In his latest diary, Ken Davies recounts an exciting Easter Weekend at Lyndon…
‘World Osprey week’ (WOW!) certainly reminded me (as if I would ever forget!) how exhausting teaching is! Ten consecutive days of early morning Osprey assemblies in schools throughout the East Midlands, then follow-up lessons on migration, satellite-tracking, global warming, food chains, biodiversity and a variety of other subjects, and finally Skype links between schools and Osprey organisations across the world! Not to mention the thrill of following the actual northward migrations of the Ospreys as they happen, and are interpreted for us by our own experts here in Rutland and colleagues in so many countries, awaiting, like us, the return of these amazing birds! Fortunately here at Rutland we have a fantastic team of staff and volunteers who share in common this passion, this obsession (steady on!), for the Ospreys – without them all it would have been impossible for us to reach 1,335 young people and their teachers with our message during WOW. We loved every second of it, and judging by the response we’ve had since it ended, it seems that the students did too! So thank you to everyone who took part!
After a few days of quiet recovery in a darkened room, I decide it is time to get back out there and see what is going on in ‘Osprey World’ – that magical land where time often stands still, normal people become transfixed by even the briefest glimpse of this fabled bird, and lifelong memories are created. So come along with me, and spend Easter weekend in Manton Bay…………..
Easter Saturday, April 4th : The Visitor Centre is crowded as I arrive. People are crowding around the big screen, staring intently ahead, on the edge of their seats. A frisson of excitement. A real buzz throughout the Centre. Excited children. Must be something going on…….I edge closer to the screen. Hang on a minute….there’s nothing there! They’re watching an empty nest. I look at the faces all around. They are actually willing an Osprey to return, creating the image in their minds, trying so hard to convert it into reality. I join in. It’s mesmerising. I’m soon sucked into the almost trance-like concentration…..but then Kayleigh appears to bring us all back to reality. She tells us there was a brief fly-through this morning by an Osprey, but it did not land on the nest. As she speaks a comical Egyptian Goose lands on the nest and starts to display in an ungainly fashion. Let’s hope an Osprey appears soon to persuade it to leave this ancestral home of Maya and her forbears.
In the afternoon I take up a position at the side of the screen and chat to visitors from all over the UK and even further afield. I love it when people fill these ospreyless minutes (or hours!) with stories of their experiences involving ospreys around the globe. Today we hear of Osprey encounters in Kenya, Canada and even far-flung corners of Asia! Well, we know Ospreys are citizens of six out of seven continents, but to meet and listen to people who have encountered them there is thrilling! In quieter moments, I play recorded highlights of the 2013 and 2014 Osprey seasons for visitors who seem to like them, but it’s a bit like watching ‘Match of the Day’ when you already know the score. Nothing beats live action. But there is none. I refuse to count the Goose as ‘live action.’
Kayleigh brings me tea, and says that over 200 people have been through the Centre today so far. And that’s without Ospreys. There’s still time. It’s only 2.30pm. She decides to hold a late Saturday website blog in case something happens. We meet some absolutely charming and amazing people today. Our friend Vicky Adams has brought her family to Lyndon today – at the end of last year Tim and I visited the school in Worcester where she teaches, and spoke with three Year 7 classes who had been reading the inspirational osprey-based story Sky Hawk by Gill Lewis. They were really into Ospreys, and soaked up every piece of information we could give them. It would be so nice if we could reward Vicky and her family with a real live Osprey today, but it’s not to be. Hopefully they can come again later in the season.
The Geese are on the nest again. I’m beginning to have malevolent thoughts towards them. I try hard to supress them (the thoughts, not the geese).
Kayleigh is working on the tracking data, and mapping out in amazing detail the facts and figures regarding 30(05)’s journey from Senegal to Rutland. We know so much more about Osprey migration thanks to all this fabulous kit. She’s still holding the late blog. There’s still time.
Paul brings a young man called Kieran and his Dad over to see us. He’s come up to see us from Berkshire, where he attends Hurst Lodge School in Ascot. This was the school which provided us with our WOW 2015 signature tune, The Osprey Song, brilliantly performed by Year 5 students, including Kieran. We played the video at every school we visited during WOW, and it was a terrific success, with encores often being demanded.
Again, we hope against hope that an Osprey will appear for him and his Dad, but they have to leave. We promise we will visit Hurst Lodge next term if they would like us to go.
My thoughts about the Geese on the nest are turning more murderous than malevolent, when suddenly they disappear. It’s now 4.30 – only half an hour till the Centre closes for the day. It’s quieter now – just a few late visitors lingering over a coffee or an ice-cream. Four young people from London come into the Centre. They’re staying at nearby Edith Weston, and thought they would come for a late afternoon visit and maybe see an Osprey. My heart sinks again. If only we could oblige…..
