5N(04)

The Magic of Osprey World

Yesterday our regular diarist, Ken Davies, enjoyed a solitary shift at Site B. Here is his report.

Tuesday 23rd April at Site B

The walk to the watch-point is lovely this morning. Clear sky, bright sunshine, warming westerly wind. I touch the old familiar land-marks ~ gate-posts, tree trunks, feeding troughs. New features stand out ~ a repaired fence, a new strand of barbed wire ~ but for the most part everything is the same. Four horses ~ two of them springy-legged yearling types ~ think about coming over to say ‘Hello’, but then they spy a Land Rover entering their field by the opposite corner. The promise of breakfast is better than my offering of a friendly pat and a tickled ear, so off they go at a canter, leaving me to edge down the field close to the hedgerow. A faint double note suggests Chiffchaff, and as I approach the song increases in intensity until the bird is directly above my head, clearly visible in the still bare topmost branches of the tree, pouring out its music ~ so familiar, so special. As his congeners arrive over the next few days and weeks, the newly verdant foliage will hide them, but their songs will enthral me on my weekly walk. Already the wood is gently throbbing to the sound of Song Thrush and Blackbird, with definite hints of Blackcap and Wren ~ altogether a heady mixture of sounds.

7.45 am : The first view of the Osprey nest. They are both there, she lying low and covering the eggs, he on alert on the nest edge. Barely five minutes into my shift, I see why perhaps he was on ‘raised alert.’ Another Osprey comes in from the north-east and dives low at the nest, causing the female to jump up in alarm. Our male gives instant chase, pursuing the invader back the way he came. The two twist and turn, but eventually the rightful tenant returns, the female settles again, and order is restored. I notice a piece of red baler twine blowing in the breeze on a branch to the right of the nest. It is slowly unravelling, wisps occasionally detaching and sailing off in the wind. At least it’s away from the nest, where hopefully it will not do any harm. All is calm now. Time to watch, time to absorb, time to learn.

This is my first solitary shift this season. Our information booklet calls it ‘lone working’ and lays down sensible and clear rules to ensure health and safety. Now I really like all the people with whom I share shifts (I really do!), but the most keenly awaited stint, the most longed for day throughout the dreary winter, is this one : my first solitary shift of the year. And now it’s here, I’m here, the Ospreys are here. Secondary winter-time Osprey activities can be put aside for now ~ the books about Ospreys, the writing about Ospreys (apart from the diary of course), the collections of paintings of Ospreys through the ages (from ancient times up to and including JW), and the study of Osprey stamps from around the world (pandio-philately : another story!) ~ all absorbing in their way, but no match for what is happening right now, in front of my eyes.

9.00am : on the stroke of nine, 03 lifts off and passes over me to the south, on his way to the reservoir, I hope, and an encounter with a nice trout. A light westerly is just ruffling the neck feathers of the female as she gently manipulates the eggs beneath here and faces south to await her mate’s return. I crank the ‘scope up to x60 and settle behind it, scrutinising her face and head. She is alert, but at times the nictitating membrane flicks across the one eye that I can see, and she dozes momentarily, head lowered. In a fraction of a second, she is alert and tense again. I follow her eye line and see that a Kestrel has landed on the exposed topmost branch of the bare ash nearby ~ a favourite perch of 03 when he is here. She watches the small hawk with an almost tangible ferocity, until it flies off to hover over a mouse or vole in the distance. She relaxes, and so doI.Behind my lens, my reactions mirror hers : tense, at ease, taut again, distracted, intense, absorbed ~ all within a minute. I am passing through the magic mirror and entering Osprey World, for the first time this season. She glares down the lens at me. I hold her stare. Time and daily concerns cease to exist. Nothing external can penetrate. The outside world recedes, consciousness dims, but in another way is strangely heightened and sharpened ~ I am alert to her every tiny movement and conscious of even her barely perceptible occasional shimmer. It’s a magical state, rarely experienced, never fully explained. It can only happen here.

