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Ospreys on BBC East Midlands Today

The project is due to be featured on BBC East Midlands Today at 6:30pm on BBC1 this evening. Be sure not to miss it!

03 alone once again

After careful scrutiny following her arrival last week, John identified the female at Site B as a new bird. Her head and underwing patterns showed that she definitely wasn’t 03’s mate of the last two years nor was she a bird we had seen in Rutland before. The chances were, therefore, that she wouldn’t linger for long. 

She remained at Site B throughout the weekend – accepting several fish from 03 – but shortly after first light on Tuesday morning she was off. Our best guess is that she is probably now on a nest in Scotland; if only she had been colour-ringed we’d have known for sure. We have seen this behaviour numerous times before – females stopping off for a few days, getting a free meal or two and then continuing their migration. So we weren’t surprised at her departure.

With this interloper now heading north, the wait for 03 goes on. Last year his mate returned on the 4th April, so we will be keeping a close eye on the nest in the coming days.    

Chaos in Manton Bay!

Phew! What a few days it has been in Manton Bay. Following the excitement of 5R’s return on Sunday morning, things have just got better.

Since Ospreys first nested at Rutland Water in 2001, they have had a perennial battle each spring with geese. Most notably Egyptian geese and Canada geese. These two species, both non-native (and both accidentally introduced by humans), have increased dramatically in recent years and now provide direct competition to Ospreys for nests.

This is a new problem for Ospreys in England. 150 years ago when Ospreys last bred here, there were no Canada or Egyptian geese. And therefore no competition for nest sites.

On the morning that 5R returned to Manton Bay, a female Egyptian goose laid an egg in the nest. Her mate was initially very aggressive and repeatedly chased 5R whenever he tried to land on the nest. With his own mate still to return, 5R seemed reluctant to fight back. Instead he spent most of his first day back in Rutland sitting quietly on one of the t perches nearby.

Things changed though on Monday afternoon. Shortly after 3pm 5R began displaying above the nest.  An Osprey appeared from the south and landed near the nest. It was unringed…and a female. Could it be 5R’s mate? With the male goose still being very aggressive, the female moved to the artificial nest close to Heron hide. 5R went fishing.

When 5R returned with a fish he took it to a perch on the south side of Lax Hill. Here he could eat it away from the female’s constant food-begging. He ate the fish and then made several attempts to dislodge the geese. The female, meanwhile, went fishing herself.

At first light next morning the geese were perched on the shoreline close to the nest (they do not start incubating until the female has laid a full clutch – which often takes up to a week). As if spurred into action by the arrival of the female, 5R’s behaviour was now very different. He landed on the vacant nest and this time, when the geese gave chase, he was far more aggressive – forcing them to dive under water to avoid him.

Soon afterwards he was joined at the nest by the female. She too dive-bombed the geese. Between them, 5R and the female had reclaimed the nest.

As if to celebrate, 5R presented the female with a fish and then set about adding sticks and nest lining to the nest. The goose eggs (there were now two) disappeared and so we can only assume that they either got buried beneath 5R’s numerous clumps of nest lining (as has happened in the past), or that he kicked them out of the nest (as famously happened at Loch Garten a few years ago when ‘Henry’, the old male, arrived back after his mate had laid the eggs of another male).

Even once 5R and the female had reclaimed the nest, we still weren’t certain of the female’s identity. Her behaviour indicated that she was 5R’s mate, and when John Wright compared his photos of her with those he took last year, we were able to confirm, that yes, she was the female who raised three chicks at the nest last spring. In recent years John’s photos and drawings have shown that the spots on each individual Osprey’s underwing are unique to that bird. And perhaps more significantly, they do not change from year to year. The same is true of the bird’s head pattern. The principal is like a human fingerprint and, in this case, it proved that this female is indeed 5R’s mate. Her return is a week earlier than last year, we shows her clear intent to breed once again.

If like thousands of other people, you have been glued to the webcam, or have visited the Lyndon reserve, you will know that 5R and the female have been very settled at the nest since Tuesday morning. They have been mating regularly and 5R has continued to build up the nest. If all goes to plan, the female might lay the first egg in two-three weeks’ time.

