Ken’s Diary

If it’s August in Rutland, it’s got be …….Birdfair!

9.00am, Friday morning, August 17th : Familiar sights, sounds and scents are infusing the Egleton site with a heady mix of sensations.  People are pouring in, intent on finding their way to a first lecture, a favourite stand, or an early bacon roll. Staff and volunteers in high visibility vests patrol, often in twos, occasionally responding to indistinct crackles from their walkie-talkie radios. Stand holders fuss around, putting last minute touches to displays or chatting nervously to neighbours. The sweet smell of crushed grass mingles with a hint of coffee, warm canvas, outdoorsy clothing, to be tinged with pizza, hog-roast and fish and chips as the morning progresses. ‘It’s now 9.00am,’ says the voice of Birdfair over the PA, ‘and the 2018 British Birdwatching Fair is officially open.’ I check into HQ, receive a smart cap courtesy of Swarovski, and thus suitably equipped, stride out to start the day. When did I last wear a cap like this? Years ago, but hey! This is Birdfair!

On the Osprey Stand at the LRWT outdoor display, staff and volunteers watch over a newly designed area which proudly showcases the Rutland Osprey Project. A massive TV runs filmed highlights from the famous Manton Bay nest, where Maya and her partner 33(11) have raised two healthy ospreylets this year – one already on her way south. Visitors gather around, while volunteers explain the footage. New posters, merchandise for sale and a display of Osprey-themed books (what else?) attract the attention of passing fair-goers. 

Osprey Stand

Perhaps the biggest attraction on the stand is the huge, soaring, life-sized wooden model of an Osprey hovering above his twig-laden nest, complete with cuddly Ospreys toys inside, and the invitation to ‘Send a message to Ozzie.’ Ozzie is Rutland’s own fictional Osprey – an amalgam of several famous real-life Ospreys we have had here over the years – and he is well-known all over the world thanks to a series of illustrated books written about his life and adventures. He is migrating about now for the umpteenth year, and wouldn’t it be fun if people wrote messages for him to welcome him back to Africa in a few weeks’ time? They will be taken out in November and will by a roundabout route make their way to an entirely new school in the village of Kartong. Everyone loves Ozzie – a talisman for the Project – always recognised, occasionally imitated, but never equalled.

Send a message to Ozzie

Ozzie!

Staff members and volunteers are hard-pressed to meet and greet every visitor to the Osprey stand. Some are regular, and exchange news while watching this year’s footage, but many more are here for the first time, maybe from distant parts of the UK, Europe and the world. Such is the magic of Birdfair. Among the visitors to the stand are some of our young ‘Osprey Ambassadors’ who have been watching the Manton Bay nest all season and relaying the news to their friends at home and at school. Scarlett has brought along her presentation on a famous Rutland Osprey – the Site B matriarch 05(00) – and she confidently explains this bird’s extraordinary contribution to the early success of the Project. 05 is not often given the limelight, her more famous partner 03(97) – ‘Mr Rutland’ – instead taking the plaudits, so it is very special to see Scarlett talking so well about her. Mum and Dad glow beside her.

One of our very first ambassadors, Sam, is with us at Birdfair for all three days this year, together with Mum Jo and brother Alex. For a twelve year old, his Osprey knowledge is immense, and he is happy to speak to visitors on even the most advanced aspects of these birds’ life cycles. He is also a skilled interviewer, seeking out his subjects and inviting them to the film set on our stand, before asking his guests a series of well-prepared questions appropriate to their positions. This year Sam renews his acquaintance with Mike Dilger, who tells us what he has been up since the last Birdfair. Mike has a surprise for Sam : he invites him to join in as he re-creates the mating calls and rituals of the Toucan Barbet, an elusive South American species with a strange bobbing dance and a distinctive call. The resulting scenario is hilarious and unforgettable – and all recorded on video!

Sams interview with Ken

Sams interview with Mike

Sam’s final interview on Sunday is with former Rutland Osprey leader Tim Mackrill, and he too is treated in the same relaxed and thoroughly professional manner. Afterwards Sam says ‘ It was fantastic to interview Tim – he is someone who has loved Ospreys from an early age – just like me!’ Sam’s brother Alex was even allowed to be the director of this interview, sitting behind the camera and wearing the earphones like a young Stephen Spielberg. These boys will go far.

Sams interview with Tim.

The team on the stand take it in turns to have breaks on all three days.  I use mine to wander around the marquees, pausing here and there to admire artwork, try on a jacket with hundreds of zips and pockets, look at a new book on African Raptors (I later bought it!), and cruise the various eateries. Above all though, I love to watch the people, young and old, chic and unkempt, earnest and relaxed, specialist and generalist, expert and beginner, introvert and extrovert, regular and newbie. I hope they all find what they are seeking here. I run into people I have not seen for years – old students and colleagues, visitors who have been to Lyndon during one of my Sunday shifts, boys and girls who have seen us in their schools.  ‘Look, darling, it’s the Osprey Man who gave you the Ozzie book,’ says one Mum to her son. She obviously does not remember my name. No problem – Osprey Man will do fine!

