Oh Duck! I Didn’t See You There – The Story Of How A Duck Chases An Osprey

It was a nice sunny morning in the Cairngorm Mountains in the Highlands of Scotland, a true rarity.  I was part of a group that were renting the hides in the Rothiemurchus Estate just outside Aviemore.  The prey: Ospreys catching fish at a pool filled with Rainbow Trout.  Other things come and go while you are there.  Some Grey Herons hang about and chase each other, making for great subjects to fire test exposure shots against while you wait.  Some Mallards (ducks) also paddle about too, sometimes getting in the way of your shot when an Osprey does come along.

This was our final morning, getting up at 4am, sitting there until 09:30, getting breakfast, and then heading to the woods for squirrels and birds.  It was an exhausting routine interspersed with 4 second long bursts of action and adrenaline when a dive did occur.  The guide, located on the far side of the pool in a treeline, called over the radio: “Bird diving”.  We saw the final bit of the flash from the hides, a splash in the water, and a flash of feathers.  We simultaneously sought out the Osprey’s head, locked in, and started to shoot.  When an Osprey catches a fish it can remain in the water for a few seconds, manipulating the fish into a head forward position to streamline the flight.    Then there is a huge flap with water spraying as the bird fights to get out of the water.  1 or 2 seconds later and the Osprey is gone.  We shot and stopped.  She was sitting there longer than normal.  Then there was the flash, we tracked and we shot some more as she flew across from right to left in front of us and away behind us to our left.

Then it was time to “chimp”; oohing, aahing, is scattered between muttered swears as you seek to find that uncommon shot where the bird is in frame, not leaving the shot, exposed right, and of course, with the eye in focus and sharp.  This time something else was being said: what was that in the photos?  Is that a Mallard?  And what’s she doing to the Osprey?


The Osprey is attacked by a startled Mallard


The Osprey flees the scene of the crime but with pursuit


The Mallard closes in on the Osprey

Nearly …


The duck closes in and … that was close!


The Mallard gives up


The Osprey departs with breakfast sans Mallard

I’ve seen birds mobbing birds of prey in the past (even Ospreys mobbing a Bald Eagle) but this one is a first for me: a duck attacking an Osprey.  The Osprey was EJ, the female who was made famous by RSPB web cam at her nest in the nearby Loch Garten.  Between our collective photos in the hide we put the pieces together:

  1. EJ dived on a fish.
  2. The Mallard appeared to swim into the way of the dive and nearly got hit by EJ
  3. The Mallardgot out of the way, and returned quickly to attack EJ
  4. EJ was … startled a little, as you can see by my first photo where her bill is open and she’s looking at the incoming Mallard
  5. The Opsrey takes off, but the Mallard follows
  6. The Mallard drives the point home but the mature EJ keeps going with her catch until the pursuit is lost

And that’s the story of how a Mallard chased an Osprey.  Here’s a more traditional photo of EJ in action (from my Nature gallery):

EJ taking a trout at Rothiemurchus

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