Later ~ I’ve no idea how much later ~ I follow her intense and fixed eye line again, and it takes me to a Red Kite on an exposed thin branch of a small oak tree away to the west, another favourite feeding perch of 03. The Kite is pecking and scraping the bare wood, which probably has a nice fishy flavour after bearing so many fish gripped in the talons of 03’s foot over several seasons. I revert to the female and find she is watching another Red Kite soaring over the nest and becoming ever bolder in his passes over her. He knows he is safe while the Lord of the Manor is away.

9.50am :  The spell is broken as 03 makes a dramatic return with a good trout, imperiously clearing the Kites away with one sweep before landing on the perch and commencing his meal. Crows and a Magpie cower nearby, hoping for scraps, but do not venture too near. The female watches and waits. I resume my scrutiny of her while she continues to incubate her precious eggs. At 10.25 I swing the ‘scope back to the perch and find 03 just swallowing the tail of the fish! He has eaten it all! Nine minutes later he returns to the nest empty-clawed! The female is not impressed and almost pushes him out of the way as she launches off the nest for a break ~ she has incubated solidly for 2 hrs 29 minutes and now finds he has no fish for her. Having shared the whole morning with her, I can sympathise with her annoyance. At least I can have a sandwich! She does not fly far ~ just a couple of circuits, a half-hearted dive at a crow, and then back to the nest, where 03 has done just six minutes on the eggs! She shoves him off with very little ceremony and settles down again. He takes up his position on the bare ash tree (exactly where the Kestrel was) and starts a full preen. He has no intention of going fishing again just yet.

Time slows again, and then stops. Osprey World opens up again and I drift in. Two Jays hurry past in a flurry of pink, black, white and a trace of blue. Peacock butterflies and bumblebees are floating around in the sunshine. A distant Buzzard is making lazy circles in the sky. The Blackcap above my head is warming up too. 03 continues with his preening. Osprey World is at peace.

Too soon, oh far too soon, it’s time to leave. Why does time go so quickly here, and so slowly during many of my other tasks? I remember sharing a shift last season with a young volunteer who tried so hard to slow time down ~ she was enjoying her morning here so much she didn’t want it to end. I recall the look of disappointment on her face as we saw our relief approaching. It’s like that for me today. It’s been so perfect that I can even forgive 03 for eating all the fish!

Exactly on the stroke of 12.00 midday, 03 leaves his post and flies south, three hours to the minute since he last left. I hope this time his mate will receive a meal too. His departure is my cue to leave as well. I conclude the notes in the log and begin the walk back. A man replacing fence-posts gives me a cheery greeting and asks if I’ve had a good morning. ‘Yes, it was lovely, thank you’, I reply.  I do not mention ‘Osprey World’ and the magical hours I have spent there. No, that’s my secret ~ and yours of course, dear diary.

Three Day Eventing…..with Ospreys of course!

I’ve just completed three days of very varied activities as a volunteer with the Rutland Osprey Project. The whole process put me in mind of the Equestrian Three Day Event that we experience each year at nearby Burghley. But my three days had special ingredients that even Burghley cannot boast…..yes, that’s right, the magnificent Ospreys!

Here’s the story of how my three days panned out……

Day 1 :  The Dressage : Afternoon Shift at Manton Bay, 1.00 – 5.00pm

Everything has to be in first class order for the many visitors expected this afternoon. Four telescopes in place, adjusted to different heights for every physique, whether long, short, or in between. Log-books and record sheets set out to record every movement of 5R, his mate, and any possible intruding Ospreys. Radio intercom and mobile ‘phone tested, batteries checked. Michelle’s new ‘Who’s Who’ A4 folder ready at hand for visitors to refer to. Our own clothing adjusted to show clearly the logos of the Project.

1.00pm : ready for action! And ‘action’ is the appropriate word, for even as we begin the shift, an intruding young female Osprey (00/09) actually lands on the nest and incites 5R’s mate to do something about it! After a moment or two, she does, and the young pretender is sent packing. We explain to visitors what is happening. 5R’s mate returns a few minutes later and starts shuffling around in the nest. She is not relaxed, looks edgy, sits down deep, stands up again. Her mate is not around, but she is not calling or food-begging….she looks distracted, unsettled, anxious. Is she still worried about that young intruder? Or is there something deeper stirring inside her….?

