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Bikes and Birds Part Two

The blog earlier in the year (click here to read) explained how Pete Murray and Les Bowler were travelling by motorcycle through Spain to the Pyrenees to join the “Tour des Cols”.On their way they would visit the Urdaibai Bird Centre and reserve in Northern Spain . This is their story and Osprey 30’s in September 2015.

In the shadow of Osprey 30

In late summer Osprey 30 grew restless. On the 31st August 2015, on a dismal late summer day, she set off, crossed the English Channel by mid-afternoon, and spent her first night in Normandy. Unlike our motorcycle trip, she had no spares, no travel insurance, didn’t need any documents or ferry tickets to sort out. Her only baggage is the miniature satellite transponder which allows us to track her position, speed and altitude and to follow her day to day activity but more important her migration.

On the same day that 30 headed south, Les and I packed our motorcycle gear and got ready to leave the UK for a tour in the Pyrenees. Les was riding  his 1959 BMW and I was taking a 1979 Moto Guzzi  and our journey would begin with a visit the Urdaibai  Bird Centre where Osprey 30 should make landfall in northern Spain after crossing the Bay of Biscay, that is assuming she followed the same route that we had tracked on her migration the previous year. Unfortunately for us, 30 had a head start and Les and I had a ferry to catch, and we were also relying on two rather aged motorcycles as means of transport.


Our road journey took us to Portsmouth where 30 had left England to cross the channel, and she was already averaging a flying speed of about 40mph. Meanwhile on the Portsmouth to Santander ferry our progress was more leisurely and on a beautiful evening we watched England fade into the distance as seabirds wheeled overhead.


As night fell our boat made steady progress west of France and into the Bay of Biscay. We did not see any migrating ospreys on our journey south even though many follow a similar route across the Bay of Biscay, and according to tracking data ospreys can be as little as 10 or 20m above the waves.

What we did see at daybreak on our journey was a huge fin whale breaching the surface right next to the ship! On board the Cap Finistere were a volunteer whale watching team from “Orca”, an international cetacean study charity. I suggested to them that they should keep an eye out for ospreys, but it would be quite difficult to distinguish ospreys with the so many sea birds around the ship.

Osprey 30 had an epic flight on her second day. From Normandy she went due south crossing the Bay of Biscay and crossed the Spanish coast at Urdaibai at 2pm, but instead of stopping, she pushed on into northern Spain clocking 831 km in a long 14 hour day. She managed a creditable average of 36mph, but meanwhile on the Cap Finistere ferry we experienced a more leisurely 18-20mph!  Osprey 30 then carried on south the next day.

We disembarked from the ferry on a warm sunny evening and spent our first night just outside Bilbao. We enjoyed the setting sun on our terrace and enjoyed a locally made empanada and a mixed salad for tea. No doubt 30 had fish- if she could find any.

By dawn osprey 30 was miles away, but we had planned a motorcycle route through the rural Basque country to the Udaibai Bird Centre where 30 had crossed the coast. The coast of this part of northern Spain is very rugged with a patchwork of agricultural land at lower levels rising up to oak and pine forest on the hillsides. The roads we took east climbed and descend a great deal and on the bikes we made nothing like 30’s average flying speeds. Traffic was sparse and we made good progress.

A little after 1pm we pulled in to the Urdaibai Bird Centre car park. We were met by Xarles and Edorta from the centre whom I had only “met” before using during the Rutland Ospreys skype links with them in World Osprey Week in the Spring.


The Urdaibai Biosphere reserve is located in a large estuary surrounded by an amphitheatre of hills. Because of its position and aspect, it is an area of international importance for migrating and resident bird species on the northern Spanish coast, with many important habitats including salt and fresh water wetland.


At the south side of the reserve, a modern visitor centre facility which has been constructed using the structure of an old fish canning factory- so the ospreys would approve. The lower level is the main visitor area with displays, some multiscreen video presentation suites, which explain about the Urdaibai wetlands and the many facets of the reserve, its importance and its conservation projects. At the northern end of the building are large viewing areas on two levels over the over the reserve. Telescopes, cameras and audio feeds from the wetlands allow many ways to experience this magnificent site. A climb up the “tower” gives a third story view over the reserve.

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On the second level is the staff kitchen with accommodation for the volunteers. Les and I expected a floor to sleep on. Not so, as we were each taken to our own “volunteer” room each with its own facilities!

