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Ken’s Diary Chapter 2

To help lift our spirits during this frustrating turn of events at Manton Bay, here is another chapter of Ken’s heartening Site B diary. Guaranteed to take your mind away from your troubles. Over to Ken….

5.58am : A gloomy, grey and very wet start to the day. Two things cheer me up – porridge cooking on the hob, and Kate Humble presenting ‘Tweet of the Day’ on BBC Radio 4. Today it’s the Stock Dove – a species I shall be seeing and hearing on my way to Site B within the hour.

Despite the unrelenting rain this morning, I arrive at the parking place in good spirits. After all, the next four hours are the highlight of the week!  I get fully kitted up for the walk  to the watch-point. I am in complete wet weather camouflage gear from head to foot, with a rucksack on my back and a heavy walking stick for support. I must look a frightful sight! The lambs will run a mile! I set out. As I surmised, the lambs do not approach me today, but cower under their mothers at the sight of this monster emerging from the gloom. Even the newly arrived bullocks, usually so inquisitive, remain beneath a tree, morosely staring and following me with their eyes. I pass on without a comment; there will be other days to pause and have a chat with them.

Have you ever been in an oil-seed rape field in full flower during steady rain? Do it before the blossoms fade – it’s wonderful!  Whatever one’s opinion of these yellow expanses throughout our landscape just now, it is an intoxicating experience to be enveloped in this aromatic and exuberant invasion of the senses.  The crop is waist high now. I crouch down and peer through the closely packed green stems to see if there is any life on the ground in here. I see nothing but a receding jungle of greenery, and stand up again, my head and arms breaking over the yellow tops like some crazy living scarecrow, scattering raindrops around me. A group of small birds go skittering away, landing a little further into the field and sliding down the stems again. It’s too wet for the binoculars, but I don’t need them. The birds were Linnets, neat little finches : the males are suffused with pink at this time of year. There will be more of them here later in the season – they love the rape seeds.

I need to get on. The Osprey nest is usually visible from here, but not today – it is somewhere in the mist. I hope 03 and his mate are covering the eggs against this steady and persistent rain. Bird song always seems louder in or after spring rain, and as I pass along the wood edge I note with pleasure some new additions to the ensemble today – Willow Warbler songs running down the scale, Garden Warbler marvellously clear and rich, but perhaps a little less fluty than the competing Blackcap, and a definite scratchy snatch of Whitethroat in exactly the same spot as last year. Welcome back all! My own private ‘Tweet of the Day’ !

I arrive at the hut dripping and bedraggled, but inwardly warm and glowing. That was a brilliant walk! I learn that 03 has not been seen at all yet, and the female has been incubating since the nest first became visible at about 7.00am. She has made the food-begging call a few times, but to no avail. He must be sheltering somewhere nearby, or maybe at the Reservoir waiting for the fish to start to rise. My friends depart, and I immediately take my top layers off and hang them up to dry at the end of the hut. They drip forlornly in the corner. Boots come off too, and a pair of warm soft shoes, specially brought for the purpose, are put on in their place. I normally have a rule : ‘No coffee until you’ve done an hour’s monitoring’, but today is an exception and I have one straightaway. The steam mists up my binoculars, but I soon clear them and settle to watch the female on the nest, exposed out there in the still steady rain. She is alert and facing me – she knows where her mate is, and I suspect he is not too far away. Raindrops patter on the roof of the hut. I’m drying out in here, warming up, and looking forward to the morning shift.

I suddenly become aware that the female is tense, fidgety and on high alert. Bird song in the wood has momentarily ceased. Even in this gloom I am aware of a shape passing over me, silently aiming low over the yellow field and lifting at the last moment onto the nest. 03 has returned, and the time is 0847.  The change over is completed with the accustomed efficiency, and there is no danger of the eggs becoming wet or chilled. The female takes her break on a nearby perch, repeatedly shaking her plumage and releasing showers of droplets onto the lush foliage beneath.

For the next three hours or so, change overs are regular and smooth, with the female doing on average about 45 minutes per hour on the nest, and 03 about 15. He shows no inclination to go for a fish in this weather, and she, doubtless understanding, makes no demands. It is a scene of perfect domestic bliss. The rain persists until about 10.30, when at last it starts to ease. I poke my head outside the hut. The air is clean, fresh and delicately scented with the perfumes of the wood, the flowers, the crop, and the earth itself. With the sound of the rain now gone, the birdsong seems even louder, and one species after another joins the chorus, including, as Kate Humble told me in her ‘Tweet of the Day’, the soft notes of the Stock Dove. It truly is wonderful. As I stand under the oak tree, the occasional drip from the saturated branches above landing on my head, another call comes to my ear – very faint and distant at first, but surely travelling towards me and becoming ever louder. Two notes, definitely a tune, probably in D major, A followed by F sharp, though perhaps there is a hint of a minor key about it. Yes, it’s a Cuckoo, my first of the year, and a more welcome harbinger there surely never was. I urge him to continue to come my way, and to show himself, but he never does, and soon the sound is receding again.

