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Experts baffled by Osprey's return

The Scottish Wildlife Trust has today (29 March 2011) confirmed that the osprey thought to be oldest breeding female of its kind ever recorded in the UK has returned for the 21st consecutive year to the charity’s Loch of the Lowes Wildlife Reserve in Perthshire.

Wildlife experts have now positively identified the bird as the resident female osprey, ‘Lady’, thanks to a close-up image of the bird’s iris seen from the charity’s nest camera. The confirmation comes after an unidentified bird was spotted landing on the reserve’s nesting site at 12.10 pm yesterday (28 March) where it remained for no more than a few minutes before disappearing from the area until dusk.

The arrival of this female osprey, now estimated to be 26 years old, is said to have “baffled” bird experts and wildlife enthusiasts across the globe. Staff and volunteers will now launch a 24-hour protection watch, thanks to SITA Tayside Biodiversity Fund and People’s Postcode Lottery, to keep the bird safe from wildlife crime.

Robert Potter, Scottish Wildlife Trust’s North East Reserve Manager, said: “As our resident female osprey is not ringed the only way to positively identify her is to view a close-up image of her iris, which has distinctive markings. To get the close-up image required, we need the bird to sit on the nest for a reasonable length of time in daylight hours.

“At the first possible opportunity, we used the camera to zoom in on the bird. To our delight and astonishment, the close-up allowed us to confirm that this bird is, in fact, our resident female osprey, known by many as ‘Lady’.

“This bird is an incredible specimen of nature. The average osprey lifespan is 8 years, and this bird is now around 26. Last year, we thought this bird would die on her nest but, at the eleventh hour, it managed to regain its strength. Today, despite the odds, it looks healthy after just completing a 3,000 mile migration from West Africa.

“Having laid 58 eggs in its lifetime, with 48 chicks going on to hatch and successfully fledge the nest, this one individual has single-handedly made a significant contribution to boosting osprey numbers breeding in Scotland.

“With the female now back on the nest, the next event to watch out for is the return of a male, which we expect to happen within the next week. The big question on everyone’s lips however is whether our old osprey will be fertile enough to breed again this year. After mating, we would usually expect a female to lay between two to four eggs in early April, and six weeks later the eggs should hatch.

“A lot is hanging on a successful breeding season this year. If we have osprey chicks and can raise enough money, we hope to satellite tag the chicks to track them during their migration. This will allow us to collect valuable data, such as key resting points and obstacles, which could help us take action to make osprey migrations safer for the birds.

In April, ‘Lady of the Loch’, a paperback biography written by Helen Armitage as a dramatic portrayal of the spirit of a bird that has found a place in the hearts of many, will go on sale.

Once a common sight in Britain, the osprey was all but extinct by 1916 due to persecution. Conservation efforts continue to re-establish the species as part of Scotland’s rich wildlife. Today, 200 pairs of osprey now breed in Scotland during summer months.

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