Ospreys are large birds of prey with dark brown plumage on their upperparts and white underparts with small brown spots on their breasts in a necklace shape. They have brown tails barred with white and white underwings.
Ospreys have white heads with long feathers on the nape and dark brown eye-stripes. They have hooked black bills, yellow eyes and blue-grey legs and feet. Male and female ospreys look similar, but the female is slightly larger.
Ospreys are summer visitors to the UK. Although ospreys mate for life, they spend the winter apart, reuniting at the nest site each spring. The male returns mid March prior to the female and will begin to repair any damage that might have occurred to the nest during their absence.
It became extinct in the UK in 1916, but recolonised in 1954. After a slow start there are now thought to be between 200 and 250 breeding pairs across the UK.
Ospreys eat fish almost exclusively, with fish accounting for approximately 99 percent of their diet. Ospreys feed on fish that range in size from 10.6 ounces to 4.4 pounds. They’re not picky fish eaters, and they feed on virtually any type of fish that isn’t too small or too large.
Besides fish, ospreys are also known to feed on other birds, small reptiles, amphibians, rabbits, hares and various rodents on occasion. Because of their specific diet, ospreys are most often found in areas near bodies of water, such as lakes, ponds, rivers or coastal waterways.
Ospreys hunt by hovering over the water and then quickly snatching fish by plunging into the water feet first. Because of their keen eyesight, ospreys can spot underwater prey as far away as 131 feet above the water’s surface.
I had always wanted to photograph Ospreys fishing.
In June 2021 this became a reality – I visited Aviemore Ospreys. Aviemore is a town and tourist resort, situated within the
Cairngorms National Park in the Highlands of Scotland.
The claim on their website is as follows
“The Best Location in the United Kingdom to Photograph Ospreys in the Wild”
When it comes to wildlife photography we all know there are no guarantees but the success rate of Aviemore Ospreys is
second to none, with more Ospreys visiting our Lochan than anywhere else in the UK, you can be assured of getting the best chance of getting that image of a lifetime, since the hide was developed we have had a 99.2% success rate, and only 4 mornings in two years when the Ospreys have visited the Lochan but did not fish.
This hides are recommended and used by Professional and Amateur Photographers from across Europe and has been given the highest rating possible by visiting wildlife photographers.
A pretty impressive claim. Judging by the numerous incredible images online and in publications I knew that this claim would be justified.
I had booked 2 mornings in the hides with the hope that this would be enough to capture some good images. The way it works is that you meet at 4:15am and are in the hides for around 4 hours. The location is amazingly in the heart of Aviemore next to a large hotel complex so the ospreys tend to fish early morning. Gordon our guide sits away from the hide and radios down where the birds are and what they are doing so that you know where the ospreys are going to dive. I must say that this is very helpful and some of the commentary is brilliant!!
Up at 3am and in the hide at 4:10am – no ospreys fishing. Only 1 seen for a short period of time above the water.
Up at 3am and in the hide for 4:15am. 1st Osprey dived at 5:30am. Shot at ISO 4000 1/1600 second f2.8 with Nikon D850 and 70-200mm lens.
Settings looked good – captured the sequence and thought i had achieved my first osprey images. I eagerly reviewed the images – only to see that they were all very dark and blurry!! To my horror the excitement had got the better of me and i had some how managed to shoot the images through the hide camouflage netting. I honestly could have cried. After the previous day of no sightings I really didn’t know if I would have another chance.
Then I got a 2nd Osprey dive at 5:41am. Shot at ISO 4000 1/1600 second f2.8 with Nikon D850 and 70-200mm lens.
Settings seemed ok – I should maybe have used a slightly higher shutter speed. But I thought I would be ok. I reviewed the images and to my delight I had managed to capture some images. I got the majority of the sequence sharp and this time no netting. I was happy with the images and liked the reflections in the water but wished i could have used my 80-400mm lens to get that little bit closer. However I didn’t consider this possible due to the widest aperture only being f5.6 and therefore I would have needed a much higher ISO to get the required shutter speeds. You can see more images in the gallery at the bottom. of this post.
I must admit that the 2 photographers that I shared the hide with were incredible they were not only encouraging when I messed up the first sequence, but were genuinely happy when iI manged to get the 2nd sequence. I really appreciated this as there is nothing worse when you miss images and you know it is your fault.
After this we nearly had another 3 dives, but due to an overly aggressive dominant male osprey chasing some of the others away and some very annoying seagulls doing the same, we just got the 2 dives.
I had one morning left in Aviemore and decided that I would book the last morning in addition – which i did. I was in the hide on my own and really hoped that i would get another opportunity.
Up at 3am and in the hide for 4:07am. 1st Osprey dived at 6:05am. Shot at ISO 2800 1/1600 second f5.6 with Nikon D850 and 80-400mm lens. I had already decided that I was going to sacrifice the ISO a little and shoot everything with the 80-400 lens so I was a little closer and this appeared to pay off. This dive happened so quickly the osprey spent no time flying around, it just appeared and circled once and then dived.
2nd Dive happened at 6:58am. Shot at ISO 2000 1/640 second at f5.6 with Nikon D4s and 80-400mm lens. I decided to attempt this sequence with my other camera as it fires at 11 frames per second compared to the frame rate of 6 fps on the D850. With the light now much better i was able to get more frames of this sequence. The 1/640 second was probably not quite quick enough, however the image are still sharp. This happened due to the sun going behind a cloud just before the osprey dived and therefore the light changed quite significantly.
Overall I achieved some images I am happy with. I had 4 dives in 3 days of which I managed to capture 3 of the dives. I feel after each attempt the images improved and I believe If I had a few more dives then I would have achieved more. Mid July to Mid August is the best time to photograph Ospreys as you will get more dives as they fish more to feed their hungry chicks.
Photographing these incredible birds is challenging. Fast moving birds in low light, that appears to change all of the time and the unpredictability of when and where it will dive. In my experience each dive lasted approximately 30s to a minute and the waiting around and the anticipation is sometimes unbearable. I have complete respect for photographers like Gary Jones and Andy Howard who just appear to nail amazing images every time. However for a first visit I am happy with my images and I can’t wait to come back and do photograph them again.
Check out Aviemore Ospreys, Wildlife Photography Aviemore Scotland, Cairngorm Wildlife Photography for more details and speak to Gordon.
To purchase my osprey images as prints or digital downloads then please visit by shop UK Wildlife, an album by by Paul McDougall – digital downloads, framed prints & canvasses (picfair.com)
This is an experience that is incredible and well worth the money and time spent.