I sometimes think nature doesn't understand the rules of storytelling.
For example, if you have an incredibly successful season one year, why on earth would you fail to follow up on it the next year? Of your five reality show stars, three of them are at least a year away from appearing on screen again, one appears to be gone for good, and the last has gone and found himself a new relationship off camera. This is bad talent management.
In fact, all in all, this is a rubbish 2021 series of The Loch Arkaig Ospreys.
Who wrote this script?
An unexpected sequel to 2020's season
After 2020's incredible success, with hundreds of thousands of people watching Louis and Aila raising their three chicks on the Woodland Trust's webcam, this year has been something of a lacklustre sequel. Poor Aila has, in the language of the osprey watchers, failed to return. That almost certainly means that sometime between her last appearance on the nest last year and now, she has met her end.
Louis, like the good-instinct driven male that he is, has found a new partner and followed her to a new nest, where hopefully the pair of them are busy helping repopulate the UK with wee osplets.
And that leaves an awful lot of people staring forlornly at an empty nest.
The Mid-Season Twist
Or, at least, it did until earlier this week. For the last three days, a pair of ospreys have been spending time on the nest. Blue 152 is a healthy-looking female osprey, and she's been accompanied by a young male, nicknamed the Prince, Pretender or the Stranger (he's unringed), who is showing every sign of being a young returnee who doesn't really know what he's doing yet.
Will they breed? Will he actually figure out how osprey mating works?
Will he even just bring her a fish?
All of a sudden, we've gone from an established show to a brand new cast, on pre-existing sets. The rhythm of the storytelling has been broken. It's very disconcerting. We're back to 2017's “will they/won't they” plot-line.
Ah, heck, this is a reboot, isn't it?
Nature has her own stories to tell
But that's Nature for you. She tells stories in her own way — and sometimes those stories don't go the way that we find satisfying.
Take the Loch Garten nest. It's the most significant nest in the UK, because it's the nest where Ospreys started breeding again in the UK. And yet, because Nature doesn't care about such things, it's lain empty for over two years, and has failed to produce any fledges for even longer. A couple showed some interest in it this year, but have not been seen on the nest for some days now.
This is a sad fate for such a historic site. But then, ospreys have no National Trust. Young osplets are not taken on tours of the species's historic sites. Nature carries the past in its landscapes and genes, but otherwise lives in the eternal now.
Embracing the narrative gap
We humans, creatures of narrative that we are, find this hard. But it's good for us. Part of the joy of being a nest-watcher is a reminder that nature isn't kind or predictable. Life can be short, and unfair. And dramas are played out in very different ways. Louis hasn't taken time for mourning Aila. His drive to share his genes, to breed, is too strong. He's doing the right thing for his species. We can mourn Aila, if we choose, and we can thank her for the pleasure she gave us over the last few years.
But Nature won't wait for us. It moves on. Maybe with our current newbies, maybe with others who might claim the nest next year. Who knows?
Nature likes to surprise us in a way human storytellers never will. And that's the thrill of watching her in all her glory.