Trouble at Mill

As Ken wrote in his diary yesterday, 03 and his mate are now incubating a second clutch of eggs at Site B. The peace and tranquility he described contrast greatly with the dramatic events that have taken place at the nest over the past few weeks. In her latest diary volunteer Lynda Berry recounts her recent shifts – at both Site B and Manton Bay – and the drama that she has witnessed…

Monday, 13th April
The euphoric bubble in which I had been floating since my shift at Horn Mill yesterday morning, was abruptly burst when Tim Mackrill phoned me. Once the pleasantries were over he asked me ‘Lynda, did you see 03 yesterday?’ I was stunned, ‘Tim, I’ve just posted my diary to be put on the website and it’s mainly about 03 at Horn Mill yesterday!’ Tim then asked ‘But did you see him?’ I started to stutter that I had seen him, but then it dawned on me that I had assumed it was 03 and I hadn’t identified him as such. ‘Tim, he had a very white front but my binoculars are not powerful to be able to see the BTO ring on his right leg, and I wasn’t really looking for it. He flew in from the direction of his nest, behaved in exactly the way we were told he would and flew off in the direction that he came. Why are you asking?’ Tim replied that 03 had not been seen since Saturday evening and had displayed some strange behaviour over that week. He also told me that 51(11) had been at Site B and has been nest scraping.

Tuesday, 14th April – Manton Bay
I set off along the path and came across a couple who were avidly peering through their scope across the fields, away from the water and I asked if they had seen anything interesting – it was a beautiful hare. Arriving at the hide, Frances and John informed me that 33(11) had brought a trout in during the morning and that everything appeared quite normal. There was a steady stream of visitors during the afternoon and they enjoyed seeing 33 bringing the small tail end of the trout to Maya which she finished off on the T perch. He brought several sticks to the nest, one of which appeared to be a bramble and roughly placed it on her back. She quickly removed it and placed it to the side of the nest. At one stage he flew quickly east toward Lyndon and I thought maybe he had gone to fish again, but he soon returned with yet another twig. Several volunteers visited during the afternoon, it’s far more than a job to us, I know that it almost consumes me each Summer and sometimes through the Winter too.

I didn’t notice the exact time, but Kayleigh telephoned me at some stage – 03 was back at Site B and suddenly all was well in the Rutland Osprey world again. I walked back to Lyndon with Paul and had a brief chat with Ken who had been at Site B that afternoon. We all hoped that things would settle down, although of course it would be a waiting game to learn whether the eggs were still viable.

Thursday, 16th April – Site B
My shift was at Site B from 08.00 until 12 noon and I had invited fellow volunteer, Chris Wood, to join me. I had merrily spent Wednesday assuming that all was well at Site B. I wonder who it was that said ‘the problem with making assumptions is that we believe they are the truth’. I had been wrong to assume once again, as upon arrival at the hide we were told that two Ospreys were seen disappearing into the distance at 5.50am and since then only the female had been present, incubating.

At 08.50 an Osprey appeared overhead calling loudly and displaying, his feet dangling. He circled over us and the nest in this manner for fifteen minutes, calling constantly, it was quite a spectacle. He then collected a stick and landed on the nest, it was 51(11). He appeared to be mantling with his back to the female and it was only later in the morning, in conversation with Tim, that I learned that this was part of the display.

51 proceeeded to collect plenty more sticks and almost every time he flew directly towards us and then turned, collecting his sticks from the gateway into the next field and circling back to the nest. He flew so close to us that we could almost read his ring number with the naked eye, it was breathtaking. Several times he attempted to mate with the female but she pecked sharply at him and forced him off the nest.

Tim phoned during the morning and we learned that 03 had been battling with 51 at Horn Mill Trout Farm shortly before 6am, continuing for several hours. Apparently 03 had returned to Site B twice the previous day, both times with a fish but 51 had chased him off. The female had not eaten since Tuesday. Tim thought that if 03 was ousted from the nest that he would perhaps stay around Horn Mill for the rest of the season and just fish for himself, having given up the battle.

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With that sad thought the shift ended and we walked back to my car. I could not believe that perhaps 03 had finally given up on his nest which he had occupied since 2001. Occasionally over the last few years I had imagined how 03’s reign at Site B would end, the most obvious one being that he just would not return one Spring. Never ever had I imagined that he could be ousted, but then of course, being the age that he is, this is the first time that this situation has arisen at Rutland.

Wednesday, 22nd April – Manton Bay
I arrived at Lyndon and chatted with Kayleigh; she had asked me a couple days ago if I would mind doing another induction, this time with a Trainee Reserve Officer from Egleton, Dale. I like to take a fairly leisurely walk down to Waderscrape Hide so after a while I set off without him. I was rewarded with the sight and sound of a Whitethroat on the wire and further down the track, a Linnet was perched in a tree.