Birdfair moves into Saturday. Excitement mounts during the afternoon as I prepare to move around to Whitwell Creek and help with Simon King’s evening wildlife cruise on the ‘Rutland Belle.’ At the quayside the Belle is gently bobbing in the water and a crew member is preparing her for the cruise. People are standing around, waiting for Simon to arrive and start his commentary. We scan passengers’ tickets and they embark, quickly filling the top deck and open prow area below – a favourite spot for photographers. It is eerily quiet on board, but then Simon arrives and immediately lightens the atmosphere with his genial touch, greeting old friends and welcoming new ones. The Belle slips from her moorings and we start to scan the skies and shores for Ospreys, Terns, Egrets and more – all to the gentle accompaniment of Simon’s unhurried and thoughtful comments on everything we are seeing. ‘There is no black in the Arctic’ is his mnemonic for remembering the bill colours of Common and Arctic Terns. The Ospreys prove elusive, and we are fully forty five minutes into the cruise before we see one circling above the water. We watch while it surveys the water below, waiting for the smallest silvery glint that might betray a fish. After a while, it moves on, but then we spot another one, and a third even closer. As dusk descends over the Reservoir, we glide back into Whitwell, tired after a long day, excited by the soaring Ospreys, inspired by Simon King’s insight and knowledge regarding our planet and its wildlife.

Wildlife Cruise

Just a few hours later I am back at Whitwell for an early morning cruise with Nick Baker, Nigel Marven and another group of enthusiastic visitors. Nick arrives at 8.29 precisely for an 8.30 departure, and comes aboard to Nigel’s gentle ribbing. Today we have a truly international contingent with us – Nigel has brought a Swedish friend who now lives in Peru and is sporting a colourful hat bearing an image of a Chestnut-headed something. We also have passengers from Colombia, Australia’s North-eastern Territory, Sri Lanka and Georgia – as well, of course, as all points North, South, East and West in the UK. Once again, the Ospreys keep us in suspense, but no matter – we have on board a double-act of entertaining presenters who keep us amused and enthralled with their tales of wildlife encounters from every corner of their patches and further afield. Holly and I assist with some Rutland Osprey background for the benefit of visitors unfamiliar with the area. Nick and Nigel circulate in an unobtrusive way, encouraging young and old alike to share their views. In the absence of Ospreys this morning so far, Cormorants take centre stage. They get mixed reviews here in Rutland, but everyone has to admit they are remarkable, adaptable and resilient birds, with a superior air, a strangely disturbing light blue eye, and an all-round pterodactylic stance.

Suddenly, after almost an hour of chat and pleasant humour on board, a familiar shape flies towards us and the cry goes up : ‘Osprey!’  He flies past us, purposeful and direct. The skipper changes direction and we begin to follow him into a quiet and secluded bay, where he circles and begins his search. He dives a few times, pulling out at the last minute in a graceful arc, and resuming his quest. We leave him to it, and head out into the deep water again. Holly suddenly shouts and points : ‘Swifts!’ And there they are – perhaps ten or twelve, dashing and diving, soaring then swooping, testing our neck muscles as they power right above the boat before splitting and leaving us wondering which one to follow. Suddenly they are gone. That was amazing, thrilling. Nick and Nigel both love them, and give advice on how we can help them in their search for summer homes.  Maybe the last of the year for us here. I note the time and date : 9.40am, Sunday August 19th. A Birdfair highlight for sure. Now, two more Ospreys appear, one fairly close. Wait a minute – I think we recognise one of them. He has a kink in the primaries of his right wing, an injury sustained probably on migration at some point. So we know he is 28(10), a breeding male, born and bred here in Rutland, and with an interesting life-story. Cue more excited chatter as we watch him in his search for fish.

Back on the quayside, it’s time for thanks and good-byes. Nick and Nigel are extremely popular, and people want pictures with them before they hurry off to fulfil their obligations back on the Birdfair site. For Holly and me, it’s our final cruise of the season, so we reminisce for a while before heading off to our next duties for the day – she to ‘Wild Zone’, I to the Lyndon Reserve at Manton Bay for a Sunday afternoon shift at the Osprey nest.

Lyndon is pretty busy. People are making an early escape from Birdfair and coming over here for a last look at the Ospreys. And not just Ospreys – two statuesque Great White Egrets are out in the Bay, waders are dropping in on their long journey south, and there is a rumour of a marauding Peregrine. A distant speck on the far shore is apparently a Red-necked Phalarope – an unsatisfactory sighting in my opinion, but the cognoscenti are happy. Several visitors to the hide are sporting equipment obviously just purchased over at Birdfair – still in the boxes in some cases. One couple have a magnificent – and very expensive-looking – new piece of kit. It looks like binoculars at one end, but then merges into a telescope at the other – mounted on a sturdy tripod and complete with a carrying back pack. We all have a look. Yes, definitely a step-up from my trusty 25 year old Kowa. A small group of distant Green Sandpipers, feeding quietly on the shore further down the Bay, are immediately brought into sharp focus by this amazing equipment. I offer to swap it for my Kowa, even agreeing to throw in an extra £5…..but the owner is reluctant to part with his new device.  Oh well, the Kowa has done me proud all this time – no need to change it now.

Meanwhile the Manton Bay Ospreys continue to put on a good show for a steady stream of visitors. A few are pretty heavy twitchers, intent only on that distant speck of a Phalarope, which by now is completely invisible, even through that mega scope/bins thingy. Poor souls. They miss so much else in their quest for rarities. Takes all sorts I suppose. Others are far more normal and chatty. One man collects random feathers he finds on his walks, and would love an Osprey one for his collection. ‘Do they moult?’ he asks. ‘Yes, they do, but the feathers have a nasty habit of coming down in the water. If we see one descending from a flying Osprey, I’ll swim out and collect it for you.’ Without a smile he says ‘Thank you. That would be very kind of you.’

