Another lovely chapter of Site B life by Ken Davies, I am honoured to feature in it! I certainly had a wonderful time at Site B yesterday, I hope you enjoy reading about it.
A Surprise Visitor at Site B.
Everything has gone really smoothly this morning, and 7.20am finds me leaning on my favourite gate on the way to the observation point, enjoying a cup of coffee and listening to my friends the Blackcaps and the Whitethroats. Only the Egyptian Goose looks grumpy, warning his mate on the hidden nest ‘It’s that chap again, the one who always stops here and watches us.’ Don’t worry, I’ll be gone soon. In the distance, 03(97) is standing upright and facing me, his white breast so clear even on this cloudy morning. The female flies towards me as I watch, dipping down and picking up a clump of dead grass and bracken no distance away at all. Unlike the Goose, she does not resent me. She takes her load back to the nest and packs it around the chicks, unseen and low in the nest. They are approaching three weeks old now, and becoming stronger and bolder with every passing day. Just as I am re-packing my rucksack and loading up again for the final section of the walk, 03 leaves the perch and he too comes towards me, sailing over my head and giving the most breath taking of close views before disappearing away to the south-west. Wow, that was amazing : it’s a great morning already and I haven’t even reached the hut yet!
My first task at the hut is a sad one. A very poorly Blue Tit chick is slowly expiring in the grass. I hear from Tom and Ann – they’ve been here since 6.00am – that it was reasonably well earlier on, but its parents have not been down to feed it, and now it looks very weak. We stand over it sympathetically but powerlessly, and decide to adopt a policy of radical non-intervention. Nature must take its course.
I am barely settled in the hut when the ‘phone rings and a very familiar voice says : ‘Hi Ken, it’s Kayleigh! I’m just walking down towards you and need to know which gate to come through.’ She has been here before, of course, but that was in JW’s vehicle, and she has never ‘walked the walk’ until today! What a lovely surprise! I give her directions, and just a few minutes later I look out to see her approaching through the long grass in the meadow. In the hut we chat, look at the female covering the chicks, and wait together for the return of 03. He has been away since 7.46am and should be back soon. He keeps us waiting until 9.00 on the dot, when he sweeps in with the stylish and classy panache that has endeared him to all of us for so long – but he has no fish! The female gets up expectantly, stomping about on the nest in anticipation. Kayleigh and I have a telescope each, and watch every move at x60 magnification……and then we both call out, almost together : ‘Look, a chick, no! two chicks!!’ For Kayleigh, this is a moment to savour – the first Osprey chicks she has seen since last summer when she was working at Loch Garten! We both remark how sturdy they are looking – necks now straight, heads firm, stubby wings occasionally flailing about. One in particular has that broad-billed facial look which perhaps suggests a young female, while the other, a slighter and more delicate bird, is perhaps a male. Just our impressions, of course – we might be proved wrong when the ringers go up in a few weeks!
We watch them as long as we can, but then the rain comes, and the female immediately covers them again. 03 lingers for a while, but at 9.40 he heads off again , this time to the south-east – a direction which always suggests a trip to a favourite lagoon somewhere on the main reservoir. I watch him into the distance, but in doing so almost step upon a second Blue Tit chick just outside the door of the hut. A brood is obviously tumbling out of the nest one by one somewhere close by. This one is very active and noisy, calling loudly as it hops into the safety of a nearby bush. I am sure its parents will find it and feed it. The other one is now still, its short life over. I resolve to lay it to rest later.
Kayleigh and I return to our positions in the hut, and talk about Ospreys. She has monitored nests in Scotland, North Wales, the Lake District, and now Rutland, and I see in her that intense feeling of admiration and excitement which surrounds and envelops all true Osprey fanatics when they are close to them. Only those who have shared it will understand what I mean. We take guesses at how long it will be before 03 returns, and have just decided it will be 30 minutes when he is suddenly in the air above us with a fish – just twelve minutes after leaving! He descends rapidly onto the nest with his prey – a broad, silvery fish with shiny fins, probably a Bream, we think.
Feeding begins immediately. We watch as the female takes tiny pieces of white flesh from the head of the Bream and offers them to the first chick, which takes several before moving back. The second chick then feeds eagerly in the same manner. They change places every few minutes, and are generally well-behaved, although we did notice them having a squabble at one point. At 10.00 precisely – amazing how frequently things happen ‘on the dot’ – we both notice that the female has stopped feeding the two chicks, and is instead gazing upwards. At the same moment, we start to hear the strange ’chipping’ intruder call, and looking up see an Osprey overhead. It’s carrying a fish too. At first 03 does not react, but then another two Ospreys appear in the sky not far from the nest, at which point he launches off his perch in pursuit. The Osprey with the fish has a primary missing in one wing, and might possibly be 30(10), but we have no clue about the identity of the others – possibly from a nearby territory. At this point we have four Ospreys in the air, and three (counting the chicks) on the nest -–seven Ospreys all in view on a grey morning in June in Central England……’Are you glad you came Kayleigh?’ I think she is.
As the intruders hurry away, with 03 in pursuit, the female resumes the feeding session, which lasts, with change-overs, for an incredible 58 minutes! I think we now have two very well-fed ospreylets! 03 returns with a long stick, perhaps feeling the need to strengthen his fortress against any future incursions. As the rain starts again, 03 takes the rest of the fish to a quiet perch and begins a well-earned feeding session of his own. At the nest, the female covers the bream-filled chicks. In the hut Kayleigh and I relax and chat about wider conservation issues, careers, and a hundred other things. We watch a floppy Jay tumble across the field, and back again right past us, a vision of pink, grey, white and black, with a subtle hint of azure blue.
At 11.20 Kayleigh decides she must return to HQ at Lyndon, where Paul has been ringing Tree Sparrows and Lucy has been hosting a visit by Year 3 and 4 children from nearby Edith Weston School. All part of this multi-faceted, inspiring Project, of which we are all privileged to be members. Alone once more, I honour my promise to the departed Blue Tit chick, and consign it to the rich soil behind the hut. Its siblings are all around me in the bushes, and I catch a glimpse of one of the parents collecting small green caterpillars for them.
I just have time to complete the log of our eventful morning before Bob and Alastair arrive to relieve me at the end of my shift. I wander back in reflective mood, thinking of the thriving Osprey family of course, but also of the splendid people I have shared this experience with this morning. I am grateful to them all – and even more happy in the thought that, in years to come, young, committed conservationists such as the one who was here this morning will be working to ensure the future of this land and all its creatures……while I will be lying peacefully (but still watching!!) with that little Blue Tit……….