This morning as I approached Site B, the sky was blue and there was little or no breeze, in stark contrast to the very grey sky and rain in the air when I was last at this Site ten days ago; the whole world seemed grey then with the sad news about 08(97). As I took over from Dennis and Sally, I learned that 03(97) had brought a very small fish to the female some time after 7am. and that both birds had also been incubating. I was still brimming with the excitement of the news from Manton Bay the previous day, when not one but two chicks had hatched. I actually watched on my laptop as the second chick arrived, initially thinking that my eyes were playing tricks and that it was probably a feather or blade of grass waving around in the nest, but soon realising what it was that was emerging from that precious egg that so many of us, team and volunteers, have been watching over and guarding 24/7 for the last few weeks. It was a rewarding moment indeed.
My morning at Site B progressed slowly and steadily, with a couple of changeovers where 03(97) took over incubation for brief periods. I took a call on the radio from Paul and told him that it was all mainly quiet, apart from a rather scruffy looking buzzard that had appeared momentarily. Shortly after that conversation 03 came to the nest and the female flew to a nearby tree – the Ash behind the small Oak to be precise – I keep reading strange tree descriptions used at various Osprey sites in the UK; Bassenthwaite have a broccoli tree, twin saplings, centre dead tree; at Site B we have the pruned Ash, the hidden perch, etc. This time 03 was very reluctant to incubate and flew to the same branch as the female, who didn’t budge, so he returned to the nest but still did not sit, instead returning to the female, landing this time a lot closer, and so forcing her off the branch and she did then return to the nest. 03 then flew up over the nest and circled very high flying off South East. I watched him until he was a mere dot and then nothing. Was he that bothered about a buzzard?
A couple of minutes later, when scanning the sky, I saw away in the distance two Ospreys circling together and began to wonder whether my scruffy Buzzard had in fact been an intruding Osprey. I made a quick call to Paul to enquire whether 09(98) was looking a bit worse for wear, or if indeed 5N was, thinking that it might be one of them and that 03(97) had in fact circled around to chase them off. This bird was missing primaries from both wings and a couple of tail feathers. I was assured that 5N had been at Site N during the morning, but he didn’t have a recent description of 09. I too assured Paul, with great confidence, that I hadn’t seen any behaviour to make me think that hatching was imminent, as I had seen 03 incubating a couple of times, and any fish had been eaten away from the nest.
Just as the shift changeover was taking place, 03 appeared on the nest with a small fish but he then flew immediately to the ash with the fish. As I walked away from the hide I thought to myself that today was not the day for me to witness a hatching. Further up the field I came across John Wright (Field Officer) observing the proceedings. In conversation with him I soon realised that behaviour is not always as the text book explains. I had always thought that the first offering of fish down into the cup of the nest was that first telltale sign that a chick had arrived. This is not always the case John explained, and he went on to tell me exactly why he thought that there was a chick already in the nest. The female at Site B is apparently quite greedy (which could explain why she accepts fish from 09) and so when 03 arrived on the nest with the fish and she didn’t move off the eggs nor seem interested in the fish, John realised that there was probably a chick there already, so newly hatched that it was too early for it to be fed. Also, when slightly earlier, 03 had refused to incubate, instead flushing the female off the Ash and back to the nest, he probably knew that hatching was imminent and had taken himself off to catch a fish. As we stood there talking all this over, 03 returned to the nest with the fish, the female got off the eggs and THEN we saw that offering down into the cup of the nest. What a wonderful event to witness, not only in light of all the sadness, but also because of all the aggression from 09 at this nest.
When Chris Ditchburn and I were preparing a presentation of our trip in Africa for the Volunteers Winter Getogether in February, he told me how much he’d enjoyed sitting with John when they were out there and that for him it was like being in a science lesson – I agreed. John imparts so much knowledge, I could sit for hours and just listen and learn. I had been convinced as I finished my shift that today was not the day for me to witness a hatching, I was wrong again – back to school Mrs Berry.