At times all three Ospreys are in the air together, flying around the Bay in grand style. At one point they are joined by a fourth, an intruder from another site paying a visit but not receiving a friendly welcome. Then they are still again, Maya on the perch, 33 in the poplar, 3AU on the nest and constantly caterwauling for fish. No movement from the male. Time to go and find one for yourself, son. Maya in particular has the air of one who wants to be gone, her whole demeanour suggesting it will not be long now. She sits for hours, facing south, waiting for the moment.

One final flourish before this amazing Birdfair weekend ends. As I am stowing the Kowa away a shout goes up ‘Hobby!’  Hang on, it’s not. Far too heavy, dark and deadly. Peregrine, as rumoured earlier. Keeping low over the Bay, it eventually arcs up into a poplar tree and is lost to view.  But it’s there, and we saw it. Even the disillusioned twitchers had to admire that.

Over on the other side of Lax Hill, Birdfair is packing up too. Reports will be written, numbers will be crunched, feedback will be requested, opinions sought. The celebs did their stuff, the debaters made their points, their messages delivered with passion and sincerity. The traders did well or not so well, the artists sold a few of their pictures, the tourist boards persuaded people to criss-cross the earth. We all talked, ate, drank, spent, networked, laughed, cried, talked some more, argued, cruised….in my case to the point of exhaustion. Would I have missed it? Of course not. And God willing, I’ll do it all again next year.

Lifting the Spirits : The Restorative Powers of Nature

To some, the briefest glimpse of a bird eating a fish on the edge of a large nest in gloomy surroundings might not be the perfect antidote to winter blues. But yesterday, for me and thousands of others, that sighting triggered the most remarkable transformation and life-affirming euphoria. ‘She’s back’. Two words. Incredible joy. Shared passion. Kindred spirits. Lifelong friendships.

For the uninitiated, explanations were necessary. Why the excitement? What’s so special? They come back every year, don’t they?

Well yes, some of them do. A lot don’t. In this case, an Osprey which has been watched by thousands from the hide every summer, and by millions, probably billions, via the internet throughout the world, has flown in from goodness knows where and landed on her nest – just as she has in the years gone by. We have a female Osprey back in the Bay – which means we will have a proper Osprey season here : for hopefully the male will follow, the sturdy 33(11), faithful partner of the last few years and yet another son of the prodigious and prolific 03(97).  But even (heaven forbid!) if he does not, there will be another male to court her, and be father to another brood of ospreylets.

My mind still thrills to a day in late season 2009, in the old Wader Scrape hide, when John Wright spotted an Osprey coming down the shore towards us from the east. After a second or two he said ‘It’s that unringed female I’ve seen a few times recently. Looks like a two or three year old. Scottish in origin probably. She looks interested. Maybe next year…..’ As we watched she cruised closer to the nest platform, where 5R(04) – without a mate that year – was on guard. He rose to join her, and they chased around the Bay, soaring over Heron Bay, up the slope of Lax Hill and then out of sight towards the deeper reservoir. John smiled. He had his photos. If she appeared again next season, he would know her instantly.

Of course, as we all know now, this was Maya – and as John had surmised, she did come back in 2010, where the legendary 5R(04), son of the patriarch 03(97) was waiting for her. She was not Maya then. She was ‘the unringed Manton Bay female’, or UMBF as she appears in my annual notebooks. Such a fabulous creature deserves a better designation than UMBF – and it was two former Project staff members Lucy and Kayleigh who came up with the idea that she should have a name. They asked for suggestions, using the letters from ‘Manton Bay’ – and after much discussion and consultation, they chose the name Maya – in some cultures an ancient goddess, for others the name of a long lost civilisation – but for us now, and hopefully for some years to come, our breeding female Osprey in the Bay.

Her subsequent history is well documented elsewhere. Successful breeding with 5R(04) in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 meant record numbers of visitors to the Lyndon Centre each year, and strong and healthy offspring, all of which have been ringed and some seen again in recent years in Rutland and other regions. The troubles of 2014, when the hugely popular 5R(04) failed to return and aerial battles were waged daily over the bay by rival suitors 28(10) and 33(11), may have excited photographers who were thrilled to capture these skyward acrobatics, but for many of us the sight of Maya on the nest, her clutch (with 28(10))destroyed by the stronger 33(11), was very sad.

Such is the way with Ospreys, and in 2015, 33(11) quickly turned from villain to hero when he returned, his rights by now fully asserted and confirmed, as the Master of the Bay. And so it has been ever since. If he returns this year – and we all fervently hope he does – this will be their fourth year together in the Bay.

Maya is now perhaps eleven or even twelve years old. Two long-term mates (5R and 33) and one ill-fated liaison (28), multiple broods of (for the most part) healthy chicks. She is, together with her partner, the public face of the Rutland Osprey Project, and everyone here – volunteers, staff, visitors – hold her in great esteem. Her return each year is greeted – if not quite with dancing in the streets of Oakham (although I would have yesterday if I hadn’t been driving when the message filtered through…) with terrific scenes of joy and happiness. Newly appointed Osprey officer Anya was away in Manchester with two colleagues (Holly and Sarah) on a course yesterday, but I could hear the excitement, the genuine thrill, the sense of real involvement, in her voice as she told me that there was an Osprey in the Bay, and Lloyd was out there checking it out……could it be her? It’s got to be her…..but maybe it isn’t. We have to be sure. I could hear Holly and Sarah chatting in the background. We have to wait.

