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Dave Cole and Lloyd Park working on the hide last week. The base of the hide is set below ground level to give you the best-possible view

Photographing fishing Ospreys

There is no doubt that one of the most exciting sights in the natural world is that of an Osprey catching a fish. The power and grace of the bird as it plucks an unsuspecting trout or roach out of the water is one of nature’s great spectacles. It is also one that every wildlife photographer who visits Rutland Water would love to capture!

Whilst the hides at Lyndon and our ever-popular Osprey cruises give you a chance of seeing a diving Ospreys, the birds are often too distant for really top-notch fishing photos. However, over the past few weeks we have been working hard on an exciting new venture which will give you the chance of photographing fishing Ospreys at amazingly close quarters. In recent years Horn Mill trout farm has become a favoured fishing site of many of the Ospreys in Rutland. Two or three birds visit most days and after discussing the idea with myself and the team at Rutland Water, owner Lawrence Ball has decided to open a photographic hide at the fish farm.

Last week we began work on a specially-designed hide that is sunken into the ground beside a 36m x 17m pond that is regularly visited by fishing Ospreys. The hide should provide spectacular close-up views of diving Ospreys for up to four people at any one time. The hide will be open on a daily basis, but it will be necessary to book your place in advance. Lawrence hopes to open the hide during June and we’ll have full details of how you can reserve your place in the next week weeks. In the meantime here are a few photos of construction work so far…

Dave Cole and Lloyd Park working on the hide last week. The base of the hide is set below ground level to give you the best-possible view

Dave Cole and Lloyd Park working on the hide last week. The base of the hide is set below ground level to give you the best-possible view

Horn Mill hide 2

Horn Mill hide 3

We finished the hide's roof earlier today

We finished the hide’s roof earlier today

The view from the hide

The view from the hide

Maya and 33(11) on a rare visit to the nest today

Always take the weather with you

It was still a rather wet day today, although it was slightly brighter than yesterday! There were more breaks in the rain today, and the sun even tried to come out this afternoon! It was still pretty breezy though, so fishing was again difficult. The Manton Bay pair have had another fairly relaxed day of not doing all that much, but their presence in the Bay has provided visitors with wonderful views of them!

Now, the weather forecast is better for tomorrow and the weekend, but there’s no knowing how that might change. It is a shame that it has been so wet during half-term week. It is true that the weather has a big impact on what we do and how much we enjoy it, but we shouldn’t let it! We should embrace the weather for what it is and do what we want to do regardless! A great number of people who visited the Lyndon Centre and Nature Reserve today got very wet, but were still smiling, and told me that it was all worth it and that they’d had a really enjoyable time.

Here’s to getting soaking wet but still being happy!

Maya and 33(11) on a rare visit to the nest today

Maya and 33(11) on a rare visit to the nest today

 

 

 

03(97) and his mate at Site B

Ken’s Diary Chapter Six

Ken Davies, our dedicated Osprey volunteer and diary-writer, has once again written an inspiring piece on Site B from his shift on Tuesday. That day happened to be a rather special one, so, on behalf of everyone at the Rutland Osprey Project, I would like to wish Ken a very Happy Birthday!

 

“A Birthday with Ospreys.”

Once upon a time there was a little boy whose birthday was approaching. His Mother said to him, as she did every year, ‘What would you like to do on your birthday?’ The little boy had already made his list, and his reply went something like this : ‘I want to see a tiger, ride in a space-ship, and have a picnic on the top of Mount Everest.’ His Mother nodded and said that she would see what she could do. On the day itself, a visit to Bristol Zoo, a trip to the local fairground, and a walk with a picnic hamper to the top of nearby Silbury Hill – and all three wishes were granted!

Magical days of childhood, recalled now, well over half a century later. As I packed my rucksack last night, my intentions were clear :  I’m spending my birthday this year (or part of it anyway) with the Ospreys! And the thrill, the expectation, the excitement, surge through me once more!  I’m seven years old again, and I’m off on my birthday adventure, travelling through wild uncharted country, fending off hostile natives and herds of wild animals, to reach my goal in far-off Osprey Land.  Never mind that it’s pouring with rain and blowing a gale – this is a treat, a privilege, a once only dreamt of opportunity to visit once more the hallowed ground of Site B!