As I was chatting with Roger, Dale arrived and introductions were made. He had been lucky enough to spot two Whitethroats on his walk to the hide. At 9am 33(11) flew off towards Lyndon and out of sight. I started to explain to Dale about the log and diary and our job in telling the visitors about the Ospreys. As I was showing him the hide he told me that he had helped lay the floor during the building of the hide in the Winter. We chatted away and he told me that whilst he was at university in Aberystwyth he would take the train from Dyfi Junction to Ynys-hir, past Cors Dyfi and see the Osprey nest there, where several of our female Ospreys seem to like residing. At 9.15 33 landed on the T perch with a small Roach (another part of induction for Dale, fish indentification). He pecked at it for a couple of minutes and then delivered it to Maya on the nest, who immediately took it to the T perch and 33 took over incubation. She had barely made a start on it when she was hassled by a crow and prompted dropped the fish. Obviously feeling disgruntled she chased a few ducks and landed back on the T perch and proceeded to preen.

Both Ospreys looking settled on the nest

Both Ospreys looking settled on the nest

We didn’t see any visitors for the first hour, one of the first was a lady who arrived without binoculars. As I showed her the Ospreys and their nest, explaining that she could use the two telescopes belonging to the project, she told me that she didn’t have much time. The previous night she had been visiting a friend in Wing, a village nearby, and was now on her way to visit more friends near Grimsby. However, she had been unable to ignore the chance of seeing the Rutland Ospreys. She recalled being on holiday in Sri Lanka with her husband six or seven years ago when they had hired a driver to show them the area. The driver had turned out to be an avid ornithologist and had stopped many times to point out various birds. She vividly remembered that he told them that he was saving up to visit Rutland Water – she was totally amazed that he was so singular in his choice of destination, not England or any other country, but Rutland Water specifically. As she left she hoped that he had made it and had been as lucky as she had this morning in seeing the Ospreys.

As the morning progressed more and more visitors arrived and Dale and I were busy. I had already asked him to take over the log and diary entries which becomes quite difficult when there are so many visitors, but he had it all in hand. At one stage I heard him and a visitor observing four House Martins flying low over the water and the vistor wondering if the one at the back was in fact a Sand Martin. Buzzards appear to be nesting in the poplars to the right of the nest and we saw one perched in the hawthorn hedge behind the hide. 33 didn’t seem to mind it sitting there but he does seem to be overly protective and we saw him divebombing a pair of Crested Grebes and the omnipresent Cormorants. At 12.08 33(11) flew out of sight and we hoped that he had gone fishing.

The morning had flown by and Peter and Di arrived to take over. At 13.25 we were walking along the track when Dale called out ‘Look!’ It was 33 flying along the shoreline with a large fish, on his way back to the bay. I was delighted to leave on a happy note but more importantly that Dale had spotted 33 with a fish; he had never seen an Osprey catch a fish and I suppose this was the next best thing.

Friday, 24th April – Site B
I left the car and with some trepidation started the walk to Site B. How different things were this year. I couldn’t believe that I had only seen 03(97) once this season and that was at Horn Mill and not at Site B. I had been told that things seem to have settled down at the nest and that 03 was ‘holding fort’ but things can change so rapidly. As I approached the final gate I stopped to observe – this is the place that Ken and I write about so often, a favourite spot to catch our first glimpse of the proceedings, and probably a favourite of all the volunteers who monitor the nest. I could see one on the nest and one on the T perch but could not identify from that distance. I got closer to the hide and was able to see that the female was standing on the nest and 03 was on the T perch eating a very large fish. It was logged in as a large Trout, brought in at 7.35am, however, I learned later in conversation with Jamie Weston from Horn Mill that 03 had visited the trout farm soon after 6am and after two aborted dives, had flown off towards another regular fishing place, Fort Henry. I did mention to Jamie that I thought it strange when watching both Ospreys feed on this fish, that they weren’t eating the skin and he seem to think that maybe 03 had caught a Carp.

03 raises his wings upon sight of 51

03 back at Site B

The female was constantly food-begging from the moment I arrived until 03 delivered the fish to her at 8.50 which she took to the T perch and 03 remained on the nest and then hopped on to the perch attached to the nest. I watched the pair, a myriad of thoughts passing through my head but which basically boiled down to two questions, would there be more eggs and would 03 hold on to his nest?

