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Charity Christmas Cards

With Christmas fast-approaching now is the time to think about Christmas cards. If you want something a little different to send to your friends and relatives this year, then why not buy a pack or two of our special Osprey migration cards? The cards, kindly sponsored by Chris Muris of Altmore Business Law, based in Uppingham, show 09’s migration route to West Africa with the greeting ‘Rutland’s Ospreys will spend their Christmas in West Africa’. Inside a second message reads ‘Wherever you spend your Christmas and New Year may they be happy and peaceful’. You can buy the cards from our two Visitor Centres at Egleton and Lyndon. They are sold in packs of five for £1.99. All proceeds will go towards our wildlife education work in West Africa.

An Easy Life

We’ve just updated the Google Earth tracking page. As you will see both AW and 09 are settled at their wintering sites in Guinea and Senegal. In fact the latest data really does demonstrate what an easy life adult Ospreys have in the winter. Both birds spend most of their time perched just inland, with one or two daily forays out to sea to fish. They usually catch within sight of land but on one notable occasion – on 19th November – AW was fishing six miles offshore. This reminded me of standing on the beach at Tanji in the The Gambia last winter and seeing numerous Ospreys fishing in the sea – and catching needle fish amongst others. Here’s a video we recorded that morning.

Michelle and Ken with the ‘Ladies that Lunch’

Thursday 17th November, 11.30am : We’re on our way to Leicester to give another talk about the Osprey Project. We’ve given ourselves plenty of time ~ it’s only twenty miles or so from Rutland Water, and we’re not expected till 12.30. Our destination is The Leicestershire Golf Club, where we will be the guests of the Concorde Ladies Luncheon Club. We have a map and Michelle is navigating. We need to turn left off the A47 at some point. We chat as we drive along, and Michelle tells me about the changes she has made to the presentation as we have a shorther slot than usual for our talk today. The Project took delivery of a smart new lap-top yesterday, and we are giving it its first outing.  It’s now 12.10am. Shouldn’t we have turned off the A47 by now? We’re almost in the centre of Leicester now. I see the de Montfort Hall and other buildings which tell me we are a little off course. We stop and ask a postman where the Golf Club is, and he looks at us blankly, but at least gets us back on the A47. ‘We’ve passed that hospital before’, says Michelle helpfully. We can’t be far from the place now. We drive through leafy suburbs and suddenly see a sign for Evington, and then there it is at last : The Leicestershire Golf Club. The car-park is huge, but absolutely heaving! The place is packed! These must be golfers’ cars surely….but no, the people getting out of them are nearly all smart ladies on their way to lunch….and a talk about Ospreys. We sit in the car for a few minutes to regain our composure and equilibrium. ‘OK, let’s do it,’ says Michelle suddenly, and we gather our equipment together and make our way purposefully towards the very imposing club-house.

The bar is filled with a crowd of women chatting animatedly in groups. We are greeted with genuine warmth by the Chairman of the Luncheon Club and others, and shown through to an equally grand dining room where we are to have lunch and then do our presentation. The members are extremely smart. Should I have worn a tie? The building is octagonal in shape, and the dining room covers two, or maybe three, of the eight sides, making it slightly difficult to know where to place our screen so that everyone can see. We choose the best location, and set up. Drinks appear for us.  About sixty to seventy ladies are expected. Everyone has to take a numbered disc from a box and this tells them where to sit ~ that way they all meet different people at each monthly lunch. Very clever. Our places are reserved on the ‘top table’ next to Madam Chairman. While we are still setting up, the ladies enter the dining room and find their places. They are all talking. The Chairman bangs the table with a little brass gavel and says a charming Grace which mentions the ‘birds of the air’ ~ very apt in view of today’s talk. As we sit down I survey the scene : here I am, surrounded entirely by congenial and elegant female company, about to enjoy a sumptuous lunch, and then to take part in a talk on a subject dearest to my heart! Is this heaven? Well, it’s pretty close anyway.

Our neighbours on the table chat away as we begin our first course. One lady assumes Michelle can’t have been doing this for very long, as she only looks 20 or 21! That pleases her. The Chairman tells us a little about the Club, and asks us not to be offended if one or two members close their eyes while we are speaking! We won’t be offended, we assure her! My first course is ‘Smoked mackerel and beetroot salad with horseradish cream’, while Michelle has gone for an ‘Avocado Salad’. Both are very tasty! The chatter is friendly, pleasant and very warm. We hear about our neighbours’ families, travels, previous jobs, grand-children…..and ospreys! One lady has seen them in Canada, another visited her daughter and family, who were holidaying this summer just above Lyndon and could see the Osprey nest in Manton Bay from their caravan. Michelle and I start to relax. This is going to be fun.

