FEARS have been raised that Scotland’s best-loved osprey may have died after a younger stranger swooped in and set up home with the veteran bird’s former mate.
The bird, known as Lady of the Loch, is believed to be the world’s oldest osprey and has been returning to breed at a Perthshire nature reserve for quarter of a century. In that time she has laid a record-breaking 71 eggs and raised 50 chicks.
Now experts are concerned Lady may not have survived the 3,000-mile flight back to Scotland after spending winter in West Africa.
Her mate since 2012, a male called Laddie, had already settled in at the nest, perched high in a 100-year-old Scots pine tree at the Loch of the Lowes reserve, near Dunkeld.
But wildlife enthusiasts, watching the nest via a live webcam, were left stunned when an unknown female flew in and made herself at home. Lady is now thought to be 29 years old, double the usual life-expectancy for an osprey, and conservationists say a failure to show up in the next few days will suggest she has died.
However, they are refusing to give up hope that the elderly raptor will reappear for an unheard-of 25th breeding season.
“There is a chance she is dead,” said a spokesman for Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT), which runs the reserve. “But we are not writing her off just yet.
“They essentially do mate for life and always return to the same nest. But it is still within the window of time when she could arrive, so we just have to wait and see.
“That’s what makes it so exciting – she could come back in the next few days.”
SWT ranger Charlotte Fleming, who works at the reserve, said the new female’s arrival had caused great excitement.
“Many people have been asking if this means that our famous osprey – affectionately known by many as Lady – will not return this year, but we simply do not know,” she said.
“There is still a possibility that she will return. And dramatic scenes could unfold if Lady were to begin to compete for her nest and her mate.”
Despite an initially frosty reception from Laddie, the two birds soon began “pair-bonding” and Lady’s former mate was seen bringing tokens of affection – in the form of sticks – to his new love interest The two then mated several times.
This is not the first time an interloping female has attempted to oust Lady from her nest and the spokesman remained confident the elderly raptor could reclaim her mate.
“Lady is quite an old osprey but she is also a very big osprey,” he said.
“Because this female is younger and smaller there is a good chance she might be chased off to a nearby nest known as the Frustration Nest.
“What could ultimately happen is the male would be kind of tending to two partners. It’s rare but it does happen.”
It is estimated that Lady has travelled nearly 130,000 miles over her lifetime, with migration usually taking around 20 days – depending on weather conditions and food supplies.
However, since Lady has never been ringed or tagged, her actual fate may never be known.
“It would always be a mystery, and we could only ever presume,” the spokesman added.
Ospreys were thought to have disappeared from Scotland around 1916, but Scandinavian birds re-colonised the country naturally in 1954 and have been slowly spreading. Surveys by conservation charity RSPB suggest there 250 to 300 nesting pairs in the UK in 2011 – at least 200 of them north of the Border.
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