5R(04) was the first Rutland-fledged chick to return

A lasting legacy

Each year there is no clearer sign of the onset of spring in Rutland than the sight of the first newly-arrived Osprey perched on its nest; its white underside illuminated by the gentle March sun. For those of us lucky enough to have been involved in the Rutland Osprey Project for a number of years there has been one bird in particular whose return was especially significant and eagerly anticipated each year. He was often the first Osprey to return; his arrival signalling the start of another Osprey year at Rutland Water.  The bird in question, of course, is 03(97); or Mr Rutland as he became better know. Sadly this year, he has failed to return.

img155 - 03(97)

img144 - 03(97)

In many ways the story of Mr Rutland epitomises the success of the Rutland Osprey Project. The irony in his nickname though is that he wasn’t from Rutland at all. 03 was one of eight young Ospreys collected from nests in northern Scotland by Roy Dennis in 1997. It was the second year of the translocation project and the eyes of the conservation world were once again on Rutland Water. 1996 – the first year of the project – had been mixed. Half of the birds translocated from Scotland hadn’t survived; and many people were sceptical about the project’s chances of success. 1997, therefore, was an incredibly important year.

Having been kept in specially-designed release pens on Lax Hill – a grand location overlooking Rutland Water Nature Reserve – 03 and seven other birds were released in late July. 03 made his first flight, described in the day’s monitoring notes as a ‘short, but surprisingly competent’, just after 8pm on 27th July, before landing on a nearby dead tree.

A week or so later the young Ospreys were enjoying their new-found freedom, exploring further and further from the release pens, and beginning to learn about their new home. It was here that my first encounter with 03 took place.  I was a fifteen year-old volunteer and the sight of eight newly-released Ospreys flying around Lax Hill was awe-inspiring: something I will never forgot. Of course I didn’t realise the significance of 03 at the time, but he was one of the birds that myself and the team monitored that summer. On 4th September 03 set-off on his maiden flight to West Africa. Little did we know what an important bird he was to become.

Just under two years later, on June 14th 1999, 03 was sighted back in Rutland for the first time. His return, and that of another of the 1997 cohort, 08(97), signified that the project – the first of its kind in Europe – could work. During the course of that summer and the next, 03 and 08 both established territories. 08 took-over one of the artificial nests on the nature reserve, and 03 built a nest in the top of a stag-headed oak on private land close to the reservoir. Site B, as it later became known, was a thoroughly English setting for the Scottish Ospreys who was to become known as Mr Rutland.

In spring 2001 hopes were high that either 03 or 08 would breed. As we would come to expect, 03 didn’t disappoint. In mid-April he was joined at his nest by an unringed Scottish female. We speculated that she may have been an old breeder who had been ousted from a nest in Scotland by a younger bird; a defect in her right eye perhaps betraying her ageing years. Whatever the case, the fact that one of our translocated males had managed to attract a female who was heading north was an encouraging sign.

img158 - First Site B Female

By early June the birds had been sitting on eggs for five-and-a-half weeks and we were eagerly watching the nests for signs of hatching. Then on the morning of 6th June we noticed a change in their behaviour. 03 arrived with a roach and flew straight to the nest with it. This would usually signify a change in incubation duties, but this time the female remained in the nest. She stood up and carefully inched her way to the side of the nest. She then tore off a piece of fish and delicately offered it down into the nest cup. It was clear that the first Osprey chick in central England for over 150 years had hatched. Two days later the team checked the contents of the nest with Roy Dennis, using poles and a mirror. They could clearly see the tiny chick and two unhatched eggs.


Six weeks later we visited the nest to ring the chick; a landmark moment for the project. We didn’t know it at the time, but that first youngster was one of 32 chicks that 03 would go on to father over the course of fifteen summers at Site B. When his unringed mate failed to return in 2003, 03 quickly attracted a new female to his nest. 05(00) was the first translocated female to breed in Rutland and it was fitting that she did so with 03. Together 03 and 05 raised a total of 17 chicks between 2003 and 2008, and they remain the most successful breeding pair in the Rutland colony.

05(00) raised 17 chicks with 03 between 2003 and 2008

05(00) raised 17 chicks with 03 between 2003 and 2008

img145 - 03(97)

img154 - 03(97)

img150 - 03(97)

Many of the offspring reared by 03 and 05 returned to Rutland in subsequent years and themselves became old favourites: most notably the two 2004 chicks, 5N(04) and 5R(04). 5N paired up with 03’s compatriot – and perennial bachelor 08(97) – and bred successfully in Manton Bay in 2007. Then when his sister and her mate moved to an off-site nest in 2009, 5R(04) took over the Manton Bay territory and bred successfully with Maya for the first time in 2010.

