Dawn at Whitwell Creek, north-west shore of Rutland Water. The cruiser ‘Rutland Belle’ lies at the jetty, ready to take us out on an early morning search for hunting Ospreys and other awakening wildlife. There is a chill in the air, but it is dry and clear. Hushed conversations as passengers check in and have their names ticked off the manifest.
Looking out across the water today, I am recalling an afternoon cruise we did in August 2008, when renowned Osprey expert Roy Dennis was on board with us. We hadn’t been out on the water for many minutes when Roy called from the back of the boat ‘Tim, there’s one over there’, and sure enough, we spotted an Osprey over the Yacht Club. It came closer, obviously in fishing mode, and made two or three unsuccessful dives by the dam. Tim identified it as 08(97) as it flew past ~ the first Osprey to fly home to Rutland Water after translocation in 1997 and homeward migration in 1999 ~ giving everyone on board truly spectacular views. The he started fishing again, and after a couple more terrific (but fishless) dives, he finally went down again, and this time, as he splashed about in the water, we knew he had struck a fish. He rose with the fish in his talons in a shower of water droplets. Everyone watched enthralled as he carried it off into the distance. A champagne moment indeed. Almost three years ago now, but every second of that sequence remains crystal clear in my mind ~ even the aftermath, as he towered to a great height, still carrying the fish, and ~ just a speck now ~ circled on the edge of a black storm-cloud before disappearing. He was displaying, even in August, ever the showman. A wonderful memory of a very special bird. Sadly, we knew we wouldn’t be seeing him this morning.
Everyone is on board now. We’re leaving the Creek and heading out, just as we did on that day three years ago. And, amazingly, after just a few minutes out on the water, we spot an Osprey flying towards us. We know it’s not one of the two breeding males with nests nearby, because watchers there have sent us texts saying that they’re both still at home. So who is this? Maybe 09(98) or 01(09)? Hard to say. We watch him for a few minutes and attempt to follow him in the boat ~ a difficult manoeuvre for our good Captain! As the morning progresses we investigate all the places where an Osprey might fish, but we do not locate another one. Nightingale song floats out to us from the wooded shore line ~ we listen in rapt silence.
Back at Whitwell Creek, everyone disembarks with thanks and appreciation. The delicate aromas of sizzling Rutland bacon from Grasmere Farm, locally sourced eggs and bread rolls from the brilliant Hambleton Bakery draw us all in to HQ at Egleton, where we find Chef Stammers and other members of the team preparing our breakfast feast on outdoor stoves. It’s a real treat. Thanks and congratulations all round.
Finally I head round to Lyndon, where it’s day 36 of incubation at the Manton Bay nest, and all eyes are on the big screen every time there’s a change-over, checking if there is the merest hint of a crack in one of the three eggs. There isn’t. Men are pacing up and down. Women are calmer, saying things like ‘They’ll come out when they’re good and ready.’ I stare idly out of the front window in the Visitor Centre, over towards Lax Hill, and am suddenly conscious of an Osprey struggling against the wind with an enormous trout tucked in below. So 5R did go fishing after all! And what a catch it is! He takes it to the perch in Heron Bay, and starts to eat. His mate remains on the nest, calling expectantly. Michelle sits me down in front of the screen and video recorder with very clear instructions to ‘press the red record button’ if anything interesting looks likely to happen. I sit transfixed, finger poised to the point of painful cramping! At last, thirty minutes later, I hear 5R has left the perch and is on his way to the nest! I press the button and hey presto! I record a perfect change-over as the rear half of the fish passes from claw to claw, the female departs with it, and 5R settles into incubation. I am so proud of my recording skills that I show the clip repeatedly to everyone who enters the Centre, whether they want to see it or not! Fortunately Tim is impressed.
A Stoat runs along the grass, right in front of the Centre window. A certain member of staff shouts ‘Look, a Weasel!’ The rest of us exchange knowing glances. Chris brings in a copy of ‘The Sun’, containing an unhelpful piece of writing about the loss of 08(97) by Jeremy Clarkson. Tim is much happier when he reads the balanced and accurate report of the same incident in ‘The Times’, written by Simon Barnes. Talent and accuracy will always overcome the egotistical need to be controversial. At this point the two guests I have been expecting arrive, and after a chat in the Centre and the loan of binoculars for them, we walk down to Wader Scrape, where the female is still enjoying her trout lunch.
By the time we get back two hours later, she is back on the eggs, still twitchy, unsettled, and anxious. Can she hear soft peeping from inside the shells? Can she feel small hearts beating just below her own? There’s no knowing, but we hope it won’t be long now. Maybe tomorrow…..when I shall be here again.
Postcript – The first two Manton Bay chicks hatched on 24th May, shortly after Ken wrote this piece.