I pulled into a lay-by, and just sat. After so many years of doing this, was I surprised to find myself so excited and thrilled that (maybe) Maya was back? No, not surprised at all. Just relieved that those feelings are still there, the magic has not gone away, the heartbeats are still quickening, the sense of anticipation still heightened. The confirmation will not be long in coming.

 She’s back. I feel good about it. And so do so many of my friends, colleagues, and students I have met in schools, colleges and universities. That’s what Nature has done for me, for them, for all of us. And where am I going now? Off to the Bay, of course, to have a look at Maya.

 

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Postscript : Just two days later, another arrival. And it’s the one we hoped for. Double celebration – and this time I can dance in the street! Outside Ketton School, where we have just presented, it’s hard to stop spreading the word – passers by, a man digging up the street, a bus driver. They all know now.  We have a couple, Maya and 33(11).  2018 is up and running. I’m heading back to the Bay. Within a few hours, over 21,000 people around the world have opened the Facebook message announcing the news. Let’s hope the news has lifted their spirits too, wherever they are.

High Summer Ospreys: A Midweek Cruise

A blog entry by Education Officer Ken Davies.

At 4.45pm in Whitwell Creek on Wednesday August 2nd the wind is howling through the trees and the water is churning into white crests. Rain falls in gusty spasms, visibility is poor, the temperature is low.  In the café, a few hardy souls sit and look out of the windows, huddled over their cups of tea. Children amuse themselves with games, phone apps and other diversions. Two couples are outdoor types, binoculars on the table in front of them, their sober-coloured clothing ready to help them brave the elements.

Yes, this is high summer at Rutland Water, and in just over an hour eighty people are off on a cruise aboard the ‘Rutland Belle’ to see some of the fabulous Ospreys!

The Rutland Belle

The Rutland Belle

It’s 5.00pm and the café closes, forcing people outside. I sit on a bench near the quay, the Belle just a few metres away, bobbing in the water and straining at her moorings. No sign of Captain Matt and his crew. I get the passenger list out on my clip-board, trying to protect it from the rain, and prepare to check people off as they walk down from the car-park towards the quay. The first to check in are the people who were in the café just now, and I re-assure them about the weather. ‘It’s brightening up, it will be fine by 6.00pm, and anyway this is good weather for Osprey-spotting. The rain brings the insects down to the surface, and it also oxygenises the water, making the fish more active, which of course attracts the attention of the Ospreys.’ Some accept this as a little piece of local knowledge, but others give me a quizzical look and obviously don’t believe a word. ‘We’ll see nothing in this weather’, I hear one chap say to his partner. They obviously think I’m quite mad, sitting there in a voluminous anorak and waterproof trousers, predicting a cruise full of ospreys, and brandishing a damp passenger list on which the ink is already starting to run.

Over the next half hour, more and more people arrive and check in. Our passengers tonight have come from near and far – one large group consists of members of our own Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust, while another group have travelled down from Cumbria in the north and have spent most of the day on the Lyndon Reserve meeting the Project staff and volunteers. Ospreys are now breeding in Cumbria too. One member of the Cumbrian Wildlife Trust group is Paul Waterhouse, who began his career in conservation here with the Rutland Osprey Project back in the early days. So good to see you again, Paul! Another man checks in and reminds me he came on a cruise last year and only saw one distant Osprey which ‘could have been anything. I’m not getting off the boat tonight until I’ve had some decent views,’ he says. I think he means it!

As the crowd on the quay gets larger, Jackie and Pete circulate to issue exit tickets for the car-park and to answer visitors’ questions. ‘Will it stop raining?’ ‘How many Ospreys will we see?’ ‘Are there toilets on board?’ Answers : Yes, lots, yes. Our Information Officer Holly is here tonight too – not on duty, but accompanying her family members who have come to see what she does every day! And we will have the trusty volunteer contingent on board too, to inform passengers and point out Ospreys and other wildlife to them.  Finally Matt and his crew appear as if by magic. Were they on board the whole time? Uniforms are crisply ironed and smart. Matt stands by the gangplank and indicates that embarkation may commence. He also clicks a counter to check numbers – let’s hope we agree when everyone is on!

After an orderly loading, I check the lists and conclude that everyone named on the paperwork is present and correct. And guess what? As I look out beyond the Creek onto the open water, visibility is improving, the clouds are lifting, the rain is stopping, and………….best of all, there is an Osprey sitting on the topmost point of the Limnological Tower in the middle of the reservoir!! Wow…and the Belle hasn’t even slipped her moorings yet!

As Matt goes through the important safety procedures and rules, we are itching to get out there and connect with this Osprey! Which one is it? Will it stay around this part of the water and look for a fish? Will everyone get a good look at it? We glide away, all binoculars focussed on the Osprey, which soon leaves its perch and starts to circle around, gaining height, looking down and obviously in fishing mode. Jackie is on the microphone, encouraging everyone wherever they are on the boat to keep watching. Incredibly the first Osprey is joined by a second, and for a few moments they interact and engage together, before separating and going about their tasks, one over the dam at the end of the reservoir, the other away on the other side at the entrance to one of the arms. Jackie does a running commentary, keeping passengers abreast of the Ospreys’ movements. ‘Osprey to starboard’, ‘Osprey to port at 3 o’clock’.  This works for some, but the group near me have no idea what I am talking about, so I revert to ‘On the left, just by the church tower’, or even ‘Over your head’ and ‘Just behind you!’