The Ospreys do not react to the Cuckoo’s call; maybe it’s familiar to them whilst on migration – Cuckoos are known to start calling in Africa in February and March.  I am still straining my ears to catch the last distant rendition ‘cuck-coo! (rest) cuck-coo! (rest)’ and thinking of a title for a new composition along the lines of ‘On Hearing the First Cuckoo at Site B’. Suddenly a bold Jay lands a few metres away and stands with head on one side contemplating the strange shape under the oak tree. I try to stay still but he soon recognises my alien intrusion into his world, and he is off with a grating shriek which momentarily silences the wood and sends me back into the hut for my last look at the Ospreys and their nest. All is fine. This pair is an example to Ospreys everywhere. Perhaps 03 would agree to my ghosting his forthcoming book on successful Osprey family life.

The weather is improving all the time, and my relief team arrive in the dry. I briefly fill them in on the morning’s events and leave them to enjoy their afternoon. I stroll back, still composing in my head my Opus No.1. I flick the car radio on, and vaguely hear that a football manager has lost his job, and a Prince and Princess have been photographed somewhere near Ayers Rock. I turn it off again.  For now at least I’m still in (Cloud) Cuckoo Land.

03(97) on the nest at Site B

03(97) on the nest at Site B

Turn of the tide

What a day we have had today! The past five days have gone by with a minimum of fuss on the nest. Things were very normal and we had hope that it might work out. However, today has seen a turn-around. 33(11) is back and he has been relentlessly harassing the Manton Bay nest, again. He even had the audacity to land on it!

33 actually lands on the Manton Bay nest, much to Maya's displeasure

33 actually lands on the Manton Bay nest, much to Maya’s displeasure

33 takes flight as Maya tries to defend her eggs

33 takes flight as Maya defends her eggs


In addition, the Bay was visited by relatively new arrival 51(11), who also landed on the nest!

Yet more turmoil, as 51 then takes his chances landing on the nest

Yet more turmoil, as 51 then takes his chances landing on the nest


51(11) seemed to clear off when Maya booted him off the nest, but 33(11) has proven harder to get rid of. There has been no let-up today for poor Maya, she has been on and off the nest like a boomerang as she chased off 33 and returned to continue incubation. She has had to defend the nest alone, as 28(10) has been absent all day. Although she left the eggs fairly often, she was only off them for very short intervals, so it shouldn’t have an adverse effect on them. However, if things continue as they have today, that might change. We can only hope that 33 gets fed up of being chased away and leaves for good, and that 28 returns. We will see what tomorrow brings.



Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo)


The United Kingdom has little to boast in the way of big mammalian predators: no bears, no wolves, no lynx. Instead, the top carnivores in the UK are our birds of prey.

We have around twenty species of birds of prey that breed in the UK (some are resident all year round, whilst others are migratory): 5 of these are owls, whilst others include hawks, falcons, eagles and buzzards, as well as the Osprey. These majestic raptors are true icons of every British habitat: Peregrine Falcons nesting in city centres; Marsh Harriers soaring over reedbeds; Kestrels hovering over a motorway verge; or Golden Eagles cruising along a rocky ridge in the Scottish mountains. There are few people who won’t pause to watch a Barn Owl gliding like a ghost across a field or glance upwards at the mewing of a circling Common Buzzard.

Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo)

Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo)

Here at the Rutland Osprey Project we have been very lucky. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the team for nearly twenty years now, we have excellent relationships with local landowners: fish farmers, gamekeepers, estate owners and agricultural workers all contribute in a very positive and meaningful way every year to Project, ensuring an expanding breeding population of Ospreys in the area, as do local businesses and residents. We could not have achieved what we have without their support. Furthermore, work all along the flyway with local communities, education programmes in schools and events like World Osprey Week have led to increased understanding of birds of prey and their ecology as far south as Gambia. Our work is far from finished, but the prospects are fair.

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) - "33"

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) – “33”

But sadly, whilst the Osprey may be increasing in numbers, there are many birds of prey in Britain that are seriously threatened and in recent weeks this seems to have suddenly gotten a whole lot worse.

In Scotland, at the site of the Red Kite re-introduction on the Black Isle, as many as twenty Red Kites and Common Buzzards have been found dead; it is suspected that these birds have been poisoned, but as yet nothing has been proven. In the past 24 hours, a Red Kite has been reported shot in Northamptonshire – “peppered with bullets”.

Red Kite (Milvus milvus)

Red Kite (Milvus milvus)

The same story is repeated for eagles: both White-tailed Eagles and Golden Eagles (some satellite tagged) have been targeted by poisonings and shootings in Scotland, once again undoing the work of conservationists who have worked hard for the past fifty years to either re-introduce species lost to persecution or to protect the vestiges of populations on the edge.