Ikr from the local Montorre and Urretxindorra Schools arrived, and with Xarles we were taken on a VIP tour of the area. On a sunny warm day we drove out past the impressive Castle and from the road followed a woodland track high up above the eastern side of the reserve. We left the car and walked up a steep track through the oak forest to the church and old fortifications on the summit. Far below you could see just how large the wetland is, with a patchwork of habitats.


Our hosts took us to a busy local restaurant for lunch, serving delicious traditional Basque food. Xarles told us about the 5 year osprey reintroduction project at Urdaibai. This is now in its third year, with collaboration from the Scottish Government and Highland Foundation for Wildlife. With special permission Roy Dennis and his team have “translocated” osprey chicks from Scotland to this Spanish reserve and once released these birds then consider Urdaibai as their home. Once mature, the male ospreys should return from Africa, attract mates and set up nest sites in Urdaibai so that in the future ospreys will recolonise this ideal location. The really good news is that Urdaibai have had their first returns of 3 year old translocated birds in 2015 and with observation on site and the data from the satellite tracking of some of these birds we can understand their day to day behaviour and follow their movements and migration routes.

In the afternoon after circumnavigating the beautiful coastal area coast we went to see the area where the young ospreys had been released and had the wonderful sight of an osprey “fly by” and another perched on a pole in the wetland about 100 yards away.


September not only is a month when ospreys migrate south to Africa, it is also when many of the volunteers, project officers and assistants take on other roles for the winter. We were lucky to be invited to the final “get together” at the local community centre for a convivial traditional meal which began with an introduction to the traditional game of “Basque pelota” – they had a court in the centre, but probably luckily for us we did not have time to set it up and play! (It does look a very energetic and potentially hazardous game) Local traditional foods including bread, vegetables and salads, fish cooked in two different ways, and some delicious sweets showed the culinary skills of many people associated with the Urdaibai project. It was a great experience.

The following day after enjoying a spectacular view of the reserve at dawn and a final look around, we said our goodbyes just before lunch, and set off to join the start our motorcycle “Tour des Cols” which began 150 miles or so to the east in the Spanish Pyrenees. This ‘bike tour over the next 10 days would take us to many landmarks and over many mountain passes or “cols”, and cover about 1500miles, before we returned to the UK.


Meanwhile in half that time osprey 30 had flown the length of Spain, crossed the Mediterranean, gone over the Atlas Mountains and then the Sahara Desert, and finally gone to her overwintering site in Senegal. Coincidentally her flight from Spain to Senegal was also distance of around 1500 miles but due south.

Our visit to Urdaibai was a wonderful start to our motorcycle trip and we heard when we got home that the tracking data from their Osprey “Mandella” had told them that on the 23rd of September Mandella had reached Cape Vert, close to Dakar, the capital of Senegal. From here he moved into the Ferlo River area where he will be based until his migration north back to Urdaibai next spring.

Our thanks to all at Urdaibai for their welcome, hospitality, and sharing their enthusiasm for their reserve. We also would like to thank Osprey 30 for guiding us to our friends who have a common interest in ospreys around 1000 miles to the south of Rutland– yet only 5 days as the osprey flies!


Story by Pete Murray

Pete is an Education Officer with the Rutland Osprey Project. Pete and Les live in Little Bytham, Lincolnshire, and as well as ospreys also like motorcycling and enjoy cake.


Want to find out more about Urdaibai

Follow this link http://www.birdcenter.org/en


Willow and woodland

The Monday team were working hard again at Lyndon yesterday, and what a great day it was! The weather forecast predicted rain all day, but we were very lucky once again and it was a beautiful day. The morning dawned to the first frost of the year, and, whilst it was chilly, it remained dry throughout the day. Lots of hard work, plus the large fire, helped to keep everyone warm!

We were working near the shoreline, coppicing a large block of dense Willow trees. The larger trees were cut down with chainsaws, whilst some smaller trees could be tackled with bowsaws and loppers. A fire was started in a safe position, and a lot of the cut brash was burnt. Larger materials such as logs were stacked in log piles, which make superb habitats for insects and support fungi, moss and lichen growth.

The purpose of coppicing is to open up the area, creating more space around mature trees, and also letting a greater amount of light penetrate to the woodland floor, facilitating the growth of wild flowers in the ground layer. Coppicing creates a varied age and height structure in a woodland, which supports a wide variety of species. For example, the growth of wild flowers attracts bees and other insects, which then provide food for birds etc, and when the coppice stools begin to re-grow, the shorter growth is a great nesting habitat for breeding warblers and other song birds. We aim to coppice a lot of the riparian (waterside) woodland that exists along the shore of Rutland Water on the Lyndon Nature Reserve. Coppicing different sections in alternate years leads to a greater diversity of habitat, and consequently a greater species richness.

Woods With Sun

There is still a lot of work to do in the section we were working in yesterday, and, as such, we will continue working there next Monday. Look out for photographs of the completed task next week!



A clearer outlook

The weather was brilliant again yesterday for our Monday work party at the Lyndon Nature Reserve! The team were busy once again, cutting back over-hanging and encroaching vegetation, taking out some small trees and bushes, and removing the reams of reeds in front of Tufted Duck Hide.




The purpose of all this hard work was to open up the area in front of the hide, and improve the view. You can see the benefits of the work we did from these great before and after shots!






And here’s a lovely clear photograph of Paul’s favourite tree!


Thank you to everyone who joined us today, it was a great job done! Thanks as always to Paul and Jan for the delicious soup and cakes!

All of the above photographs were taken by Paul Stammers.



33’s tale

33(11) has always been a strong character, ever since he hatched on 25th May 2011. He was born at Site B – his parents are the legendary 03(97) and the unringed female with whom 03 has been breeding since 2009.

03(97) and female watching 33 hatch. Photo by John Wright.

03(97) and female watching 33 hatch. Photo by John Wright.


33 was the only chick at Site B that year, as the nest suffered intensive intrusions early in the season from a non-breeding male. The female was forced to leave the eggs uncovered for long periods to chase the intruder away, and, as such, it was feared the entire clutch would fail. Therefore it was a huge relief that one chick survived. As he was the only chick in the nest, 33 did not have to compete for food or share it with siblings, and was consequently very well fed. He grew quickly into a strong, healthy juvenile.

33 with his new blue ring

33 on ringing day. Photo by John Wright.


33 fledged on 15th July 2011 (exactly the same date his son, S1, fledged this year!) Not long after he fledged, 33 became very adventurous. He was often seen tussling with newly-fledged Buzzards near his nest site. He also began venturing further and further away from the nest. Just two weeks after fledging, 33 disappeared for 26 hours! No-one knows where he went, but fortunately he returned safely. One day, (31st July) he even spent an afternoon on the Manton Bay nest, where he was treated as one of their brood!

33 (front middle) with the three Manton Bay juveniles

33 (front middle) with the three 2011 Manton Bay juveniles


33 returned to Rutland for the first time as a two-year-old on 11th May 2013. He was first spotted in Manton Bay, by Project Officer Paul Stammers and volunteer Mick Lewin, then later was seen back at his natal nest, Site B. In 2014, we all know what 33 did! He returned on 13th April and immediately began pestering Maya and 28(10) in Manton Bay. He did not give up until he chased 28 away and claimed the nest.

This year was a much happier story, with 33 and Maya raising three beautiful chicks together. 33 proved himself to be a very sweet and attentive Osprey. He appeared to enjoy spending time on the nest, more so than other males I have monitored. He was very into his incubating, even to the extent that if Maya didn’t move, he’d just join her!

Incubating together

Incubating together


He even sometimes plonked himself down in the nest when there was no incubating to be done!

33 having a sit down!

33 having a sit down – chicks 4 weeks old


33 was a brilliant partner to Maya and incredibly good at providing fish for his growing family! He has provided us with much entertainment and delight over the season. We are all incredibly happy that Maya and 33 returned to Manton Bay and bred successfully, and we hope they continue to breed here together in future years.

33 being sweet

Maya grabs its face

33 with the fish


The Story of Maya


Pronunciation – My-ah / M-eye-ah / Mi-yah

What we know of Maya comes from after she arrived at Rutland Water, as she is not a bird who was born here. Maya is an unringed female Osprey, who first came to Rutland Water in 2009, and stayed for that summer. We presume that, being unringed, Maya originates from Scotland, and was attracted to Rutland Water on her way back to her natal grounds. Maya did not arrive until June, which suggests she was a two-year-old returning to the UK for the first time.

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Maya in flight. Photo by John Wright.


Maya spent the summer of 2009 on the artificial nest on Lagoon 4, bonding with a Rutland-fledged male Osprey, 32(05). 32 was a four-year-old bird, born in Rutland in 2005, and was from the same clutch as our satellite-tagged female, 30(05). The pair did not breed, but both returned in 2010. Unfortuntately, that was the year in which two male Ospreys went missing suspiciously from Rutland, and 32(05) was one of them. Left alone, Maya began to look elsewhere for a mate, and she came across a lovely nest with a male holding territory on it. The nest was in Manton Bay, and the male was the now well-known 5R(04), a Rutland-fledged bird.

