Ken Davies writes about his recent few days with the Osprey Project, including joining us on our first 2015 Osprey Cruise! Over to Ken…
I know a place, just off Rutland Water, room for only one car, with a view over the Reservoir. I’m there now, Sunday May 24th, 5.30pm in the afternoon, after a busy day at the Lyndon Centre. I’m just scribbling a few notes, sitting in the car in the late sunshine and enjoying a last coffee before heading home. The last few days have been amazing, involving so many special Osprey events, Osprey people, Osprey heroes. Let’s go back a few days…
Last Wednesday afternoon (May 20th) finds me with several colleagues at Whissendine School Osprey Club, for their final meeting of the term. The Osprey cakes so skilfully created by our friend Jan have already featured on these pages, but no-one is allowed to touch them until the final few minutes of the meeting. Twenty five young Osprey experts are busy around the room : some are painting a model Osprey, wings realistically spread, which has been created out of chicken wire and papier mache. It is an inspirational piece of work – the young painters concentrate as they use various shades of brown and white to create the desired effect. Some paint inevitably finds its way onto the young artists’ faces and arms, but hey! a small price to pay for such an achievement. On another table a group are having an Osprey Drive – just think ‘Beetle Drive’ but with Osprey parts instead of beetle parts. A lot of excitement as the dice falls to decide which part may be added to the body. Others have the webcam on their lap-tops, and they add detailed observations to their own blogs…..’I’ve just seen Maya move the eggs underneath her’ wrote one. Individuals show us their pictures, their writing, their letters to children also learning about Ospreys in The Gambia. The whole room is buzzing Ospreys : it’s wonderful to watch. At 4.15 it’s time for cake : the honour of cutting goes to Mrs Rowlands, class teacher and founder of the Osprey Club. Everyone gathers round : eyes are wide, fingers twitching, lips smacking. For a while the room is quiet, all intent on cake. To paraphrase Shakespeare, Coriolanus, Act IV, Scene 7 : ‘As the Osprey to his fish, so the Whissendine children to their cake…’ All too soon, after photos (and second helpings) it’s time to tidy up and say goodbye. Parents turn up at the door : one has brought a T-shirt with the proud logo : I Love Osprey Club. Osprey Hero No.1 : Mrs Rowlands. Thank you for inspiring your pupils and doing a great job with the Osprey Club!
Suddenly it’s Saturday and we’re preparing for the first Osprey Cruise of the season! But in between we’ve had the first hatching of the year at Manton Bay, with the second due at any moment! Seventy people are booked onto the ‘Rutland Belle’ today, but first we have tea, biscuits and a short introduction to the Project and what we might see today. The passengers include novices and experts, young and not so young, well-equipped and binocular-less. Over bourbons and custard creams (that’s bourbon biscuits by the way) we run through the plan for the cruise, introduce the main Osprey characters we might encounter, and answer questions. Then we all drive round to Whitwell Creek, where the resplendent ‘Rutland Belle’ awaits us in all her glory. The weather is set fair, the surface calm, the crew all at their stations, the passengers expectant……now we just need the Ospreys to play their part.
The ‘Belle’ slips away from her moorings at 5.17pm precisely. We are slightly tense. These first cruises are always a risk : the females are obviously all still at the nests, the breeding males fishing perhaps twice a day, the non-breeding males even less reliable. Out on the water, we watch Terns and Grebes, Gulls and Ducks, Herons and Egrets. We take turns on the microphone. Our main job is to act as ‘spotters’……’Osprey spotters’ that is. The top deck is open to the elements, but this evening conditions are benign, if a little chilly as the evening draws on. At first the Ospreys are hard to find. ‘There’s one’ someone calls out. Yes, it is, a bit distant though, too far to identify which one it is. We go on, eyes straining, hopes rising and falling with each distant shape that might be, could be, no, not that one. North Arm, South Arm…..we always seem to be at the wrong end of the ‘Arm’ when one appears. Plenty of time, light still good, conditions for a fishing Osprey perfect.
At 6.30, a phone call : the second egg is hatching in Manton Bay! No problem – someone is back at the Centre to press the ‘record’ button. Have we ever had a hatching mid-cruise? I don’t think so.
