Hello bloggers. After much deliberation we thought it time to write a blog on our favourite osprey who sadly has not returned this year. And who better to help me with all things EJ than Alison and Valerie who have been volunteering this week, so over to them...
And hello from both of us!! Apologies for the length of this blog but we thought we would just summarise EJ’s life, especially for those of you who haven’t been following her the whole time. One of us (Alison) was lucky enough to have been there throughout the whole journey having visited the nest on annual family holidays since the early 1960s and started volunteering in 2012, and the other (Valerie) joined the story in 2008 online and has volunteered since 2009. You will probably be totally confused by the end of it – but that was EJ’s life – full of many ups and downs!! And it is our take on what has happened over the years so apologies if any inaccuracies.
EJ’s Early Years – 1997 to 2003
EJ hatched near Bridge of Cally in Perthshire in 1997. Her first few months of life which were spent in a beautifully peaceful deciduous woodland could not have prepared her for the fame that was to follow in years to come. No one ever knew if she only went to Spain or Portugal, or if she made the full journey out to West Africa because as far as we know she was never spotted by any eagle-eyed bird watchers either during her migration or wherever she chose as her winter home.
EJ beat all the odds in surviving the perils of her first migration south and finding a suitable winter home and she returned to Scotland. We don’t know exactly when that was – it could have been as early as 1999 as a two-year-old – but she was discovered nesting on the Rothiemurchus Estate in 2001 with a male osprey who had an orange coloured leg ring with the letters “VS”. Did she find her favourite fishing place at the Rothiemurchus Fish Farm in those early years or did she just fish in the River Spey or local lochs?
Unfortunately EJ and Orange VS did not raise any chicks in 2001 – she laid three eggs but it is thought they were predated by a pine marten that had built their den at the bottom of the nest (maybe the reason she was so good at defending her nest at Loch Garten from them in later years).
4 April 2002 was EJ’s first known visit to the Loch Garten nest – she arranged a few sticks on the nest but was chased off and returned to her Rothiemurchus nest where she again laid three eggs with Orange VS and went on to rear one chick which was ringed by Roy Dennis.
In 2003 EJ also turned up at Loch Garten early in the season and it was discovered that her own nest had blown down during the winter but it was repaired and she returned there. She arrived at Loch Garten on 16 June having been evicted by another female osprey and found that the new male osprey at the nest was alone (colour ringed Ochre HV known as Henry) because the resident female of 10 years (Olive) had left following a battle between Henry and other males after her mate Ollie had failed to return. And this was the start of EJ’s reign at the Loch Garten nest with the first of her mates, Henry.
EJ’s Reign at the Loch Garten Nest
There was some debate after it was clear EJ was here to stay whether she should be named but after consultation with the many posts on the RSPB Blog (this was before the Forum came into existence), it was decided that she would remain EJ. Suggestions like “Easy Jane” cropped up after her dalliances with other male ospreys, but poor EJ was just doing what any other female osprey does if her mate has not returned and another turns up! This is normal osprey behaviour – they don’t know if their mate will have survived their migration to return for another year so have to keep their options open!
EJ and Henry - 2004 to 2007
2004 was EJ and Henry’s first full year together. Life was never simple for them because there was always a third person in their “marriage”! And this third person was EJ’s first love, Orange VS. Every year before Henry returned, he always made an appearance at the Loch Garten nest. Once Henry returned, Orange VS departed back to his own nest with his tail between his legs.
EJ laid a total of 3 or 4 eggs in 2004. The first egg was broken after a prolonged battle with another female osprey and it was unclear which female had laid the egg. EJ then laid three eggs which went on to hatch and successfully fledge.
2005 was an interesting season – Henry was very late, and in his absence, she paired up with Orange VS and then with male Red 8T (who many will have heard of - he was satellite tagged in 2009). When Henry returned (skeletal, with plumage tarnished with oil), he ousted Red 8T and kicked out the three eggs that had already been laid. EJ then laid one further egg which was once again ejected by Henry and unfortunately no more eggs were laid that year.
2006 went smoothly apart from Henry evicting Orange VS after a three hour battle. Red 8T did make a brief appearance too. Three eggs were laid and three chicks hatched and fledged.
2007 was the year of the eggs. EJ laid a record SEVEN eggs! As per usual, Orange VS turned up before Henry who was late and didn’t arrive until 22 April. EJ had already laid two eggs, so Henry kicked them out. She then laid two more and you’ve guessed it, Henry kicked them out too. Henry could obviously count and knew they weren’t his. Three more eggs were laid and two eggs hatched but the chicks died within 24 hours of hatching, the third egg seemed to have failed mid-hatching.
EJ and Orange VS - 2008
2008 saw a change of partner for EJ as Henry didn’t return, which meant that Orange VS’s luck was in and he moved in. EJ laid three eggs and all three hatched. Unfortunately, the youngest chick died – Orange VS wasn’t the best provider of fish, so there was competition between the chicks for food, resulting in the demise of the youngest chick. The remaining two chicks fledged and were both satellite tagged - the first time this had happened at Loch Garten.
EJ and Odin – 2009 to 2017
2009 saw the arrival of EJ’s third partner. Orange VS didn’t return (big sigh of relief all round). Enter on the scene, an unringed male on 3 April who EJ was happy to accept. This the beginning of Odin’s reign. Everything was going smoothly, three eggs were laid and hatched, and then Odin returned to the nest trailing fishing line. He then went missing for 36 hours. The decision was taken to place some trout (courtesy of Tesco) on the nest to keep them going, in the hope that Odin would manage to get rid of the line. Fortunately, this was the case and all three chicks went on to fledge, with the older two chicks being satellite tagged.
2010 was a text book season with three chicks fledging.
