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Incubation at Site B

Incubation at Site B

Having raised three chicks at Site B last year, we are hopeful that 03 and his mate will be similarly successful this summer. On Saturday evening last weekend the female began sitting low in the nest for the first time; a sure sign that she had laid the first egg. They have been incubating solidly since then with little to disturb them. However on Easter Saturday morning, a worrying development occurred. Richard Jagger and Carol Pilson, who were on duty at 6am, take up the story…

“03 lazily floated in from the east. I, Carol, and the unringed female turned our heads to watch. It was an early return from his first fishing foray of the day. He gradually picked up speed and . . . did he just dive-bomb the female? This wasn’t 03. She mantled her wings and took to the air. He circled to return. An intruder. 09(98)?

She followed after him and they spun low round the nest before straightening out and disappearing  over the trees behind our heads. But, was the unringed female in the lead? And the eggs were alone in the nest, unsheltered and unguarded. Nervous smiles passed between us. From the minute they are laid to the minute they hatch osprey eggs are rarely left alone day or night. Whole four hour shifts can pass without the female stirring from her prone position warming the eggs and protecting them from danger, or perhaps a quick changeover between male and female when he brings her back a fish.

The seconds turned into minutes and mounted up uncomfortably. Still she had not returned. Still the eggs were uncovered. Then in the distance – an osprey. At last she had returned, we hoped . But, no, it wasn’t her. A fish carried in that characteristic Osprey way was clasped in his talons. 03, it had to be. At least he would take up the incubation when he realised what was wrong. 03 sauntered in, approached the nest and – passed right on by, alighting in a nearby tree and proceeded to eat the head of the trout with his back to the nest. Had he even noticed the female was not there? He had passed literally within a few feet on the nest.

This was getting too much to bear. Ten long minutes passed before he bothered to return to the nest with the rest of the fish, seemingly to pass to his mate, for when he landed on the side of the nest he seemed to stare in confusion, looking one way then the other, then down at the eggs, then repeat, until finally it was all too much and he simply tucked into the rest of the trout, still leaving the eggs un-incubated. All had not gone unnoticed by a watching magpie who boldly landed on the other side of the nest to only muted protests by the much bigger Osprey.

Our hearts were in our mouths and our eyes glued to our binoculars until our arms ached as the magpie repeatedly plunged its beak down into the nest, tossing nesting material into the air, hoping an egg would not appear in its mouth, until finally 03 exerted enough threat to see the magpie off. At least now he would sit on the eggs. Well, after a few more mouthfuls of fish that is. And when he finally hunkered down the eggs had been uncovered for 42 minutes. And we can only hope they haven’t chilled in this time and no permanent damage has occurred. The fact it was a relatively warm sunny morning should swing things in their favour, but a little nervousness will reside within us until that first little head peeps above the nest rim.

And as for the female, she finally returned an hour and a half after she had left, taking over the incubation as if nothing had happened. And as we left our shift all seemed well, and calm. The call of cuckoos in the woods a faint reminder that not all eggs out there would come to hatch. Thank goodness the cuckoo doesn’t parasite Ospreys! The eggs today would have stood no chance.”

Female incubating

We hoped that 09’s intrusion would be a one-off, but worryingly the same thing happened when 03 went fishing this morning. Once again the female chased the rival male off, but in doing so she left the eggsunattended for 45 minutes. At this early stage this should not result in the eggs failing, but if 09 continues to cause trouble then there is no guarantee that the eggs will hatch. All we can do is keep our fingers crossed that his intrusions become less aggressive…

Three eggs and another pike

Having raised three chicks at the Manton Bay nest last year, we are hopeful that 5R and his mate will be similarly successful this year. They have certainly got off to a good start – yesterday morning when Liz and I arrived at the Lyndon Centre at 7am we switched on the television to see three eggs for the first time. This means the countdown to hatching is officially on. If all goes to plan the first egg should hatch around 20/21 May. We shall certainly be keeping everything crossed until then.

In the meantime 5R has continued to do lots of fishing in Manton Bay. Yesterday he caught two pike very close to the nest. So if you have never seen a fishing Osprey in action before, then Lyndon is the place to come this Easter weekend. Having eaten the head of one of the pike, 5R delivered his catch to the nest, allowing us to get a great view of the three eggs before he took over incubation. Click on the video below to watch for yourself.

A spring walk for Send a Cow

A spring walk for Send a Cow

Spring has to be my favourite time of the year. Each day new summer migrants arrive, flowers come into bloom and butterflies take advantage of the spring sunshine to venture out on the wing for the first time.

Yesterday morning myself and Liz Jameson led the second of a series of guided walks we’re running at Lyndon with Tricia and Martin Lawrence who are a sponsors and ambassadors of the Send a Cow charity. Each year Send a Cow helps promote self-sustainable living in Africa by helping thousands of families grow their own food to eat and to sell. To read more about this very important work, check out the Send a Cow website. Half the proceeds from these guided walks go to Send a Cow and half to the Osprey project.