As I arrive at the parking place, the weather could not be worse : heavy rain, wind, cold – it might be November rather than the end of May. I just hope the chicks are warmly snuggled down underneath their Mum this morning. A friendly man with a Labrador is walking up the road through the gloom, and we have a strange conversation. He obviously knows why I am here, and I know he knows I know he knows, if you follow. We are both guarded, but we part with a cheery ‘Good Luck’ – he off to a hot breakfast, I to a soggy walk. I reach the hut, which is dripping on the edge of the wood. I unlock, take down the shutters, set up the ‘scopes. Then I take off my wet upper layers, change into a Val Doonican sweater, and exchange wellingtons for a cosy pair of furry boots. This is more like it : let the birthday shift commence!

As I hoped, the female keeps the chicks well covered. She is wet through herself, and keeps shaking her head to remove droplets from her face. 03 is on a nearby perch. The log tells me that a large trout was brought in at 6.18pm yesterday, so probably a large part of that is still in the nest. I watch through the ‘scope. Everything looks fine. The wind is strong, and I have to bolt the door of the hut from the inside to stop it rattling and even blowing open. My wet things are dripping in the corner. Kayleigh calls just after 8.30am to see if I’m OK. I tell her it’s my birthday, and she says she wishes she had known – we could have had an Osprey Party in the hut, complete with balloons and a special cake! I look around  and conjure a bizarre image of it decorated, a big banner across the front.

After a celebratory coffee and a warm croisson (well, it is my birthday!), I get down to serious watching and monitoring. Then the first real treat of the morning : a sudden movement in the grass about a metre in front of me distracts me. What was that? A rabbit perhaps? No, too dark. A weasel? No, too big. There it is again, stealing through the grass at breakneck speed, leaping, twisting, turning. A Stoat! And suddenly there is another one, and they rush about together, ignoring the wind, the rain, and the entranced watcher in the hut, so close. Good job I’m not a rabbit – I would be easy prey! I’ve heard that Stoats have a fatal power of mesmerizing rabbits – well, let me tell you it works on humans too! I watch fascinated for several minutes, until they seem to tire of their game and slink away, long sinewy bodies, warm reddish-brown coats with a black tip to the tail. It was like my own private ‘Springwatch’ – in fact, if you watch the opening sequences tonight you’ll see exactly what I saw today.

If that wasn’t special enough, even better is to come. At 9.15am 03 moves from his perch back to the nest, where he finds a good piece of last night’s trout. He takes it back to the perch and tears off a few beakfuls for himself, before returning it to the nest. At this point the female rises from the chicks and starts to tear pieces of trout off for them. She reaches way down into the cup, almost overbalancing at one point. At first I see nothing, but then……is that a little wobbly head reaching upwards, distinct highwayman’s mask clearly visible? It is, it is!! The tiny Osprey accepts three pieces of fish, and then, just as I think things just cannot get any better, a second head, somewhat smaller than the first one, appears by its side, also desperately reaching upwards for a share of the breakfast. It receives two pieces, before subsiding back again, leaving its larger sibling to complete the feeding session. It last twelve minutes altogether, twelve amazing minutes as we all – the Ospreys, the chicks and I – strain every muscle, and, in my case, every optical nerve, to catch each detail of this stunning episode. This is my first view of Osprey chicks this year, and they are two of a mere handful which have hatched in England and Wales so far. Of course there may be a third chick nestling down in the cup too ; let’s hope so!

The pattern is repeated at 10.40, and again at 11.30, but on both these occasions only one chick is seen. By the 11.30 feed, only skin and fins remain of last night’s trout, and my last view is of the female gulping down the tail-fin. 03 is watching, and knows he will have to go off again for another fish before too long. Conditions are still poor, but no doubt he knows a few sheltered bays and lagoons where fishing will be easier. For the moment, the family settle down to see out the rain and the wind. The young ones are fortunate to have such experienced and devoted parents ; their prospects are good.

Another movement far away to my right catches my eye. It’s a figure on a horse, walking slowly down the track between two fields and coming towards me. Through binoculars I see it’s a very wet and bedraggled horse, its rider swathed in dark green oilskins which cover the back end of the horse as well. We often have horses and riders here. They are usually smart and jaunty, and often stop to have a chat and even a peep through the ‘scopes. Today’s figure is neither smart nor jaunty, but looks sad and vaguely unsettling, plodding slowly up the track through the gloom. I imagine I will see them at close quarters when they reach the gate and go down into the wood behind me, but when I look out again, both horse and rider have vanished. Where did they go? I scan around but there is no sign of them. I’m getting wet out here, so retreat back into the hut with a shudder, thoughts of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse going round in my head. I think I’ve been spending too much time on my own recently!

