The osprey chicks who hatched at Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s Foulshaw Moss Nature Reserve have made their first flights. To prepare for this, the parents remodel the nest from a bowl shape, in which eggs and small chicks can hide, to a flat take-off and landing platform. They do this by swooping spectacularly towards a dead tree, snapping off a branch and flying back to the nest with sticks up to a metre long. These are then arranged into a ‘helipad’.

The chicks instinctively join this renovation

project. They

rearrange sticks too but not being entirely sure what they are doing, tend to whack each other on the head more than actually achieving anything useful.

With DIY finished, the eldest chick (they hatch at two day intervals) starts exercising its wings. These first flaps are also instinctive and when they do start to rise, the young birds can look a bit startled. Sometimes they hang on grimly to the nest as if their wings want to fly but their feet really don’t. The problem here is that their 1.5 meter (5 foot) wingspan generates a

Foulshaw Ospreys © Ian Waite

lot of lift. If they hang on tight, a bit of nest comes up with them. Eventually, their toes relax and they start ‘helicoptering’, making small vertical hops into the air before landing swiftly with a mixed air of triumph and bewilderment.

After several days of bouncing around, the big moment comes. A chick isn’t fully fledged until it flies deliberately from A to B. At Foulshaw Moss our male osprey has a ‘shed’,

a tree near the nest where he hangs out when he’s not fishing. It’s close enough for a young osprey to aim at on its first flight. This can be rather haphazard, with some very frantic flapping. Taking off is one thing, landing is another. A two metre (six foot) wide nest is easy to hit but landing on a branch needs some solid steering. Sometimes it makes it to the tree, but the balancing act is too tricky and the bird retreats to flop safely on the nest. Or, quite often, the head of one of its less than amused siblings.

Once they’ve all been flying for about three weeks, mother osprey migrates and leaves the

chicks with dad. They spend another month with him, get the hang of fishing, then head off alone to Africa. In the space of about eight weeks they will have gone from one small hop in the air to a giant leap of 4,000 km (2,500 miles), all the way to another continent. Let’s hope by then that they are feeling unflappable.

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17 AUGUST 2017 ISSUE 417 PAGE 48

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