After meeting at the Lyndon Centre at 7am we set out across the wildflower meadows – full of flowering dandelions – towards Waderscrape and Shallow Water hides. Several newly arrived Whitethroats were staking claim to a territory and five other species of warblers contributed to a fantastic dawn chorus.

As we watched Great-crested Grebes and Little Grebes from Tufted Duck hide, the most magical and evocative songster of them all suddenly got into full voice. A Nightingale was singing from the blackthorn thicket just behind the hide. The vegetation was too thick to see it, but we were able to enjoy the bird’s full repertoire of fluty whistles for ten minutes or more.

From there we walked a few hundred metres to Waderscrape hide where 5R had just taken over incubation duties from his mate. I don’t suppose there is any where else in the UK where you can listen to Nightingales and see breeding Ospreys within a few minutes of each other.

With the walk complete we headed to Tricia and Martin’s house in Manton for an African themed breakfast where Tricia told the group more about Send a Cow’s valuable work and we talked more about the Osprey project. It had been a great morning and one you can experience yourself by visiting the Lyndon reserve this weekend. The reserve is open from 6am every day, so there’s no excuse to miss the dawn chorus. I thoroughly recommend it!


Swallows and Bluebells, Honey Monsters and Black & White Minstrels…..

Tuesday April 12th : Early morning at Site B. Warm sun, cloudless sky. Skittish sheep, eleven wonderful horses saying ‘Hello’. Swallows on the fence, nearly all males with long streamers, waiting for their females. Early bluebells behind the shed. Fallow Deer grazing just a stone’s throw away. Ospreys, Red Kites, Buzzards, Sparrow Hawks and Kestrels throughout the morning….Is this paradise? Have I been translocated?

No, it’s real, it’s actually real. I walked here this morning for the first time since last August. I said ‘Good Morning’ to the same man out with his dog. I first met him years ago. He knows why I’m here, and he knows I know he knows. We never talk about it. No need. I walk down the edge of a big field. I recall a day back in May 2007 when I had an experience here I don’t wish to have again : a tumultuous storm with torrential rain, constant spectacular flashes of lightning with virtually instantaneous huge thunder claps ~ and, yes, I was carrying a metal tripod and telescope. Crazy cattle and manic horses charging around…..

Today is so different : weather serene and calm, livestock browsing placidly. Blackcap and Song Thrush singing lustily in the woods. In musical terms, one scene was Gotterdammerung, this one is more ‘A Pastoral Symphony’.

And they’re here of course, the pair I’ve come to monitor. They’re here all morning virtually, housekeeping, preening, mating, eating, chasing, watching, flying, but mostly sitting still…..and sitting still…..and sitting still. I watch them closely, intently, continuously, unerringly, until my eye aches from staring down the lens at maximum x60 strength. I love them even more when they do nothing, when they look safe, strong and secure in their world. I come closer to their psyche here than I can do anywhere else. I reach a point of total absorption. I am on Osprey time now. I’ve gone ‘Through the Looking Glass’. I’m lost to my everyday world.

Sudden jolts, sudden distractions. Go away, annoying Magpies. Away to the right, a strange shape catches my eye. In the middle of a crop field, a revolving scarecrow has started to turn as the wind picks up. In the shape of a fat man with bulbous eyes and stubby limbs,  bright yellow one minute and then black and white on the other side ~ one moment a sort of Honey Monster and then the next a bizarre relic from the Black & White Minstrel Show. It whizzes round in the gusts. A flock of Wood Pigeons go down in the field close to it. It revolves frantically; they feed contentedly. I can’t resist a smile.

It’s broken the spell. There’s no time to settle again ~ for them or for me. I witness a swift movement from the south-west and it’s the female returning  with a clump of nest lining, but at much greater speed than has been her wont, and with another Osprey in hot pursuit. Her mate quickly joins the fray and for a few moments all three are twisting and turning in the air over the wood. It’s over as quickly as it began. The two males chase away, while she returns to add the grasses to her nest. Calm is restored as the Lord of the Manor returns and gently but firmly asserts his marital rights once more, for the fifth time this morning.

One more indelible image a few seconds later : I see a shape coming in low over the field towards me. It hoists onto a post just a few yards in front of me. Yellow eyes burn into mine. Orange-striated breast feathers are ruffled in the breeze. A perfect image of total wildness and freedom : a male Sparrowhawk.

I’m done here for now. The human world approaches. Later I flick a CD onto the car stereo. It’s Delius : A Walk in the Paradise Garden.  And that’s where I’ve been.

Notts Trent visit

This morning we were visited by a group of students from Nottingham Trent University. We walked down to Waderscrape and Shallow Water hides to see 5R and his mate, and also talked about how the project is having a really positive impact on the distribution of Ospreys in the UK. If you are interested in bringing a group of students to the reserve, please get in touch – we’d love to hear from you!