5R(04) and the Manton Bay female

5R and Maya. Photo by John Wright.


At the time, Maya did not have a name. She was always referred to as the Manton Bay Unringed Female, or some combination thereof. Over the next few seasons, this became tiresome, and we decided it would be much easier to talk about her, write about her and for people to relate to her if she had a name. It took a lot of discussion, not least as to whether we should name her at all, but also as to what to name her. Eventually we settled on Maya. Not only is it a lovely name, but it contains the first and last two letters in Manton Bay, albeit in a slightly different order. Also, Maya comes from the Greek Maia, who was the goddess of spring.

In 2010, Maya and 5R successfully raised three healthy chicks. Over the next three years, the pair raised another eight. Maya and 5R have a high return rate of their offspring (45%), as five of their young have since returned to Rutland!

5R and Manton Bay female in the nest with the chicks 11th May

5R and Maya with their chicks.


In 2014, unfortunately, 5R failed to return to Rutland. Those of you who followed the Manton Bay nest in 2014 will know this story. After weeks of anxious waiting, we came to realise, as did Maya, that he was not going to come back. Maya found a new partner in 28(10), a Rutland-fledged male, and she laid three eggs. But no sooner had the third been laid, the nest suffered persistent intrusions from 33(11), another Rutland male, who wanted the nest for himself. Eventually, 33 chased 28 away from his nest, and kicked out the eggs. After a while, 33 and Maya formed a bond, but it was too late to breed. It must have been a terribly confusing season for poor Maya, having been incubating eggs only to have them disappear, and not being able to raise chicks.

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33 chasing 28. Photo by John Wright.


The tale has a happy ending, though – in 2015, both Maya and 33 returned to Manton Bay and bred successfully! We hope that at least one of their three chicks – S1, S2 & S3 – will return to the area in 2017.

33, Maya and their one-week-old chicks

33, Maya and their one-week-old chicks

The three chicks of 2015

The three chicks of 2015


As we see Maya every day on the live webcam, we have come to know her very well as an individual. All Ospreys have unique, distinguishing characteristics, and Maya can easily be identified by the distinct markings on her head and face, in particular the cross that is visible on the back of her head. Also, every Osprey is individual in the ways in which they behave, and react to certain situations, though of course there are always generic similarities.

Maya is a beautiful Osprey

Maya is a beautiful Osprey


Maya is, as all Ospreys are, an extremely good mother, and is so very gentle when she is around her young. She knows just what they need, and is right there to give it to them 24/7, whether it be protection from the elements, protection from danger or satisfying their hunger. Even as they get older, and she spends less time on the actual nest with them, she still watches protectively over them. It was wonderful to watch her keeping an eye on them at fledging time – she accompanied each chick as they made their first flights, flying with them as though marshalling them and ensuring they were ok.

Maya keeping an eye on S3 during her first flight, photo by John Smallman

Maya keeping an eye on S3 during her first flight, photo by John Smallman


Maya doesn’t tend to stick to a reliable timetable when returning in the spring, and her return dates vary widely between 17th March and 6th April. We were all rather worried this season that she wasn’t going to return at all! The relief we all felt when she did is indescribable. Click here for that story!

In terms of leaving in the autumn, Maya bucks the trend of females being the first to migrate. In fact, she has never left first in all the years she has bred, and always waits until at least one chick has departed. This year, she was the last to leave, on 3rd September, and even 33 went before her. She was also the last to leave in 2011.

Something that we know about Maya is that she absolutely hates Egyptian Geese! She has good reason to, as they always try to steal her nest in the spring. She often enjoys chasing them around – here are some brilliant shots taken by John Wright this season!

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Maya also took a dislike to a Grey Heron this season…

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Maya is a beautiful, brilliant Osprey, and has now raised 14 chicks in her five years of breeding in Manton Bay. She has provided us with a fabulous insight into the nature of Osprey motherhood over the six seasons we have watched her. She has also provided us with some excellent entertainment! (See above). Whilst it would be nice to know the details of Maya’s history before she arrived in Rutland – where she was born, who her parents were etc – we must accept that this is knowledge we are never going to be privy to. Wherever she came from, we are happy that she is here, and we hope that she will breed in Manton Bay for many years to come.

Maya settling down to brood the chick

Maya, 2015