Here is the final instalment of Ken’s Diary…
It’s Sunday (the final day of the brilliant Birdfair), in a packed Waderscrape hide, and a little boy of about eight, who has been watching the Manton Bay Ospreys and all the other birds intently with his family for over an hour and asking really good questions, suddenly says to me ‘Do Ospreys go to Heaven?’ Just at that moment, by pure chance (or ill luck!) the hide is absolutely silent, and there is an almost tangible air of anticipation as twenty or so pairs of ears await a response as they continue to peer through their binoculars and telescopes..….. It is no good pretending I haven’t heard, or shifting the responsibility to another person. I am on my own.
‘I’m sure they do,’ I hear myself saying, thus in one second revealing, for all to hear, my own spiritual dilemma, unresolved even after several decades, in attempting to effect a reconciliation between Darwinian evolution and religion. I know there will be follow-up questions, and they come thick and fast as my young friend warms to his subject.
‘Is it the same as the Heaven I shall go to?’
‘Do all Ospreys go there, even if they’re bad?’
And finally :
‘How do you know so much about it?’
My responses are becoming more and more desperate, and my vivid description of this Osprey Valhalla as a fish-filled place of perfect bliss seems to be causing the whole hide to relax into a state of transcendental meditation…….when suddenly I am rescued by the appearance of an altogether different vision in the sky in front of us……
There is only one airworthy example of the Avro Vulcan Bomber left anywhere in the world, and, believe it or not, it is flying towards us at this very moment, heading north to south directly over Waderscrape hide, at no great height, to the consternation of most of the wildfowl on the reservoir, and the delight of all the observers here with me. For a few moments, binoculars are diverted away from the Ospreys, and ~ to my great relief ~ attention is moved away from the philosophical discussions of Osprey Heaven. Never did I think I would be so pleased to see this relic of the Cold War, but as it roars over leaving a trail of smoke behind it, one cannot deny that this is indeed a stirring sight. Codenamed XH558, this one is based at nearby Bruntingthorpe, and now takes part in air shows and flypasts all over the country. It occurs to me that whoever designed this aircraft must surely have been a moth fan ~ for the shape exactly recalls a member of the Geometridae, maybe an Orange Underwing or a Green Carpet (complete with camouflage stripes). Look them up in your moth book!
The Ospreys are unmoved by the Vulcan. I chat to visitors from Brazil and New York, all here for the Birdfair, and keen to tell me about the Ospreys back in their own country. The inquisitive boy and his family eventually leave; I hope I have done no damage to his spiritual development. The hide fills rapidly again, and as my relief team arrives, it literally is standing room only………
Just two days later, and with barely time for recovery after the enjoyable rigours of the three-day Birdfair, I find myself on the familiar walk to Site B, for the twenty–first (and last) time this season. Tim left me a message last night, warning me that there were only two members of the family still there now (03 and 3F), but I was welcome to go if I wanted to. So here I am.
In the distance I see a familiar vehicle coming up the track towards me, so I open the gate and wait for John Wright to pass through. He winds his window down and tells me there are no Ospreys at the site at the moment, but he can see a very distant one on a pylon further away, and wants to go round and check who it is. He says ‘I’m sure you’ll see some action this morning, but it’ll all be over in 24 hours.’ He drives on.
I walk on down towards the watch-point. The cloud is high. It’s dry, still and cool. If last week was ‘late summer’, this is decidedly ‘early autumn.’ 3F, whose gender is now officially female, is alone on the nest, preening, and then staring around. At 8.45 she becomes more animated, hopping around the nest before flying strongly along the front of the wood and away to the south-east.
‘Nothing remains but the nest…….’ I recall quoting Alan Poole a week or so ago. Anticipating that there might be periods today of total inactivity, I have actually brought a book with me. Now only a few days ago reading a book whilst on duty would have been seen as a gross dereliction of duty, a sacking offence even, but today it’s OK, and anyway it’s a super Osprey book by David Gessner ~ I’ve read it before, but never tire of it, especially at this point of imminent departure. No sooner have I found the chapter I want to read, when instinct tells me to look up and I see 3F back on the nest. She was away for just 23 minutes. Her food-begging calls begin, hopefully prompting 03 into action, wherever he is. Minutes later she is off again, away to the east this time. Off to find her Father I think.
I notice JW is back, a few hundred yards away, camera at the ready. And at 9.45, I see 03 approaching, a nice trout gripped firmly below. Within moments, 3F has also returned and taken the fish from the nest to the nearby perch, where she begins to eat with obvious relish and gusto. Fuelling up no doubt for the flight ahead. Her father looks on from another perch, preening and scratching. Occasionally he stops, stares, looks around ~ checking conditions perhaps, and the state of the flyways. I return my lens to 3F, just in time to see the tail of the trout disappear. She shakes her feathers, cleans her claws, and then launches off. It’s 10.35. I do not see her again.
Three minutes later. 03 is in the air too. Gentle rain is now falling, in keeping with the melancholy mood now pervading the site. He disappears to the back of the wood. 10.38. That could be it for the day. I pick the book up again :
I read aloud : ‘Ornithologists have a specific word for Walt Whitman’s ‘irresistible call to depart’. I know this passage virtually by heart, but I carry on reading anyway. ‘They call it Zugunruhe, a German word for the restlessness birds feel before they migrate…..it is the general unease, the bristling, of a creature about to embark on a journey.’
Well, I can certainly feel it today. Zugunruhe is definitely in the air, to be followed, inevitably, by die Wanderung, the migration itself. German words are so expressive and atmospheric!
The final action of the day ~ and of the season for me ~ comes at 10.44, when a ‘chipping’ intruder comes flying over. This one has a primary feather missing in the right wing. I note that JW’s long lens is already on it, and no doubt he will be able to tell us later who it is. After circling the wood for a while and eliciting no response from either 03 or 3F (if they are here), our visitor drifts away. The rain has stopped. ‘Nothing remains but the nest’, standing like an ancient ruin at the edge of a verdant canopy.
JW has gone, silently slipping away unnoticed. The last hour of my final shift. My own Zugunruhe kicks in as I await my time of departure. My mind goes back two days to the little boy who asked me about Osprey Heaven.
No need to imagine it anymore, or to invent fanciful answers. It’s here all the time, for those of us fortunate enough to visit it. We call it Site B.