A TRIO of osprey chicks are flying high across Northumberland after leaving their nest for the first time.
Aqua, Splash and Spray were monitored by camera as they spread their wings and soared into the air at Kielder Reservoir.
And now it’s life or death as they swiftly learn to hunt for themselves on the reservoir, before migrating 5,000 miles to sub-Saharan Africa at the end of August.
It’s a real crash course for the ospreys, who have become a major attraction since settling last year on the platform nest specially constructed by Forestry Commission rangers.
The parent birds will continue to feed the young as they initially stay close to their remote nest on the north side of Kielder Water.
Two of the birds flew the nest at the same time, though the third – the smallest and most cautious of the trio – proved more reluctant, before finally fledging this week.
Forestry Commission ornithologist Martin Davison said: “Ospreys are expert hunters – it’s amazing how quickly young birds learn, but it is a matter of survival.
“The chicks need to put on extra body fat to tackle the long flight.”
With the learning timetable so tight, there’s no time to spare for Aqua, Splash and Spray before they set off for Africa.
The chicks will normally stay away for three years and may not return to their original nest, but the adults regularly return the following year, as they did this year.
Kevin Hudson, Northumbria Water leisure manager, added: “The ospreys’ diet consists almost exclusively of fish. Kielder Water is well stocked with rainbow trout – a favourite dish for these raptors.
“Visitors to the park now have a rare opportunity to watch the family of birds hunting as the parents will be showing the three chicks how it’s done.”
Mr Davison added: “Ospreys are expert hunters and will often hover over water to spot fish close to the surface.
“After fixing on their prey, they take the plunge with legs extended forward and wings swept back to keep them dry, before lifting away with a fish held in powerful talons.”
The reservoir’s Osprey Ferry sails daily in summer to within sight of the nest, departing from Leaplish Waterside Park and Tower Knowe Visitor Centre.
Ospreys, once common, became extinct in Britain by 1916 but some re-colonised Scotland in the 1950s. They were re-colonised in the Lake District in 2001 and later at Rutland Water in the East Midlands.
But Kielder is the only place in England where ospreys have returned to breed naturally.