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Ken's cake

A Day to Remember

Here is Ken Davies’ account of his birthday cruise aboard the Rutland Belle on Saturday! 

Have you ever had a day which was just so special, so magical from beginning to end, that you thought it was probably one of the best in your life? A wedding day perhaps, or the birth of a child? Or maybe a successful job interview, or the fulfilment of a lifetime’s ambition? Or an especially exciting wildlife encounter, a once in a lifetime experience with wild creatures in the South African veldt, the snowy Siberian wastes, the Himalayan foothills, the icy reaches of Antarctica?  Would you be surprised if I told you that I’ve just had one of these days – and it all happened just thirty minutes away from my home here in Central England, and on the precise date of my 70th birthday?

The story begins several weeks ago, in the Osprey Project office at the Lyndon Nature Reserve. Kayleigh is checking the bookings for the first Osprey cruise of the season on board the ‘Rutland Belle’. ‘Mmm’, she says, ‘bookings are a bit slow for the first cruise. What can we do to attract some more people?’ I glance over her shoulder at the bookings sheet…..and the date jumps out at me! It’s only the date of my birthday, for goodness sake, and a special birthday at that! I say nothing, but go away with an idea formulating in my head…..Why not make a block booking on the boat, and invite friends and colleagues to join me on a special Osprey cruise to celebrate my becoming a septuagenarian?

At home that night I start to make a list of the people I would want to join me on this adventure. After fifteen minutes I have 75 names on the list. That’s ridiculous – it would cost the earth, and anyway the ‘Belle’ only takes 70 on Osprey cruises. So I start again, and decide to set up new criteria – a few former colleagues from my teaching career, then the people who made up the 2017 Rutland Osprey Project expedition to Gambia and Senegal, plus some Osprey volunteers with whom I have worked closely over the years, not forgetting all present and some past Rutland Osprey staff,  and of course some of the fantastic young people who started their wildlife experiences with us here…….and leave a few places for people who don’t fit any of the criteria but I want them there anyway!

Several days later, the list is a more manageable 36, but doubts are starting to set in. What if no-one wants to come? What if people say it’s a silly idea? What if the weather’s awful and we see nothing? What if there has been a sudden surge in bookings by members of the public, and there are no longer places available? One Sunday afternoon, I share my plan with Kayleigh. She looks stunned for a moment, but then agrees it would be an excellent way to celebrate a special birthday, and yes, places are still available. So that evening, I sit down and start to send out the invitations, and wait…

One week later, and it’s all done. 31 say ‘yes, please, love to come’, and 5 send their apologies because they’re already committed on that day. 31 it is then! Should be quite a cruise! Trouble is, it’s still four weeks away……but excitement mounts as the big day gets nearer…..and nearer!

I waken gradually on the day in question. Bit by bit consciousness returns, and I remember. Today is the day! I decide I’m not going to mention the big seven-0 number today. No, instead I’ll be LXX – that looks much better and less scary.  ‘The days of our years are three score years and ten’ I recall from the Old Testament….but then I remember the last part of that Psalm….’for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.’ I shudder, and wish it hadn’t come into my head at all. Stick with LXX : ‘And how old are you today?’ asks the friendly postman as he delivers some cards. ‘I’m LXX’, I reply, and he smiles. He obviously knows his Roman numerals!

The day flies by. Messages, ‘phone calls and cards from friends, family, former colleagues and students in some faraway places as well as nearer to home, a lovely lunch, a quiet afternoon, and then quite suddenly it’s time to leave for Whitwell Creek and the long-awaited LXX birthday Osprey Cruise! Whoo-hoo! Let’s do it!

The harbour is heaving with people. It’s Bank Holiday weekend, and Whitwell Creek is also the home of the Aqua Park, a sort of small version of Alton Towers on the water. Looks like something to be avoided. I go down to the quay, and find the ‘Rutland Belle’ is still out. She’ll be back soon. As I sit down by the gangplank, people start to gather, recognising my ‘Rutland Ospreys’ shirt. The first few of my LXX birthday guests arrive, together with nearly forty members of the public who have booked, giving the boat its full complement. By the time the ‘Belle’ glides into view, looking sleek and virtually silent after the winter-time refurbishment of her engine, everyone is ready to embark, pumped up, binoculars and cameras akimbo. We slip anchor at 5.30pm precisely, Skipper Matt at the wheel.

It’s breezy on the top deck, and even more so on the open prow, but spirits are high, and within a few minutes Kayleigh is telling people over the microphone to look ahead as an Osprey is circling high over one of the arms of the reservoir. Amazingly, as if to come and greet us, it flies towards the boat and passes us at no great distance, affording amazing views to everyone both on the open areas and below in the saloon. Everyone, even the hardened Osprey watchers, is thrilled. We settle down again, enjoying the improving weather, the passing terns, egrets and grebes, and the company. I move around the boat, joining animated groups and chatting wherever I go. I think they’re enjoying it!