5R(04) was the first Rutland-fledged chick to return

5R(04) was the first Rutland-fledged chick to return

The Site B family in 2006

The Site B family in 2006

Sadly 05(00) failed to return in 2009, but she was quickly replaced by an unringed female. That though was only after an incredible battle between her and another female who we later discovered originated from Argyll in northern Scotland. The sight of two (presumably) Scottish female fighting over the Site B nest was another sure sign that the project was working.

During the fight between the two Scottish females at Site B in spring 2009, 03 was knocked off the nest

During the fight between the two Scottish females at Site B in spring 2009, 03 was knocked off the nest

The new unringed female and 03 formed another successful pairing and raised 14 chicks between 2009 and 2014. By spring last year 03’s legacy was becoming clear. Twelve of his offspring had returned and raised a total of 43 chicks between them. Furthermore, four of those 43 had then also gone on to breed successfully. So aside from being a grandfather many times over, 03(97) was also a great-grandfather to 15 young Ospreys.

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03 and his mate, 8th April 2010

03 and his mate, 8th April 2010

The Site B family in 2010

The Site B family in 2010

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The natural world can be a harsh place and 03’s ageing years suddenly became apparent in April last year. As usual 03 had been the first Osprey to return to Rutland; reclaiming his regal nest for the fifteenth time. Soon afterwards he was joined by his mate, and within two weeks they were incubating a clutch of eggs. Then the drama began.

img156 - 03(97)

09(98) was one of the male birds who always showed an interest in Site B - but he was always no match for 03

09(98) was one of the male birds who always showed an interest in Site B – but he was never a match for 03

Site B has been a sought-after nest ever since 2001 and, over the years, 03 often had to repel attempts to oust him by young males eager to breed. This, we are sure, was the reason that he returned earlier and earlier each spring. 03 usually had little trouble defending his nest, but 2015 was a different story. One of his grandsons, 51(11) suddenly set his sights on Site B. This young male was incredibly aggressive and it quickly became apparent that he was too much of a match for ageing 03. Within a matter of days 03 had been usurped from the nest. He retreated to a regular haunt, Horn Mill Trout Farm, in an effort to regain his strength. Luckily for 03, help was at hand. Just as 51 was getting settled on the Site B nest, another Osprey – and another of 03’s grandsons – entered the fray. 30(10) was also attempting to breed for the first time and after some spectacular aerial battles he ousted 51 from Site B. 30’s unexpected intervention allowed 03 to return to Site B, and to our surprise, 30 made no further attempt to take-over the nest. Instead he retreated to an artificial nest, and 51 did the same. Things were back to normal at Site B, and soon afterwards the female laid a replacement clutch of eggs. Sadly, though, it soon became apparent that they weren’t viable and it wasn’t long before 03 and his mate gave up on them.  Nevertheless they remained at Site B for the rest of the summer and we were hopeful that both would be back this spring.

P1210867---03(97)--- 10 August-2014


Sadly, we now know that neither 03 nor his mate have returned. We always knew that it would happen one year, but we have become so accustomed to 03 defying the odds and making it back each spring, that we fully expected to see him in all his splendour this March. It is all the more sad that his mate has failed to return too. We do not know what has happened to either bird, but the perils of migration appear to have taken their toll.

Although it was desperately sad not to see 03 this spring, he has left behind an incredible legacy on the 20th anniversary of the Rutland Osprey Project.  The latest chicks to hatch at the Manton Bay nest mean that he is now a grandfather 57 times over and a great-grandfather to 22 Ospreys. That tally is sure to increase over this coming summer – and for many years to come. I personally feel privileged to have shared eighteen summers with this wonderful Osprey. It is true to say that these birds become like old friends, and it was always a thrill to see him back at his nest each spring. I know that John Wright who has studied 03 more closely that anyone through his fabulous artwork and photographs – just a fraction of which we have included on this post – feels the same; as do the hundreds of other people who have enjoyed monitoring the Site B nest over the years – or perhaps even watched 03 fishing from the Rutland Belle or at Horn Mill Trout Farm.

