Here is the latest edition of Ken’s Diary…
Who said that? Was it Louis XV? Or XVI? I’m not sure, but it certainly is a phrase that comes to mind in the midst of this monsoon-swept summer. I’ve been incredibly lucky this week……twelve hours osprey-watching at two sites, and I stayed dry the whole time, although there were downpours before and after each of my shifts. So I think I’ll make a slight adaptation to the title : ‘Après (et avant) moi, le deluge….’
After the previous week at Site B, when 03 was absent for virtually the whole time, the morning of 5th June sees him bringing in fish after fish to the nest, and my note-book looks like a bus timetable as I record his deliveries :
0854 : small trout brought to nest. Female feeds chicks.
0939 : another small-ish trout delivered.
1102 : third trout of the morning. Medium-sized this time.
1150 : very large (monstrous in fact) pike brought in.
This last delivery is one of those special moments which will be recalled years later, by which time the pike in question will probably have assumed legendary proportions! I first spot him carrying it in way to the south-west, labouring over the trees and into a stiff breeze as his wings beat deeply to bring his prize home. He veers over closer to me, and for a few moments is in profile against the white cloud, the outline of the pike unmistakeable beneath him. It is like a John Wright photograph, forever etched into my lifetime of osprey memories. He finally gains the perch near the nest, where the pike thrashes about energetically for several minutes before yielding to the powerful bill and scimitar talons of the master-fisher. To see a pike sailing over woodland, a good distance from the reservoir, is a powerful image now stowed forever in the memory bank!
A few days later, on June 10th, I am down in Manton Bay for my regular Sunday afternoon shift in Waderscrape hide. Once again, I’m lucky and the day is fine, after a spell of wet and windy weather which has brought problems for people and wildlife in various parts of the UK. Tim and Lizzie have had a busy morning with visitors, including a coach party, but as usual they both find time for a chat over a mug of steaming Lyndon tea! The mood is tempered by the sad news from Dyfi, where two chicks ~ offspring of our own 03(08) and grand-chicks of 03(97) ~ have been lost to the atrocious weather in Wales. There is universal praise for the Dyfi team, and their outstanding efforts in saving the remaining chick. Osprey watchers worldwide are united in their hopes for this survivor.
Later, down in the hide, visitors are thrilled to see the two Manton Bay chicks, two weeks old now, moving around on ungainly legs and taking an interest in everything around them. News has filtered through that a few 2010 juveniles have been spotted at various locations, so we must keep our eyes open for them. Suddenly a visitor calls out ‘Look, a water vole!’ and sure enough we see the small creature disappearing up one of the channels in front of the hide. A good sign, especially in view of the nature reserve’s project to re-introduce them here.
A highlight for me this afternoon is the arrival in the hide of a former student of mine, Liz. I remember her as a talented historian, artist and musician, but now, ten years later, she is already a biologist of considerable repute, having graduated from the Royal Veterinary College with flying colours and in the past few years undertaken research trips on lemurs in Madagascar and tamarins in the Peruvian rain-forest. Later this summer she will be flying out to Borneo and Java to work on projects involving gibbons, orang-utans and proboscis monkeys! But today she and her boyfriend have come to see the Ospreys, and they stay for a long time, watching the family out in the bay. It occurs to me that many of the world’s renowned primatologists have been women ~ Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Alison Jolly to name but three ~ and Liz suggests this is because the animals they study ~ especially the males ~ feel less threatened by females than males. Liz has a brilliant blog recounting her adventures in Peru~ check it out at www.tamarintalesperu.wordpress.com
Suddenly, just after 4.00pm, everyone leaves the hide and I am alone. The sky looks threatening again and the water, until now calm and placid, is beginning to look lively. I have time to scan around, and I spot an unusual duck ~ a male Goldeneye ~ plentiful enough in winter, but a real rarity at this time of year. Pity there is no-one here to share it with me! I am still alone when my relief arrives just before 5.00, and so I wend my way back as the clouds continue to thicken and rain looks imminent. I just make it in time.
Two days later and I’m back at Site B. It has been rain, rain and more rain over the past 48 hours, but at least it’s dry for me this morning. As I arrive, 03 is on his perch, looking over towards me. He looks good in this morning light, his white foreparts contrasting with the deep brown of his wings and back, and his outline sleek, slim and smooth, reminding me of a framed painting of him by John Wright which I have on the wall at home. It’s part of a sequence called ‘Rutland Osprey Family Life’, and was completed in 2004. Various scenes from the season are depicted ~ 03 and his faithful mate 05(00) ~ and of course the two juveniles from that year (5R and 5N), both of which are thankfully still with us and breeding themselves now at Manton Bay and Site N respectively. The vignette I am reminded of today is labelled ‘Male on guard nearby’. At fifteen years old, ‘Mr Rutland’ looks exactly the same this morning as he did eight years ago in John’s painting. As I watch, he rises into the air and flies over me, no doubt towards the reservoir and another fishing trip. As he does so, his new mate, who flew in to take the place of 05(00) when she did not return in 2009, moves to the perch where he had been. Immediately three striped heads appear over the rim of the nest ~ his 25th, 26th and 27th offspring!
At 9.04 he is back with a trout for the family, and he resumes his vigil on the perch while they enjoy their fishy breakfast. Afterwards, peace resumes. Small parties of swifts swoop over the field, coming low to harvest the insects and then climbing high again. Like me, they sense rain is not far away. A pair of whitethroats have a nest nearby, and this morning both adults are active and noisy ~ in the thick bramble just away to my right, and also on the fence and posts in front. The cuckoo calls, but not as insistently as last week ~ his singing time is almost over.
Swift, whitethroat, cuckoo, osprey ~ all here with me now, but all due to join the flyways to Africa when the all too brief summer season is over. I savour every moment spent in their company.
By 12.30 I’m driving home in the rain. A man on the radio tells me that the Anglian Water Company has decided to lift its hose-pipe ban. With some regions of the country now under water, and over 50 flood warnings in operation, it’s been a funny old drought! I switch to another radio station. They’re talking about a 14th Century miracle play called ‘Noye’s Fludde’ ~ Noah’s Flood. I switch off and drive home in silence.