Time for the main course. It’s amazing. ‘Stuffed roast loin of Pork with apple sauce and seasonal vegetables.’ Michelle’s ‘Double Baked Cheese souffle’ looks delicious too, and she soon confirms this as we start to eat. When did I last eat like this on a Thursday lunch-time? I’ll have to be careful ~ if I eat all this I won’t be able to stand up, let alone do my bit of the talk in a few minutes time! Anyway, I do eat it all ~ it would be rude not to, wouldn’t it? While we are having coffee and scrumptious chocolates, our Chairman bangs the table again and calls for order. After a few domestic notices, she gives both of us really good build-ups, mentioning Michelle’s degrees, my ‘almost four decades’ of teaching………. and then we’re on!

After a few fiddles with blinds, curtains and the screen, and after checking that everyone can see, we go into our by now familiar double act. We even get to use a microphone, so that those furthest away can hear every word! We keep it light, inject a little humour where we can, swap over as seamlessly as possible, and add little details as we think of them. Audience reaction is good, spontaneous and encouraging, and this gives us both confidence as the talk progresses. No-one has dropped off yet. Michelle has added a movie sequence of the Osprey diving and then being followed by the underwater camera as it grapples with the fish and eventually pulls it out of the water. That is very popular, and she has to play it three times, to great acclaim each time. The new lap-top has performed well.

The last slide shows an Osprey sitting in a tree in fading light just off a Gambian beach ~ one of John Wright’s most evocative images. As we look at it, the questions start coming in from our audience ~ and what a wide variety there is! We answer them all as well as we can, and as usual invite everyone to come and see us in the spring, when the ospreys they have heard about today will hopefully be back on familiar territory just 20 or so miles from where we are. Our Chairman thanks us very warmly, and then wishes her members an equally warm farewell. Many of them linger to tell us they have enjoyed it so much, and how much their grand-children would have loved it. We pack up with a rosy glow on our faces as departing ladies wish us and the ospreys well.  I think we’ve gained a lot of new fans today…….and no-one fell asleep.

Back at the reserve, dusk is gathering as we go into the Anglian Water Birdwatching Centre. Tim is still in the meeting which prevented him from doing today’s talk, but Michelle will tell him all about it later. We stand by an open window and look out over the lagoons as night takes a hold and begins to embrace the flocks of wildfowl and lapwings which are swimming and standing about. Lax Hill looms large over to the south, and stars are already twinkling through the trees on its crest.  We take stock, and conclude today was a good day, a job well done, and we thank one another. I look out over the water one last time. Did you ever read Karen Blixen’s ‘Out of Africa’? I read it first in German, many years ago, and always recall one phrase she used after describing her life in those high African realms :

‘Hier bin ich, wo ich sein sollte.’

I say it quietly to myself now:

‘Here I am, where I ought to be.’

Ringing Matters...

Ringing Matters…

During the summer the Ospreys at Rutland Water can easily be identified by the coloured Darvic rings on their legs. For any one sitting in Waderscrape hide earlier this year it was obvious which bird was the male; he had 5R inscribed in white digits on a green ring on his right leg. Besides the obvious difference in plumage between the chicks and the adults, the youngsters were easy to spot because of their bright blue rings with their individual numbers, 22, 32 and 52.

Every year the chicks are ringed when they are six weeks old and they are each given their coloured Darvic ring and a silver BTO ring.

The birds are given a silver BTO ring as part of a nationwide ringing scheme that is run by the British Trust for Ornithology. Over 2,600 trained, volunteer ringers ring over 900,000 birds in Britain and Ireland each year. Each ring has a unique eight digit number and when a bird is ringed it is aged, sexed, weighed and measured and all the records are stored in the Natural History Museum in London. Ringing generates information on the survival, productivity and movements of birds, helping us to understand why populations are changing and therefore it is vital for conservation.

On sunday some of the members of the Rutland Water Ringing Group spent the morning at Lyndon Nature Reserve. The group, led by Gary Barker, had a successful session with over 75 birds. They ringed many species including, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Blackbird, Coal Tit, Wren, Reed Bunting, Treecreeper, Long-Tailed Tit, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Dunnock, Song Thrush, Redwing, Marsh Tit, Robin and Bullfinch. The highlights of the day were two Green Woodpeckers, a male and a female, and a juvenile male Sparrowhawk.

Although recent advances in satellite tracking have greatly enhanced our understanding of Osprey migration, prior to the development of the new high-tech trackers we had to rely on ringing recoveries to build up a picture of where Ospreys from the UK spend the winter. It is more than one hundred years since the first bird was ringed in the UK, but ringing still has a vital role to play. This was demonstrated recently when we received news from the BTO about one of the nine young Ospreys that fledged from Rutland in 2009. 

Those of you who have followed the progress of the project on the website this year will know that four of the 2009 birds made it back to Rutland Water this summer. One of the five birds who we have not seen since that autumn was 05(09) and, sadly, we now know why.

05, a male, was one of three chicks that fledged from the Site O nest (on private land near Rutland Water) in 2009.

