John Murdoch Henderson (1902-1972)
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The Osprey in the North East of Scotland
by J. Murdoch Henderson
From "The Scottish Naturalist" - Spring Number, July 1953

In the early 1920s it was known, at least in certain intimate circles, that ospreys were being reared with protective supervision, presumably under the direction or inspiration of Capt. Knight, in woods by the river Deveron, near the line dividing the counties of Aberdeen and Banff.

Loch Riach, "The Broch Dam" where Henderson observed the ospreys in the 1920s

Loch Riach, played by Duncan Wood. JMH 1933

Concrete evidence of the laudable venture first came to my notice twenty-eight summers ago when I was recovering from a serious physical breakdown - one which I may add in no way dimmed or distorted my vision! I was staying less than half a mile from the Fedderate Reservoir, an artificial loch of twenty-five acres, christened Loch Riach, unofficially, but better known locally as the "Broch Dam." This rather bleak anglers haunt, constructed during the years 1910 - 1912 to form the main water supply to the Burgh of Fraserburgh, is fed by two gentle streams from the western side of the Bonnykelly district, some five miles north of New Deer.

From the last week of July, 1925, and during every morning for more than a fortnight, four ospreys - at least some of them obviously juveniles, came to the loch. Much of their time they spent calling, raucously and anxiously, from the tops of fencing posts on the adjoining croft, then tenanted by Mr James Scott, since deceased. Mr Scott's daughter Mary, now Mrs Greig, Fraserburgh, witnessed them regularly at near range, but their penetrating, persistent cries certainly claimed the attention of other workers on the five neighbouring crofts. I, too, heard and saw the grand birds, and had the honour first to identify them there, but I had not quite regained the mobility to study their general behaviour from closer quarters. One forenoon in August, however, I followed them with a two and a half inch telescope, at a distance of fifty yards and upwards, as they flew from post to post in south-easterly direction alongside the compensation water from the reservoir, until slowly and silently they passed from view. I did not see them again, and I cannot recall mention of there having been seen by anyone else during the remainder of that year.

From the latter half of the 1929 spring, moreover, one bird - presumably an adult, possibly a breeding bird, fished the loch. The daily spectacle of the pounce and plunge for the kill greatly excited the curiosity of the near, and even some of the more remote inhabitants. For landing its prey this bird appeared invariably to chose the same point of vantage, which I examined for possible "fishprints", etc., when I returned to the scene early in July of that year - the top of a tall staining post, in the east corner of the nearest field on the Upper Oldwhat holding them farmed by Mr William Willox. Mr John Willox, his younger son, a keen sportsman and naturalist who now owns the Ythan Garage near Ellon, gave much of his leisure and more to studying this osprey and trying to dissuade the unscrupulous from harming it. The sad, despairing news, alas! reached him in late June that this noble, pioneering bird, which by then had ceased to distinguish the area with its presence, had been wantonly wounded by gunshot from the northern, Whitecairns side of the reservoir.

"The daily spectacle of the pounce and plunge for the kill greatly excited the curiosity . ."

Readers will readily appreciate that the above is the first eyewitness account of the Loch Riach visiting ospreys to be published through any of the normal channels. I even withheld the details from the late H. F. Witherby and his world-famous "Handbook" in the interests of the species. As no subsequent occurrences of this rare fish-hawk have been observed in the district, however, I have been stimulated and persuaded by Professor V. C. Wynne-Edwards to have these authentic records preserved in this eminently appropriate journal.

J. Murdoch Henderson, Aberdeen.


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