4.40pm precisely : Paul and Kayleigh come hurtling out of the Office at break-neck speed, and rush to the main window overlooking the Reservoir, shouting ‘Osprey coming, Osprey coming’. They’ve had a message from Marilyn and Paul in the hide in the Bay to say that an Osprey has just passed them and is heading our way! Binoculars clapped to eyes, we scan away to the left and spot him almost immediately, flying strongly towards us at no great height! Our four visitors from London cannot believe their luck – an Osprey just a minute or two after they walked in. Our excitement, in my case bordering on hysteria after a goose-dominated afternoon, soon convinces them that they are witnessing something very special. The Osprey (28(10)) continues his flight….but then checks, circles and begins a dive……..Kayleigh was write to ‘hold the front page’ until now. When it is over, she hurries off to write the final blog of the day, and the last four visitors leave, having seen the only Osprey action of the afternoon.
I leave newly energised and refreshed. Such is the power of a single Osprey.
Easter Sunday, April 5th :
It’s a normal Sunday afternoon shift in New Wader Scrape Hide today . Did I say normal? I ought to know by now that there is no such thing as a ‘normal’ Osprey shift here at Rutland Water – there is always something special to make it different and memorable. Today is no exception.
Barrie and I walk down to the hide, pausing frequently to listen to Chiffchaffs, Skylarks and the other early spring songsters. Cloud is giving way to sunshine. The temperature, the hopes, the expectations – all in the ascendant. It’s been a fairly routine morning, we are told – a couple of brief sightings involving 28(10) again, and 30(05), but no new arrivals. The morning shift volunteers drift away for lunch, but promise to return if they hear any news. There are plenty of visitors, and lots of interesting birds to see – Great Crested Grebes are performing their courtship rituals not too far away, and there is rumoured to be a Great White Egret somewhere in the Bay. Apart from that, the first hour is fairly quiet. We chat with a steady stream of visitors. Some are familiar faces, some are new. We make them all welcome, and share the Osprey news, such as it is. The empty (or, even worse, – goose-filled) nest dominates the screen at the end of the hide. We all turn our back on the posing occupiers of the nest – just ignore them, and they might go away.
The action begins at 2.20pm, when a male Osprey (identified as 28(10) by his slightly misshapen right wing) flies around the Bay – right, left, in front, behind. He’s hard to keep up with – but everyone is happy! They’ve seen an Osprey! And that’s only the start : at 2.45pm another Osprey was spotted coming in high from the South. It flew steadily northwards, without deviation or hesitation, maintaining its height and aiming to make the most of the calm, almost balmy, conditions in order to reach, we surmise, its territory by some wooded Scottish lochside still a few hundred miles away. As the bird becomes a speck in the distance, the mood in the hide relaxes again as the tension is released. Two Ospreys so far.
In the lull we chat. We met a family from Nottingham in the Visitor Centre earlier, and now they are in the hide. One of the girls mentions that her form-tutor is a keen Osprey watcher, so of course we ask her to write down her school’s name and promise to contact him after the Easter break with details of our educational services! The younger daughter gives us the name and address of her school too, and then finally it transpires that their Dad is a teacher at a third Nottingham school, and would love to bring a group of students to Rutland Water for an Osprey workshop on migration, African links, global warming and so on. Brilliant! Watch out Nottingham! The Osprey Education Team will be in touch very soon!
Time is passing. Another really pleasant group of visitors has arrived from Market Harborough – five adults and a bright young girl called Maisie, binoculars at the ready. It transpires that the girl and her Mum are visitors for the Easter weekend from Somerset. Maisie is already a skilled and articulate bird-watcher and the first thing I hear her say is : ‘Look, a Reed Bunting – black head, white collar, brown body – it’s on the top of the reed there.’ We find it in one of the ‘scopes for a closer look. Her favourite bird, she says, is the Bearded Tit, although she has never seen one. Well, no chance of that today, but what is her second favourite bird? You guessed it – it’s the Osprey! Well, we’ve seen fairly distant ones today so far, but wouldn’t it be great to get a good view of one catching a fish and flying to a perch with it?
