Ken’s Diary

Whilst we are worrying about the fate of the Manton Bay nest, it is nice to know that things are going well at other nests in the area. 03(97) and his mate are settled at Site B and have been incubating for two weeks now. Ken Davies, a dedicated volunteer, has kindly written an account of his monitoring shift at Site B on 15 April. Read and enjoy!

One month into the Rutland Osprey season, and my first lone shift at Site B. A glorious early spring morning, still a nip in the air, but the promise of some warming sunshine later. Lambs, a few weeks old already, lie with their mothers enjoying the sun, but jump up as I approach. A pair of twins even come gambolling up to me, but a warning low ‘baa’ from their mother advises them that this is not the done thing, and sends them scampering back. They immerse themselves in her ample undercarriage. Underneath one of the trees, two Egyptian Geese eye me suspiciously. I stand still, and they nonchalantly pretend to carry on cropping the grass. I know their little ways. As I start to move again, they unwillingly and ponderously take to the air with a grumbling croak, and double back over me to have another look from the safety of the air. They obviously have their eye on a comfortable looking hole about ten foot up in the crook of the tree. I’ll find them there week after week no doubt – well, better there than in one of the Osprey nests.

Even from a distance, the familiar shapes of 03(97) and his mate are clear in the early morning sun – he preening on one of his posts, she incubating on the nest. Through the binocular lens I see the breeze catch the feathers on the back of her head and lift them momentarily into a crest – recalling, just for an instant, two Long-crested Eagles I watched on the Dasilammeh Wetlands in The Gambia just three short months ago. Perhaps one or other of these two Ospreys were nearby on that memorable African day – certainly we saw many Ospreys there, lazing their winter away before returning northwards.

I walk on. Although this is my first solitary shift here, much has already happened in the early weeks of the season. As the website has recorded, most of our Ospreys – with one notable exception – have returned to their accustomed places. One or two have slotted into gaps, and one – I watched him take his first flights here just three years ago – has been harrying his older sibling down in the Bay. In late March we had World Osprey Week, and what a blast that was! Lucy and I, together with other members of the team and volunteers, visited five local schools in the run-up and during the week itself, and assembly halls all over Rutland reverberated each morning to the shouts of ‘WOW’ every time World Osprey Week was mentioned. The live tracking of Ospreys from Amazonia to New Hampshire, from Cameroon to Finland, and of course from Senegal to Rutland, was followed by thousands upon thousands of people all over the world, and it all ended with a Skype call which united children, teachers, parents and Osprey followers from Italy, Spain, England and North America on one memorable afternoon at the end of March. The performances by the children of Brooke Priory School and by their new friends in Spain and Italy will long be remembered – and all made possible through the medium of the Osprey – a citizen of the world indeed.

Such wide-ranging thoughts inspire me as I reach the watch-point. It has been a quiet morning so far. Once alone I set myself up and prepare to enter the inner sanctum of Osprey World – only possible here. Blackcaps are in full song, Woodpeckers are drumming or yaffling according to species. A low guttural croak heralds a Raven, a recent addition to the soundscape here. The Ospreys do not move. They know I’m here. By 9.00 the sun is blazing but the temperature is still only six degrees C. Not time yet to discard the fleece, gloves and hat, so the first coffee of the morning is taken inside the hut, and looking out through the open flaps. Waves of sweet, heady scent come in on the breeze, mingling with the coffee to take me onto a higher level of sensitivity. It’s the oil-seed rape, of course, vast yellow swathes of which are swaying in the breeze on three sides of me. I often wonder how Ospreys – and all other birds come to that – see colour. Scientists tell us that birds of prey in particular have eyesight at least sixteen times more acute than ours. Many species do react to different colours – female Ruff, Grouse and even Blue Tits always going for the ‘showiest’ males which exhibit the brightest colours in their plumage. But how do they see this amazingly gaudy show of bright yellow fields, extending acre after acre over this part of Central England? I look to our Ospreys for an explanation, but find none. They are still. To them this temporary explosion of xanthistic pigment below them is simply part of their environment, like the vast sandiness of the Sahara, the deep blue of the Atlantic Ocean, the splendid azure of the Rutland sky.

