If you tuned in to BBC Springwatch this evening you’ll have been introduced to an Osprey with an ever-growing legacy. So what is it that makes 03(97) – or Mr Rutland – such an important bird?
To begin with, we need to go back to July 1997. It is mid-July and eight young Ospreys have just arrived at Rutland Water. Having been collected under special licence from nests in North-east Scotland by world-renowned Osprey-expert Roy Dennis, they had been driven 450 miles south to England’s smallest county. The birds were placed in specially-designed release pens and left to settle in to their new home. At six weeks of age they were still a fortnight away from taking to the air for the first time, and the pens would provide a good opportunity for them to become acclimatised to their new surrounds before they were released. Each bird was fitted with a colour ring to enable the team at Rutland Water to monitor their progress.
The birds were part of a pioneering project that aimed to restore Ospreys to England for the first time in over 150 years. A year earlier we – the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust and Rutland Water’s owners, Anglian Water – had been granted a licence to translocate a small number of Ospreys from the annually-increasing Scottish population to the reservoir. Research in Scotland and elsewhere had shown that Ospreys are highly site-faithful and so it was hoped that the translocated birds would recognise Rutland as home and return in future years to breed. In all a total of 64 young Scottish Ospreys were relocated to the reservoir between 1996 and 2001.
We didn’t know it at the time, but of the eight birds who arrived at Rutland Water in July 1997 there was one who would go onto have a profound effect on the future of Ospreys in both England and Wales. 03(97) – 03 being the bird’s ring number and 1997 the year of release – made his first flight just after 8pm on 27th July. He made short, but surprisingly competent, two-minute flight before landing on a nearby dead tree. As the days progressed he grew in confidence on the wing and spent the next six weeks getting to know his adopted home. Then, 40 days after that all-important first flight, he set-off south on the perilous 3000 mile journey to West Africa. He would have to negotiate at least two crossings of the Sahara before we stood a chance of seeing him again.
Remarkably, eighteen years later, 03(97) is still going strong. Over the past 15 years ‘Mr Rutland’ has raised a total of 32 chicks at a nest that he built in the top of an oak tree in the summer of 2000. He bred successfully for the first time in 2001 and hasn’t looked back since. He’s reared young with three different females – including 14 with his latest unringed mate – all at the same nest in the top of the oak tree. It is a suitably regal setting for the most important Osprey in the Rutland colony.
Mortality among young Ospreys is usually very high; as many as 70% of young birds failing to survive the first two years of their life. And yet 40% of 03(97)’s offspring who are old enough to have returned to the UK, have made it back. Prior to this summer those 12 birds had, in turn, reared a total of 43 chicks between them, and, to date, four of those 43 have gone on to breed successfully. So aside from being a grandfather many times over, 03(97) is also a great grandfather to 15 young Ospreys.
Although 03’s own nest has sadly failed this year after repeated intrusions by two young males, his various offspring who are breeding, should help to make up for that. The three Manton Bay chicks which hatched over the bank holiday weekend have made 03 a grandfather for the 46th time; and with his offspring breeding at four other sites this year, that tally should exceed 50 quite easily within the next fortnight.
The Site B dynasty has ensured that there have been plenty of Ospreys to populate the growing Rutland colony. With eight pairs breeding this year, it is very likely that by the end of the summer over 100 young Ospreys will have fledged from nests in the area since 03(97) reared the first chick in 2001. In many ways, however, the Mr Rutland nickname is a bit of a misnomer. It suggests that his legacy is confined to England’s smallest county, but that is most definitely not the case. In 2011 Ospreys returned to breed on the Dyfi Estuary in mid-Wales for the first time in four centuries. The nest, situated on the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust’s Cors Dyfi Reserve, attracted the attention of the world through the BBC Springwatch cameras. Although the male was unringed, a white ring on the female’s right leg showed that she had fledged from 03(97)’s Site B nest three years previously, in 2008. 03(08) – or Nora – as she became known – raised four chicks over the course of two successful summers on the Dyfi. When she failed to return in 2013 her place was taken by 03(97)’s granddaughter, 12(10) aka Glesni. The nest on the Dyfi has become highly sought-after and 12(10) had to fight off the aggressive advances of her cousin, 24(10) – another of 03(97)’s granddaughters – to keep hold of the nest.
Events on the Dyfi not only show how the Rutland translocation has completely changed the distribution map of Ospreys in the UK, but how one Osprey in particular, has been integral to the spread of Ospreys through southern Britain. Who would have thought that eighteen years ago on a balmy evening in Rutland, that an Osprey making its maiden flight, would go on to have such a profound and lasting legacy on the Osprey populations of England and Wales.
Although 03’s nets is on private land with no public access, you can see a family of Ospreys at the Lyndon Visitor Centre where 03’s son, 33(11), has three newly-hatched chicks with his mate, Maya. For visiting information, click here.