The weather improves by the minute, and there is hardly a gap in the excitement as the Ospreys continue to look for fish and Matt skilfully steers the Belle towards them. I see the man I overheard earlier saying ‘We’ll see nothing in this weather’, but I don’t say ‘I told you so.’ He seems happy and is clicking away with his expensive-looking camera. Downstairs the bar is doing good business, and groups of people are gathering by the windows looking out over an improving evening and enjoying a glass of wine too. Our friends from Cumbria are on the open prow, taking everything in and mentally envisaging what could happen up there in the north in the next few years. All very exciting. Pete is giving them the background to all the educational work we do here with our local schools and youth groups. Holly’s group is having fun too, with their own personal guide and expert osprey spotter!

Back up on the top deck, conditions are….well, not exactly balmy, but a hundred times better than looked likely an hour ago. We are now in another arm of the Reservoir. An Osprey (maybe the same one) is in view, really close, patrolling up and down, circling, descending, half-diving, pulling out…… my goodness, what a show this one is putting on! Worth the money on its own! ‘Which one is it?’ asks someone. Well, in the absence of John Wright, all I can say is that it’s a male, probably a breeding male fishing for his mate and juveniles. That cuts it down to eight, and I know it’s not 28(10) because there is no misshapen wing, so that cuts it down to seven. The questioner looks satisfied, thank goodness! And then it happens…..the highlight of the cruise, and even the season…….

28 is distinguishable by his wonky wing - a bird we did not see on Wednesday!

28 is distinguishable by his wonky wing – a bird we did not see on Wednesday!

After several half-dives, false starts and pull-outs, the Osprey hits the water in a full-blown dive, not far from the shore, giving everyone on board a super view as Matt keeps the Belle idling side-on in the water. Seeing an Osprey dive like that is one of the great wildlife moments for any one of us, and even experienced watchers still thrill with excitement whenever they are privileged to witness it. The shape, the speed, the last second forward movement of the legs and the opening of the dynamic talons, all combine in just a few moments of life-enhancing magic! No-one can guarantee it, but when it happens, it’s wonderful.

The atmosphere on the top deck is electric, the gasp of admiration audible as the bird hits the water. Now we wait. Has he caught? Is he as we watch manipulating a fish in his talons so that he can use his powerful shoulder muscles and wings to heave it from the water? Next moment we know…..he rises on his wings, and the silvery glint beneath him reveals that he has indeed caught his prey. The drama is not yet over. As he rises to tree-top level and prepares to orientate himself and take the fish back to his mate and family, another Osprey attempts to intercept him. The two engage for a minute – the successful hunter cannot risk losing his fish, but on the other hand he cannot ignore an interloper who may be preparing to invade his territory. Thankfully, the encounter does not last too long, and after a moment when the fish seemed to dangle precariously from one talon, it is secured again and the hunter proceeds over the tree-tops and away to deliver his prey, while the intruder sinks low and flies back up the reservoir.

Further sightings follow, but nothing can top what we have just witnessed. Wine is flowing again downstairs, and a rosy glow permeates the whole boat. We try and chat to all our guests, and make sure they are enjoying their evening out with us. My final view of an Osprey tonight is one sitting in the exact same spot on the top of the tower – just where we saw him about an hour and a half ago. All our Ospreys have ‘favourite perches’ here, on migration, and in Africa – I wonder where he will be in two or three months time?

The cloud is closing in again and the light is failing as the Belle glides back into Whitwell Creek at the end of a memorable cruise. A few raindrops are falling. Jackie ends her commentary by thanking people for coming and wishing them a safe journey home. We hope they all enjoyed it. After a few formalities, the crew prepare to cover the Belle for the night, and the busy car-park soon empties. I am last to leave. I can hardly see the Tower now, but I imagine the Osprey still on there, eyes occasionally flicking closed as he rests in the gathering dusk. We entered his world for a while, but now it’s his again.

July Days with the Osprey Education Team

Here is a report from Education Officer Ken Davies on the work of the Osprey Education Team this month!

An End of Term Report

Reading Ozzie in Wader Scrape Hide (Roger Harrison)

Reading Ozzie in Wader Scrape Hide (Roger Harrison)

‘It must be nice to work here every day’, said one of our young visitors at the Lyndon Reserve recently, as we walked down together to Wader Scrape hide with her friends and Brownie leaders. ‘It is,’ I replied, ‘and that’s not only thanks to the Ospreys and the other fantastic wildlife that surrounds us all the time, but it’s also down to the hundreds of friendly and enthusiastic people like you who visit the Reserve every single day of the week, and also to the brilliant staff and volunteers we work with here.’ My young friend thought for a minute, and then said ‘I’ll come and work here when I grow up, if that’s OK.’ ‘It’s fine’, I replied, ‘you’ll be very welcome.’