Hen Harriers are now on the brink of extinction. Imagine that: with only twenty species of raptor in Britain, one of them is about to slip away – victim of persecution as it is seen as a threat to pheasants and other game birds by certain landowners on grouse moors.

And the troubles don’t end in the UK; if you’ve been watching Chris Packham’s Malta: Massacre on Migration you’ll have seen that many birds (raptors and other species) are threatened on spring migration by the attitudes of a minority of hunters, who see this annual killing as a right of passage.


Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)

There are a few things to take away from all of these examples of persecution. First of all, in the majority of cases the persecution is being carried out by a minority. In Scotland, a group of farmers and landowners from the Moray Firth have pledged a reward of £12,000 for information about the deaths of birds of prey in the Highlands. The same goes for Maltese hunting; the impression one gets from Packham’s films are that many of the Maltese people despise the mindlessness of the hunting: mere target practice.

Barn Owl (Tyto Alba)

Barn Owl (Tyto Alba)

Secondly, not all is bad for birds of prey in the UK and whilst some populations are in drastic decline, protection over the last 50 years has led to a recovery in the populations of Common Buzzard, Osprey and Peregrine Falcon. Sadly though, whilst persecution continues, even if by a minority, things are far from secure. One of the biggest challenges we face is overcoming a serious lack of empathy and understanding of the ecology of our birds of prey; removing people’s natural prejudices is a major difficulty, especially where economic fears and scapegoats are involved.

Hobby (Falco subbuteo)

Hobby (Falco subbuteo)

Finally, we can only secure the fate of Britain’s raptors with public support; the Osprey Project is very fortunate to have a strong, dedicated and passionate following and we thank every one of you for that, but if you have a chance, do have a read around some of these other issues and show your support – signing petitions, donating, volunteering, writing letters to MPs and promoting the fantastic work of organisations who are combating bird of prey persecution are great ways to start!




The joys of incubation……

The joys of incubation, ospreys sitting,  the occasional fish and the odd intruder to be seen off.

Both the male and female are involved in the incubation and both have brood patches, the female generally spends more time incubating and always takes the night shift. The share of incubation is usually about 80% by the female and 20% by the male. If a male incubates for shorter periods it does not means he spend more time fishing he just spends more time perched.

We have had an afternoon of intrusions which has caused unrest at the nest, with the male constantly in the air to see of the intruding Osprey and Maya sitting tight on the eggs. The video shows 28 with Maya on the nest as an intruder comes to the bay.

Heikki has reached northern Egypt on his long flight home to Lapland.

World Osprey Week – Heikki is still going!

It is now a month since World Osprey Week, but one of the WOW Ospreys is still heading north. Heikki breeds in Lapland in northern Finland, making him one of the most northerly breeding Ospreys on the planet. After spending the winter in Mozambique, he set-off on the 10,000km flight north on 28th March. The latest data shows that he has almost reached Europe. On Wednesday this week he was stopping-over beside the Suez Canal in Egypt. Pertti Saurola has sent us the latest update. You can also check out Heikki’s latest location on the interactive WOW map. To read more about Ospreys in Finland, check out the website of the Finnish Museum of Natural History.

Heikki’s Migration 

15–17 April
Heikki continued his migration over the Nubian Desert between the Red Sea and the Nile, travelling 432 km, 236 km, and 223 km on each respective day.

18 April
Heikki continued his flight through the merciless desert on the Egyptian side of the border. Today, after flying 321 km, he found a place to settle down for the night 44 km south-southeast of the famed Aswan dam.

19 April
Heikki still did not visit the Nile, though his route took him as near as 20 kilometres from this massive river that must be full of fish. After flying 394 km during this day, Heikki settled down for the night north of Hurghada, right by the Red Sea.

20 April
During the morning, Heikki flew exactly parallel to the western coast of the Gulf of Suez, but inland, some 40 km from the shoreline.

21 April 2014
We never received the GPS fixes of the previous afternoon and evening, so we do not know where Heikki spent the night. The fix this morning at 06:00, local Egyptian time (04:00 GMT) came from 21 km to the northwest of the city of Suez. At that time, Heikki was on the ground, and probably still at his stopover place. By noon, Heikki had only flown 90 km, after which he stopped by the Suez Canal.

22–23 April 2014
Heikki has been fishing and resting by the Suez Canal, 40 km south of the city of Port Said, located at the entrance to the canal by the Mediterranean coast.

Heikki has reached northern Egypt on his long flight home to Lapland.

Heikki has reached northern Egypt on his long flight home to Lapland.

The culmination of World Osprey Week at Rutland Water was a four-way Skype video call between students in Rutland, Italy, the Basque Country and the United States; and a recording of the video call was later shown to students in The Gambia too. We’re very grateful to Xarles Cepeda from the Urdaibai Bird Center in the Basque Country who has now edited together a short film of the event. You can read more about it on the Urdaibai Bird Center website, by clicking here. Well done to everyone involved – including the children from Brooke Priory School in Oakham!

To read more about World Osprey Week and the Osprey Flyways Project, click here.