We have reached the end of another season at the Nature Centre. This has been one of the strangest seasons that I have ever presided over. We finally opened our new visitor centre(hurray) in the midst of a pandemic (not so hurray). The ERDF fund that was awarded in 2019 is now coming to fruition and it was exciting to see people inside the newly refurbished building after such a long wait. Outside of all the unusual changes; to our centre, our way of working and our way of life, the season had a certain constant to it.

The standard for the past three years has been set by the ospreys dashing our hopes before the Spring has fully sprung. In all my time here, I have only seen one successful fledgling event on the Loch Garten nest. This was in 2016 when Odin and EJ raised Rowan and Willow. This feeling has spurred my excitement in all subsequent years…sadly to no avail. The joy of following osprey chicks from hatchlings to fledglings is a unique experience that we all share in this community. It can be difficult to explain this to someone who has never watched it unfold for themselves. It has been a blessing this year to be open and to share the excitement again, whatever the circumstances. When people ask me what I love about my role, I do not often tell them that it is the fact that I get to work outside every day in an amazing pine forest or that I watch over the ospreys through the bad and the good. More often than not, the people I meet become the best part of my working day. This has become ever more apparent through the past 4 years where there have been no ospreys breeding on the Loch Garten nest. The fact that we share this experience within a community of passionate and engaged people seems to be my motivation.  

This year was no different. We started the season ever hopeful that an osprey pair were going to nest and then our hopes were dashed. The young establishing pair spent the best part of late April sky dancing and getting to know one another. The male was identified to be a 6-year-old with the leg ring marked AX6 that fledged in Cannich on the other side of Loch Ness. We had no information on the female as she carried no leg rings. The two looked happy together and, although inexperienced in the nest department, were mating consistently. All was boding well for the breeding season with our hopes rising to fever pitch…then the inevitable happened. Perhaps there was not enough fish coming onto the nest or the pair were pushing too far into May for them to try to rear young. Whatever the cause, the female chose not to lay at Loch Garten and both birds disappeared.

Even though this feeling was one I was familiar with, it still brought me back down to earth with a thud. This feeling was reflected in our wonderful team. I knew it would be the support of the public and the fortitude of our team that would make this season a success.  

For this, I would like to say a massive thank you to our Nature Team this year. It would not have been possible without Kai, Iona, Megan, Rish, Ewan, Andrew, Sonya, Thomas, Heather, Sarah, Alison, Julie, Julie and Julia. With a special thanks to our new volunteers Helen and Paulo who learned quickly on the job. Their positivity and excitement were shared with visitors and many left feeling a greater connection with the forest. Our dedicated team were also spending the start of the summer doing evening patrols to reduce the risk of forest fires on the reserve. Glenmore had suffered a severe forest fire in early June; thought to be caused by campers. Our team were speaking to campers on a daily basis and making sure they were aware of their responsibilities when accessing nature.

In response to the increasing visitor pressure, we were also able to expand our team by two rangers to more adequately support the reserve. This was partly funded by the Better Places Fund that was made possible through the written support of local residents. The time and energy that both the Nature Team and the ranger team dedicate to people this season has been fantastic. It wouldn't be a great season for the Nature Centre without celebrating some of the key markers of the summer. So here are some of my highlights. 

 

The emergence of the first large red damsel fly’s that were slightly too cold to avoid our inspection! I moved this little guy into the sun until he was warm enough to fly away. 

Large red dragonfly sits on a hand in the sun

Rishane nursing a dazed treecreeper back to health as it rested in her hand at the beginning of the season. The beauty and intricacy of the feathers was a sight to behold up close.

 Treecreeper rests in the palm of a hand

The excitement of watching multiple sky dances from ospreys vying for the affections of females, coupled with the possibility of a new breeding pair. 

The joy when we discovered our resident red squirrel Rhuaridh had made a pen pal over the summer. 

A cuddly toy squirrel rests an a wooden stump with a hand written letter scribed by a child placed next to it

The mega amount of mushrooms fruiting in response to the heavy rains. We have seen oodles of fungi appearing on our paths and within the forest. 

Feeding bumblebees with sugar water with some children who visited the centre was a particular highlight of mine. Being able to show kids how a bumblebee eats and for the result to be a happy bumblebee that is able to fly away at the end of the experience is very special. This is why I now keep a sachet of sugar on me at all times!  

All of these experiences were made greater to be sharing them with someone else. The wonderful thing about our community is that we share in the lives of ospreys and nature. Observing nature is an interaction that takes place between two entities and that feeling can create connections. The hardest thing at the end of the season is breaking these connections. I am sad that we are closed for another year but excited about getting to do it all again in 2022. All going well we should be opening in March and eagerly wait in anticipation to see if any ospreys will return. Looking forward to seeing you all next year! 

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