The afternoon proceeds. The mood of the jittery female transfers to the hide, and we, together with our visitors, wait in expectation. 5R returns, with no fish, but we are glad to see him back. He greets his mate, and asserts his conjugal rights with some enthusiasm. The weather, which has been threatening something monstrous all afternoon, suddenly deteriorates markedly, and a wild rain and hail storm, driven onwards and directly into the hide by a vicious northerly wind, drives us all away from the open flaps to seek shelter at the rear of the hide. We move the chairs and the telescopes to save them from a complete drenching. The water in the reservoir before us starts to heave and churn, with white crests on the waves such as you might see on the open sea. The Ospreys sit facing it, hunched and still, he on the perch, she in the nest.

It ends as quickly as it began, and we mop up and move forward to the front of the hide again. The Ospreys are still there. Visitors who were trapped by the storm decide to take advantage of this dry spell to make a run for it and strike back towards the Visitor Centre. Other birds start to fly and feed over the water, and suddenly it feels like summer, with Sand Martins, Swallows and Common Terns passing by.

4.10pm : The radio intercom crackles into life. It’s Paul : he’s in the Visitor Centre watching the pictures being relayed to the big screen from the nestcam. His words reverberate through the hide : ‘We have an egg. I can see an egg in the nest. Repeat : We have an egg in the Manton Bay nest.’ This is great news! She must have laid it in the last few minutes, maybe even during that storm or just before it. Amazing, fantastic. We can’t see it from here, of course, but we can sense the jubilation up in the Centre. Within minutes, Tim Mackrill and Information Assistant Lizzie appear in the hide to share the moment with us. Tim has been down at the nightwatchman’s shed checking that everything is ready for the night shifts, which will now need to start immediately. 5R and his mate look down into the nest and admire its precious contents. We can almost hear him saying : ‘Well done, it’s a beautiful egg. You have a break now, and I’ll look after it for a while,’ and with that he settles down for his first turn at incubation. Our 5.00pm relief has arrived, so our routine is completed with a smooth hand-over, and we begin the walk back, thankful that the rain is still holding off.

Back at the Visitor Centre, we are shown a recording of the moment, just an hour ago, when the egg was first revealed to the watching world. We hope another two eggs will follow in the days to come. Five long weeks lie ahead…for the Ospreys, the watchers, the night-watchmen, and the thousands worldwide who will follow progress on their computer screens. Day 1 of our three day event comes to a close. Can the next two days match it?

Day 2 : The Cross Country : Morning Shift at Site B, 8.00am – 12.00pm.

The rain is still heavy and unrelenting as we start the cross-country walk from the parking spot to the Site B watch-point. My equestrian analogy is very apt this morning, as about fifteen thoroughbred race horses are in the fields. Some of them stand still and morose under the trees, trying to find a little shelter from the pouring rain, but half a dozen or so decide it would be fun to canter around, and perhaps spook the young bullocks which are crowding around the gate to greet us. I am just preparing my horse-whispering routine (it works for bullocks too!) when they all decide to gallop away from the gate and disappear into the rain and mist, thus leaving us free to enter their field and make our way to the watch-point. We trudge on in the rain, unable to pause as we usually do to check for warblers and other birds at the usual sites. Eventually we arrive and receive the report from the early shift. 03 is on the new perch ~ a skilfully and strategically placed T-perch which allows him a good view whilst also providing a bit of shelter. His mate is incubating, the top of her head just showing above the rim of the nest. She has been covering the eggs most of the time ~ ever since she finished the trout he brought in very early this morning.

It’s a real treat to be back here, our first shift at Site B since the end of last July. Three Ospreys yesterday at the Manton Bay nest, another two here today ~ what a  privilege it is to be here, sharing in the safeguarding of these wonderful birds! 03 looks very fine! Fifteen years old this year, and in cracking condition! 24 chicks already in the past ten years, and eggs in the nest yet again! No wonder he looks proud, disdainful of the rain and tolerant of those strange bedraggled figures watching him through their telescopes a few hundred yards away. Conditions remain awful. I’ve brought a complete change of clothing with me, so get changed into a warm, dry sweater, soft shoes and socks, and pour a cup of steaming coffee! Conservation at the sharp edge, or what?