5R returns home

Migration. It never ceases to amaze me. In all likelihood 5R has just flown 3000 miles across two continents, and yet this morning he arrived at the Manton Bay nest on the same day, at almost exactly the same time, as last spring. If that isn’t a true miracle of nature, I don’t know what is.

After wall to wall sunshine last week, the weather this weekend came as a bit of a shock. By 8:30 this morning volunteer Julie Gregg had been shivering in Waderscrape hide for over two hours. Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps were singing, but they were the only signs of spring. The weather was far more reminiscent of January.

In the space of a few minutes though, everything changed.

Suddenly an Osprey appeared from the south. It circled over Manton Bay and moments later was joined by a second. And then, a third! Two of the trio – a male and a female – headed east towards the Lyndon Centre. Both were fishing and neither paid much attention to the other. The male made his way methodically past the centre and towards the Hambleton peninsular. Half way across he suddenly folded his wings and crashed into the water.  After a struggle he emerged with nothing and headed back towards Manton Bay. Julie, who had now been joined by Ken Baker and Lyn Howells, waited nervously. Eventually the bird landed and, though too distant to read, it was possible to see a green ring on its right leg. It had to be 5R, didn’t it? A short while later the bird moved to a dead tree closer to the hide and Ken and Julie could confirm it was indeed the male who raised three chicks at the Manton Bay nest last spring. Fantastic!

Half an hour later 5R resumed his fishing trip, and this time he was successful. Shortly after leaving the tree he hit the water, sending a huge splash into the cold air. At the third attempt he mustered up the energy to pull a huge trout out of the water. He eventually settled to eat it on the artificial nest on the south side of Lax Hill, providing great views for excited visitors in the Lyndon Centre.

An hour or so later 5R had still made little impression on the huge fish. After a bit too much hassle from the local crows he took his catch to one of the perches close to the Manton Bay nest. Here he could resume his meal in peace.

By 11am he still had only eaten about half the fish, but enough was enough. He left the remains on the perch and shortly afterwards, flew towards the nest. There waiting though, was the male Egyptian Goose, whose mate had just laid an egg in the nest. He reacted angrily to the sight of the Osprey flying towards the nest and chased 5R off! Perhaps unsurprisingly given his long journey, 5R did not make any effort to retaliate. He simply returned to the perch.

More than six hours later, he is still there. And so is the goose. Past experience suggests that, once he puts his mind to it, 5R will have very little trouble in removing the squatters. He has probably just been too tired to sort them out today. Hopefully that will change tomorrow.  

Keep watching the webcam to see what happens…

Another Return

The weather has been so good at Rutland Water this week that it is hard to believe it is only March! The Lyndon reserve was alive with bird song this morning as myself Ken Baker and Dave Cole set about re-felting the roof of Shallow Water hide (yet another last-minute job to get done!). Chiffchaffs seemed to have arrived by the dozen overnight, but a flock of Fieldfares reminded us that winter hasn’t quite lost its grip just yet.

As we worked there seemed every chance that we would see an Osprey. Sure enough as we were enjoying a welcome cup of coffee at 10:30, a female Osprey appeared over our heads. We willed her to drop down onto the nest, but instead she drifted off, paying little attention to the vacant nest and perches below. 

She didn’t go far. Later in the morning an unringed female -presumably the same bird – dropped on to the nest at Site B where she was greeted by 03(97). There is every chance that she is 03’s mate (who is unringed), but until John Wright has studied his photos of her underwings and head pattern, we won’t know for sure. The female has remained at Site B for the rest of the day, so if she isn’t 03’s mate and she lingers for a few days, things could get quite interesting!

There was at least one other Osprey around this afternoon, but we think that the third bird was probably a Scottish migrant who has taken advantage of the clear skies and continued north.

We will, of course, report further developments as they happen – so watch this space. Or, even better, why not come to Rutland Water this weekend? Last year 5R returned to the Manton Bay nest on 27th March, so given the excellent migration conditions of the past week, there seems every chance that he will be back over the next few days. For more on the Lyndon reserve, click http://www.ospreys.org.uk/lyndon-reserve/ and for directions check out http://www.ospreys.org.uk/centre-info/