The first osprey we saw on the cruise (JW)

The first osprey we saw on the cruise (JW)

 

We cruise past Lax Hill, and heave to just off the bund marking the boundary of Manton Bay. We can see the Osprey nest clearly now, and Maya and 33(11) are at home. The boat falls silent as everyone watches intently, listening to Kayleigh’s commentary on the latest events at the nest. We wave towards Wader Scrape hide, where volunteer Mick Lewin (also celebrating a birthday today!) is doing the evening shift, accompanied by some of the Trainee Reserves Officers.  I go downstairs, and a lovely hot cup of tea is put in my hand. Everyone is happily chatting away, catching up with one another. I sit for a moment with my tea. This is good.

Back on the deck, I talk to people about Ospreys, Africa, migration – even vector summation (Thank you, Tim Mackrill!) – and the many other joys of working and living in the natural world. It transpires that a girl I speak to attends a school in Stamford that we are visiting next month – she will have a head start on her classmates! All too soon, we have to head for home, and I soon see the familiar outline of Whitwell Creek approaching. As the Belle pulls in and is tied to the quay, Kayleigh thanks everyone for coming, reminds them of my birthday, and there is an unexpected round of applause! Thank you Kayleigh!

I decide to make my way to the quayside and say goodbye to my guests as they disembark, but just at this moment another voice comes over the airwaves telling everyone in my party to assemble on the top deck as some photographs are required. A nice thought – it will be good to have a souvenir of this special trip. My colleague Pete Murray gives instructions, takes several photos, then announces we must remain on board as he wants to take some ‘distance’ shots of the ‘Belle’ and us from the shore. He disappears and is next seen on the bank, at least two hundred yards away, waving and gesticulating and attempting to give us instructions. It’s all a bit bizarre now, and taking as long as it does at some of those weddings I’ve been to, where the photographers want to record every single micro-movement of bride, groom and everyone else. I keep smiling.

Group shot

Group shot

Waving!

Waving!

 

As Pete finishes, someone suggests I might say a few words, so I thank everyone for coming, and for their cards and gifts, and thanks to Matt and the crew of the ‘Rutland Belle’.

Ken's speech

Ken’s speech

 

I am just running out of things to say, and wondering desperately why no-one seems to want to go home, when a cry goes up : ‘Osprey!’ Sure enough, an Osprey is flying powerfully into the Creek, quite low. It beats steadily over the boat as we all stand transfixed on the deck. Pete is still on the shore, and manages to get a brilliant photo of us, the boat, AND the Osprey! What a moment! Absolutely amazing. A stunning view on this special cruise on this special day. The bird wheels away to the north.

Osprey over the boat!

Osprey over the boat!

Osprey circled in case you couldn't see it...

Osprey circled in case you couldn’t see it…

 

Still people don’t seem to want to go home. Well, I can understand it, I suppose. The weather is now fine, the wind has dropped, and the Osprey might give a repeat performance. Everyone is just chillin’, as they say. But I’m wrong. Suddenly Jackie is standing on a seat and addressing everyone. It seems no-one is going home just yet……because there’s a party, a buffet, and a special birthday cake for me, all prepared in the saloon downstairs! And she’s got a big card signed by everyone, and……….wait for it………..the special paintings on the front of the card are  beautiful original watercolours of 33 and Maya by the brilliant John Wright, showing in detail the feather tracts and moulting primaries and secondaries, as observed by him just a couple of days ago!

img267---Male-33 img266---MB-female-moult

The whole evening has taken on a new, surprising and incredibly brilliant turn. I try to thank everyone, but can’t find any words now. I go downstairs to find Liz, Libby and the staff of the ’Belle’ putting the finishing touches to a lovely spread, complete with cake, candles, ribbons and sparkly wine! Wow, I couldn’t have dreamt it, could I?

Ken surveys the cake

Ken surveys the cake

Liz fitting Ken with his birthday sash

Liz fitting Ken with his birthday sash

Ken's cake

Ken’s cake

Blowing out the candles

Blowing out the candles

 

The next hour or so passes in a haze. I try to speak to everyone, to thank each friend personally. Quite rightly, everything stops for a few minutes when another shout of ‘Osprey!’ goes up. We can see that this bird is 28(10), his slightly misshapen wing revealing his identity. He is a favourite Osprey to many people, following his trials and tribulations in 2014, but now happily breeding on another of the off-site nests. The party continues till the light starts to fade, and then it’s time for final thanks, and goodbyes. I am one of the last to leave the boat. I cannot begin to describe how I feel, but people who know me well will understand. It has been the most wonderful of days.

