In my opinion there is not a better sight in the natural world than a newly-returned Osprey sitting at its nest in the spring. So as myself and the Rutland Osprey Project team sat shivering in Shallow Water hide this morning we almost forgot how cold we all were. Well, almost.
The previous evening 5R had arrived back at the Manton Bay nest, a full ten days later than last year. Even though we know that many of our summer migrants have been held up by the unseasonal snow and cold, it’s hard not to worry about our returning Ospreys. We already know that one of our long-established Ospreys, 09(98), won’t be returning to Rutland this spring after dying on migration in the Sahara, and there is no guarantee that any of our adult birds will have survived the winter, or the vicious easterly winds that they’ll be encountering on the flight north. So, when 5R landed on the Manton Bay nest at 5:06pm yesterday evening, there was a collective sigh of relief all round.
Although it’s been bitterly cold since she arrived on Thursday last week, 5R’s mate seems to have had little difficulty catching fish since her return. And, as if to demonstrate just that, she presented 5R with a welcome-home trout within minutes of his arrival; a complete role reversal of what we’ll see at the nest over the next few months – when its the male who will be doing the fishing for his family.
This morning, things were back to normal. Whilst his mate sat on the nest, 5R made several forays around Manton Bay for nesting material. Despite the cold, there were a few signs of spring. A group of Goldeneyes, resplendent in their breeding plumage, were displaying in front of Shallow Water hide, the drakes tossing their heads backwards in an effort to impress the on-looking females. Nearby a bit of head shaking suggested a pair of Great-crested Grebes were also beginning to think about the onset of spring. Other than that though, things still felt very wintery. By late March Sand Martins would usually be zipping around above their heads, but not today. Unbelievably we’ve only had one Sand Martin record so far this spring.
Shortly after 7am 5R headed off down the reservoir in search of a fish. As he passed in front of the Lyndon Visitor Centre he suddenly folded his wings and crashed into the icy water. He had obviously got hold of a fish because for the next few seconds, he floundered on the surface. Then, after mustering up some strength, he attempted to haul what was clearly a very large fish out of the water. After a couple of beats of his broad wings he was almost airborne… but not quite. He flopped back down onto the surface as several Great Black-backed Gulls and a couple of Cormorants looked on eagerly. Several more failed attempts to take off followed before 5R had to let go of the fish. He had now been struggling on the surface for more than a minute – and needed to take off before he got too water-logged. He retreated back to the nest to dry off.
Several more aborted fishing trips followed, before he finally caught a trout just after midday. As usual he ate the head before presenting the reminder to his mate on the nest. As the female tucked into the fish with the easterly wind still blowing cold air from the Arctic, it was hard to believe that the two birds hadn’t seen each other since early September last year.
Over the course of the next few weeks 5R and his mate will settle down into breeding mode. Like last year we’ll be keeping you up to date with a daily blog from Manton Bay. And don’t forget you can also watch all the action live on our webcam. We’ll also be updating you regularly with events from Site B where 5R’s father 03(97) has been breeding since 2001.
As you may know, there are several other nests in the Rutland Water area where Ospreys have reared young in recent years. One of them is Site N where 09(98) raised two chicks with 5N(04) last summer. As I mentioned earlier, sadly 09 died on migration in the Sahara last autumn and so we’re hoping that 5N will find a new mate this year. Excitingly, she returned to Rutland a couple of hours before her brother (5R) yesterday. And she even had the audacity to steal the remains of 5R’s trout from the Manton Bay nest earlier this afternoon! We managed to capture the moment on film.
We’ll update you with the progress of 5N and some of the other Rutland birds later in the season but we hope you’ll appreciate the need to keep some information confidential for the time being. Sadly egg collecting and disturbance – accidental or otherwise – remains a threat to some of our rare breeding birds, Ospreys included.
In the meantime, keep watching the webcam and look out for our regular updates from Manton Bay and Site B. Or, even better, come and see it all for real at the Lyndon Visitor Centre. Here’s to another very successful Osprey season!