Saturday 7 July 2012

Yesterday afternoon I watched an osprey

I treated myself to a two hour walk up-river from Perth railway station before attending the opening of the summer exhibition at the very friendly Frames Gallery.

I've walked this once before, four or five years ago when I broke my journey on the way to Aberdeen to visit Jennifer. I remembered looking across the wide Tay to grand houses with long gardens that run down to the river. This time it was just as idyllic - lounging chairs, summerhouses, a little boat in the water. The one negative was two jet skiers zooming back and forth, looking like they were having a great time but their machines spraying up great amounts of water and creating huge wakes. Surely not good for any birds still nesting along the water's edge?

I walked only 2 miles upriver, 2 miles back, yet in this short stretch there was a great variety of birdlife:

Heard but not seen was a peacock, crying out, so haunting, on the opposite side, in the grounds of Scone Palace towards the furthest point of my walk.

Swifts and swallows, sand martins and house martins, all over, flying low and high, together and apart, up and down over the water as they hawked for insects.

Black headed gulls with their raucous squawks, but I like it.

Herring gulls and lesser black-backed gulls. Mallards of course, and mute swans. A buzzard circling high and quite far off.

A sandpiper on a little boulder-stone close to the opposite bank, whistling a melancholic call then joined by another.

Herons - six or seven in one small stretch. Some were juveniles with their darker plumage, waiting in the shallows and watching how their parents stalk.

Goosanders or red-breasted mergansers. (I must have been slacking as I didn't realise until I got home that I hadn't even subconsciously registered which.) A mother seemed to be teaching her eight youngsters, having them swim all together, splashing rapidly across the water, then heads down and continuing under the surface with just tails sticking slightly up. Then the frantic above-water splash again. Then heads and bodies under. Repeating this over and over.

Various corvids including two crows on the far shore, searching the sand for I don't know what. Mingling with oystercatchers of which there were many.

At least three separate whitethroat territories, a solitary bird perched in a patch of scrub or hawthorn or other wild-growing bush in each, singing his chirruping song.

And best till last - the osprey. Only the second time I've seen one. Sitting amongst long grasses on the river bank to eat my tea (nice brown roll with broad bean & asparagus houmous and thickly-sliced cucumber) when suddenly in the air the noise level increased and I saw the outline of a bird of prey with gulls and swifts, swallows and martins, all flocking around it, oystercatchers flying at it. As it got closer and closer and I started to realise it certainly wasn't a buzzard, nor a large gull, it was looking like an osprey. Flapping flapping, then gliding, half hovering. Flapping flapping, then gliding, half hovering. It came directly above me and performed this half hover whilst all the time I watched it perfectly through my binoculars.

Four times it folded its wings -tucking them in, but not quite fully- made a rolling turn then dived to splash impressively into the river, submerging itself completely. Three times it had no success, emerged with nothing and flew a little distance before shaking an osprey-worth of water from its feathers. On the fourth dive - a fish! Flattish I think and quite small, probably under a foot in length.

The fish hung hooked below its talons. One foot behind the other as it flew (imagine the pose of a teenager riding a skateboard, only the teenager is an osprey and the skateboard is a fish) the bird shook its feathers dry again then flew off through then above the trees of Scone Palace. I watched until it wasn't much more than a speck. Even then gulls were still chasing it.

As I had neither sketchbook or camera with me on this trip these words will have to do. Plus two quick drawings of young mergansers in on a lake in Quebec in Canada, made when I was in my left-handed phase!

merganser studies. Quebec, Canada, July 2010. left-handed, in pen

merganser group. Quebec, Canada, July 2010. left-handed, in pen


  1. Leo, Sounds to have been a lovely walk. I like the comparison of the osprey and fish with a child and a skateboard. I've seen ospreys many times but never seen one catching a fish - you witness this on your second osprey sighting. If you'd been on the other side of the river you might have been able to add hawfinch to your list.

    1. I did NOT realise there were hawfinches anywhere so close to where I live. I've never seen them before... That's really exciting... Perth here I come!