At about 10.00, the rain at last relents, the clouds lift and even part, and life outside our shed begins to stir. The Ospreys change over, she taking an exuberant flight over the wood in celebration. Other Site B residents venture out for a look around ~ a Stoat watches us with his beady eyes before running back, black-tipped tail held high. My friend the Jay (I met him last year) comes very close again, but I’ve nothing for him ~ ‘Maybe next week’ I tell him. A Blackcap is in full song above our heads, and ten Fallow Deer timidly and daintily cross the field in front of us. Yes, it’s wonderful to be back!

More change-overs follow, with the female doing by far the longest stints on the eggs, as normally happens. We chat, drink coffee, and let the whole Site B atmosphere penetrate into our very souls once again. After a splendid reunion with our afternoon relief and a friendly exchange of news and views, we begin the walk back, thankfully this time in dry conditions. All the livestock has disappeared to the far end of the field, so we have an uninterrupted passage back to the car.

A brilliant morning! What does Day 3 hold, I wonder?

Day 3 : The Show Jumping : Morning Assembly at Copthill School, Uffington, Nr Stamford.

It’s still pouring with rain as I arrive, together with lots of Mums and Dads and their children, at Copthill School, Uffington (near Stamford). Tim arrives just a minute later and we go into a bustling reception area, where everyone is preparing for the school day ahead. Our brief this morning is to meet about 200 boys and girls, aged 5 – 11, in the school hall, and talk to them for about 20 minutes about the Rutland Water Osprey Project. Tim sets up the lap-top as the children file in and sit very quietly with their teachers as they wait for us to begin. Tim projects the pictures onto the massive screen on the stage, and I tell them about the lives of Ospreys, what they look like, what they eat and how they catch fish, how they come to be at Rutland Water, how we know them as individuals, and so on. The children are very responsive, with loads of hands going up at every question, and very knowledgeable. Some of them have read the book Sky Hawk, about a boy and a girl who found an Osprey nest in Scotland. ‘But you don’t need to go all the way to Scotland to see Ospreys’, we tell them. ‘They live just about ten miles from where we are now!’ Tim takes over and shows them live pictures from the Manton Bay nest, and then traces 09’s epic migration back from Senegal, using images from Google Earth. Time flies by, and we have to stop. What an excellent audience! What a lovely school! We end by inviting them to come and see us later on in the season. As they are filing out past us, one boy turns to Tim and says : ‘Do you ever get Ospreys who don’t come back?’ ‘Yes’, he explains, ‘ unfortunately that does happen a lot, but that’s nature, and it makes up for it when Ospreys that we know well come back year after year.’ The boy is satisfied with the answer, and re-joins his classmates.

We are about to leave, but then we are asked if we have time to have a brief chat with the pre-school children (that is, three and four year olds), who don’t come to the main assembly. We agree, of course, and are taken to a room where we find a group of tiny children sitting on the carpet with their teachers and classroom assistants. They look expectantly at us and Tim suggests I might read to them from our new little book ‘Ozzie’s Migration’, which I just happen to have with me! We take it page by page, holding up the pictures each time as we go, and, with a lot of help from their brilliant teacher, we tell them the story of Ozzie’s journey from Rutland Water to The Gambia. They follow most of it, stop me to tell me about the little chickens they hatched out last year, and about their own little brothers and sisters called (among many others) Olivia and Alfie ~ not sure how we got on to that! One little girl astounds me ~ I am holding up the page which shows Ozzie flying over France, with John Wright’s great picture showing the Eiffel Tower below Ozzie as he soars over the city, and I ask :  ‘Does anyone know where Ozzie is in this picture?’  ‘Yes, he’s flying over Paris’, the little girl says immediately ~ remember she is just four years old! Even her teacher is surprised (and pleased) by her quick response.  With Ozzie safely in The Gambia, and the teacher needing to get on with her day’s work, we leave them and make our way back to reception, and take our leave. Thank you, Copthill School, for letting us come and tell you about the Ospreys! We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.

And so, my Three Day Event is over. I’m off today ~ and yes, it’s still raining ~ but in another couple of days it all starts again with another afternoon shift at Manton Bay. The opportunities for volunteers are far-ranging and exciting at Rutland Water, as I hope these three days have shown, so why not come and join us? Just ring Tim, Michelle, Becky or Paul and you can be sure of a friendly welcome!

