Every morning, 370 miles away from the ancient Caledonian pine forest beauty of Loch Arkaig, Mary Cheadle rises, logs on and catches up on the latest instalment of the soap opera she can’t stop watching.

It’s no wonder that she’s hooked: it’s a high rise, high stakes drama. There are fierce battles, midnight ambushes, love triangles, a fair amount of lust, often a bit of gore, and, if all goes well, the blessing of new life and, fingers crossed, no-one gets eaten.

From her home in Stoke of Trent, Mary is just one of a staggering number of people from around the world who can barely tear their eyes away from what is, perhaps surprisingly for anyone who’s not tuned in to one of Scotland’s three osprey webcam sites, non-stop action.

For example, the previous night, she says, were two tawny owl attacks on the Loch Arkaig nest – the kind that sends shivers down the spines of tens of thousands of “osprey-holics” who, from late March and throughout summer are glued to the nesting birds.

Worse, in the past the webcam has captured pine marten raids which within seconds cleared a nest that had taken weeks of careful preparations by its occupants. Another time it was a vicious storm that battered the newly hatched chicks, leaving viewers on the edges of the seats waiting to see if any had survived.

“There’s devastation when things go wrong,” says Mary, who launched a Facebook group, Friends of Loch Arkaig Ospreys in 2017 after becoming stumbling across the Highland drama beamed from just outside Lochaber to her Stock on Trent living room.

“That was my first experience of ospreys, I didn’t even know they existed.

“But I became so attached to them. I didn’t want the season to end and when they went off to migrate, I was so desperate to find out what was happening to them that I even emailed an ornithologist in Africa to try to find them. He didn’t reply.

“People have passions about different things,” she adds. “I find their lives are extraordinary. “ Her group, launched in late summer 2017, started with two members, her and her not that interested husband. It has now grown to have 2,500, with members in America, Australia, France and even Russia.

That number, however, is just a small fraction of the 400,000 people who swing by the Woodland Trust Scotland webcam each mating season to check on the progress of Louie and his mate, Dorcha.

According to Trust spokesman George Anderson, the nest camera, supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, was an immediate success when it was launched five years ago.

However, the impact of lockdown sent viewing figures soaring.

“During summer of 2020, our viewing numbers went through the roof, from around 60,000 to 400,000.

“People are watching from all over the world. They’ll get up at 6am and straight away look to see what has been going on.

“It’s not just people watching. There’s a community out there of people commenting and discussing what they’re seeing.

“They are constantly snapping photographs and sharing little bits of action. It goes further; some have paintings of the birds, they produce needlework… “There is now a lot of people who didn’t know that much about ospreys who have got a huge amount of knowledge now.”

Fans became almost obsessed by the birds’ antics, and it’s easy to become hooked, he adds.

“It is like a soap opera. At one point we were thinking calling the live stream Lochenders – there’s always some drama unfolding.

“When there’s a male and two females tussling over a nest, it’s straight out of the Queen Vic, there are elements of “Get out of my pub!”.

“There’s a danger that people forget that these are wild animals. I sometimes regret that we give them names, once you do that people start to identify with them.”

Louie and Dorcha’s behaviour suggests eggs may be on the way, an event which tends to send fans into a social media frenzy.

But the Loch Arkaig pair do not have the spotlight all to themselves.

Indeed, this year has brought a flurry of activity to all three sites across Scotland where cameras have been established.

At the RSPB’s Abernethy reserve near Boat of Garten in the Cairngorms, the exploits of male bird Axel and a so-far unnamed female as they prepare their nest against a stunning backdrop of Cairngorm scenery also attracts huge numbers of viewers.

While, for the first time, nest cameras are also trained on a pair of white-tailed eagles – capturing their chicks as they hatched - and a couple of nesting goshawks.

“We don’t have an established pair of ospreys, so what we are seeing is interesting; there’s a lot of ‘will they, won’t they’,” says Fergus Cumberland, the reserve’s Visitor Experience Manager.

“There’s lots of sky dancing, he arrives holding a fish in his talons and making courtship moves as they try to woo each other. It is looking promising.”

For fans, part of the appeal is the unpredictability of nature in the wild. Eggs can arrive after a lengthy courtships but be lost to nest intruders. Chicks might hatch but be ignored and left to starve or be simply too weak to survive.

Some, unfortunately, end up as dinner for the very parents who for weeks had tried so hard to bring them into the world.

“People are fascinated,” Fergus adds. “You don’t think of birds as having a personality like a cat or dog might have, but then you see these characters emerge and it slowly consumes you.”

At the Scottish Woodland Trust’s Loch of the Lowes, events have moved rapidly: the livestream webcam captured the arrival of a clutch of three reddish brown and creamy coloured eggs courtesy of the female NCO, which was born in 2016 in the Loch Ness area, and her mate, LM12, a veteran at the site with 11 seasons under his belt.

On the way, there have been aerial battles with other ospreys who tried to take over the nest, intrusions from ravens and Egyptian geese, and lots of nest building – including the delivery by one osprey of a rubber glove.

Anyone logging in for the first time may well feel a little underwhelmed at the sight of a bird sitting on a nest, but according to Sara Rasmussen, the Trust’s Perthshire Ranger, patience is usually rewarded.

“For some people, watching them is a form of escapism, it’s a way of making contact with nature from the comfort of their own living room and with a species that not that long ago was extinct and has come back and is doing well.

“There’s a lot we don’t understand about them. There’s so much communication between them, the way they identify intruding osprey, feed their young.

“We get lovely feedback that, during lockdown in particular, it was a real salve for people to just watch them and hearing the birdsong and the sound of the wind in the background.

“They are just very compelling and charismatic.”

Watch the action unfold: