Ozzie sells well in Oakham

On Saturday 22nd October, author and education officer Ken Davies was at Walker’s Bookshop in Oakham, to sign and sell his new book ‘Ozzie Leads the Way’, illustrated by Fiona Gomez, and his earlier Ozzie books, illustrated by John Wright, plus Jackie and Pete Murray’s activity book ‘Be an Osprey Expert’. A good number of books were sold, and Walker’s retained more for their stock. All books are now available from the shop in High St, Oakham (01572 723957). All proceeds go towards the work of the Rutland Osprey Project both in this country and in Africa. Many thanks to all the people who supported the team on the day, especially Tim Mackrill, Sarah Proud, Tom and Ann Price, and pupils and staff of local schools.


Ken and Fiona at the book event



Memories of Africa

Here is a wonderful video of the Osprey Project’s trip to Africa in January 2016! This video was filmed and edited by John Wright, and highlights many of the wonderful things we did and saw on the trip. Enjoy!

Water Voles at Rutland Water

Rutland Water Nature Reserve is known mainly for its significant wintering populations of wildfowl, and the increasing population of ospreys that breed here in the summer. It is easy to forget or take for granted the other wildlife that occurs on the nature reserve. It is not just ospreys that are endangered and were re-introduced to this area…

Water voles are members of the rodent family, and are often confused with rats. However, they differ from rats in many ways, not least in that they are under threat, and rats are not. Water voles, as the name suggests, like to live near water. They occur at the fringes of ponds, lakes and other bodies of still water such as canals, but are just as at home on the banks of rivers and streams. They live and breed in burrows that they dig into the soft mud of the banks, and feed mainly on vegetation such as reeds.

Historically, water voles were widespread throughout Britain, but their population suffered a dramatic decline during the 20th century – one of the most serious declines of all British mammals. This population decline was due mainly to the presence of mink, but also habitat fragmentation and water pollution. Mink are a non-native species that were brought to the UK in the 1920s for use in fur farms, and either escaped or were released, and had begun breeding in the wild by the 1950s. Unfortunately, mink are very efficient at predating water voles, and are their main threat.

It was soon realised that something needed to be done to replenish the population of water voles at Rutland Water. Consequently, a license was granted and a re-introduction programme for water voles took place in 2011, in conjunction with a programme of mink control. Click here for more information. It worked incredibly well, and there is now a thriving population of water voles on the nature reserve and in the surrounding area.

The population of water voles on the reserve has been monitored closely ever since the re-introduction, by volunteers Linda and Anthony Biddle. These surveys are carried out by the simple but effective method of counting the number of droppings on specially made “rafts”. Water voles like to keep their burrows clean by using flat areas of mud or grass as latrines. They will also often use areas such as this as feeding stations. With this in mind, several small rafts were made and installed in all locations likely to contain water voles. The voles then use these rafts as latrines, and surveyors visit the locations of these rafts and count the number of water vole droppings that appear on them.

Last week was my first water vole droppings count, and I really enjoyed it! It was a beautiful autumn day, and I was content to be wandering slowly up and down channels and water courses in the peace and quiet, locating the rafts, counting the droppings and noting the number on a recording form. It was amazing just how many droppings there were in some places! Water voles have definitely become well established on the nature reserve following the re-introduction – another success story!

The population will continue to be monitored over the coming years, and the data from previous surveys has been collated, reviewed and written up in the form of reports. The surveys are carried out every quarter, and a report is made of each survey, then at the end of the year an annual report will be created. The other ongoing task is to monitor the population of mink, which is done in a similar fashion but using special mink rafts, which contain a platform of clay in the centre to retain the footprints of any animal that passes over it, alerting us to the presence of mink in that area, should there be any.

Water voles are not a species that can be spotted easily, as they are rather elusive and live mainly under the protective cover of tall waterside vegetation. If you are lucky you may see one swimming away from you, but more likely you will just hear the “plop” of them entering the water when they hear you coming. Water voles have often been spotted in the channels in front of Waderscrape hide on the Lyndon reserve, and here you stand more of a chance of seeing them sitting on the banks, as there is the advantage of being able to sit in the hide and make no noise, making it more likely they will show themselves.

Look out for more updates on water voles and surveys in the near future!


water vole

Water vole, Mick Spencer

Water vole 2, Mick Spencer


Working in the woods

In the winter, when the ospreys have all gone, work at Rutland Water is not over for our team of osprey monitoring volunteers. Winter is the time of year that practical work on the nature reserve begins in earnest, and there is plenty to do! We have a dedicated team of osprey volunteers who convene at Lyndon every Monday throughout the winter months to carry out practical habitat conservation tasks. This work party team works hard to ensure that the Lyndon reserve is kept in a fantastic condition, and is ready for a new season next year, and all the visitors and breeding species that spring brings!

The first work party of winter 2016 was last Monday, and the second was yesterday. We had a team of around 15-20 working in two different groups. Task one was to clear the marginal vegetation from the edges of the wildflower meadow, which had recently been mown, and to coppice the stand of willow on the left of the meadow, in order to open up the view of the reservoir. This willow comes in very handy around the reserve, and is used for a number of other tasks such as willow weaving around benches, and creating willow fences.

The other job that we have been working on for the past two Mondays is a bigger project that is likely to last several more weeks. We have been clearing an area of willow to the right-hand-side of Teal hide. This patch of willow had become very tightly packed and the ground was almost completely shaded, hence the ground layer was mainly a tangle of brambles. What we aim to do is take down the larger willow trees and open the area up to allow more light to penetrate. Gradually the willow will begin to grow back, and the area will become scrubby and shrubby, which is great habitat for a number of breeding species.

The cut material is being used to create a dead hedge along the track to the hide. Stakes are made out of the thicker, straighter bits of willow and driven into the ground at regular intervals. Then the cut branches and brash are packed into the middle of the stakes, creating a hedge. This makes a much neater edge to the track, and is an excellent use for the material being felled.

As always we were all treated to excellent soups at lunchtime – week one from Paul Stammers and week two from Becky Corby. Thank you both very much, and thanks also to volunteer Jan Warren for the wonderful cakes she always brings!

Thank you to volunteer Margaret Stamp for the following photographs of the work!

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Ozzie’s Winter Diary Part 1

October 2016

It already seems a long time since Ozzie left his territory near Rutland Water, but he has quickly settled into his winter routine on the west coast of Africa, in the country called Gambia. He is back near the fishing village of Tanji, where Ken and his friends saw him during their African trip in January.

Ozzie’s return to Gambia is always greeted with great joy by the pupils and teachers of Tanji School, who often come down to the beach with their friend JJ to see if they can find this special Osprey. Ozzie has become a link with children their own age in many schools in Oakham and Stamford, near Rutland Water in England. They like to watch all the Ospreys, but they are especially pleased when they see the blue leg ring and satellite antenna, which tell them they are looking at Ozzie.

Today when the Tanji children reach the beach with their teacher Isatou, they find Ozzie sitting on a sand bar a hundred metres or so away. He is not alone. There are four or five more Ospreys spaced out along the bank, and some small birds are running about amongst them. Ozzie has a piece of a fish he caught earlier in his talons, and the smaller birds, called Turnstones, are hoping he might drop something that they can run in and steal. The tide is low, the beach is quiet. The long, brightly painted fishing boats will not be going out till later.

2-paragraph-4-imageThe children love to watch Ozzie. He is their friend. They know he has two homes – one here with them, and the other thousands of miles away in central England, where he is watched in just the same way by the English children. Only yesterday, JJ had brought messages from England to Tanji School, all written on cards for them by children who had seen Ozzie during the summer.

After a while, Ozzie flies up into the air, still carrying his fish, and seems to come straight towards them as they stand on the beach. He flies over their heads, over their school and their homes in the village, over the main road that goes to the capital city Banjul, and into the mangrove lagoons that lie just a few kilometres inland. This is Tanji Marsh, where lots more Ospreys come every day to rest and sit quietly. The children know he has not gone far. They will be back another day to see him again.

Ozzie lands on a tree stump in the shallow water in the middle of the marsh, and has a peck at the fish he has carried all the way from the beach. There are a few Ospreys around, some quite close and some further away in the bare branches of dead trees. Ozzie can see them all, but they do not bother him. He does not know it, but one is another Rutland Osprey. She has been coming here for two winters now. Another one, far distant in a tree, is from Scotland. A group of Green Vervet Monkeys dance wildly across the mud, scattering ducks, gulls and terns as they go. The Ospreys do not move. A group of noisy children are walking along tracks through the marsh, but the Ospreys are used to them and do not fly. The children sing and shout as they make their way home.

A green 4 x 4 Land Rover pulls up on a hard patch of mud and some people climb out with binoculars, telescopes and cameras. They are tourists from England, and they have come to Gambia to see the wonderful birds, to enjoy the sunshine, and to meet some of the happy and friendly people. They set up their telescopes and are soon watching the Ospreys and all the other birds. They try hard to read the numbers on Ozzie’s ring, but it is hidden for the moment and they cannot make it out. They do better with a young female Osprey hatched in Rutland, and excitedly make a note of her ring number 5F in their books. The Scottish one is F93, and news of this sighting will soon be sent back to Scotland. After a while some of the people wander off away from the lagoon and find other colourful and interesting birds, including brilliant Little Bee-eaters, handsome White Helmetshrikes, and an amazing Beautiful Sunbird – yes, that really is its name!


The sun is sinking lower in the sky, and turning red. As the group of birdwatchers climb back into their Land Rover, Ozzie lifts off again and flies back over the darkening village towards the beach. He has a favourite perch at the top of an old bare tree, where he will spend the night. The tide is up now, the sand bank has been covered, and the fishermen are preparing their boats to go out and spread their nets on the overnight high tide. Ozzie is settled. The huge reddening sun sinks below the western horizon. Another African day is over.


By Ken Davies