Hatching at Site B

It’s been a exciting morning at Site B. Volunteer Ken Davies was there to see the action unfold…

Tuesday May 21st : A Hat Trick of Hatchings!

I awoke with a start at 5.30 this morning and was immediately alert and ready for action. It’s ‘Day 37’ of incubation at Site B, and I have a very strong premonition that the first egg will hatch today. Maybe it was because my breakfast egg cracked while it was boiling, or maybe it’s because I’m ‘on a roll’ after being very close by when the two Manton Bay eggs hatched at the weekend. Whatever it is, I can feel it…I’ve got to get there, got to be nearby when 03 and his mate show by their behaviour that a new life is in the nest…..

I pass familiar sights on my drive to the parking place. There is the lady jogger with two dogs on leads getting tangled up as usual, there is the sad-looking girl waiting for her school bus (cheer up! An Osprey might hatch today!), and there are the bin men in their bright yellow lorry ( personalised registration C4 RUT). I get stuck behind an aged Land Rover towing a rickety trailer containing two bewildered calves to a nearby Tuesday market and an uncertain fate. At last I arrive. It’s grey, slightly drizzly and very cool. I get kitted up and start the walk. It’s got to be today. I’ve never had such a strong feeling of anticipation.

My pace quickens. No time to stop by the gate, nor to pause to listen to the flutings of the Blackcaps and Garden Warblers on the way. From far off I see a familiar black vehicle straddled across the track, facing the eyrie. It’s JW. His predictions of imminent hatchings are always accurate, so perhaps he is at this moment witnessing the happy event. I mustn’t run ~ that would be undignified and probably dangerous with all this kit on and a rucksack on my back. I keep hidden by the wood edge until I am adjacent to the vehicle, and then cautiously approach. Of course John saw me ages ago in the distance and greets me cheerfully. ‘There’s definitely a chick in there’, he says, ‘hatched around 6-ish probably. 03 left a fish at the nest, and the female has offered three pieces down there in the cup, although probably the little one is not up to accepting it just yet.’ It’s brilliant news. 03 has got his 28th chick ~ and the prospects for more to come. He has been back to the nest, but is unwilling to brood the chick and remaining eggs. ‘He looks flustered’, John says ‘and stays on the edge of the nest before flying to the ash tree.’ As I watch, I see what John means. 03 is alert, edgy, moving from foot to foot. I find myself doing the same ~ John and (to a lesser extent) I have witnessed this post-hatching behaviour before, but every time the feelings of elation and pure delight are almost overwhelming. A successful outcome is still a long way off for this hour-old little osprey, but first signs are good ~ a reward to this pair for all their heroic endeavours in the snow, wind and rain that they (and we!) have had to endure since their return in mid-March.

By watching the behaviour of the adult birds at Site B, John knew the first chick had hatched.

Suddenly I remember I have a colleague to relieve at the watch-point, so I leave John and arrive just a few minutes late! She too has watched every movement. She saw John in the distance, and was about to report him as an intruder before realising his identity!

I settle in and pour a cup of coffee to calm my excitement. I start to scribble these notes, but have to stop as 03 once again flies to the nest and warily paces around the edge, looking downwards. He picks up the fish and tears a few pieces off for himself. The female has taken the opportunity to have a comfort break, but doesn’t go far away. Again, 03 chooses not to brood, but flies to a pruned tree, adopting an unfamiliar stretched and extended body shape which I don’t remember seeing before. Even after 28 hatchings, he is excited. Seeing he has left the nest unattended, his female zooms back and resumes her duties, but not before having a few bites at the fish herself. She does not offer any downwards ~ that will come this afternoon probably. JW has gone, as usual slipping away unnoticed.

I settle again. A scuttling around my feet distracts me for a second, and I see a tiny shrew (species indeterminate, but very small!) running into a corner of the shed before disappearing into a tiny hole. Soon it’s out again. Its long quivery snout takes in the smells of coffee, cheese rolls and banana. In the absence of any human company, I tell the shrew all the details of this exciting morning so far, but when I look down again, it’s gone. ‘You’re safe’, I tell it, ‘Ospreys don’t eat shrews.’

The morning proceeds. The female is fidgety, squirmy, wriggly. 03 looks thin and straight on his tree. At 10.40 precisely an Osprey comes speeding in at tree-top height from the right and passes swiftly over the nest. The female mantles. 03 launches forth and an exciting aerial chase takes place over the wood. 03 looks far smaller than the intruder, but there is only ever going to be one winner in this pursuit and the interloper is sent away in the direction whence she (a female I think) came. The shrew pokes its head out again and I bring it up to speed.

At 11.11 03 launches forth and flies over me and out of sight. Gone fishing, I hope. There might be a little bit of fish left up there, but it would be nice to have a fresh one ready for when the new arrival takes its first taste. No doubt that will be after I have left. I have much to impart to my relief team when they arrive.

I take a long, lingering look back at the nest as I reach the gate. All quiet. The female is drowsy, the membrane occasionally flicking across her eye as her head droops. But she knows, as I know, that she has new life beneath her, yet another addition to the growing colony of Rutland Water Ospreys.

3 responses to “Hatching at Site B”

  1. Mike Simmonds

    Great news in your own inimitable style Ken. Thanks.

  2. Sharon Stacey

    Wonderful, vivid, emotive writing. Thanks for sharing your fantastic experience.

  3. Robert The Bruce

    What a great blog Ken, and such a special time 🙂 Good luck to 03(97) and his mate for the rest of the season.