At 9.30 03 launches forth from his perch and sweeps over the field, low over my head, and out of sight behind me. I’m outside now, and it’s the closest I’ve been to him. He looks fine, clean and bright, still in peak condition. The log shows he has not brought a fish in since last evening, so no doubt he will be away a while. The female on the nest turns, as she often does, to face the direction in which he flew, and stares over me, awaiting his return. I settle too, and wait…….

She is relaxed on the nest, her head drooping occasionally and the membrane flicking over her eye as she allows herself brief moments of rest. She watches as up to five Red Kites circle in the air in front of her. I do not class them as ‘intruders’ – more like friendly neighbours indulging in playful aerial displays. They pose no threat – nor do the four Buzzards who rise up as well, taking advantage of warm thermals which take them ever higher and out of sight. She shuffles slightly, carefully turning the eggs beneath her. A large bumble bee is prospecting the bare earth next to my seat, just a centimetre or two above the ground. As it moves around, it creates tiny clouds of dust, reminiscent of a miniature helicopter landing on sandy ground. It moves away over the grass, where it is likely to find early nectar-filled blossoms. Looking up again I find the clear sky criss-crossed with white vapour trails as aircraft way out of my hearing bear their passengers to distant destinations. The mid-morning period brings with it that familiar slowing of all emotions and sensations : I am slipping through into Osprey World again. Heat haze is making it difficult to view her clearly now, and she is almost merging into the shimmering mass of yellow that separates her from me.

Solitude and loneliness are two very different states. I am aware of the former this morning, but not the latter – I am surrounded by teeming life of a hundred different sorts. Just look, listen, feel and smell – it’s inspiring and delightful to be here to share it. And suddenly he is back…..she saw him coming well before he arrived, her body language clearly conveying that he was nearby. But there is no fish this time – just a small twig for the nest. She betrays no sign of disappointment or anguish, but deftly lifts from the nest and flies to a perch, where she commences a thorough preening of her feathers, passing each primary and secondary feather through her bill before settling it in place again.

This regular behaviour and sharing of duties is typical of this well established pair. As she finishes her preen, I can sense she is ready for a return to the nest, and sure enough, on cue she lifts again and resumes her incubation. Her mate moves back to his perch, and calm descends. He will not move again for a while.

There has not been a great deal of activity this morning during a routine incubation watch, but the hours have flown by and soon it is time to write up the log. It occurs to me that my observations of over one hundred wintering Ospreys during my January visit to The Gambia have made me even more appreciative of the lifestyle of these birds here in their summer home. During the walk back I turn and take one more look. Nothing has changed. Peace and calm reign. In Africa I watched Ospreys fishing in the breakers of the Atlantic coast, resting on inland marshes and lagoons, loafing on the sandy spits of offshore islands. I smile as I lean against an old gate post and complete my morning notes with the words –

‘Oh yes, I know what you did last winter………’

All's well that ends well. 03(97) re-united on the Site B nest with his mate of the past five years.

03(97) and his mate reunited at Site B at the start of a new season

03(97) and his mate at Site B

03(97) and his mate at Site B

7 responses to “Ken’s Diary”

  1. Colin Fenwick

    What a great article . I could almost feel I was there
    Thank you

  2. Mike Simmonds

    Kayleigh what a great Blog once again from Ken. I am one of the lucky ones. I know where he was and have sat where he was sitting. I may have done that but no way could I have described it so well. Thank you Ken.

  3. Heloise

    A lovely account, thank you.

  4. Rosie Shields

    Excellent evocative article Ken.

  5. scylla

    What a read! Thank you, Ken, both for doing the shift and for treating us to this account of it 🙂

  6. Dolly Cox

    I always love reading Ken’s Diary, always so atmospheric and beautifully written.

    We know so little of 03 97 and his mate, it is a joy to read about their everyday lives.

    Thank you, Ken

  7. Clare

    So evocative Ken, thank you very much.