Naked runners, a smashed Thermos……
and an impressive return!

Sunday March 20th 2011 : We have decided on a pre-season rehearsal today to make sure we are in perfect shape when the Lyndon Reserve opens properly tomorrow. I arrive at 12.15pm to find a few cars in the car-park and the Osprey team in the Centre making final preparations for the opening. Barrie drives in after a few minutes and says he’s had a bizarre experience on the road down to the car-park ~ an encounter with a group of near-naked male runners who are staging some sort of stunt in aid of Comic Relief by running around the Reservoir ~ not a pretty sight! While he recovers, I get kitted up for the walk down to Wader Scrape hide ~ telescope, binoculars, sandwiches, note-book, and a Thermos of nice hot coffee. We’re ready, and I swing the rucksack onto my back ~ a little too enthusiastically it turns out, as one of the flaps flies open and sends the Thermos flying through the air and onto the rock-hard ground of the car-park! The sound of shattered glass is in fact the death-rattle of a flask which has been with me through several seasons at many different Osprey sites. Now it is consigned to the dustbin of Rutland history.

After such an eventful start, the walk down to Wader scrape is blissfully warm, serene and full of birds! We renew acquaintance with the Tree Sparrows in front of the Centre, and track a pair of Bullfinches in the thick hedge. Reed Buntings are here too, a Great-spotted Woodpecker and out on the water winter wildfowl are still lingering ~ among them some superb male Goldeneye. We note all the clearance work which has been done by the winter work parties around the edges of the water, and we call in at Tufted Duck hide, where a few familiar faces greet us. Further on down, a small brownish bird catches our eye in the bare tree-tops, and it’s a Chiffchaff ~ one of three we are to see and hear this afternoon. Then, as the sun breaks through, a splendid Peacock butterfly glides along the path, and bumblebees start to blunder about, seemingly still in a daze after their long winter sleep. We inspect the Badger set, and find it looking good. Maybe there are already cubs down there somewhere. Cormorants are all over the dead tree in the water, one of them with a completely white breast which catches the sun and contrasts starkly with its more sombre companions. Enjoy the peace while you can, we tell them ~ life will not be so relaxed for you when the true guardian of the Bay returns…..

We reach Wader Scrape hide at last. It is deserted, flaps all shut, but it has survived the winter well. The floor is dry, the notices and pictures still bright on the wall, and the end-room (our ‘office’ as one volunteer calls it) is clean and tidy. We set up the ‘scopes and study the Osprey nest on the platform. It has been tidied up and is ready for its tenants. There is no sign of the geese which have been exploring it in the last few days, but a Pied Wagtail is taking interest in the little gaps in the twigs at the base of the structure. The new camera has been installed and, even as we watch, is sending images to the Centre and to anyone who logs in to the website. We settle down and are immediately in ‘volunteer mode’ as a couple come in and greet us with their question : ‘Are they back yet?’ We say ‘No’ ~ but watch this space. Barrie gallantly shares his coffee with me, as mine came to such a calamitous end back at the car-park. Two children run in ahead of their parents, telling us they’ve already had a picnic and where are the Ospreys? A few volunteers drop in, like us, roused to action by the warmer weather, and by the portentous date of March 20th.

We wait, we chat to a steady flow of visitors, we watch Muntjac running about in front of the hide, and we wait again……At 13.47 precisely, both our ‘phones sound at exactly the same moment : ‘One message received’ : from Tim Mackrill : ’03 is back at Site B’. Those few words diffuse all the tension, relieve the suspense, gladden the hearts of all. 03 (97), talisman and patriarch of the entire Rutland Osprey clan, father of 23 chicks in his ten years of breeding……and back in Rutland on March 20th. Brilliant news. We may not be able to see him, but we know he’s there, and that’s all that matters. And others are surely on the way, not far behind him.

We decide to move down to the last hide, Shallow Water, and check for waders and perhaps an early flight of Sand Martins. We find a pair of Oystercatchers and a few Lapwing, plus noisy Shelducks skittering about. A few more visitors join us ~ volunteers on the same quest as us, local residents anxious to hear if there is any news, and casual walkers always keen to see and hear whatever we have got to show them. The main attraction down here ~ apart from the closer proximity of the waiting nest ~ is a wonderful pair of Great Crested Grebes, who are going through the full courtship display sequence just a short distance away from us. Standing up in the water and performing their dance, presenting weed, shaking heads with necks erect and ruffs and ears in full array…..a most impressive performance. The nest they are constructing is slowly being built up in the water. One to watch in the weeks ahead.

As the early evening starts to close in around us, three Buzzards and a Red Kite drift lazily over the Bay on their way back to the woods to roost. Time for us to go too. Back at the Centre, finishing touches are being put to the displays in readiness for opening tomorrow. The return of 03 has put an extra spring into the step of every member of the team. In the car-park, coffee stains mark the spot where my Thermos met its end. On the lane up the hill there are thankfully no naked runners now to disturb my mood of anticipation and excitement. The long dreary winter has already faded into distant memory. The season has begun. We are ready.