Highlands & Islands

'Soap opera' osprey EJ returns to Highlands

Female osprey EJ at Loch Garten Image copyright RSPB Scotland
Image caption Female osprey EJ at Loch Garten

A female osprey has returned to an RSPB Scotland reserve in the Highlands for its 14th season.

The migratory bird of prey nicknamed EJ is known for having drama-filled breeding seasons at Loch Garten near Grantown on Spey.

So eventful are some of EJ's stays that RSPB Scotland has come to describe them as a "soap opera".

With a little help from EastEnders' various plot twists, BBC News Scotland online looks at the feathered soap.

The Matriarch

EJ has been a regular visitor to Loch Garten since 2003.

Her endurance - the bird flies more than 3,000 miles (4,828km) from West Africa to breed in Scotland - and determined and often tragic efforts to raise young has made her a favourite among the reserve's staff.

Julie Quirie, who works at the site's visitor centre, said of EJ's latest return: "I had just arrived at work for my first day of the season, threw open the flaps at the centre, and there, sitting on a branch, eating a fish was EJ. She had just arrived, having completed her epic flight from the far south.

"It may seem strange. But even after eight years working at Loch Garten, the return of the ospreys still brings a lump to my throat."

It's about family

EJ has raised a total 23 chicks at Loch Garten, mainly with her regular partner, a male bird known as Odin.

Many of her chicks have successfully fledged.

But sadly, in 2008 and then in 2009, a young male and a young female she reared died after migrating from Scotland.

The male called Deshar died after he made what the RSPB described as a "navigational error" and he missed landfall in the Azores and carried on out to sea.

His sister, Nethy, died the following the year in Africa.

Catfights

Shortly after laying eggs six years ago, EJ was forced to defend her nest against a rival female.

Reserve staff monitoring CCTV images watched anxiously as the eggs rolled around the nest as the pair scuffled.

EJ eventually managed to fight off the other bird, but during the same season feathers flew again when she had to ward off a kestrel, a pair of crossbill and a redstart interested in using her nest.

The old rogue

Before Odin, EJ's long-term mate was Henry.

But in 2009, staff at the reserve became concerned about VS, an older rogue male with a record for disrupting breeding seasons.

In that season of seven years ago, EJ returned to Loch Garten before Henry and mated with VS.

When Henry arrived he knew the eggs in the nest were not his and kicked them out, destroying the eggs.

Love triangles

Complex relationships have been a hallmark of the breeding seasons at Highlands reserve,

Back in 2007, EJ incubated two separate clutches to rival males but they all perished.

And there were similar problems last year.

Jess Tomes, of RSPB Scotland, said: "Last year was like something out of a soap opera at Loch Garten.

"Both EJ and Odin were present but we had an interloping male osprey visiting the nest attempting to ingratiate himself with EJ while Odin was away on hunting trips.

"The rival male actually kicked Odin and EJ's eggs from the nest! In the end things got so torrid that the birds failed to raise a family for the first time in years."

She added: "This year we are hoping for plainer sailing and a happy osprey family.

"With EJ back home our thoughts are turning to Odin. Will he reappear? Will other male ospreys try to get in on the act? Life is never dull at Loch Garten."

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