Over to Ken for the tenth chapter of his much-enjoyed diary….
“High Noon (and High Drama!) at Site B.”
11.50am, Tuesday July 22nd : I spot a distant figure approaching the watch point. It’s my relief observer. I rapidly complete the notes, gather my belongings and prepare to leave for the last time this season. Fortunately, today I am able to provide a positive report on the morning’s events for my anxious colleague, who takes my place behind the telescope and prepares for her solitary vigil. I wish her (and the Ospreys) well, and begin my final walk back through the flower-strewn and butterfly rich meadows. I stop at the gate and look back. All appears well. He is there, of course, still on his fish, while his young wait. I flick back through the pages of my notebook. For me, this is how the saga unfolded……
Tuesday July 8th : Morning : A fine and sunny morning after torrential rain and thunderstorms yesterday. Abigail and I watch in nervous anticipation – the juvenile male (6K) is on the point of fledging, and we desperately hope it will be during our shift. JW is parked a short distance away, also awaiting the first flight. 03 is on the perch, still and apparently oblivious to his 32nd chick’s imminent maiden flight. We look more closely – is he all right? His head frequently drops and the membranes across his eyes flick over. A look at yesterday’s notes show that he hardly moved at all then either, and has not fished, to anyone’s certain knowledge, for a long time. He sat through yesterday’s storms and looked thoroughly miserable. Our concern is rising. JW comes over and confirm that he does indeed appear unwell. Maybe an infection? Or a parasite ingested from a fish or the water? No-one knows. All we can do is wait, watch and record – the three essentials of detailed monitoring. Our spirits are lifted when, at 10.16 precisely, and with no warning, 6K launches into the air for the very first time and performs a circular flight lasting approximately one minute before landing rather roughly on his sister’s back as she watched him from the nest. It is a special thrill for Abigail to witness this, and I must admit it brought a lump to my throat too. Even the experienced JW has a broad smile on his face as he comes over to us and says : ‘Not a bad first flight, was it?’ We agree. More than ‘not bad’ – it was amazing. JW has captured the moment on camera. Our thoughts immediately return to 03, still unmoving, still a forlorn figure on the perch. His female left a while back, heading purposefully south towards the Reservoir. Is she going to fish? Does she know there is something wrong and realises she must undertake the role of provider? Meanwhile 6K, having tasted the freedom of flight, decides he likes it and flies several times before we have to leave. Barrie and Tricia arrive, and we bring them up to date. We have experienced the high elation of witnessing a first flight, and the intense anxiety of watching a creature in difficulties. We discuss possible outcomes as we walk back, but speculation is futile. We can only wait.
Saturday July 12th : Afternoon : Many people have undertaken extra shifts in order to ensure full and accurate observation of 03’s condition, and to report back to the Team, who are assessing the situation minute by minute and preparing strategies depending on what happens. I join Barrie at 2.00pm. He and Tricia are particularly closely involved with 03, having assisted with his translocation in 1997 and the monitoring of his nest-building in 2000 and first breeding in 2001. The news I receive upon arrival is not good. 03 is still largely inactive, and in addition to his other symptoms, his right wing appears to be injured, hanging limply down at his side when he is at rest. He can fly, however, and has been seen at the nest scrambling about in the cup, as if searching for food scraps. The female has brought fish in, and, in addition, the team made the timely decision to provide food for the whole family, by affixing fish to a platform nailed to the T-perch. This has been accepted, although most of it appears to have been eaten by the female and the juveniles, all of whom continue to be in good health.
Sunday July 13th : Afternoon : My regular afternoon shift at Manton Bay has been changed, and I am instead here at Site B to provide further updates for the Team about the condition of 03. The situation is largely as yesterday, but on the plus side he appears more alert and is moving about from nest to perch and back again. During a brief intrusion, he did not respond at first, but then took flight and pursued the visiting Osprey for a short time. In flight I detect a rather laboured up-stroke in the right wing, but it does not seem to impede his balance or direction. When at rest, the shoulder appears to be thrust forward, and the primary part of the wing still hanging loosely. Overall, I feel he is no worse at least. His every move is described and listed in the notes. At the end of this, whichever way it goes, the log will provide an invaluable resource in discussing his travails. I hand over to Ivan and Lorna for the evening shift.