Michelle and Ken with the ‘Ladies that Lunch’

Thursday 17th November, 11.30am : We’re on our way to Leicester to give another talk about the Osprey Project. We’ve given ourselves plenty of time ~ it’s only twenty miles or so from Rutland Water, and we’re not expected till 12.30. Our destination is The Leicestershire Golf Club, where we will be the guests of the Concorde Ladies Luncheon Club. We have a map and Michelle is navigating. We need to turn left off the A47 at some point. We chat as we drive along, and Michelle tells me about the changes she has made to the presentation as we have a shorther slot than usual for our talk today. The Project took delivery of a smart new lap-top yesterday, and we are giving it its first outing.  It’s now 12.10am. Shouldn’t we have turned off the A47 by now? We’re almost in the centre of Leicester now. I see the de Montfort Hall and other buildings which tell me we are a little off course. We stop and ask a postman where the Golf Club is, and he looks at us blankly, but at least gets us back on the A47. ‘We’ve passed that hospital before’, says Michelle helpfully. We can’t be far from the place now. We drive through leafy suburbs and suddenly see a sign for Evington, and then there it is at last : The Leicestershire Golf Club. The car-park is huge, but absolutely heaving! The place is packed! These must be golfers’ cars surely….but no, the people getting out of them are nearly all smart ladies on their way to lunch….and a talk about Ospreys. We sit in the car for a few minutes to regain our composure and equilibrium. ‘OK, let’s do it,’ says Michelle suddenly, and we gather our equipment together and make our way purposefully towards the very imposing club-house.

The bar is filled with a crowd of women chatting animatedly in groups. We are greeted with genuine warmth by the Chairman of the Luncheon Club and others, and shown through to an equally grand dining room where we are to have lunch and then do our presentation. The members are extremely smart. Should I have worn a tie? The building is octagonal in shape, and the dining room covers two, or maybe three, of the eight sides, making it slightly difficult to know where to place our screen so that everyone can see. We choose the best location, and set up. Drinks appear for us.  About sixty to seventy ladies are expected. Everyone has to take a numbered disc from a box and this tells them where to sit ~ that way they all meet different people at each monthly lunch. Very clever. Our places are reserved on the ‘top table’ next to Madam Chairman. While we are still setting up, the ladies enter the dining room and find their places. They are all talking. The Chairman bangs the table with a little brass gavel and says a charming Grace which mentions the ‘birds of the air’ ~ very apt in view of today’s talk. As we sit down I survey the scene : here I am, surrounded entirely by congenial and elegant female company, about to enjoy a sumptuous lunch, and then to take part in a talk on a subject dearest to my heart! Is this heaven? Well, it’s pretty close anyway.

Our neighbours on the table chat away as we begin our first course. One lady assumes Michelle can’t have been doing this for very long, as she only looks 20 or 21! That pleases her. The Chairman tells us a little about the Club, and asks us not to be offended if one or two members close their eyes while we are speaking! We won’t be offended, we assure her! My first course is ‘Smoked mackerel and beetroot salad with horseradish cream’, while Michelle has gone for an ‘Avocado Salad’. Both are very tasty! The chatter is friendly, pleasant and very warm. We hear about our neighbours’ families, travels, previous jobs, grand-children…..and ospreys! One lady has seen them in Canada, another visited her daughter and family, who were holidaying this summer just above Lyndon and could see the Osprey nest in Manton Bay from their caravan. Michelle and I start to relax. This is going to be fun.

Time for the main course. It’s amazing. ‘Stuffed roast loin of Pork with apple sauce and seasonal vegetables.’ Michelle’s ‘Double Baked Cheese souffle’ looks delicious too, and she soon confirms this as we start to eat. When did I last eat like this on a Thursday lunch-time? I’ll have to be careful ~ if I eat all this I won’t be able to stand up, let alone do my bit of the talk in a few minutes time! Anyway, I do eat it all ~ it would be rude not to, wouldn’t it? While we are having coffee and scrumptious chocolates, our Chairman bangs the table again and calls for order. After a few domestic notices, she gives both of us really good build-ups, mentioning Michelle’s degrees, my ‘almost four decades’ of teaching………. and then we’re on!

