Here is Ken’s report from a recent shift at Site B…
I’m not anti-social….no, really, I’m not! But I love solitude sometimes, and there is no better place to be alone, in my opinion anyway, than Site B on a sunny May morning. I am really early this morning, so I can afford to amble slowly through the fields and along the wood edges and hedgerows on my way to the watch-point. A cuckoo is so loud in my ear that surely I must see him…..but I don’t, until he flickers over the field, still calling all the way. The wood is alive with bird song this morning. I stand still and let it envelop me. Intense, passionate, mystical, almost hypnotic ~ each voice merging with others to create a wonderful choral symphony.
Did you ever read Richard Jefferies’ The Story of My Heart’? Somewhere in there he tells how he used to lie flat on his back in a flower-rich meadow and allow the sounds, scents and very essence of spring and summertime nature to seep gradually into his very soul……..I could do that now, here on the approach to the watch-point, but I suddenly realise that time has moved on, and I must relieve the dawn watcher.
03 is on a favourite perch, keeping an eye on me as I approach the shed. He’s been watching my slow approach, whilst simultaneously undertaking a very thorough pedicure on each of his eight talons. That tells me he has recently brought in a fish, and is now ridding each claw of every tiny particle of fish scale, and dropping them to the hordes of tiny scuttling insects below ~ an unexpected addition to their normal woodland diet. Sure enough my colleague informs me that 03 brought a small trout in about an hour ago and the female fed the chicks and herself before settling them down again in the nest.
I am alone now. The chorus of bird song is subsiding, as each species goes about its daily business. The Blackcap still sings heartily though, just above my head, and the Woodpeckers, both Great-spotted and Green, are drumming and yaffling respectively. The Jay is about too, wary and watchful as ever. The Osprey family is quiet and undisturbed, as it should be after a fishy breakfast. Peace reigns at Site B.
Skylarks are singing in the sky above the crop-field….one, now two, and there’s a third a moment later. The Cuckoo I saw earlier, or maybe another, is heading back towards me but veers off at the last moment and lands in the small grove to my right, calling loudly, and always ending with a cuck and not an oo. I’ve noticed that before. Is this normal, or do we have here an aberrant Site B Cuckoo? As the sun comes out, Orange-tip butterflies appear, passing close by. Time slows, almost stops. Osprey-time is taking over. No rush, just wait, everything is fine, enjoy every moment…
How long has passed? I don’t know, but suddenly he launches from the perch and returns to the nest. His mate moves to the edge, and then, for the first time, I see two stripy heads lifting up, and the occasional flap of a stubby wing, as the chicks stretch towards their mother. From the extreme opposite side of the nest, a sudden ejection of very healthy-looking white excreta suggests to me that maybe there is a third chick over that side. The female has nothing for them now. It’s time for her mate to go fishing again.
He flies towards me, then drops down into the crop-field before emerging with a large bundle of dried grass, which starts to disintegrate as he attempts to get it back to the nest. In the end, he tires of it, and lets the remnants scatter slowly back into the field as the Skylarks dance around it. He circles. He is very close to me now, yellow eye clear and piercing, underwing patterns dazzling in their symmetry. He is in the blue sky above the foliage of the oak tree which towers over my watch-point. I am craning my neck, I am on my knees on the floor of the shed to keep him in view, but he has gone over my head and out of sight to the south. ‘8.58am : male left, south’ I write in the log, but those words do no justice at all to the thrill of the moment I’ve just had.
Peace and serenity again. Insects hum, caterpillars descend on silken threads from the oak above, the female Osprey and her brood settle down again, and prepare to wait….
She picks at blades of grass in the nest as they blow in the breeze up there and I find myself indulging in similar distractions….nibbling a biscuit, doodling a sketch, attending to a loose boot-lace….but mainly sitting, absorbing, observing, thinking….
She is alert momentarily as a bold Jackdaw lands on an adjacent branch and dares for a moment to alight on the nest-edge, but the merest flicker on her part is enough to send him away. It was enough to awaken her nestlings, and I see two of them again, heads waving just above the rim. No sign of a third. Perhaps I imagined it.
9.58am : He’s been away an hour : On a page of my notebook, I’ve made a list of musical items for a new CD. It’s called ‘Music for Site B’. I can imagine the orchestra and soloists outside the shed tuning up for this morning’s performance. First we are to have The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams, accompanied by real larks ascending (and descending) all over the place, and then Delius’ On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring, with our own cuckoo intruding with his own unique call at all the appropriate (and inappropriate) moments. After an interval, during which we drink Osprey Ale from the nearby Rutland Brewery, we resume with What the Wild Flowers Tell Me, from Mahler’s Third Symphony, a few movements from Goldmark’s Rustic Wedding, before the big finish with a couple of scenes from Beethoven’s Pastoral. Perfect. Just need to book the orchestra now. ‘Recorded live at Site B before an audience of ospreys, kites, buzzards, cuckoos, skylarks, swifts, swallows, stoats, foxes, deer…..and the watcher in the shed.’ In the shops soon.
10.58 : He’s been away two hours : Little movement at the nest, beyond the odd flap. Time to stretch my legs. Outside the shed, I notice there are beetles everywhere. On the ground, climbing up posts, balancing precariously on barbed wire, even on my trusty walking stick which I had left propped up against the trunk of the oak tree. Most of them are small, and various shades of green, but some are larger with black bodies and orange heads and legs. I have a vague recollection of being shown a similar creature which went by the name of Bombardier Beetle, so called after its defensive mechanism of ejecting a highly volatile liquid from its rear end, accompanied by a small jet of smoke and an audible explosion! Hence its Latin name Brachinus crepitans (from crepitare, to crackle). I was also told that this defence mechanism, once provoked, often results in the demise of the insect, so I am careful not to annoy any of the specimens scuttling around. They might not be Bombardiers anyway, so I do a hasty sketch of one to check when I get home.
11.58 : He’s been away three hours : My relief-team is in sight, and I must prepare to leave. The usual pleasantries take place. It is a swift hand-over. Little to report. ‘8.58, male left, south’ is my last entry in the log.
12.02 : I’m walking back, pausing here and there to check flowers, beetles and small mammals. Something prompts me to look up, and of course, there he is, in the air, coming in from the south, with a fish lodged securely in the undercarriage. Magnificent timing. Wings half-closed, he descends directly to the nest and amid a flurry of wings and feet the delivery is completed. My pace quickens. I can leave happily now, knowing that all is well. I sit down at the gate and finish writing this.
12.20 : Almost back at the parking spot, I meet a man doing some work on a fence. As I approach he greets me : ‘Everything all right down yonder?’ he says, in the usual code around here. ‘Everything’s fine,’ I reply, ‘absolutely fine……….’