28(10) (JW)

28(10) (JW)

 

I owe an incalculable debt of gratitude to all the people involved over the years with the Rutland Osprey Project, for today of course, but also for giving me so many opportunities to forge such a rewarding second career after teaching for over half my life. I have worked with inspiring colleagues and volunteers, and their enthusiasm, commitment and passion have helped me to write about Ospreys, to speak to audiences about them, to visit so many schools and colleges to share our message with the next generation of conservationists and ecologists, to visit West Africa and work there with local people. Above all, I have cherished the opportunity to observe and study these spectacular and iconic birds as they continue their re-colonisation in England, the chance to enter into their world and monitor their behaviours during those incredibly intense hours of watching at Site B over ten seasons or so, and to share their lives with people from all over the world during regular Sunday afternoons in Manton Bay since 2007. I may be LXX now, but it’s not over yet, I promise……..LXXV, and even LXXX are just numbers waiting to be attained. I hope many of you will be there with me.

IMG_0916-ON THE RUTLAND BELLE

‘These lasting pleasures of contact with the natural world are not reserved for the fortunate few, the experts, but are available for anyone who will place him/herself under the influence of earth, water and sky, and their amazing life.’ (Rachel Carson, 1956)

 

 

What a great drawing of Maya and 33!

Following Ospreys

Here at Lyndon, as you will know if you follow the blog, our Education Team have been busy this spring spreading the word about our ospreys to our local schools in Rutland, and working with our Osprey Ambassadors! We know lots of our local schools keep an eye on the webcam in class, however today we heard a school slightly further north has been following Maya and 33 too – Mereside Primary School in Blackpool! The reception class were kind enough to send us some lovely cards and drawings, here are just a few below. Thank you very much Mereside 🙂

What a great drawing of Maya and 33!

What a great drawing of Maya and 33!

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In their letter, the children from Mereside say how much they have been enjoying watching our chicks hatch and seeing Maya and 33 bringing sticks to the nest – although apparently a few of the children have been squeamish when watching them eat fish! They think it is very funny that 33 has a number for a name –
this surprised us as we think it is very catchy and are surprised it hasn’t risen into the top 10 baby names yet! Maybe one day?!

Maya snoozing overnight with the chicks

Maya snoozing with the chicks

Meanwhile at Lyndon our ospreys have had a slightly quieter day after a busy day of fishing (and eating) yesterday. 33 rose early again, bringing the first fish of the day in at 4.30am! Our cameras are still filming in infared at that time of day.


He bought another fish in at around 1.15pm. Both our chicks are eating really well and growing so quickly – it’s hard to believe how little they were this time last week.

It’s half term this week and a great time of year to see our ospreys – why not come down and visit us at Lyndon?

Hiding chicks

Can’t stop, won’t stop…fishing!

It is hard to believe our osprey chicks are less than 3 weeks old – they are growing so quickly! The larger chick is becoming quite adventurous, and once again yesterday evening wandered to the edge of the nest – even giving their wings a bit of a flap!


After all that exertion, chick number 1 had a lie down, sticking their head underneath one of the sticks framing the nest. A few minutes later 33 bought in a stick, briefly placing it on the smaller chick (before Maya moved it), then moving it so that it hooked the other stick further over the larger chick.

It didn’t take 33 long to realise the larger chick was pinned though, and he gently moved the stick from over his neck.

33 bought in an extremely fresh roach yesterday evening, so fresh it still had some life left in it! Maya was beginning to tuck in when the roach started wriggling, slipping out of her grasp. Maya seemed a bit bemused by the lively fish, and wandered behind the chicks to take shelter!

She eventually managed to pin the roach down (despite it’s best efforts) and fed chick number 1, who ate their share extremely quickly.

After a while the second chick got their fair share too, and not long later 33 bought in another fish, at around twenty to nine.

The rain set in heavily overnight, leaving us with a slightly soggy view on the webcam this morning, but the weather didn’t deter 33 – he was off to an early start, bringing the first fish of the day back just after 5am.

Soon after, Maya started feeding the chicks – not with the new delivery, but with some roach leftover from last night.

With one fish on the go and one on the nest still whole, you might imagine that 33 would relax for a while – but no! He bought a further 3 fish back to the nest, all before 9am. He then bought a 5th fish to the nest at around 2.30pm. Our chicks have been extremely well fed today!




We saw our 2 chicks bring themselves up to their full height this morning – they almost seemed to be squaring up to each other! Try as he might though, our younger chick couldn’t quite reach the lofty heights of chick 1. Maya soon came in with a stick delivery and the chicks settled back down.

