To some, the briefest glimpse of a bird eating a fish on the edge of a large nest in gloomy surroundings might not be the perfect antidote to winter blues. But yesterday, for me and thousands of others, that sighting triggered the most remarkable transformation and life-affirming euphoria. ‘She’s back’. Two words. Incredible joy. Shared passion. Kindred spirits. Lifelong friendships.
For the uninitiated, explanations were necessary. Why the excitement? What’s so special? They come back every year, don’t they?
Well yes, some of them do. A lot don’t. In this case, an Osprey which has been watched by thousands from the hide every summer, and by millions, probably billions, via the internet throughout the world, has flown in from goodness knows where and landed on her nest – just as she has in the years gone by. We have a female Osprey back in the Bay – which means we will have a proper Osprey season here : for hopefully the male will follow, the sturdy 33(11), faithful partner of the last few years and yet another son of the prodigious and prolific 03(97). But even (heaven forbid!) if he does not, there will be another male to court her, and be father to another brood of ospreylets.
My mind still thrills to a day in late season 2009, in the old Wader Scrape hide, when John Wright spotted an Osprey coming down the shore towards us from the east. After a second or two he said ‘It’s that unringed female I’ve seen a few times recently. Looks like a two or three year old. Scottish in origin probably. She looks interested. Maybe next year…..’ As we watched she cruised closer to the nest platform, where 5R(04) – without a mate that year – was on guard. He rose to join her, and they chased around the Bay, soaring over Heron Bay, up the slope of Lax Hill and then out of sight towards the deeper reservoir. John smiled. He had his photos. If she appeared again next season, he would know her instantly.
Of course, as we all know now, this was Maya – and as John had surmised, she did come back in 2010, where the legendary 5R(04), son of the patriarch 03(97) was waiting for her. She was not Maya then. She was ‘the unringed Manton Bay female’, or UMBF as she appears in my annual notebooks. Such a fabulous creature deserves a better designation than UMBF – and it was two former Project staff members Lucy and Kayleigh who came up with the idea that she should have a name. They asked for suggestions, using the letters from ‘Manton Bay’ – and after much discussion and consultation, they chose the name Maya – in some cultures an ancient goddess, for others the name of a long lost civilisation – but for us now, and hopefully for some years to come, our breeding female Osprey in the Bay.
Her subsequent history is well documented elsewhere. Successful breeding with 5R(04) in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 meant record numbers of visitors to the Lyndon Centre each year, and strong and healthy offspring, all of which have been ringed and some seen again in recent years in Rutland and other regions. The troubles of 2014, when the hugely popular 5R(04) failed to return and aerial battles were waged daily over the bay by rival suitors 28(10) and 33(11), may have excited photographers who were thrilled to capture these skyward acrobatics, but for many of us the sight of Maya on the nest, her clutch (with 28(10))destroyed by the stronger 33(11), was very sad.
Such is the way with Ospreys, and in 2015, 33(11) quickly turned from villain to hero when he returned, his rights by now fully asserted and confirmed, as the Master of the Bay. And so it has been ever since. If he returns this year – and we all fervently hope he does – this will be their fourth year together in the Bay.
Maya is now perhaps eleven or even twelve years old. Two long-term mates (5R and 33) and one ill-fated liaison (28), multiple broods of (for the most part) healthy chicks. She is, together with her partner, the public face of the Rutland Osprey Project, and everyone here – volunteers, staff, visitors – hold her in great esteem. Her return each year is greeted – if not quite with dancing in the streets of Oakham (although I would have yesterday if I hadn’t been driving when the message filtered through…) with terrific scenes of joy and happiness. Newly appointed Osprey officer Anya was away in Manchester with two colleagues (Holly and Sarah) on a course yesterday, but I could hear the excitement, the genuine thrill, the sense of real involvement, in her voice as she told me that there was an Osprey in the Bay, and Lloyd was out there checking it out……could it be her? It’s got to be her…..but maybe it isn’t. We have to be sure. I could hear Holly and Sarah chatting in the background. We have to wait.
I pulled into a lay-by, and just sat. After so many years of doing this, was I surprised to find myself so excited and thrilled that (maybe) Maya was back? No, not surprised at all. Just relieved that those feelings are still there, the magic has not gone away, the heartbeats are still quickening, the sense of anticipation still heightened. The confirmation will not be long in coming.
She’s back. I feel good about it. And so do so many of my friends, colleagues, and students I have met in schools, colleges and universities. That’s what Nature has done for me, for them, for all of us. And where am I going now? Off to the Bay, of course, to have a look at Maya.
Postscript : Just two days later, another arrival. And it’s the one we hoped for. Double celebration – and this time I can dance in the street! Outside Ketton School, where we have just presented, it’s hard to stop spreading the word – passers by, a man digging up the street, a bus driver. They all know now. We have a couple, Maya and 33(11). 2018 is up and running. I’m heading back to the Bay. Within a few hours, over 21,000 people around the world have opened the Facebook message announcing the news. Let’s hope the news has lifted their spirits too, wherever they are.