After a few fiddles with blinds, curtains and the screen, and after checking that everyone can see, we go into our by now familiar double act. We even get to use a microphone, so that those furthest away can hear every word! We keep it light, inject a little humour where we can, swap over as seamlessly as possible, and add little details as we think of them. Audience reaction is good, spontaneous and encouraging, and this gives us both confidence as the talk progresses. No-one has dropped off yet. Michelle has added a movie sequence of the Osprey diving and then being followed by the underwater camera as it grapples with the fish and eventually pulls it out of the water. That is very popular, and she has to play it three times, to great acclaim each time. The new lap-top has performed well.

The last slide shows an Osprey sitting in a tree in fading light just off a Gambian beach ~ one of John Wright’s most evocative images. As we look at it, the questions start coming in from our audience ~ and what a wide variety there is! We answer them all as well as we can, and as usual invite everyone to come and see us in the spring, when the ospreys they have heard about today will hopefully be back on familiar territory just 20 or so miles from where we are. Our Chairman thanks us very warmly, and then wishes her members an equally warm farewell. Many of them linger to tell us they have enjoyed it so much, and how much their grand-children would have loved it. We pack up with a rosy glow on our faces as departing ladies wish us and the ospreys well.  I think we’ve gained a lot of new fans today…….and no-one fell asleep.

Back at the reserve, dusk is gathering as we go into the Anglian Water Birdwatching Centre. Tim is still in the meeting which prevented him from doing today’s talk, but Michelle will tell him all about it later. We stand by an open window and look out over the lagoons as night takes a hold and begins to embrace the flocks of wildfowl and lapwings which are swimming and standing about. Lax Hill looms large over to the south, and stars are already twinkling through the trees on its crest.  We take stock, and conclude today was a good day, a job well done, and we thank one another. I look out over the water one last time. Did you ever read Karen Blixen’s ‘Out of Africa’? I read it first in German, many years ago, and always recall one phrase she used after describing her life in those high African realms :

‘Hier bin ich, wo ich sein sollte.’

I say it quietly to myself now:

‘Here I am, where I ought to be.’

Spreading the word about Rutland Ospreys…..

During the autumn and winter, when our Ospreys are enjoying life down in West Africa, there is still plenty of activity amongst Project staff and volunteers. As well as the winter work-parties (see previous post), and all the administration involved in report writing and preparations for the Gambia trip, Tim and the team members carry out a large number of speaking engagements for organisations, schools, colleges and societies throughout the area. This is a valuable opportunity to inform and educate people from all walks of life about the work of the Osprey Project.

Today Michelle and I are on our way to meet a group of people in Peterborough and give them an illustrated talk about the Ospreys at Rutland Water. As arranged, we meet beforehand for coffee and plan how we are going to present the talk. We have done lots of school presentations, but this is our first ‘grown-up’ event, so obviously we need to change our tactics and use more advanced material for our adult audience. We are both a little nervous, but re-assure one another. It’s good to work in twos! The group have hired a room in The Cresset, a large community facility in Peterborough. Last time I came here was to see a Jools Holland concert, when the audience was numbered in hundreds if not thousands! Fortunately today’s event is a rather more intimate occasion. Our room is called the Milton Suite, and as we enter the audience is already in place and waiting expectantly for us to begin. Our hostess Carole introduces us. She is a former teaching colleague of mine, and this group is called the o5o Club (standing for ‘over 50’). Michelle is the youngest person present by at least 25 years! She has expertly plugged in the lap-top and the projector, and it’s ‘all systems go.’ She has even prepared a slide with our names on and the time and date of the presentation.