Not long after this Maya bought a huge clump of hay to the nest. She seemed to want to place it in the centre of the nest, and didn’t let the fact that the chicks were lying there deter her! They were very well camouflaged for a while.

Hiding chicks

Where are they?

We also caught Maya on camera doing a bit of preening and removing a feather.

Our birds seemed to have enjoyed the slightly cooler weather today and have certainly been very active. It is set to heat up again over the next few days so we may see them returning to a slightly slower pace of life as the week goes on!

Here comes summer

Here comes summer

Summer is surely on its way, as we have begun our season of Osprey & Wildlife Cruises! The first one took place yesterday evening. Despite the wind, we had a lovely time sailing around the reservoir on the Rutland Belle. Within ten minutes of beginning the cruise, we had a great view of an osprey flying past us in the North Arm! The day of the cruise happened to coincide with Education Officer Ken Davies’ 70th birthday. Ken was present on this cruise, along with several of his friends, and I’m going to leave the details to him as he is composing a blog for early next week. Keep an eye out for it! In the meantime, here are a couple of photographs that John Wright took of the ospreys we saw, one of which was 28(10) – you can see his slightly damaged right wing in the second picture.

4N7A7638---Male-11-on-Kens cruise 4N7A7653---Male-28-on-Kens-cruise

The next cruise is on Saturday 3rd June, but there are only TWO spaces left! Click this link to book them! After this, the next available cruise is 17th June at 7pm. Click here to book!

The first dawn cruise is on 10th June, but this and the next one on 8th July are already sold out. The only dawn cruise with availability is 5th August. Click here for more information about cruises.

Rutland Belle

In Manton Bay, it’s been another lazy day for the chicks, resting in the warmth and eating lots of fish! The bigger chick is rather bold and keeps venturing to the edge of the nest, here it is leaning against the sticks.

Big chick edge of nest

Both of the chicks are much more mobile now, and shuffle round the nest quite well. Today they have both been following Maya wherever she goes, instinctively trying to find some shade under her.

Two fish were delivered to the nest this morning, one at 04:46 and one at 10:11.

Second fish

Several more sticks have been added to the nest in recent days, one of which 33 almost dropped onto the chicks!

There was a certain stick today that was bothering Maya, and, even though the stick was lying almost flat, she wasn’t happy! She tried in vain to move it to a suitable location, and it ended up sticking up in the middle. She got herself into a bit of a pickle, then eventually put it back where it was in the first place!

Finally, last but definitely not least is the highlight of the blog – a wonderful video by Dave Cole, filmed from Shallow Water hide in Manton Bay over March, April and May this season. Featuring fantastic footage of the ospreys, including an intruder, plus some other wildlife! Thank you Dave!

 

 

 

 

On my way home

On my way home

We have some great news! There has been a sighting of another two-year-old osprey – S2 from Manton Bay was seen in the Netherlands yesterday! S2 is the sibling of S1, who returned to Rutland on 10th May (click here for more information). It’s amazing to have two birds return from the same clutch! It’s possible S2 will stay where he is this season, migrate back to Africa and come here next year, as 1K did when he was spotted in Belgium as a two-year-old. It’s also possible we will see S2 at Rutland Water, should he find his way across to us! He may need to go south a bit first though…

Click here to see details of the sighting of S2. Thanks to Reinier Smabers for letting us know of the sighting and sending us these photographs.

S2 - S2

At 18:22 last night, 33 was left alone on the nest with the chicks for a minute or two. He moved a few sticks around and shuffled some hay, then he sat down in the nest! He’s such a funny osprey, he has always enjoyed plonking himself in the nest and just sitting there, not incubating, not mantling, just passing the time. While he was sitting there, Maya brought in a nice big clump of dried cow pat.

33 sits

Today’s first fish came in nice and early at 05:45 this morning.

Sunrise

Later on, at 07:25, 33 delivered another one. This one was ignored for a bit at first, probably because the chicks had not long eaten! Maya eventually grabbed this fish and fed it to chicks at 08:26.

Here is a video of the little chick being fed while the older one snoozes, full up!

As is expected after all the fish these chicks are being fed, they are often seen leaning forward, pointing their bottoms into the air and squirting over the side of the nest! They are very good at projectile poo, as they like to keep the nest as clean as it can be.

Big chick and Dad

Big chick and Dad

 

A lot of hay has been brought to the nest recently, most of which has been piled up on the left side of the nest. In the video below you can see Maya leaning out of the nest trying to grab some wayward hay that escaped!

Luckily for us, the sticks that were impeding our view into the nest have been moved! Maya wasn’t happy with them and attempted to move them several times before accomplishing her task.