These July days are good times to be living and working around Rutland Water. The Manton Bay Osprey pair have raised two strong and healthy fledged juveniles and it looks very likely that we shall have a very good number of juveniles fledging from the other seven nests. As usual, the Lyndon Reserve is pulling in visitors in great numbers and our schools and youth group diary has been full to overflowing with bookings in the mornings, afternoons and evenings. Osprey Cruises are once again so popular that there is hardly a space left, and the Reserve wildlife log-book has recorded spectacular sightings of moths, butterflies, bats, reptiles, beetles and rare plants, not to mention the fantastic birdlife on view the whole time down here in the Bay – Water Rails, Barn Owls, Great White Egrets……and so many more, including of course the wonderful Ospreys!

My Brownie friend ran on ahead to join her friends on the track, and I reflected on that brief exchange with her. Yes, she was right, it is ‘nice’ to work here! More than that. It’s exciting. Amazing. Exhilarating. Rewarding. And lots of other sentiments too. When I returned home later that evening, I just flicked back in my diary to the beginning of July. Here are the brief edited highlights of the past fortnight or so, concentrating on the end-of-term activities of the Osprey Education Team.

We began July with another visit to Stamford High School, where a large group of forty Year 9 students awaited us. Before we had even started our presentation, one girl told us that she lived on a farm near the Lyndon Reserve, and her father often reported Ospreys flying over his fields! Lucky him! Twenty four hours later and we are entertaining a younger group from a school on a visit to us – Brooke House School in Cosby, Leicestershire. It’s the first time they’ve been here to see the Ospreys, and their reactions seem to suggest it won’t be the last! A very pleasant day with super young people!

Brooke House School, Cosby (Pete Murray)

Brooke House School, Cosby (Pete Murray)

Brooke House School, Cosby (Pete Murray)

Brooke House School, Cosby (Pete Murray)

 

One day later, and a rare morning off! I take the chance to drive just a few miles over the Nottinghamshire border to link up with a small group of European Bee-eaters which have taken up residence near a working quarry. We manage to see five of them – dazzling birds with a startling array of wonderful colours in their plumage. They fly high, then land with their prey, calling all the time, busy, energetic creatures going about their lives completely unfazed by the watching crowd! Am I in Central England? Surely this must be the Camargue or maybe Andalucia! A Hobby appears in the sky, dancing around with the Bee-eaters, Swifts and Martins. A blue sky, full of wildness! I love it!

PICTURE 04-IMG_1743ADJ

Another day, and back to business! It is my contention that there is only one school in the UK that can actually WALK its students out of their classrooms and be watching Ospreys within a few minutes! Of course it’s Edith Weston School, or, as we like to call it ‘Osprey School No.1’! The whole school is coming to see the Ospreys over a period of a week, and today it’s the turn of the younger Key Stage 1 boys and girls. They arrive in a flurry of excitement, and soon we are ‘off to see the Ospreys’, all equipped with special child-friendly binoculars, chatting, pausing to look at damsel flies, butterflies and loads of sombre Cormorants sitting quietly in the dead trees in the water. As we enter the hide, we sense something very special has just happened…..and it has!! At 10.14am precisely, just half an hour before our arrival, one of the juvenile Ospreys took its maiden flight, and now sits, a little uncertainly, on the far leaning perch! Maya shadowed its flight, but has now returned to her own perch closer to the nest. Everyone in the hide, from the youngest (aged six) to the oldest (probably me!) is transfixed, willing the youngster to fly again! By the time we leave the hide, there have been no more flights, but to be there on such a day is a special memory for everyone.

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During the afternoon, my colleagues Jackie and Pete take the chance to go off and see the Bee-eaters, based on my account of yesterday, but they are back in plenty of time to receive our next group of visitors – the wonderful Oakham Brownie Unit, together with their accompanying collection of ‘Owls’ – was it Brown, Tawny or Snowy this time? We have met these Brownies before, in their HQ in Oakham, so they are already quite expert – in fact one of them is now an Osprey Ambassador for us in her own school. Holly joins us, and after a brief introduction in the Centre, off we go down to the hide again – a colourful procession in shades of yellow and brown! Almost as colourful as the Bee-eaters! The second juvenile Osprey has not fledged yet, but it could be any moment…

Bee-eater (Pete Murray)

Bee-eater (Pete Murray)

 

What a week it’s been so far! And it’s not over yet! On Friday evening there is a special cruise on board the ‘Rutland Belle’ for members of the ‘Wildlife Watch’ – a group organised by the Leics & Rutland Wildlife Trust. They have been meeting monthly all through the year, and this is their family event to end their programme for the summer. Sadly for me, on my way to Whitwell Creek to join the cruise, the Great North Road becomes the Great North Car-park, and I am still a few miles away when the Belle is due to cast off. As I stand disconsolately on the jetty, all alone, with the Belle a distant shape out on the reservoir, my mobile sounds and it’s Skipper Matt! He has spotted me, and is coming back for me! Minutes later, to the accompaniment of some ribbing from the crew, I am installed on board, and we have a lovely cruise, with six or seven Osprey sightings, and plenty of other wildlife too. Thanks Matt!