He migrated in early September and we now know he wintered 1850km to the south in Puerto Real, near Cadiz in southern Spain. We know this because, sadly, on 3rd March 2010 he was found dead close to Puerto Real.

The BTO ringing recovery states that he was ‘found with injury’. Bearing in mind that there are a large number of fish farms in that part of southern Spain, there seems every chance that 05 died of an injury sustained after flying into a net over one of these fish farms. Whilst it is sad that the young male did not survive, it is interesting that, like an increasing number of Ospreys from the UK he was wintering in Spain rather than West Africa. So although 05 did not survive, his rings have contributed to our understanding of Osprey wintering behaviour.

Spreading the word about Rutland Ospreys…..

During the autumn and winter, when our Ospreys are enjoying life down in West Africa, there is still plenty of activity amongst Project staff and volunteers. As well as the winter work-parties (see previous post), and all the administration involved in report writing and preparations for the Gambia trip, Tim and the team members carry out a large number of speaking engagements for organisations, schools, colleges and societies throughout the area. This is a valuable opportunity to inform and educate people from all walks of life about the work of the Osprey Project.

Today Michelle and I are on our way to meet a group of people in Peterborough and give them an illustrated talk about the Ospreys at Rutland Water. As arranged, we meet beforehand for coffee and plan how we are going to present the talk. We have done lots of school presentations, but this is our first ‘grown-up’ event, so obviously we need to change our tactics and use more advanced material for our adult audience. We are both a little nervous, but re-assure one another. It’s good to work in twos! The group have hired a room in The Cresset, a large community facility in Peterborough. Last time I came here was to see a Jools Holland concert, when the audience was numbered in hundreds if not thousands! Fortunately today’s event is a rather more intimate occasion. Our room is called the Milton Suite, and as we enter the audience is already in place and waiting expectantly for us to begin. Our hostess Carole introduces us. She is a former teaching colleague of mine, and this group is called the o5o Club (standing for ‘over 50’). Michelle is the youngest person present by at least 25 years! She has expertly plugged in the lap-top and the projector, and it’s ‘all systems go.’ She has even prepared a slide with our names on and the time and date of the presentation.

The next hour flies by. Our pre-agreed divisions work out well, and we take over from one another at all the right moments. The photos (all by John Wright) are wonderful, and have the audience ‘ooing and aahing’ every few minutes. We take them through every aspect of Osprey biology, status, distribution, migration, diet and breeding. We look at their history in Britain. And then of course we talk about the Osprey Project at Rutland Water ~ from the early translocation days 1996 – 2001, right through to the satellite tracking of 2011, not forgetting all the highlights and setbacks along the way, including first breeding, first chicks returning, first pair not to include a translocated bird, the loss of 08, and much, much more. We have ‘visual aids’ to pass around ~ a darvic ring, a transmitter with its antenna, and a very realistic osprey egg (actually made of wood!). Michelle introduces some of our ‘characters’ – 03(97) of course, 08(97), 5R and 5N, and then our two ‘stars’ of the autumn migration AW and O9. Their journeys are shown on the screen and cause genuine amazement. We briefly look at family relationships, who is related to whom, and so on ~ ‘Hope you’re all keeping up with this’, says Michelle, to the audience’s amusement. They are keeping up, and their questions show they want to know more.

We end by summing it all up and emphasising the rationale of the Project ~ that is, the re-introduction of the Osprey first of all into Central England, and then into the whole of England and Wales. We explain that the only two pairs in Wales this summer both contained birds from Rutland, 11(98) in North Wales and 03(08) in Dyfi. No-one had known that before, even though they have been watching the current Autumnwatch series. We answer questions about the Osprey’s fishing techniques, about the situation in Scotland, about human attitudes towards Ospreys, and many others.

It’s time to stop. Carole proposes a vote of thanks and there is a round of applause (and an envelope containing a kind donation to the Project’s funds). We suggest they might like to come over to Rutland Water in Spring 2012 to see the Ospreys in real life, or maybe an early evening cruise on the ‘Rutland Belle’ with a good chance of seeing one fishing. This is a popular suggestion. One gentleman approaches Michelle and asks if we could possibly do the talk to another organisation of which he is a member. Another lady says how much she has enjoyed it, and ‘how good it is to see such a young person doing such valuable work.’ I think she means Michelle, not me……!

We leave and go back to the cafe where we met early this morning, and have another coffee, and meditate over a good morning’s work. For me, it is an excellent way of ‘staying close’ to the Ospreys even though they are all over 3,000 miles away at present. November can be a dreary month, but not when we can share our enthusiasm and passion with other people like this. I am so grateful to Michelle, Tim and the team for the opportunity to be involved, and to help in a small way.  And next week, we’re taking the Osprey story to a group in Leicester, and Michelle has just sent me another e-mail ~ Oundle School want us to talk to their Science Club on January 24th!! And just a few weeks after that……..you guessed it……the Ospreys will be back!