lyndon reserve from where the picture on the left was taken.

John Wright, wildlife artist and Project Field Officer, was able to compare this female's facial markings with the sketches he made of the female that was here in 2002. We were convinced that it was the same female - there is an unusual pattern in the eyebrows!

So where had this female been for the early part of the summer? Perhaps she was still too young to breed - certainly her late arrival suggested she was a youngster - but irrespective of this, it seemed very encouraging that she was back. She remained with 08 until the end of July whereupon she disappeared again.

Is 08 losing his grip?

After the departure of the female with the quirky eyebrows 08 was seen very little at his nest site in Manton Bay.

And then, on the first day of the Bird Fair, volunteer Ray Broad was in the hide overlooking the nest when what he assumed was 08(97) flew in with a fish. However, Ray soon realised that this was a different bird. It had a green ring, number 10, and was a three year old male turning up for the first time in 2003. He had been a frequent and bold intruder at both of that year's succesful breeding nests and now seemed to be establishing a grip on 08's territory. 

During the next three days, 10(00), was a regular visitor to the nest and perch. He was there with a fish in the morning, flew off at mid-day and returned in the evening. This was very fortunate because many of the visitors to the BirdFair were hoping to see an Osprey and the hundreds (literally) who made the evening walk along to the hides on the Lyndon reserve were not disappointed.

 But what had happened to 08(97)? Had he migrated? Had he just ceded his territory to 10(00)? Perhaps he had flown off in search of a female and would return to reclaim this position.

 

On 15 August 10(00), a 3-year old male took over the nest and perch.Photo: Ray Broad

 


Shallow Water Hide during the BirdFair - it's not normally as busy as as this! Staff and volunteers were present to tell the Osprey story and point telescopes in the right direction.

By the end of August there was still no sign of him, while 10(00) occupied the nest and perch for periods most days. Unlike 08(97) no nest building behaviour was observed . But he did catch lots of very large fish &endash; and left heir remains in the nest, much to the delight of crows and even a scavenging Heron!

Then, with the onset of September ,10(00) also deserted the Manton Bay nest. With Scottish Ospryes reported heading south it was likely that he too had headed off for Africa.

However, on 2 September, another intriguing event occurred. A white-ringed male was seen perched in the vicinity of one of the breeding nests and was very probably 08(97). We can't be sure, but if it was, it poses all sorts of questions about what he has been doing since he was last seen on 15 August.

08(97) arrived back in Manton Bay on 6 September and occupied the nest /perch until 10 September, when he was seen for the last time that year.

2004 - let's try another nest

Over the winter of 2003/04 the Manton Bay nest was covered to prevent geese occupying it prior to the ospreys' arrival. However this proved a rather fruitless operation. No sooner had the cover been removed than a pair of Egyptian Geese had landed on it. Perhaps because of this, 08 switched his attentions to an artificial nest on the top of a large sycamore tree at Burley Fish Ponds.

A few days later an unringed female arrived on 15th April and amazingly, John Wright's field sketches suggested that it was the same female (later known as U3) that had been present with 08 in 2002 and 2003. She remained with 08 for a week, raising hopes that perhaps, at last, 2004 would be his year. (More details here)

Alas it proved not to be the case. U3, despite showing every indication that she would stay and breed, departed on 21st April. It seems very likely that after leaving Rutland in mid-July 2003, U3 had found a male with a nest probably in Scotland - superior to that of 08's. So in 2004 she was simply passing through en route north. Unfortunately for 08, he did not manage to attract another female for the remainder of the year.

The view of the pair on the nest as seen by the hundreds of visitors who were watching from the road.
Picture: David Slater

 

 

08 and U3 on the Manton Bay nest. The new "French Perch" in the centre. Photo: Ian Trotter

2005 - Back to refurbished Manton Bay

08 returned to Rutland Water on 30th March this year. We decided to leave the goose cover on the nest as late as possible and this proved much more successful. As soon as 08 appeared in Manton Bay we removed the cover, rebuilt the nest with the help of volunteer Ron Follows and erected a new perch, based on a design used by Rolf Wahl in France.

08 obviously liked our handiwork and on 5th April he was joined by an unringed female on the nest. A close look at her head pattern revealed the same familiar eye-brows, leading us to believe that she was the same, by now notorious, unringed female returning for her fourth year. She was the third unringed female seen this year so we began to refer to her as U3.

Despite food begging vociferously to 08, copulating with him and adding nesting material to the now very impressive structure in Manton Bay, U3 departed on Monday, presumably to return to her established nest elsewhere. This left us all, not just 08, feeling rather frustrated!

After the departure of the female, 08 deserted the Manton Bay nest entirely and spent much of the early summer near the nest used successfully by 03(98) and 06(01) in 2003. (details here)

For much of that time there was was another unringed female (U4) with him - probably a two-year old and too young to breed this year. However, this female also spent time with the other non-breeding males, 09(98) and 06(00).

When the translocated youngsters were brought from Scotland, 08 and U4 were often seen flying over Lax Hill and resting on a perch near the nest in Manton Bay. U4 took on a fostering role with the young chicks, helping to provide them with fish, but 08's reaction was very different. He was extremely aggressive towards them, sometimes dive-bombing them on their perches and harrying them in the air. (More details here)


08(97) on 1st May 2005. Photo: John Wright

2006 - A new female, a new nest platform

08 arrived back on 24 March. We waited eagerly to see if last year's female, U4, who had adopted the translocated chicks would arrive too. As usual our hopes were not fulfilled but, also as usual, 08 very soon found a new partner who was interested in his attentions and his territory. She arrived on 8th April and was yet another different female with amazingly white feet and legs. We called her U6.

However, she was not interested in the usual Manton Bay nest but went instead to an almost bare platform about half a mile away. This is at the foot of Lax Hill and in full view of the Lyndon Visitor Centre.


Both pictures by John Wright show the female on the nest and 08 bringing in building materials.

We were disappointed, but not too surprised, when U6 departed on 14th April, possibly taking some of 08's genes with her on her journey north.

08 woos a young celebrity

For the rest of the spring and early summer, 08 remained solitary, holding his territory in the Manton Bay area and, from time to time making improvements to the two nests there.

Then in mid-July the first Rutland-bred female to return as an adult was sighted on Lax Hill. 5N(04) was greeted with great enthusiasm by the project team - and that includes 08! The difference in age was apparently no problem - he is now 9 while she is just 2 years old.

Please see the most recent news on the Update page.


5N (left) and 08 on 18th July: Photo John Wright

It will be very interesting to see whether 08 will be able to breed with 5N if she returns next year, but unfortunately his past behaviour has left the project team a little sceptical about his chances. At least nine different females have spent varying degrees of time with 08 over the past seven years, so he does at least appear to have the necessary qualities to attract females in the first place.

We just have to hope that 2007 will finally be 08's year.

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©2006 Rutland Osprey Project.
Photographs and images by members of the Project Team unless otherwise stated.
The project is a partnership between Anglian Water and the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust,
with funding from Augean Plc through the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme.
The project is based at Rutland Water Nature Reserve.