PICTURE 07-IMG_1829 PICTURE 08-IMG_1835

After the briefest of respites, it’s ‘all systems go’ again on Sunday, as we welcome our student representatives from local schools for their latest ‘Ambassador Sunday’ in Wader Scrape hide. The second juvenile Osprey has now fledged, so the theme for today has to be ‘Fledging and Flight’, and Pete updates each ambassador’s memory stick with the latest pictures so that they can share them back in their schools in the days ahead. Jackie has prepared a script, so our young reporters are well primed to deliver the latest news. One set of ambassadors from Uppingham have even been invited to visit another school to spread the word! The enthusiasm and ingenuity of these young people is very re-assuring and heart-warming. Several of our Year 6 ambassadors tell us they have already taken steps to appoint new representatives to take their places next year when they move on to new schools – and of course we hope they will remain as ambassadors once they are settled in their respective secondary schools. Some are even planning official ‘handovers’ and training their replacements! We shall continue to have ‘Ambassador Sundays’ in August (13th) and September (3rd) for those that can make it, and on Sunday October 1st we are planning a ‘Grand Ambassadors Party’ to thank them all (and their parents) for all their hard work in promoting the Rutland Ospreys this season. Has anyone got a jelly-mould in the shape of an Osprey?

Great Casterton Primary (Pete Murray)

Great Casterton Primary (Pete Murray)

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The following week (beginning July 10th) is just as busy as the previous one, with visits to Lyndon by 28 Year Six students from All Saints Academy in March, Cambridgeshire, the second stage of the Edith Weston ‘Walk to see the Ospreys’ tour of the South Shore,, two evening cruises on board the ‘Rutland Belle’, and finally on Friday a special Celebration Assembly at Casterton Primary, near Stamford. We have been invited to join in the celebrations of achievements of various kinds, and our job is to award the First and Third Prizes to two groups of students who sent their entries in for our ‘Ospreys and Us’ film competition. We show the winning entry to the whole school, before handing out the certificates and book prizes. It is a lovely occasion. There are also prizes for a student who wrote an epic story called ‘Finding Ozzie’, and another for a girl who drew a lovely picture of Ospreys in Africa. Perhaps the best moment is when our two outgoing ambassadors, Sam and Louie, introduce and hand over their duties to the new Casterton Ambassadors team. It’s all looking good for next season!

At home that weekend I go through the diary and start to add up the numbers of young people (aged 5 – 16), to whom we have presented, either in their own schools or here at the Lyndon Reserve. To my surprise, the total so far, up to and including 14th July, is a staggering 2997. With one week to go before all the schools have broken up, it looks like we are going to beat our record number, set last year, of students who have been ‘ospreyed’ here!

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And that record goes tumbling on the first day of the new week (July 17th), when Jackie and Pete go to Edith Weston Primary for one last time this season, to address the assembly and present yet more prizes. Later that day, Holly joins us as we entertain our last visit of the term – a splendid group from Prince William School in Oundle, Northamptonshire! These Year 7 and 8 students have already formed their own ‘Osprey Club’ and have been following the webcam since Maya and 33(11) returned in the Spring. I think we shall be seeing some of them again! And to top things off perfectly, during today we passed the magic figure of 3000 students, with our final total being a record-breaking 3071!

There can be no greater thrill for a writer than to come across someone actually reading his or her book! It happened to me a couple of Sundays ago, when I arrived at the Lyndon Centre to find a girl sitting in the corner with a copy of ‘Ozzie Leads the Way’! I learned later that her Dad had bought it for her earlier that morning, and she had spent time in the hide reading it (after getting a good look at the Ospreys of course!), carried on reading it on the path on the way back, then in the Centre itself, and even on the steps outside the pub where the family went for lunch! Her name is Jessica. I hope she sees this. A few days later, I received an e-mail from her Dad, with a little note from Jessica :

Dear Ken, Hello, it’s Jessica. I have now finished my book and I really, really, like it! Thank you for my badge and your signature. I like the part when Ken goes to Africa and meets all the children. What is your favourite part? I think you should make another book like that (as I really loved this one). Thank you for making such a lovely book for everyone and I hope you enjoyed reading this. From Jessica xxx.

Thank you Jessica! And yes, I certainly did enjoy receiving your letter!

I hope it is clear now why we enjoy this job so much, and why we feel it is such a privilege to be involved every day with spectacular wildlife, talented, committed and passionate colleagues, the splendid volunteer force, and so many hundreds of enthusiastic and wonderful young people and their supportive families. As another school term comes to an end and our thoughts turn to our Osprey Family Fun Day (August 1st) and the ever popular Birdfair (August 18th – 20th), thank you to everyone who has helped us enjoy ‘An Osprey Summer, 2017.’

Jessica and Ozzie! (Roger Harrison)

Jessica and Ozzie! (Roger Harrison)

 

Ken’s Education Update

A Hide full of Beavers, a Visit from ‘Ladies in Red’, a Letter from Rhiannon, Assemblies in St Ives, a Saturday Afternoon in Oundle, Osprey Ambassadors on a Sunday Afternoon in Wader Scrape hide………and on tour in the Basque Country! By Ken Davies.

The Osprey Education visits diary is full to overflowing here at the Lyndon Reserve just now, as local schools and youth organisations flock in to see the growing Osprey family in Manton Bay! The next four weeks are jam-packed with bookings from schools all over the area, and our young Osprey Ambassadors are working hard to keep their fellow students up to date with the very latest Osprey news! Our colleagues Jackie and Pete Murray are currently taking the Osprey Roadshow to new audiences in the Basque area of Northern Spain, and they have already given presentations to two schools which visited the Urdaibai Bird Centre over there! We’re looking forward very much to reading their reports on here when they return next week.
Meanwhile back here at Lyndon, we’ve entertained many groups from local schools, and been out to several more with our presentations and updates. Here are some highlights and a few photos from recent days :

A Hide full of Beavers : The visit of the 1st Stamford Beavers was one of the highlights of early June! After a brief introduction in front of the screen in the Visitor Centre, we were off to Wader Scrape, where the Osprey pair put on a terrific show, enabling everyone to see both Maya and 33(11) very clearly, and their chicks too. The Beavers worked hard to complete the Osprey-related tasks in their books, and by the end of the visit we agreed that they were all real ‘Osprey Experts’!