Back to the task in hand. As so often, it happens suddenly and all at once. An Osprey appears just a little way ahead of the boat. In fishing mode. Circling, circling, coming lower, then dive, dive! All faces turn toward him. He struggles on the surface, wings outspread on the water, legs working vigorously beneath…..He tries to rise….and sinks back…..and tries again. It’s no use. He has struck a fish, but it is too big. He has to release it and rise before he becomes waterlogged. He climbs into the air and flies towards the boat….but, wait a minute, there’s another one behind him…….and (incredibly) a third one is up in the air too! Maybe they were nearby and were attracted by the huge splash as the first one entered the water. We can now follow all three : all males : the first one comes closer and reveals himself to be 28(10), the five year old male with the slightly misshapen wing, who had the misfortune to lose possession of the Manton Bay nest last year, but is now a breeding male at another location. He is a favourite of ours, and it is an absolute joy to see him out here. The second one we believe to be 33(11), a younger brother of 28(10), and the breeding male at Manton Bay. ‘Go home’, people tell him, ‘go home, your second egg is hatching!’ He ignores us, and goes on intent on his fishing. We hear from the watcher in the Bay that he did indeed leave the nest and his emerging family a little while ago, and headed in our direction. The third Osprey, from the direction from which he came, we surmise to be 51(11), a fine four year old, currently unattached, but one for whom we have great hopes in the future.
All three Ospreys remain in sight for a few minutes – one even perches precariously on the tip of the mast of one the yachts moored alongside the Yacht Club – but then we lose them momentarily, before one appears on the port side (note the nautical jargon!) and heads up towards the dam at the eastern end of the reservoir. The ‘Belle’ turns and we go after him, but he returns towards us of his own free will, circles behind us and keeps pace with us on the other side (starboard…?) as we make back towards our mooring at Whitwell Creek. This closer view tells us that this bird is our very special 28(10), and to everyone’s extreme delight he escorts us right back to the quayside, disappearing over the headland as the Captain brings the ‘Belle’ to rest at 6.55pm.
Everyone agrees it was a wonderful cruise. As the passengers disembark, they pass on their thanks to Kayleigh and the rest of us, and two people even say how much they enjoy my Diary! Thank you…..this episode is dedicated to you both! The real heroes of the moment need recognition : Osprey Heroes Nos 2, 3, 4 : 28(10), 33(11), 51(11) – not forgetting of course (Osprey Hero No. 5) the ship’s company of the fabulous Rutland Belle.
While we’ve been out on the reservoir, a little Osprey chick has been struggling out of its shell back in the Bay. Kayleigh needs to hurry back to the Centre to catch the last few moments of the emergence. Just after 8.00pm it’s all over and Chick No.2 has joined its sibling in the nest. The hatching has been watched ‘live’ by people all over the world, and, thanks to Anya, who has held the fort admirably during our absence on the cruise, it has all been captured via the ‘record’ button. Kayleigh begins the long task of editing the footage and writing up her excellent daily blog : it’s going to be a long night, Kayleigh! Osprey Heroes Nos. 6, 7, and 8 : Anya, Kayleigh and, of course, Little Chick No.2!
…………..It’s 7.00pm on Sunday evening now and I’m still here, in my private parking space, overlooking the Reservoir. The coffee is gone. There is a sparkling, rippling light over the water, an occasional distant white sail as the last yachts come back in, a few cyclists still working their way round the pathway down by the shore. Swallows swoop low past the car. I should go. Twenty four hours ago I was just leaving after one of the most memorable cruises, whilst at the same time another young Osprey (No.89 since the first one in 2001) was looking up at the Rutland sky for the first time. And I’ve been lucky to be part of it, together with some of the most talented, dedicated and passionate Osprey watchers you could ever find anywhere, visitors, volunteers, Project staff, – even the local policeman and a PCSO have been in the Centre today checking on the progress of the Osprey family! The Rutland Osprey community is now known worldwide, growing every day, learning and developing in so many ways, spreading the conservation message to all.
Two more Osprey Heroes before I go : we took the Osprey Roadshow to a local secondary school recently, where we had an hour with a class of 12 – 14 year olds. One girl wanted to touch and feel all our models and materials; she asked questions at every opportunity; a woman sat next to her whispered into her ear as our slides and video clips played on the screen. The girl could not see. I hope she now has a ‘concept of Osprey’ which she could not have had before. She and her assistant are definitely my final Osprey Heroes Nos. 9 and 10. Thank you for listening to us.