Thousands tune in to Highland osprey nest

They suffered lightning strikes, camera outages and pine marten attacks during the last nesting season.

So this year, an osprey breeding site in the Highlands is to get special measures to give the birds a bit of peace to get on with rearing their chicks.

The live osprey nest camera at Loch Arkaig Pine Forest in Lochaber was switched on this week.

In 2018, the three eggs laid by resident pair Louis and Aila were all taken by a pine marten. The birds stayed around despite this but then the camera went dark after being struck by lightning.

George Anderson of Woodland Trust Scotland said: “The kit has been completely refurbished over the winter. We have fitted a back-up second camera which we can switch over to if the first one fails. Surge protection has been added to various parts of the chain. One of the team from the local internet provider, Lochielnet has been trained on how the system works so they can deal with most problems without waiting for a technician to come from elsewhere.

“The tree had been marten-proofed previously – with a slick covering around the lower part of the trunk making it too slippy to climb, and lower branches trimmed to remove jump-on routes. However, it seems a large branch from a neighbouring tree was blown over in high winds last year and that is what offered the pine marten access to the canopy. We have removed any other likely branches in the vicinity. In addition an electric tape has been fitted higher up the trunk. This will deter any pine martens with a mild shock if they reach that far.

“Pine marten predation is totally natural and we can’t guarantee the nest won’t be raided again. We take a few reasonable steps to give this nest added protection as we want people to be able to see the osprey family successfully raise some youngsters, but martens are not a threat to the survival of ospreys as a species. It is important to remember that both martens and ospreys were nearly wiped out by people, but are well able to cope with each other. It may be that the best protection is Aila’s hard won experience. Last time a marten came she flew off the nest. Sitting tight is often a better tactic.”

Loch Arkaig is the most challenging nest camera site in the UK, as there is no visitor centre, electricity supply or internet connection onsite. Everything has to be solar powered and the signal is beamed across the loch before it can enter the Lochielnet system and then out to the world.