Country diary: the ospreys are back – this is the ultimate spring thrill

Merryn Glover
·2 min read

The ospreys are back! All the way from west Africa, over 4,000km away, these powerful birds of prey have returned to the Scottish Highlands to breed. There is a nest near me, a twiggy crater the size of a truck tyre balanced precariously at the top of a tree on an island in my local loch. Part of the floodplain of the upper Spey, this area is called Badenoch – “the drowned lands” in Gaelic – and is cradled by the Cairngorm mountains to the north-east and the Monadhliaths to the south-west.

Ospreys pair for life and the male comes first to prepare the nest, usually returning to our loch in the first week of April. For me, the sight of him taking up his proud perch and the sound of his high-pitched call ringing across this amphitheatre mark the climax of spring. The arrival is not just a sign of the eternal cycle of seasons and the renewal of life, but of the possibility of recovery. Persecuted to extinction in Scotland from 1916, ospreys began recolonising naturally in 1959 and there are now 158 breeding pairs who can hatch up to three chicks each year.

Just a week after the male returned this time, spring was overthrown by winter again, with snow and bitter cold winds, and I wondered if he was cursing his northern home. But, if so, he will only be joining the local shepherds muttering darkly at the habitual “lambing snows” of April.

Today, I crunch down to the lochside over a sparkling white crust, and stare through my binoculars, the sun cresting the hills behind the loch. The osprey silhouette takes off and there, like a cutout copy behind, is a second one. The female has arrived. The male comes and goes, once presenting a fish, which is the mainstay of their diet. On another return, he hovers in a display of wing beating and wild cries, the light caught in his feathers.

He must woo his mate again every year, as a competing male may arrive, and this delivery of fish, nest building and sky dancing are all proof of his prowess. I think his efforts are succeeding, as when he settles down, he is rewarded by a look and a moment of touching beaks.

• Country Diary is on Twitter at @gdncountrydiary