We wait. We talk about other birds, other years, other Ospreys. Maisie and her family look at all the birds in front of us – Cormorants, Herons, Egrets, Ducks…….even Geese! Suddenly, a shout goes up : ‘Osprey!’ Over the nest, flying past us, circling, diving, up again, a second dive…..and yes! Incredibly after the second dive she (we think it’s a female) emerges with a very large fish, which she carries around, pursued and harried by gulls and crows, until she decides to seek the shelter of a quieter spot to enjoy her meal in peace. The hide gasps with a collective sigh of joy and relief. That was fantastic. The bird was unringed, but her behaviour (as Kayleigh later wrote in her blog) suggested she was a stranger here – if it were the longed for Maya, she would surely have taken her catch back to a familiar perch, or even the nest – geese or no geese! We do not see her again.
So Maisie saw her Osprey. I ask her if her favourite bird is still the Bearded Tit. ‘No’, she says, ‘it’s the Osprey now.’ The family leave, amid smiles and thanks. But of course we should be thanking them, for all their encouragement of Maisie and for bringing her here in the first place. We think we shall be hearing more of this young lady in the future.
So is that it? Is that the end of the ‘Osprey Show’ for the day? No, of course not! Those who have stayed on for the ‘Late, Late Show’ are rewarded by another appearance of 28(10). He too is diving into the water, but these are more ‘flops’ than true dives, and it is evident that he is washing rather than fishing. Perhaps he caught earlier and needs to clean up after a fishy meal. He shakes and shimmies, sending showers of droplets through the air, and flies toward us. It’s ‘hold your breath’ time again……Where is he going to land to dry out? Surely not on the big dead tree right in front of us……? Yes, he actually does, choosing the top-most twig as a perilous perch. Jackdaws, Crows and Cormorants sensibly vacate the tree. Shutters whirr in the hide as photographers take this ‘once in a season’ opportunity to record the moment. One photo clearly shows his ring number 28 – white letters on a blue background. So there he is : atop his tree, a formidable climax to the day! After a few moments he makes for the perch near the nest and sits there….the closest he has been to it so far. Will he eventually decide to defend it and set up a territory again? Only time will tell.
Paul arrives. He is doing the late shift himself with Kayleigh today – once she has written up the exciting day’s blogs. Paul decides to call Barrie and me ‘Osprey magnets’……..things always seem to happen when we are around. Not always Paul……but today has been exceptional in terms of excitement and action. But we still need a settled pair in the Bay…………….
Barrie and I complete the ‘Sunday Afternoon Bird List’. We do this every week throughout the season, and have records going back to 2007 – the first year of Osprey breeding here in the Bay. Barrie later enters the records onto the BTO’s ‘Roving Reports’, so there is a point to our list-making!! Today’s total is 49 – surely we can find one more species for the round 50? We call in briefly on Kayleigh, and find her composing the last blog of the day for the website. The centre is closed now and deserted. We look out one last time over the calm, still scene. A Kestrel flicks up into the box by the shore. It stands taut and alert for a second before vanishing. All I can hear is the quiet tap of Kayleigh’s keyboard. Everyone will be reading about our great day within a few minutes.
In the car-park, I feel a sudden rush of optimism and well-being. It’s been a superb afternoon – just lacking those two returning birds whose arrival we wish for so much. As I drive through the gateway and up the narrow lane, a bird passes over – small, blue-back above, creamy below, fork-tail, jinky flight – a Swallow! My first of the year! And 50 species for the day! An omen, surely, of more arrivals to come tomorrow…………
Easter Monday, April 6th :
I’m not due to go into Lyndon today. I busy myself with tasks around the house, in the garden, have a coffee, try to read….and of course keep looking at the website. I’m at home in body, but at Lyndon in spirit. Time drags. I decide to go to the gym and take out my pent up feelings of anticipation on the treadmill and cross trainer. Familiar fellow gym members wave and encourage me, but today find me strangely distant and distracted.
As everyone now knows, today WAS the day. First 33(11), and then Maya – both alive and well and in Manton Bay together. The thrill, the relief, the feeling of absolute and complete happiness on reading Tim’s simple but powerful text : ’33 and Maya back together on the nest’ . It comes through as I am completing my routine on the rowing machine. My stroke immediately increases, my pace quickens, and I exceed my personal best by over a minute! Wow! I feel good! I might have rushed out still in my kit, without showering, and driven straight to the Bay, but good sense prevails. I sit in the café and calm down. My heart beat gradually returns to normal. My personal trainer quips ‘You were giving it some in there today – do you have to be somewhere?’ ‘No’ I reply, ‘I just had some good news which cheered me up no end and inspired me.’ ‘Right’, he says, ‘We’ll put your targets up a bit next week.’
I don’t mind. All that matters is that they’re back, they’re here….and tomorrow I’ll be in the Bay all day with them……