Record-breaking osprey arrives on time to prove his paternal prowess

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The Independent Online

The model "new dad" of the osprey world, a male who raised chicks single-handed when the mother died, has returned to his nesting site for a record-breaking 11th consecutive season.

The bird was seen on Monday, arriving in Loch Garten, Inverness-shire, on precisely the same day as last year after his month-long, 3,000-mile journey from west Africa.

"It makes you feel quite in awe of the wonders of migration," said Richard Thaxton of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which has protected the Loch Garten nest since 1959, when ospreys settled for the first time in Scotland since becoming extinct in Britain in 1916. The male osprey has astonished ornithologists. In 10 years he has successfully helped to rear 19 birds from the same nest.

Mr Thaxton said: "In his first season, in 1990, he was useless. He did not have a clue what to do. He did not know how to provide her with fish or chase off other ospreys. But he has got better and better. In 1993 the mother died, but he soldiered on and carried on feeding the chicks. He has become a top osprey."

Soon after landing on Monday, the male began mating with a female osprey he has paired with annually since the death of his first partner.

They will mate 200 to 300 times in the next few days and the first egg is expected to be laid on about 10 April. The female is now sitting on the usual nest, where she will stay for the next few weeks, to prevent any other ospreys taking over. The male brings her fish.

The male is old for his species. He is believed to be aged about 13 or 14, since, once fledged in Scotland, ospreys usually spend two or three seasons in west Africa before flying back to Britain to mate for the first time.

Although an osprey has been known to live up to 22 years, 12 to 15 years is considered a good age.

The pair's nest is about 10 metres up in the crown of a Scots pine. The base of the tree is surrounded by a high fence, topped with barbed wire and the whole area is alarmed. Remote-controlled cameras mean that an RSPB hide a hundred metres away receives live video pictures of the birds. It is possible to watch them on the RSPB website: www.rspb.org.uk/webcams.

The RSPB maintains constant watch at the site, which was attacked by vandals in 1986. One year a group of egg thieves was caught by Royal Marines who were guarding the nest as a training exercise.

There are now 130 pairs of ospreys in Scotland. Although birds were seen in the Midlands last summer, none has established a breeding spot south of the border. It is believed to be only a matter of time before a pair breeds at Rutland Water, a Midlands reservoir, where young Scottish birds have been released since 1996.

The pair at Loch Garten, where visitors can get within 150 metres, are expected to stay until the end of August, when first the female, then the chicks and finally the male begin their flight back to winter in west Africa.

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