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Thousands of people around the world will have been eagerly anticipating this week’s official switch-on of the live osprey cam at Loch Arkaig.
In previous years, the live pictures of nesting ospreys and their chicks have been watched by fascinated viewers all around the globe and this year the often dramatic tree-top battle for survival is likely to prove no different.
Woodland Trust Scotland bought Loch Arkaig Pine Forest in partnership with local group Arkaig Community Forest at the end of 2016.
The live camera stream supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery began the following season.
The first season of the camera in 2017 was trouble free, with novice birds Louis and Aila successfully raising their first chick, Lachlan.
Trust spokesman George Anderson says last year the project almost seemed jinxed – both biologically and technologically.
‘Louis and Aila produced three eggs, but these were all taken by a pine marten in the night,’ said Mr Anderson, referring to an incident that was also viewed on the screen in Lochaber Times’ office window in Fort William High Street thanks to a live feed from the Loch Arkaig camera.
‘The birds stayed around despite this but the camera then suffered a few technical glitches before failing completely when the equipment was struck by lightning.
‘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 Locheilnet team 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 last year and that is what offered the pine marten access to the canopy.
Mr Anderson added: ‘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.
‘We think 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.’
The live stream will run until the autumn when it is hoped some chicks will be fledged. The adult birds are expected to arrive around the start of April.
The live camera feed from Loch Arkaig osprey cam can be viewed at: https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/support-us/support-an-appeal/arkaig-pinewoods/wildlife/osprey-cam/