As the hut creaks in the wind and the door and shutters rattle, I finish my coffee and attend to some very nice birthday messages which have come through on my mobile. I send replies, telling everyone about Osprey chicks, Stoats, – but not the mysterious horse and rider. With just a few minutes to go before the shift ends, I complete the log and get kitted up for the long walk back. Fortunately the rain is relenting at last, though the wind is as strong as ever. Once back at home, my birthday takes on a more relaxed and conventional style, with cards and messages from friends, family, former colleagues and students, drinks with neighbours, and lots of good cheer, delicious food and sublime music.  I am indeed a fortunate man.

One more happy thing to record. Our Project Manager, Paul Stammers, has Osprey contacts all over the world, and one of his friends in Italy, Alessandro Troisi, recently brought out an exquisite little book of Osprey sketches, made in August 2013 during a visit to Finland. Paul bought several copies, and gave them to friends and colleagues. I received mine on Sunday. Thank you Paul, it’s just perfect. I’m looking at it now and deciding which pictures to scan for my Diary. I hope you approve of my choice.

The cover of Alessandro Troisi's book

The cover of Alessandro Troisi’s book

A page from Alessandro Troisi's book

A page from Alessandro Troisi’s book

Stoat

Stoat, by Roland Green

 

A very wet 33(11)

Maybe tomorrow

Another very wet and windy day today, hopefully tomorrow will be brighter! Maya and 33(11) have spent most of the day sitting together on the leaning perch, occasionally one or the other visited the nest, but it was hard to see them through the raindrops!

33(11) just visible through the raindrops

33(11) just visible through the raindrops

 

The pair had a successful mating attempt, all good practise for next year! 33(11) went on a fishing trip but came back with nothing. This isn’t the best weather for fishing, the waves make visibility difficult.

Today I have been looking through the monitoring forms to find out how many fish have been caught by the Manton Bay Ospreys so far this season, and what species they were. The results were as follows: sixty-four fish were caught in total, twenty-nine of them were trout, fifteen were roach, eighteen were unknown (sometimes it can be difficult to tell!), one pike and one perch. This shows that there is a great variety of fish available to the Ospreys, with trout being the most common.

 

Fish caught

A very wet 33(11)

A very wet 33(11)

Maya with the huge fish

Singing in the rain

A very wet day today! The rain hardly let up, and when it did, that cold north-easterly wind still remained. It was reasonably quiet in the Centre today, which was to be expected in this weather. The Ospreys don’t really care about the weather though, and those few brave souls who did visit the Lyndon Visitor Centre and Nature Reserve today, were rewarded with great views of our Osprey pair performing in the Bay.

The pair also put in a few appearances on the nest. 33(11) as usual was making sure the nest is tidy and as it should be, and when Maya joined him he had another go at mating! He failed, unfortunately, but as I said yesterday, it is very unlikely that Maya will lay again this year, it is just too late. But at least 33(11) is still trying, and he has all the right intentions. As long as that nest stays neat, all will be right with 33(11)’s world!

33(11) making sure the nest is tidy

33(11) making sure the nest is tidy

 

Later this afternoon, Maya appeared on the nest with a whole fish – a large roach. I am fairly certain that she caught this fish herself. If 33(11) had caught it, he would have eaten half of it on a perch somewhere, then brought the rest to Maya on the nest. However, this fish was entire, and Maya looked rather wet. Also, 33(11) was looking at the fish with a confused and interested expression, which helped cement my feeling that he didn’t catch it.

It is not surprising that Maya is catching her own fish. There is no reason now for her to wait for 33(11) to provide food for her, as there are no eggs to incubate and no chicks to brood. 33(11) often makes her wait for a very long time too!

Maya looking wet with her fish, 33(11) looking interested

Maya looking wet with her fish, 33(11) looking interested

Maya with the huge fish

Maya with the huge roach

Maya with the huge fish

Maya gives the fish the kiss of life

Maya prepares to leave with the fish

Maya prepares to leave with the fish