Right now ospreys are heading back to the UK from their winter homes in Africa. But what makes them so special?

The sight of an osprey, expertly diving into water to catch fish, is one of nature’s most breathtaking experiences. Sadly, they died out in the 1950s largely due to illegal killing, but their fortunes gradually reversed and Scandinavian ospreys returned naturally to Loch Garten, at our Abernethy Forest nature reserve in the Highlands of Scotland.

Since then, they’ve also spread to the English Lake District, Wales and been reintroduced to Rutland Water in the midlands, but their stronghold remains in Scotland. It’s estimated that there are between 200 and 250 breeding pairs of ospreys in the UK.

Ospreys are one of the few birds of prey that eat fish, and therefore they live near a variety of types of water, including fresh and saltwater. They rely on medium-sized fish, and are expert hunters with an incredible near-vertical plunge dive. It is spectacular!

Osprey carrying fish. Image by Chris Gomarsall (www.rspb-images.com)

Epic migrations

Ospreys migrate and in late summer every year, they leave their summer nesting sites and head to Africa’s sunny west coast for the winter. The females head off first, and the new chicks are left to navigate the dangerous migration on their own.

Having made it, they’ll spend the winter fishing in the warm waters and fattening up for the return leg to the UK. Which is happening now!

Some are back already. Loch Garten’s resident female, known as EJ, has just arrived back, ready to spend her fifteenth season at Loch Garten, at the ripe old age of 20. EJ is an astounding lady – she’s fledged 25 chicks from the nest at Loch Garten, 17 with her partner Odin, and eight with previous males.

We’re waiting on tenterhooks to see if Odin will return. If he does, that’ll make it their ninth season together. Either way, EJ is the most successful female osprey on our nest ever.

Which is good going, considering ospreys have been nesting here since 1959. Loch Garten’s world-famous Operation Osprey nest watch has been running since 1976 and the osprey watch point, complete with 24-hour volunteer surveillance, was set up in order to protect them from disturbance and egg collectors.

With a new season, a new osprey drama will unfold

A few years ago, we watched with baited breath whilst an intruder osprey attempted to take over the nest. It looked touch and go for a while, but EJ wasn’t having any of it, and saw off the intruder.

Osprey on nest. Image by Chris Gomersall (www.rspb-images.com)

And you can see all this exciting, real-life reality TV drama for yourself!

You can visit the Osprey Centre at Loch Garten – it’s now open for the season! Whilst you’re here, there’s regular activities for families. It’s also a great place to see red squirrels on the feeders, plus woodland birds including crested tits. We’ve got two trails through the stunning Caledonian pine forest, and a shop with sandwiches and hot drinks.

Alternatively, you can keep up to date with all the drama on our live streaming webcam. There will also be regular blog posts so you can really find out what’s going on.

Hold onto you hats!