Tuesday July 15th : Morning : Barrie and I meet at our regular point before walking into the site. The news from yesterday has cheered us a little, and we spot him from a distance on a perch just below the nest. We are both conscious of the fact that we must not be over optimistic, but surely that wing is being held a little more tightly to the body now, and in flight we no longer detect that weaker stroke on the right side. His eyes are bright, his head constantly moving around and surveying the scene. The juveniles are increasing in confidence and taking longer flights away from the immediate vicinity of the nest. The female is doing a tremendous job, providing fish for the family. In addition, fish is being provided every day by the Team. 03 has every chance now of getting through this injury and returning to his old self, albeit with a little help from his mate and a team of dedicated watchers, some of whom have known him for most of his seventeen years. During our morning shift today, the female is away for a long time. She eventually returns with a fish. 03 himself also disappears over to the east – surely a sign that he is preparing to resume normal service. Proceed with caution appears to be the watchword. We brief our relief team before departing.
Tuesday July 22nd : Morning : And so my final scheduled shift of the season arrives. There is a mist hanging over the site as I approach, and spiders’ webs filled with clear droplets of water hang loosely in the long grass and the ripened rape seed crop. At first I can see neither nest nor Ospreys, but just after 8.00am the mist lifts, and there they all are – he sitting regally on a perch adjacent to the nest, she on the nest itself and the two juveniles calling loudly from the ash trees. He looks much better – his white breast gleaming in the rising sun, the wing almost back to its correct position, the glint in the eye looking straight at me down the telescope. At 8.13 am 03 takes off and flies strongly away to the east, with no perceptible weakness or disability in his flight. I see in the notes that he has been going that way every day since his recovery began last week, as often as not returning with a good-sized trout that he has been finding over that way. Eighteen minutes later, the female leaves the site too, she going in a different direction, south-east, to a favoured fishing area of her own. I am left in the delightful company of the two juveniles, 6K and 7K, both of whom entertain me with regular, exuberant pleasure flights, lasting now up to fifteen minutes each, as they climb, soar, dive and tumble, before plummeting back to the nest with alarming speed. Their flights and landings are so assured now – so different from that maiden flight I witnessed just two short weeks ago! What a lot has happened since then! At 9.30 a silent dark shadow passes over the grass in the meadow in front of me. I look up to find an Osprey flying south to north above my head, heading straight for the nest. Both adults are away, and I know by the juveniles’ reaction that this is an intruder. 6K and 7K lie flat in the nest. The visitor circles once over the nest, and then passes on. Within seconds two heads shoot up and the juveniles resume their caterwauling : ‘We’re waiting for our breakfast.’ As the warmth increases and the sunshine intensifies, hordes of butterflies grace the meadow in front of me. As I write the notes, a dazzling Red Admiral settles on the back of my hand and drinks eagerly the droplets of perspiration it finds there. Eventually it flits away, and with the same hand I reach down into my sandwich box to finish a half-eaten snack, and find a Comma butterfly sipping the melted butter on an open cheese roll in the box! I hold back from eating until it has had its fill and flies off to find a more usual source of food! At 10.14 and again at 10.40, both juveniles fly and leave the site. For the first time since early April, there are no Ospreys here. An eerie silence pervades the wood. At this point I receive a text from Abigail, who was here with me on the day 6K fledged. ‘Monitoring Marsh Harriers at the mo’ is the simple message……Ospreys one week, Marsh Harriers the next…..When I was her age, there were no breeding Ospreys at all in England, and just one pair of Marsh Harriers! Some things, at least, are improving!
11.00 : The last hour of my shift, and my season, has arrived. The juveniles have returned, but no sign of the adults. After everything that has happened, it would be great to see 03 just one more time before I have to go…….
11.30 : Thirty minutes left. I scan the skies to the east, desperately willing him to re-appear. Nothing. I’m pretty sure I know where he has gone; it’s just a matter of the timing of his return. I start to change back into my boots for the return walk, pack up the remnants of my sandwich box, re-arrange the seats in the shed, when suddenly both juveniles leave the perch and return hurriedly to the nest with much calling, wing-flicking and agitation. I look up, and……..
11.35 : He’s there! It’s him, 03, his timing just perfect, and with a truly enormous trout grasped firmly in the undercarriage! I can’t believe it, my prayer has been answered. He sweeps around imperiously, once, twice, before landing with his prey on the T-perch just vacated by the juveniles. He feeds vigorously, hungrily, ignoring the pleas of his young to bring it to the nest. After ten minutes, 7K boldly flies to join him on the perch, but he is in no mood to share just yet. I revel in his presence. I could not have wished for a better conclusion to my season at Site B – a stunning view of 03 with his fish and his young. Only his mate is missing – but she will be back soon too, for sure.
11.50 : I spot a distant figure approaching the watch point. It’s my relief observer…………oh, this is where I came in. So, in musical terminology…… coda: return to beginning and repeat!