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Fish hunter with precision, the osprey - Scotland in June 2022

Updated: Jul 20, 2022

In Scotland I worked with a ranger, where I had already maintained contact from Austria and organised everything to be able to enjoy these photographs at all.

Here in the north of Scotland I stayed for several days to be able to observe and photograph the wild ospreys in their natural environment.

It was a small, inconspicuous loch in the middle of a small settlement where the ospreys tried their hunting luck every day.

They usually came very early in the morning, around 04.00 am. These days my alarm clock "suffered" me out of my sleep at 03.00 and it was anything but easy to crawl out of the warm sleeping bag at this time of day.

From a photographic point of view, this time of day was also a real challenge, as the light was still quite sparse at this time. I started the photo session every morning with my Nikon D5, as it still gives very good results even in low light conditions.

Around 6 a.m., in increasingly better light, my Nikon Z9 was used.

The osprey circles over the lake, watching for prey

With a wingspan of up to 1.70m, the osprey is a medium-sized bird of prey that is often mistaken for a gull because of its mostly angled wings.

Its fangs are very strong and have thorn-like scales on the underside, which makes it easier to hold the prey. The outer toe is also very special. It is a so-called turning toe and can be turned backwards if necessary. This gives the osprey a much better grip on the slippery fish.

Nice to see, the reversible toe. It can be turned forwards or backwards as needed.

The observation seat was very well hidden and there was the option of sitting on the eastern shore or on the southern shore of the lake. The rising sun from behind or coming from the right side.

All movements with the lens had to be done very carefully. Especially in the approach phase to the lake because his eyes really picked up every little movement.

Once the osprey was positioned above the lake, absolute stillness and motionlessness was the order of the day and this took some effort. Even the smallest movement was acknowledged with immediate flight. A game of patience where I was on pins and needles every time.

Several times he took flight and it took at least 30-40 minutes or longer each time for the osprey to try again, or perhaps not to appear at all.

Over the lake, the osprey usually slowed down to look for fish. When it caught sight of something, it took off like a hawk and practically stood in the air. This gave him time for his observations over the water. As soon as he had spotted a promising fish, he would dive into the cool water in a thrusting flight to strike the fish, to capture it.

Speed reduced - Jolt flight - dive flight

Once in the water, he has a hard time not drowning himself. It usually dives completely into the water when landing, then shakes itself out and tries to secure the fish with its catches.

By the way, it is the only eagle that dives into the water when hunting. Its conspecifics, such as the white-tailed eagle, solve this more elegantly and snatch the fish in flight without getting their plumage wet.

The osprey is one of the few species that can still fly with wet plumage. Nature has equipped it with everything it needs and specialised it for catching fish.

The following series of pictures shows what a struggle it was for the osprey itself, but also for the trout.

If the fish is too heavy and the osprey cannot lift it out of the water, he has a problem. He suffers from "prey cramp" after grabbing it and cannot open his jaws for a short time. The weight of the fish can make life difficult for him, costing him a lot of energy and perhaps even his own life.

Both are part of the natural cycle and the osprey is of course at a clear advantage here, it is at the end of the food chain. But it is still not a playground for him either.

On these days, only the male ospreys, the tercels, hunted. They supplied the females and also the brood with their fish. The "females" themselves were busy caring for the brood. Only when the young birds have fledged will the females participate in the hunt again. This is when the young ospreys also learn to hunt. This will be around mid to late July.

At the end of August, the adults and young birds leave for the south. The osprey is a migratory bird and its winter home is south of the Sahara in Africa. A very long way, especially for the young birds.

I spent four days with the ospreys. It was an impressive and unforgettable experience! It made it clear to me once again how dependent we individuals are on each other. Everything is a common whole and no one can exist without the other, we should always keep that in mind. It is a great gift for me to be able to participate in this. With my pictures I can only give you a hint of how perfectly and thoughtfully nature has created every single living being.

Even more pictures of the ospreys can be found here

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