It is fitting that 03’s place at Site B has been taken by one of his grandsons, 30(10) this spring. 30 has failed to attract a mate this year, but we are sure that it won’t be long before he follows his grandfather’s lead. Who knows, maybe he’ll be the first Osprey back in Rutland next spring?

This spring 30(10) has claimed the Site B nest

This spring 30(10) has claimed the Site B nest

We hope that 30 will become as successful at Site B as his grandfather was

We hope that 30 will become as successful at Site B as his grandfather was

Mr Rutland's legacy will live on for many years

Mr Rutland’s legacy will live on for many years

Tanji Beach clean

Tanji Beach clean

One of the key aims of the Osprey Flyways Project is to raise awareness of the need to protect migratory birds at all times of the year. We were thrilled, therefore, to hear from Junkung Jadama this week about how children from Tanji Lower Basic School in The Gambia have been helping out. JJ writes:

“As the Osprey Flyways Project is concerned about environmental education the students of Tanji Lower Basic School and Osprey club members take this step to clean Tanji beach because people throw litter all over the beach that is important for migrating birds. If you look at the video you will find out that there are lots of old fishing nets on the beach which can be dangerous for the birds.”

JJ also sent us these photos of the students’ hard at work. It is amazing to see how many nets they managed to clear from the beach. Many birds – Ospreys included – can easily become tangled in these nets and so the students’  efforts are incredibly important. Well done to all of them.

beach clean 2

beach clean 3

A wheel-barrow full of discarded fishing nets. Such nets pose a real danger to many birds - including Ospreys

A wheel-barrow full of discarded fishing nets. Such nets pose a real danger to many birds – including Ospreys

beach clean 5

beach clean 1

beach clean 7

Junkung Jadama organised the day - thank you JJ!

Junkung Jadama organised the day – thank you JJ!

Tanji Lower Basic School were one of four schools who got involved in a fantastic Skype link up during World Osprey Week. Xarles Cepeda from the Urdaibai Bird Center has sent us this brilliant video of the Skype call. We’re sure you’ll agree that all of the children did fantastically well.

If you would like to support our work in Africa through the Osprey Flyways Project, you can do so by sponsoring Kayleigh for her skydive – which is now just under two weeks away! We would also like to thank IEPUK for their ongoing support of the Osprey Flyways Project, and particularly Director George Peach who is undertaking yet another challenge on our behalf next week – the Rat Race at Burghley. Good luck and thank you, George!

The project's education team (l-r) - Pete Murray, Jackie Murray and Ken Davies

WOW – Day 5

Yesterday was the final day of World Osprey Week and the project’s education team rounded off a very successful five days by visiting Wittering County Primary School, near Stamford. The Osprey is a brilliant species to incorporate into science lessons, and while at the school the team taught the children about osprey adaptations and food chains. Both topics are included in lesson plans that WOW schools can download for free. There is a sneak preview below, but to view the full list of teaching resources for both primary and secondary schools and to register for WOW, click here.

Osprey adaptations worksheet

The children at Wittering were very enthusiastic, and clearly remembered a great deal from a previous visit by the team. They’ll soon be choosing their Osprey Ambassadors and are also planning on submitting poems, stories, and science work for the Osprey Festival be held in Oakham later this term.

This week the project’s education team – Ken Davies, Jackie Murray and Pete Murray – has led sessions with over 550 school children. This included presentations and assemblies in local schools as well as Skype calls which linked three continents. Its been a fantastic week and simply would not have been possible without the enthusiasm and dedication of Ken, Jackie and Pete – a huge thank you to them all.

Although WOW has now finished, schools can continue to sign-up. Doing so gives you access to the teaching resources and also the opportunity to  contact other schools all round the world who are also studying Ospreys. If the Skype calls that we organised this week are anything to go by, establishing links with other schools in this way is a really exciting way for children to learn. So don’t delay, sign-up now!

Jackie Murray teaching children at Wittering Primary all about food chains

Jackie Murray teaching children at Wittering Primary all about food chains

The project's education team (l-r) - Pete Murray, Jackie Murray and Ken Davies

The project’s education team (l-r) – Pete Murray, Jackie Murray and Ken Davies

Ken and Jackie with children from English Martyr's School in Oakham

WOW – Day 4

We start tonight’s World Osprey Week blog with news from Wales. Earlier today three-year-old female, 3J – who fledged from the Manton Bay nest in 2013 and first returned to Rutland last summer – visited the Glaslyn nest in North Wales. We know that young Ospreys often wander widely in search of a nest and mate, so it will be interesting to see whether 3J settles in Wales, or returns to Rutland. For now it is just great to know she has made it back to the UK safely.