At 9.45 03 started chipping loudly and both birds looked over the hide. An Osprey appeared high up, circling over the nest. 03 hopped on to the nest, the female was still on the T perch, and both birds watched the intruder who was soon joined by a Buzzard and they both drifted off high and out of sight. At 9.58 03 joined the female on the T perch, who was still eating, and mating took place. He stayed for a few minutes and then returned to the nest perch. At 10.10 03 began chipping again, circled over the crop between the nest and the hide and returned to the nest. The female returned to the nest and once again they mated. 10.19 The female flew around and landed on the nest and they mated successfully once again. At 10.25 the female few South and out of sight. At 10.40 03 began chipping very loudly and frantically flapped his wings. An Osprey appeared directly over the hide and I quickly tried to capture it in the telescope but to no avail. He circled over the nest where 03 was still beating his wings and then he flew South. The female was still absent. At 10.47 03 flew South too, directly over the hide just like the intruder. A couple of minutes later 03 returned to the nest, chipping and once again the intruding Osprey circled over the hide and then flew South. I was convinced that it was 51(11) but that was pure speculation on my part. At 10.55 I was watching a Red Kite circling to the right of the nest and discovered that the female had returned to the nest to join 03. They watched the Red Kite which was then joined by three Buzzards. They all circled higher and dispersed, 03 and the female remained vigilant. Ten minutes later 03 flew South yet again, directly over the hide. Shortly before midday the female flew to the pruned Ash tree and 03 returned to the nest perch.

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I chatted which Jenny, my replacement, for a few minutes explaining the morning’s events and then began the walk back to the car. I normally take a final look back to the nest at the first gate, but today I kept glancing back until the final gate just to make sure they were both still there, taking some comfort that for the time being they at least have their nest to share if not their eggs, but knowing that the ‘hostile takeover’ situation is not yet over.

Thursday, 30th April – Site B
I left the car and walked over the cattle grid into the first field. There had been no animals in the field this year since the Osprey season started and I had not needed to carry my stick, I did however consider taking it to 51(11)! As soon as I started walking I spied a couple of horses. I love horses and spend very little time with any these days, I miss their smell and the velvety feel of their muzzle. Years ago my husband bought me a 4 year old failed racehorse, I called her Holly, Holly Berry, well she was a Christmas present. I kept her for 27 years until her heart gave out, I think a little of mine gave out the day she died. To lose an old friend with whom you’ve had fun, excitement and pain is so very sad. We thought we’d lost an old friend a couple of weeks ago, 03(97).

Today though there are to be no sad thoughts as I heard the wonderful news yesterday from Tim that the pair are incubating again. So I set off with a spring in my step. It’s a sunny morning, a slight breeze and feeling cold. I reach that final gate and see one on the nest and one on the perch. 03 has fed on a trout which he brought in at 7am, but Janis tells me that the female seems disinterested in it and thinks she could possibly be about to lay another egg. It isn’t until 8.35am that Janis leaves, there is always so much to talk about and each conversation with a fellow volunteer is like another piece of a jigsaw puzzle illustrating the lives of the Rutland Ospreys.

The female began sitting low in the nest on Sunday afternoon

Shortly before 9am 03 is hassled by a Crow and delivers the fish to the female which she takes to the T perch and 03 settles down to incubate. At 9.10am I watch as she finishes off the fish and returns to incubation duties. 03 flies around briefly and returns to the nest perch to preen, but the two Crows from earlier start to dive bomb the nest and 03 shoos them away. At 9.40am there is another changeover and the female flies to the top of the pruned Ash, but within minutes a Crow actually forces her off the branch and she returns to the nest. She lets 03 know she wants to incubate and he stays on the nest with her, both of them dozing.

Things were certainly back to normal because as I glanced up from writing, I saw that 03 had disappeared, up to his old tricks, just as if he knew I wasn’t looking. Around 15 minutes later he came overhead and was seriously battling with what I presume were the same two Crows. I watched as he did a vertical elevation several feet into the air with his feet dangling, to take himself above the Crows and hopefully into a better position for attack. He eventually landed on the nest and one of the cheeky Crows landed on the nest perch only to be shooed away by 03. I had read back through the diary for the past week and it appeared these Crows had been making nuisances of themselves for days; they must have a nest nearby, possibly with young.

A Red Kite circled over the nest but the pair simply watched and a pair of Buzzards appeared in the tall tree behind the nest but there was no reaction from the Ospreys. 10.47 they changed over incubation duties and 03 flew to one of his favourite perches, a branch in the small Oak tree to the left of the nest. I love to see him sitting there and I smiled to myself that things were definitely back to normal but sadly it was short- lived as those pesky Crows forced him off and he returned to the nest. They swapped duties a couple more times but ‘ditto’, the Crows annoyed them and each time they returned to the nest.
As I finished my shift the female was incubating and 03 was on the nest perch. I walked away glancing at them until I reached the gate and I looked back at them one final time. I know the pair will cope with the Crows, although of course they will have to be vigilant with the eggs. I didn’t look back again, happy in the knowledge that, fingers crossed, all is well at Site B and they are back in routine. And finally I am going to step off this rollercoaster on which I seem to have been riding for weeks and get back into my own routine.

03(97) was settled at Site B until 51(11) returned