2011 was much of the same but one of the three eggs failed to hatch. The two chicks were satellite tagged.
2012 saw the appearance of another male osprey before Odin returned. Blue XD arrived and mated with EJ. It was discovered that his own nest had blown down and his mate hadn’t returned yet, so he was taking the easy option and was trying his luck with EJ. His nest was repaired and mate returned, so did Odin. No harm was done, except that we wondered about the paternity of the first chick – but Odin didn’t, and that was the main thing! Three eggs were laid and hatched but because fish deliveries from Odin were not as plentiful as usual and there was bullying from the older two, chick three died. The remaining two fledged and were satellite tagged.
One of these chicks is special to both of us – Caledonia surprised everyone who was following her movements by stopping in Seville in Spain and not continuing to West Africa like the majority of ospreys do. The two of us, along with our friend Pip, went on what was christened our “Caley Quest” to see her in her winter home in February 2013. We succeeded, but would not have without the help of local bird guide Manu, and also Roberto who worked in Seville and had reported seeing Caledonia a few days before we arrived. It was amazing to see her fly up from her overnight roost and head to the canal to fish. We arrived at the canal before she did and saw her catch a fish. We were all hopeful that Caledonia would be the first of EJ’s satellite tagged chicks to return to the UK but it was not to be as she died in a freak accident one foggy morning in January 2014.
2013 started with a repeat of 2012 with Blue XD turning up before Odin arrived but he chased him off. Four eggs were laid. This time Odin was suspicious of the first two eggs (maybe he realised Caledonia had a look of Blue XD?!) and kicked them out of the nest. EJ laid a further two eggs which went on to hatch and both chicks fledged and were satellite tagged.
2014 was a normal season with no major issues. It was the 60th anniversary of ospreys returning to Scotland and three eggs were laid. All three chicks fledged and two were satellite tagged. One of the chicks, Millicent, was the 100th chick to fledge from the nest.
2015 started well with three eggs laid but then things changed. The nest was continually bombarded by intruding ospreys with Odin disappearing and another osprey trying to take over the nest, much to EJ’s dismay. She eventually gave in and accepted a fish from him and he took the opportunity to kick the eggs out of the nest cup. One remained intact on the edge of the nest. Odin returned after five days and after battling other intruding ospreys for a couple of days regained the nest. We were all hopeful that EJ would re-lay but unfortunately EJ rolled the egg back from the edge and proceeded to incubate it. Eventually this egg was broken after more intruding incidents and she gave up incubating.
2016 saw three eggs laid and two hatched. These two chicks were to be EJ’s final offspring.
2017 started well (you’ve heard that before!!) – three eggs were laid. A number of male intruding ospreys made a nuisance of themselves in May and Odin disappeared on 18 May just as the eggs were hatching. Odin didn’t return and it was presumed he must have been mortally injured by one of the intruders. As a result, the chicks died because EJ could not leave them to fish for herself.
2018 – The Finale
2018 was to be EJ’s final season. With no Odin on the scene, EJ needed to find a new partner. We weren’t impressed with her choice who was an unringed male osprey (named George) who did not appear to know what a male osprey should do (apart from in the mating department!). His fish deliveries were sporadic and once EJ was incubating her three eggs, he failed to deliver a fish for around six days, resulting in EJ having to go and fish for herself. This was the beginning of the end for the eggs and EJ incubated less and less, eventually abandoning them altogether. They made a good meal for a pine marten who climbed up to the nest and took them away one by one on 19 June. As they had been sitting under the hot Scottish sun (most unusual up here) for several weeks, they may not have been very tasty!
EJ hatched 33 chicks, 25 of which fledged. Although none of her offspring have been spotted anywhere, we are hopeful that there are some out there who have managed to find a mate and raise their own chicks, out of the limelight, unlike their mother. What a legacy to leave behind – what an amazing osprey.
2019 arrived and EJ didn’t. We, like most of you, have mourned her absence but she was 21 last year which is an amazing age for an osprey. We have travelled her journey with her, sharing many personal moments live and when watching the webcam (it’s probably just as well she didn’t know we were there – or did she?!!) and we feel honoured to have had a glimpse into her life. Although unlikely and we know it is anthropomorphising her, we imagine her sunning herself on a beach in The Gambia, visiting her own mini market to buy her fish which we found when we visited Kotu Creek.
All we can do now is wait and hope that a passing osprey, or preferably a pair of passing ospreys, takes a fancy to this iconic nest. This is nature and we will have to watch and wait with our fingers crossed for the next instalment of the saga of the Loch Garten osprey nest.
no, no, we know, as the staff member admitted a few months ago, that you just book her a hotel room in Aviemore for the winter
Thank you for this account of our beloved EJs life When you think of how she remained strong, and oh so beautiful despite all her travails it makes her legacy all the more remarkable. It is inconceivable that some of her many offspring are not out there continuing the line of this much mourned, remarkable lady. Maybe one day one of her descendants will be the new queen of Loch Garten. The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen
Though nothing can fill the hole in my heart, this fine tribute is a timely consolation, and returns me to the feeling of awe for every time an osprey returns to breed and the great honor of following their lives, thanks to the cams and ringing.
(OG here) Thankyou both for this great summary and account of the wonderful life of EJ. I am sure a new LG saga will begin soon.
Thank you both for the wonderful journey of our dear beloved EJ. As a follower for only the last 5 years it was so interesting to read her story in the early years. She truly was one magnificient, dearly loved Osprey and as you have said has been so mourned. hopefully next year a new pair will take over her nest and the story of Loch Garten will unfold and once again continue.
We spend 90% of net income on conservation, public education and advocacy
The RSPB is a member of BirdLife International. Find out more about the partnership
© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654