A screenshot of 3J perched beside the Glaslyn nest earlier today

A screenshot of 3J perched beside the Glaslyn nest earlier today (photo courtesy of Glaslyn Wildlife)

Having linked up three countries by Skype yesterday, today we made World Osprey Week truly international with a Skype that linked three continents. Over the past few weeks the project’s education team have been working closely with staff and pupils from Great Casterton Primary School and today children from the school gave a superb presentation to pupils from Istituto Comprensivo Grosseto 1 in Italy, Montorre and Urretxindorra schools in the Basque Country in northern Spain and Tanji Lower Basic School in The Gambia. They then had the opportunity to talk to Osprey expert Iain MacLeod from the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center in New Hampshire, USA. Special mention must go to the schools Osprey Ambassadors, Louie and Sam who read brilliantly on camera and also to the pupils in Italy who sang the Osprey song written by Hurst Lodge school last year.

The Osprey Song – performed by the Juniors at Hurst Lodge School from Andrew Holdsworth on Vimeo.

Pupils from Great Casterton School showing off their fantastic artwork

Pupils from Great Casterton School showing off their fantastic artwork

As the photo shows, the children at Great Casterton showed off some their fabulous Osprey artwork, and have said that they will enter it into the art category in our Osprey festival in July. You can read more about that here. Earlier in the day the team also received a very warm welcome at English Martyr’s school in Oakham where they gave an assembly to the whole school.

Ken and Jackie with children from English Martyr's School in Oakham

Ken Davies and Jackie Murray with children from English Martyr’s School in Oakham

Art was a theme that ran through most of today’s WOW presentations, and that isn’t surprising – through their incredible migrations and fishing prowess  Ospreys have inspired artists for many generations. We’re very fortunate to have a very talented artist, John Wright, on the project team and he has recently completed the artwork for a new book that we will soon be publishing thanks to a kind grant from the Martin Lawrence Memorial Trust. Ozzie’s Return written by Ken Davies is the follow-up to Ozzie’s Migration and, as the name implies, tells the story of the young Osprey’s flight home to Rutland Water. Here’s a sneak preview of just some of John’s fantastic work, which will also be available as limited edition prints later in the summer.

Ozzie's Return

Ozzie 3

Ozzie 2

Ozzie 4

John Wright’s fantastic artwork will also be available as limited edition prints

We hope to launch Ozzie’s Return during the Osprey festival in July and it will be on sale at the Visitor Centres at Rutland Water and in other outlets in the Rutland area, as well as via the website. Watch out too, for a second book for older children that we’ll be publishing later in the year. Ozzie Leads the Way has also been written by Ken Davies, with illustrations by Fiona Gomez.

Artwork- Fiona Gomez

Ozzie Leads the Way features artwork by Fiona Gomez

Watch those eggs!

WOW – Day 3

Its been a beautiful spring day in Rutland today and the Manton Bay nest has been bathed in glorious sunshine for much of it. As we always hope during incubation, little of note happened at the nest for much of the day; the one exception being when 33 brought a large stick to the nest. Look how close he came to treading on the eggs…

Watch those eggs!

Watch those eggs!

Today is the third day of World Osprey Week This afternoon myself and the project’s education team visited Catmose College in Oakham where we linked up with students from Istituto Comprensivo 5 school in Grosseto, Italy and Tanji Lower Basic School in The Gambia via Skype. Despite one or two technical problems, it was exciting for the students to chat to each other, with Ospreys as the link. Each school gave a presentation and then asked each other questions.

SKype web

Toby Carter talking about the Rutland Ospreys to students in Italy and Gambia

One of the key aims of WOW is to link schools around the world through a shared study of Ospreys and if your school would like to get involved, you can sign-up here. Once registered you can create your own school page and be included on our interactive WOW map, which also shows the location of migrating Ospreys.  Each school page has the contact details of a teacher (which is only visible to other registered schools), allowing you to get in touch with each other – through email or, as we did today, via Skype. This is helping to create a community of like-minded schools who, we hope, will go on to enjoy long-term links. All as a result of Osprey migration!

You might also like to check out the competition for schools that we’re running as part of the Osprey Festival we’re organising in June.

The students from Catmose College gave a great presentation about Ospreys

The students from Catmose College gave a great presentation about Ospreys in Rutland