THE welcome mat was laid out yesterday as anticipation grew over the hoped-for return of breeding ospreys to Northumberland.
Forestry Commission wildlife ranger Adam Fletcher scaled the platform built on top of a conifer tree at Kielder Water & Forest Park which was used last year by a pair of the fish-eating eagles to raise three chicks.
Adam spread fresh moss on the decking to help entice the birds back. If they return, CCTV cameras will beam pictures of the osprey family to visitors at Kielder Castle.
Last year was the first time in at least 200 years that ospreys had nested in Northumberland.
And over the next few weeks, forest rangers and birders will be scanning the skies to see if ospreys return from their African wintering grounds.
The birds are strongly faithful both to nest site and mate.
The male is likely to be the first on the scene in late March after migrating back from sub-Saharan Africa.
But despite having made the 5,000-mile haul at least a couple of times before, nothing can be taken for granted, said Tom Dearnley, ecologist with the Forestry Commission.
“The epic journey these birds make is quite breathtaking, but also daunting and there are many risks which have to be negotiated,” he said.
“But, fingers crossed, they will make it back and the male will soon be scouting out the nest site .
“The female generally follows a few days later and providing things go to plan, they’ll re-ignite their romance with an aerial courtship display and settle down to rear young.
“It would be fantastic to see more English-born ospreys fledge from Kielder Water & Forest Park to continue the recolonisation of former haunts.”
The three chicks raised last summer in Kielder will spend the next few years in Africa, assuming they made their first hazardous migration without a hitch.
At about four years old they will make their first return journey north to breed, but won’t necessarily return to Northumberland.
However, with England’s largest Forestry Commission woodland and northern Europe’s biggest man-made lake, Kielder Water & Forest Park is ideal territory for ospreys, which feed on fish and have their nests, or eyries, high in the tree tops.
Depending on if and where the birds nest , the Kielder Partnership will organise a viewing area with the RSPB and Northumberland Wildlife Trust.
Last year a second osprey pair were in the Kielder area but did not nest.
A second platform is available this year in the hope that two pairs will raise families. But ospreys are not the only stars on show this spring.
The Kielder Partnership is staging a series of events as part Wild about Kielder season, starting on Saturday with a chance to see goshawks performing their breathtaking aerial courtship display. Setting out at 9am, the walk is repeated on March 20.
Booking is essential on 01434 220242. Other outings lined up include deer safaris, a dawn chorus walk, bat and owl nights and a chance to spy a badger. Booking is also required for these events on 01434 250209 and full listings can be found at www.visitkielder.com
The season culminates with a Family Wildlife Day at Leaplish Waterside Park on June 6.