Beavering away in the hide!

Beavering away in the hide!


The Ladies in Red : A Year 8 group from Stamford High School arrived looking resplendent in red track-suit tops, and they made a colourful sight as we took them and their teachers down to the hide. Many of these students were really knowledgeable regarding the Ospreys and other wildlife, and some of their questions were searching and challenging! For example…..Why don’t any Ospreys breed in Africa? Why don’t males and females stay together over the winter? Why do adult females often leave their chicks and start to migrate in August? Enquiring minds promising for the future! And several were happy by the end of the visit to refer to Pandion Haliaetus rather than the usual ‘Osprey’!
A study in concentration! Five new Osprey Experts! (Pete Murray)

A study in concentration! Five new Osprey Experts! (Pete Murray)


I think they had a good time!

I think they had a good time!


A Letter from Rhiannon: I remember one Sunday afternoon in August last year a young man and his daughter came in to Wader Scrape hide to study the Ospreys at the nest. They were both enthusiastic and very keen to learn as much as they could. My story ‘Ozzie Leads the Way’ had just been published in time for Birdfair 2016, so I thought it might be nice to give a copy to this girl. ‘On one condition’, I added as she started to read it immediately, ‘that you write to me and tell me what you think of it.’ She said she would. I completely forgot about it over the winter, but you can imagine how pleased and surprised I was to find an envelope addressed to me pinned up on the office notice-board, and inside a letter from Rhiannon, with a review of the book! And here it is!
Rhiannon's letter

Rhiannon’s letter


Thank you Rhiannon……and I’m glad you liked the book!
Assemblies in St Ives: No, not the St Ives in Cornwall – there’s another one (just as nice!) near Huntingdon, and I was invited to give two Osprey assemblies at a fantastic primary school there called Thorndown. Over two days last week, with the help of Miss Gray and her eco-team, we spoke to over 500 children and gave them the full ‘Osprey Experience’ ! Miss Gray’s class is called (appropriately) ‘Osprey Class’, and they are now practising one of the Osprey songs we always end our assemblies with! Go-ahead schools like this, with an eco-team which meets weekly, and an annual ‘Eco-week’, are a pleasure to visit! Happy children, smiling teachers, good vibes everywhere! Thank you for letting us come and see you!
With the Thorndown Eco-team (and a wooden Ozzie!)

With the Thorndown Eco-team (and a wooden Ozzie!)


A Saturday Afternoon in Oundle: Osprey Team members often receive requests to talk to adult groups as well, and we are pleased to do so. Last Saturday I was in Oundle, speaking to a group called ‘Friends of Oundle Library’. It’s a nice opportunity to use a more advanced presentation, and to talk in detail about Osprey biology, breeding, migration, wintering behaviour, satellite tracking, conservation and so on. It’s also a good fund-raiser for us, and I would like to thank the ‘Friends’ for their generosity! Over £100 in book sales and donations towards the Osprey Project. One thing in common with school presentations – we finished with an Osprey song!
Osprey Ambassadors in Wader Scrape hide : The theme of this month’s ‘Ambassador Sunday’ was ‘Ringing’, and the ambassadors received updates on their memory sticks to take back and share with their classmates or in school assembly. It was extremely hot on Sunday, and the Osprey family was not very active, but our team of brilliant helpers had plenty for the ambassadors to do, including fitting them all with a blue wrist or ankle ring, similar to the ones fitted to the chicks this week, except that our young ambassadors could choose the letters and numbers on their rings! The Ambassador Scheme has really taken off this year, and nearly all our local primary schools are represented. Further ‘Ambassador Sundays’ are planned for July 9th, August 13th and September 3rd, and the themes for each one will relate to that particular stage of the juvenile Ospreys’ development – the last one, sadly, being ‘Departure on Migration’ !
Future Events, new schemes, our rationale: As I hope this quick snapshot of our work over the past fortnight shows, there are many facets to the educational work undertaken by team members. At the centre of it, of course, the Ospreys themselves : the re-establishment of a formerly lost breeding species, its gradual recovery and increasing range, is surely a testament to the pioneering vision of the early founders of the Project and the tireless volunteers. Education has always been an integral part of the Project’s work, and this has borne fruit in the fact that many of the young people involved in those early years are now in the forefront of conservation themselves, including a certain Dr Tim Mackrill! And people we first met in their schools are now reading for first degrees and research degrees in Ecology, Wild Animal Conservation and many other subjects in universities all over the UK. We like to think that some of our current crop of Osprey Ambassadors will one day lead wildlife-related projects of their own. So why not bring your family to our Osprey Family Fun Day (August 1st), or visit us on the Osprey Stand during Birdfair (August 18th – 20th)? For someone in your life, it could be the start of something big!
Finally, a reply to my young friend Rhiannon and her Dad, using the words of the great Rachel Carson, who first alerted us back in the 60’s to the fragile and delicate nature of the planet of which we are the current custodians :
‘If a child is to keep her inborn sense of wonder, she needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with her the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.’
(The Sense of Wonder, 1965)

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