The next hour flies by. Our pre-agreed divisions work out well, and we take over from one another at all the right moments. The photos (all by John Wright) are wonderful, and have the audience ‘ooing and aahing’ every few minutes. We take them through every aspect of Osprey biology, status, distribution, migration, diet and breeding. We look at their history in Britain. And then of course we talk about the Osprey Project at Rutland Water ~ from the early translocation days 1996 – 2001, right through to the satellite tracking of 2011, not forgetting all the highlights and setbacks along the way, including first breeding, first chicks returning, first pair not to include a translocated bird, the loss of 08, and much, much more. We have ‘visual aids’ to pass around ~ a darvic ring, a transmitter with its antenna, and a very realistic osprey egg (actually made of wood!). Michelle introduces some of our ‘characters’ – 03(97) of course, 08(97), 5R and 5N, and then our two ‘stars’ of the autumn migration AW and O9. Their journeys are shown on the screen and cause genuine amazement. We briefly look at family relationships, who is related to whom, and so on ~ ‘Hope you’re all keeping up with this’, says Michelle, to the audience’s amusement. They are keeping up, and their questions show they want to know more.

We end by summing it all up and emphasising the rationale of the Project ~ that is, the re-introduction of the Osprey first of all into Central England, and then into the whole of England and Wales. We explain that the only two pairs in Wales this summer both contained birds from Rutland, 11(98) in North Wales and 03(08) in Dyfi. No-one had known that before, even though they have been watching the current Autumnwatch series. We answer questions about the Osprey’s fishing techniques, about the situation in Scotland, about human attitudes towards Ospreys, and many others.

It’s time to stop. Carole proposes a vote of thanks and there is a round of applause (and an envelope containing a kind donation to the Project’s funds). We suggest they might like to come over to Rutland Water in Spring 2012 to see the Ospreys in real life, or maybe an early evening cruise on the ‘Rutland Belle’ with a good chance of seeing one fishing. This is a popular suggestion. One gentleman approaches Michelle and asks if we could possibly do the talk to another organisation of which he is a member. Another lady says how much she has enjoyed it, and ‘how good it is to see such a young person doing such valuable work.’ I think she means Michelle, not me……!

We leave and go back to the cafe where we met early this morning, and have another coffee, and meditate over a good morning’s work. For me, it is an excellent way of ‘staying close’ to the Ospreys even though they are all over 3,000 miles away at present. November can be a dreary month, but not when we can share our enthusiasm and passion with other people like this. I am so grateful to Michelle, Tim and the team for the opportunity to be involved, and to help in a small way.  And next week, we’re taking the Osprey story to a group in Leicester, and Michelle has just sent me another e-mail ~ Oundle School want us to talk to their Science Club on January 24th!! And just a few weeks after that……..you guessed it……the Ospreys will be back!

All Alone at Site B….

Tuesday 2nd August : Week 20 : 8.00 – 12.00 at Site B : Warm,  19 degrees C, calm and sunny.

I’m still on a high after the amazing events in Manton Bay on Sunday afternoon, so there’s a real spring in my step as I walk down to the watch-point, breezily greeting the bullocks and the horses on my way. Tom and Ann report a busy two hours since they arrived at 6.00am,  with a fish delivery and a lot of action around the nest. We chat for a while, and out of the corner of my eye I spot 33 slide off his perch and fly purposefully south. The time is 7.59 : my shift has not even started yet, and he has left! We know where he is likely to be heading, don’t we? Of course, he’s had his fishy breakfast and now he’s off to spend the day with his new chums in the Bay! And there’s a Family Fun Day there today too! No doubt he will join in with the fun!  That could be the last I see of him today!

Oh, well, at least his Mum and Dad are here…..but not for long. Time : 8.05 : 03 leaves his perch and flies strongly east. Is it a fishing trip, or another day excursion to see ‘the boys’ at the other nests? Five minutes into the shift, and I’m down to one Osprey. Time : 8.14 : the female launches into the air and flies along the front of the wood and then south-east. Where is she off to? Goodness only knows. So, 15 minutes gone, three and three quarters hours of shift remaining. No ospreys.  Every few minutes, I scan the empty nest and all the favourite perches, and forlornly search the skies for a familiar shape returning. Nothing. This has the feel of early September, not early August. It could be a long morning……

