Hello everyone. This is a long blog but as you read it just remember, never again will you have to put up with my witterings. Maybe, one cold winters day not too long from now, you'll think to yourself, "I wish I had one of Chris's blogs to read". Then again, maybe not.

So another Osprey season at Loch Garten has come and gone. It seems like only yesterday that the team and I were readying the centre - filling the feeders, checking the cameras and scrubbing down the toilets (one of the perks of the job) – in preparation for the opening day. EJ had just returned, Odin would be back within a couple of days and the whole summer stretched before us in a haze of exciting adventures and wonderful wildlife moments. And now, nearly 6 months later, here we are, preparing to “unstock” the shop, put away the scopes and lock the doors for a final time as Autumn draws in. This is always a bit of a sad time for the Osprey Team, having spent the summer together and building close friendships we now move on to the next stage in our conservation careers (although it’s not unheard of for some members to come back for another stint...). The fact that our wonderful EJ and Odin have managed to fledge two healthy, strong chicks should also be a cause for celebration of course. Now is a good time to look back on the season and think about the things we’ve seen and experienced. So, here goes...

21st March – EJ returns from Africa looking as beautiful as ever (and with a lovely tan to boot).

27th March – Odin turns up at the nest, a lot earlier than normal, in a romantic bid to surprise EJ. EJ doesn’t look particularly pleased.

7th April – EJ lays her first egg. (Just to answer a question that we have been asked regularly at the centre – Osprey eggs are about the size of a large hens egg, not the size of the pretend eggs at our “Build an Osprey Nest” activity. Just the thought of laying an egg that size is enough to make your eyes water).

10th April – Egg number 2.

13th April – A third egg appears. The excitement around the centre is palpable - I think Nimrod may even have hugged someone.

14th May – Our first chick hatches. Sarah White thinks it looks like EJ but Sarah Loudon disagrees and thinks it has something of Odin about it. Fergus thinks it looks like a gremlin.

19th May – The third egg hatches giving us our second chick (the middle egg didn’t hatch this year!). The five days between hatching leads to a big size between the two chicks. The older of the two spends a lot of time bullying its younger sibling. In fact, the bullying gets so bad we are convinced that the older chick must be a female...

5th June - Our Goldeneye eggs hatch! A day later the tiny, fluffy ducklings fledge from the nest, leaping 10 feet to the ground before following Mum to the loch.

23rd June – The Osprey chicks are ringed. During the process we discover both of our youngsters are boys and decide on the names Rowan and Willow. Fergus’s suggestion of David and Goliath is a close second but Sarah W’s and Sarah L’s idea of calling both chicks “Sarah” never really gets off the ground.

6th July – Rowan (the older of our boys) fledges, leaving Willow alone on the nest.

12th July – Willow takes to the sky giving us an empty nest for the first time in three and a half months. The boys practice their perching in the camera tree looking a little like Fergus on his slackline!

willow fledging

12th August – EJ is gone, heading back to Africa for sea, sun and sand (and a bit of peace no doubt!)

15th August – Willow is witnessed bringing in his first fish! Although we’ll never know where he caught it, the Tesco bag is a bit of a giveaway.

16th August – Rowan departs, starting, at the tender age of 3 months, his 3500 mile journey to Africa. No sweat.

20th August – Willow leaves as well, having to find his own way to sunny Africa before the winter weather kicks in.

21st August – Odin is seen for the last time. He follows in the wingbeats (Ospreys don’t leave footsteps) of his family and heads South. Everyone at Loch Garten suddenly wishes it was March again.

So, a comprehensive roundup of the season for you there. I sincerely hope you’ve all enjoyed it as much as we have. I thought, for this final blog from the Osprey Team,  every member might like to contribute a short piece detailing their individual experiences of the season (and not just because I’m too lazy to write it all myself). First up is everyone’s favourite intern-turned-visitor experience officer (quite a small field to be fair), Fergus.

“I have had a great time living in the Cairngorms, spending my time climbing mountains and discovering the nature on my doorstep. Spending 6 months with a family of Ospreys was an eye-opening experience. Although they don’t speak too much (and projectile poo a lot!) they are amiable fellows. The supplementary company of colleagues, visitors and bloggers made this season truly special and was important - without them I would have found myself eating only fish and standing some distance from the toilet...Thanks for a great season everyone.”

Thanks Fergus. I’m pretty sure that the volunteers who stayed with you over the season were also grateful that the Osprey’s habits didn’t influence you too greatly...Anyway, onto the next member of the team, Sarah W.

