Yesterday our regular diarist, Ken Davies, enjoyed a solitary shift at Site B. Here is his report.
Tuesday 23rd April at Site B
The walk to the watch-point is lovely this morning. Clear sky, bright sunshine, warming westerly wind. I touch the old familiar land-marks ~ gate-posts, tree trunks, feeding troughs. New features stand out ~ a repaired fence, a new strand of barbed wire ~ but for the most part everything is the same. Four horses ~ two of them springy-legged yearling types ~ think about coming over to say ‘Hello’, but then they spy a Land Rover entering their field by the opposite corner. The promise of breakfast is better than my offering of a friendly pat and a tickled ear, so off they go at a canter, leaving me to edge down the field close to the hedgerow. A faint double note suggests Chiffchaff, and as I approach the song increases in intensity until the bird is directly above my head, clearly visible in the still bare topmost branches of the tree, pouring out its music ~ so familiar, so special. As his congeners arrive over the next few days and weeks, the newly verdant foliage will hide them, but their songs will enthral me on my weekly walk. Already the wood is gently throbbing to the sound of Song Thrush and Blackbird, with definite hints of Blackcap and Wren ~ altogether a heady mixture of sounds.
7.45 am : The first view of the Osprey nest. They are both there, she lying low and covering the eggs, he on alert on the nest edge. Barely five minutes into my shift, I see why perhaps he was on ‘raised alert.’ Another Osprey comes in from the north-east and dives low at the nest, causing the female to jump up in alarm. Our male gives instant chase, pursuing the invader back the way he came. The two twist and turn, but eventually the rightful tenant returns, the female settles again, and order is restored. I notice a piece of red baler twine blowing in the breeze on a branch to the right of the nest. It is slowly unravelling, wisps occasionally detaching and sailing off in the wind. At least it’s away from the nest, where hopefully it will not do any harm. All is calm now. Time to watch, time to absorb, time to learn.
This is my first solitary shift this season. Our information booklet calls it ‘lone working’ and lays down sensible and clear rules to ensure health and safety. Now I really like all the people with whom I share shifts (I really do!), but the most keenly awaited stint, the most longed for day throughout the dreary winter, is this one : my first solitary shift of the year. And now it’s here, I’m here, the Ospreys are here. Secondary winter-time Osprey activities can be put aside for now ~ the books about Ospreys, the writing about Ospreys (apart from the diary of course), the collections of paintings of Ospreys through the ages (from ancient times up to and including JW), and the study of Osprey stamps from around the world (pandio-philately : another story!) ~ all absorbing in their way, but no match for what is happening right now, in front of my eyes.
9.00am : on the stroke of nine, 03 lifts off and passes over me to the south, on his way to the reservoir, I hope, and an encounter with a nice trout. A light westerly is just ruffling the neck feathers of the female as she gently manipulates the eggs beneath here and faces south to await her mate’s return. I crank the ‘scope up to x60 and settle behind it, scrutinising her face and head. She is alert, but at times the nictitating membrane flicks across the one eye that I can see, and she dozes momentarily, head lowered. In a fraction of a second, she is alert and tense again. I follow her eye line and see that a Kestrel has landed on the exposed topmost branch of the bare ash nearby ~ a favourite perch of 03 when he is here. She watches the small hawk with an almost tangible ferocity, until it flies off to hover over a mouse or vole in the distance. She relaxes, and so doI.Behind my lens, my reactions mirror hers : tense, at ease, taut again, distracted, intense, absorbed ~ all within a minute. I am passing through the magic mirror and entering Osprey World, for the first time this season. She glares down the lens at me. I hold her stare. Time and daily concerns cease to exist. Nothing external can penetrate. The outside world recedes, consciousness dims, but in another way is strangely heightened and sharpened ~ I am alert to her every tiny movement and conscious of even her barely perceptible occasional shimmer. It’s a magical state, rarely experienced, never fully explained. It can only happen here.
Later ~ I’ve no idea how much later ~ I follow her intense and fixed eye line again, and it takes me to a Red Kite on an exposed thin branch of a small oak tree away to the west, another favourite feeding perch of 03. The Kite is pecking and scraping the bare wood, which probably has a nice fishy flavour after bearing so many fish gripped in the talons of 03’s foot over several seasons. I revert to the female and find she is watching another Red Kite soaring over the nest and becoming ever bolder in his passes over her. He knows he is safe while the Lord of the Manor is away.
9.50am : The spell is broken as 03 makes a dramatic return with a good trout, imperiously clearing the Kites away with one sweep before landing on the perch and commencing his meal. Crows and a Magpie cower nearby, hoping for scraps, but do not venture too near. The female watches and waits. I resume my scrutiny of her while she continues to incubate her precious eggs. At 10.25 I swing the ‘scope back to the perch and find 03 just swallowing the tail of the fish! He has eaten it all! Nine minutes later he returns to the nest empty-clawed! The female is not impressed and almost pushes him out of the way as she launches off the nest for a break ~ she has incubated solidly for 2 hrs 29 minutes and now finds he has no fish for her. Having shared the whole morning with her, I can sympathise with her annoyance. At least I can have a sandwich! She does not fly far ~ just a couple of circuits, a half-hearted dive at a crow, and then back to the nest, where 03 has done just six minutes on the eggs! She shoves him off with very little ceremony and settles down again. He takes up his position on the bare ash tree (exactly where the Kestrel was) and starts a full preen. He has no intention of going fishing again just yet.
Time slows again, and then stops. Osprey World opens up again and I drift in. Two Jays hurry past in a flurry of pink, black, white and a trace of blue. Peacock butterflies and bumblebees are floating around in the sunshine. A distant Buzzard is making lazy circles in the sky. The Blackcap above my head is warming up too. 03 continues with his preening. Osprey World is at peace.
Too soon, oh far too soon, it’s time to leave. Why does time go so quickly here, and so slowly during many of my other tasks? I remember sharing a shift last season with a young volunteer who tried so hard to slow time down ~ she was enjoying her morning here so much she didn’t want it to end. I recall the look of disappointment on her face as we saw our relief approaching. It’s like that for me today. It’s been so perfect that I can even forgive 03 for eating all the fish!
Exactly on the stroke of 12.00 midday, 03 leaves his post and flies south, three hours to the minute since he last left. I hope this time his mate will receive a meal too. His departure is my cue to leave as well. I conclude the notes in the log and begin the walk back. A man replacing fence-posts gives me a cheery greeting and asks if I’ve had a good morning. ‘Yes, it was lovely, thank you’, I reply. I do not mention ‘Osprey World’ and the magical hours I have spent there. No, that’s my secret ~ and yours of course, dear diary.