So, what does an Osprey watcher do when there are no Ospreys to watch? Well, if you’ve got a companion with you, you chat, you set the world to rights, you generally pass the time with light congenial conversation. But if, like me today, you’re a lone worker, you have to invent some more ingenious strategies to prevent the onset of delirium. For a start, I pretend the wooden shed is in fact a charming beach-hut like the one I used to love at Frinton-on-Sea. I take a canvas chair outside, set it up under the oak-tree, and take my boots off ~ wonderful! I pour a coffee and eat a sandwich. I take out my note-book and make a list of ‘things-to-do’ in the next 225 minutes :

  • watch and study in minute detail the behaviour of every living thing I can see (birds, butterflies, insects, mammals). If desperate, extend the list to include inanimate things like clouds and aeroplanes.
  • make list of jobs I’ve got to do when I get home.
  • write a story for children about Ospreys, for use when we start going to schools again in September
  • listen to other people’s conversations on the radio link with Lyndon and Manton Bay (This one fails badly as soon as I hear John say ‘Yes, all five birds present in the Bay’)
  • contemplate the season with all its comings and goings, ups and downs, thrills and spills.
  • think about all the new people I’ve met this year, the old friendships strengthened, the new experiences, the exciting times to come.

It’s 9.50 now. No Ospreys maybe, but my sweep across the blue sky with the binoculars produces  just a few migrating Swifts at a terrific height, and ~ up there with them ~ a single Hobby~ my second in three days~ circling, soaring, drifting, darting ~ its body full of curves, arrow-sharp, aerial perfection. Maybe a local breeder, or a migrant, who knows? Today is all the better for seeing that.

Tim phones and says I needn’t stay if I don’t want to in view of the lack of Ospreys. Actually I’m enjoying it. The Ospreys may be away, but this is still their home and I’m almost ‘house-sitting’ for them ~ except that I’m not doing a very good job and those dratted Magpies are all over the nest, searching for little fishy morsels that might be in there. And Buzzards are sailing around without fear of dive-bombers from above today ~ are they still intruders even though no-one is at home? Anyway, I couldn’t possibly leave. What if they come back? What if my relief team (Bob and Norman) reached the hut and found it all locked up and deserted? Not good form at all.

I look back in the notes. ‘No Ospreys all shift’ someone had written on Sunday, and ‘Ditto’ was written underneath for Monday. Well at least it’s not been that bad today. I did have them for 14 minutes!

11.00am : No change : From my low position in the canvas chair, I survey the clouds (Desperate Measure No.1).  I’ve got a fabulous book called ‘The Cloud Spotter’s Guide’, but I wish I’d paid more attention to it because I’m still having trouble sorting out my ‘cumulus mediocris’ from my ‘cumulus humilis’. Tiring of that, I spot a row of five ladybirds walking along a strand of barbed wire in front of me (Desperate Measure No.2). Different sizes, different number of spots. Four are red with black spots, one tiny one is yellow with black spots. The front one comes to a barb in the wire and stops. The others line up behind him, but then grow impatient and try and climb over him. Two fall off, one flies, the front one turns round and goes back. I am attempting something Darwinian to explain this, when my mobile rings. It’s my car dealer. My vehicle is being recalled for an urgent safety check and could they have it as soon as possible? Great. Is it going to explode? Or fall to pieces? Oh no, Sir, nothing like that, we just need to check it over for you….So that’s tomorrow sorted.

11.50 : My relief approaches! I hastily put my boots on and return the beach hut to its former identity as a shed. As always, we talk for a while, about the Ospreys (or lack of them), about cricket, the public school system, and other vital topics. As I walk back, I conclude that this has been a very enjoyable morning which I would not have missed for the world. It’s all part of the Osprey Experience, and the knowledge that this pair and their juvenile are now acting independently away from the nest for much of the time is yet another useful piece of the jigsaw.

Back at Lyndon, the Family Fun Day is in full swing. Paul is making loads of bug boxes for eager youngsters, and Tim and Michelle are being interviewed by a reporter from Radio Rutland. Later Michelle introduces me to a super Osprey puppet called Peter, specially created for the grand Puppet Show.  How strange! Only an hour ago I was at Site B writing an Osprey story for children and wondering what to call the hero of the tale. Now I know : ‘This is the story of an Osprey called Peter….’ Watch this space for the first instalment!

I drive home (very carefully in view of that phone call!). I wonder if the Ospreys came back for Bob and Norman…….