"As many wise souls warned me, the season has flown by in a rapid series of stunning wildlife encounters and inappropriate jokes! It has been a pleasure to follow the trials and tribulations of the season for EJ and Odin and see the lovely Rowan and Willow safely depart South. Meeting so many enthusiastic visitors and wonderful volunteers has also been truly lovely and has made each day at the centre different. I have had an absolute blast exploring the reserve and climbing mountains. It really does spoil you being surrounded by such breathtaking scenery and wildlife everyday. This season has been so much fun - a perfect mix of wildlife, scenery, laughter and cake. I will definitely be returning to Loch Garten in the future."

Sarah L has this to say about the season.

"How do I sum up the past 6 months? Well...this is not the first time I've lived in the Highlands and I can tell you it really gets under your skin. I have become very attached to not only my colleague-family but also my Osprey-family. Coming from a not-particularly-birdy background I have really enjoyed the chance to immerse myself in one of the RSPB's best reserves and watch this magnificent species throughout the season. It's easy to find out about conservation efforts around the world but to really be a part of something makes me very proud. Thank you to all the visitors and volunteers who made my day by having a natter with me and joining in the craziness. I will miss the Osprey Centre but you never know, I may be back next year...watch this space!

Excellent Sarah. I know EJ and Odin would love to see you next year! Last up is Nimrod.

"Hey everybody. Where do I start? Coming here I was certain that nothing could surpass last year but I am happy to have been very wrong. This year has surpassed all my expectations and more. My colleagues have become my family (birds of a feather flock together!). I love this place second only to my one true love with whom I will be reunited when I migrate like the Ospreys. For a life of adventure, change is a constant! Ospreys remind me of that everyday and as a Malteser I can only hope that places like the Osprey Centre will be commonplace in the future. I am honoured to have been part of this beautiful family and place which is so close to my heart. I wish I could see you all and give you a big hug because you have all left a mark and that is what is beautiful about the reserve. It gives a little Maltese boy hope for better change. We can only hope and be part of it. If Odin and EJ could say something it would be thank you for the fish!"

Well, quite. Thanks Nimrod.

For me this season has been an incredible experience. Of course, the Ospreys, Squirrels, Capercaillies, Woodpeckers, Crested Tits, Dragonflies, Butterflies, Moths and, yes, even the Midges, have given me so much pleasure but it is the people that have made my time at Loch Garten extra special. I’ve met so many lovely visitors, from locals who have never been to the centre before, despite living in the area for years, to enthusiastic school groups who know almost everything about the Ospreys but are still eager to learn more, to holidaymakers who, it turns out, live in the small, Cornish village in which I grew up. I’ve chatted to people from all over the globe - from Australia to Zimbabwe. Every single one of these visitors has been fascinated by the story of the Ospreys in Scotland and by the work the RSPB are doing across the UK. The bloggers too, who spend an incredible amount of time watching over the nest via the webcam from all around the world, providing us with invaluable information and recording every fish, flap and fledge. Thank you all for your diligence and commitment. Throughout the season we’ve also had over 100 residential volunteers stay with us, watching over the precious eggs and chicks and interacting with visitors in the centre. These amazing people come from a myriad of different professions and backgrounds, all united in their desire to contribute to the ongoing Osprey story, and it’s been a pleasure to meet and work alongside each and every one. I’ve also loved working with our hardworking and invaluable local volunteers, Rob, Mike and Frank, who give up their free time each week to share their passion, knowledge and enthusiasm with visitors. From these three we have all (the team and visitors alike) gained so much and without doubt, the days that they are in the centre always feel a bit more special. And then there’s the team themselves. Fergus, Sarah W, Nimrod, Sarah L, Julie Q, Julie S, Julia and Jess. Working with this group day-in, day-out has been a pleasure and a joy. Their boundless energy, generosity and ability to make me laugh, coupled with an indomitable work ethic (yes, even Sarah W) and ability to engage with our visitors has made sure that I have looked forward to every single day. Many of you will know that work colleagues are not necessarily always people that you would choose to spend your free time with but in this team I am lucky enough to have seven people that I will call friends for the rest of my life.

But that’s enough from me, I’ll wipe away these tears (someone must be peeling onions nearby...) and say goodbye. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of the season here this year, your support from near or far is appreciated more than you can know. I know you will all continue to follow EJ and Odin on their adventures in the coming years and support future Osprey teams as you have done with us. I hope everyone has a great Winter! Chris.

P.S. Here's our team one last time...

2016 Osprey Team: Chris, Nimrod, Sarah L, Fergus, Sarah W. 

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