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Hatching at Manton Bay – the first few hours

The Manton Bay camera allows us to get a unique insight into the first hours of a newly-hatched Osprey’s life. Here are the highlights from day one before the second chick hatched.

BBC East Midlands Today

The disappearance of 08(97) will be featured on BBC East Midlands Today at 6:30pm on BBC1 this evening.

Sunshine after the rain

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.

A Close Encounter, Breakfast at Egleton, Expectant Parents at Lyndon…

Dawn at Whitwell Creek, north-west shore of Rutland Water. The cruiser ‘Rutland Belle’ lies at the jetty, ready to take us out on an early morning search for hunting Ospreys and other awakening wildlife. There is a chill in the air, but it is dry and clear. Hushed conversations as passengers check in and have their names ticked off the manifest.

Looking out across the water today, I am recalling an afternoon cruise we did in August 2008, when renowned Osprey expert Roy Dennis was on board with us. We hadn’t been out on the water for many minutes when Roy called from the back of the boat ‘Tim, there’s one over there’, and sure enough, we spotted an Osprey over the Yacht Club. It came closer, obviously in fishing mode, and made two or three unsuccessful dives by the dam. Tim identified it as 08(97) as it flew past ~ the first Osprey to fly home to Rutland Water after translocation in 1997 and homeward migration in 1999 ~ giving everyone on board truly spectacular views. The he started fishing again, and after a couple more terrific (but fishless) dives, he finally went down again, and this time, as he splashed about in the water, we knew he had struck a fish. He rose with the fish in his talons in a shower of water droplets. Everyone watched enthralled as he carried it off into the distance. A champagne moment indeed. Almost three years ago now, but every second of that sequence remains crystal clear in my mind ~ even the aftermath, as he towered to a great height, still carrying the fish, and ~ just a speck now ~ circled on the edge of a black storm-cloud before disappearing. He was displaying, even in August, ever the showman. A wonderful memory of a very special bird. Sadly, we knew we wouldn’t be seeing him this morning.

Everyone is on board now. We’re leaving the Creek and heading out, just as we did on that day three years ago. And, amazingly, after just a few minutes out on the water, we spot an Osprey flying towards us. We know it’s not one of the two breeding males with nests nearby, because watchers there have sent us texts saying that they’re both still at home. So who is this? Maybe 09(98) or 01(09)? Hard to say. We watch him for a few minutes and attempt to follow him in the boat ~ a difficult manoeuvre for our good Captain! As the morning progresses we investigate all the places where an Osprey might fish, but we do not locate another one. Nightingale song floats out to us from the wooded shore line ~ we listen in rapt silence.

Back at Whitwell Creek, everyone disembarks with thanks and appreciation. The delicate aromas of sizzling Rutland bacon from Grasmere Farm, locally sourced eggs and bread rolls from the brilliant Hambleton Bakery draw us all in to HQ at Egleton, where we find Chef Stammers and other members of the team preparing our breakfast feast on outdoor stoves. It’s a real treat. Thanks and congratulations all round.

Finally I head round to Lyndon, where it’s day 36 of incubation at the Manton Bay nest, and all eyes are on the big screen every time there’s a change-over, checking if there is the merest hint of a crack in one of the three eggs. There isn’t. Men are pacing up and down. Women are calmer, saying things like ‘They’ll come out when they’re good and ready.’ I stare idly out of the front window in the Visitor Centre, over towards Lax Hill, and am suddenly conscious of an Osprey struggling against the wind with an enormous trout tucked in below. So 5R did go fishing after all! And what a catch it is! He takes it to the perch in Heron Bay, and starts to eat. His mate remains on the nest, calling expectantly. Michelle sits me down in front of the screen and video recorder with very clear instructions to ‘press the red record button’ if anything interesting looks likely to happen. I sit transfixed, finger poised to the point of painful cramping! At last, thirty minutes later, I hear 5R has left the perch and is on his way to the nest! I press the button and hey presto! I record a perfect change-over as the rear half of the fish passes from claw to claw, the female departs with it, and 5R settles into incubation. I am so proud of my recording skills that I show the clip repeatedly to everyone who enters the Centre, whether they want to see it or not! Fortunately Tim is impressed.

A Stoat runs along the grass, right in front of the Centre window. A certain member of staff shouts ‘Look, a Weasel!’ The rest of us exchange knowing glances. Chris brings in a copy of ‘The Sun’, containing an unhelpful piece of writing about the loss of 08(97) by Jeremy Clarkson. Tim is much happier when he reads the balanced and accurate report of the same incident in ‘The Times’, written by Simon Barnes. Talent and accuracy will always overcome the egotistical need to be controversial. At this point the two guests I have been expecting arrive, and after a chat in the Centre and the loan of binoculars for them, we walk down to Wader Scrape, where the female is still enjoying her trout lunch.

By the time we get back two hours later, she is back on the eggs, still twitchy, unsettled, and anxious. Can she hear soft peeping from inside the shells? Can she feel small hearts beating just below her own? There’s no knowing, but we hope it won’t be long now. Maybe tomorrow…..when I shall be here again.

Postcript – The first two Manton Bay chicks hatched on 24th May, shortly after Ken wrote this piece.

Hatching at Manton Bay

For the past week we have been watching the Manton Bay nest looking for the slightest indication that hatching might be imminent. Every time the female moved, shuffled or looked into the nest, we wondered. Is it about to happen? By Monday evening the birds were looking restless, but still no chick. We began to worry. Was there a problem?

I arrived at the Lyndon Centre at 6:45am on yesterday morning hoping that things might have changed. When I switched the nest camera on the female was sitting tight and so I had a quick look through the morning’s recordings. At around 5:45 the female stood up and carefully inched away from the nest cup.  And there, through the early morning murk, I could just make out a chick breaking out of its shell. At last!

By 7:30 the light had improved considerably and 5R arrived back at the nest with a small fish. Rather than eating any himself, he passed it straight over to the female and she very delicately offered tiny pieces to her newly hatched chick. Fantastic!

The youngster, now two hours old, was still very weak and barely able to hold its head up for more than a few seconds. It did however eat several small pieces of fish, before the female settled back down to brood it. Over the course of the day the female continued to offer fish to the chick every half an hour or so; helped by a constant supply of fish. In all, 5R brought six fish – including one very large roach – back to the nest between 6am and 9pm. Not bad going!

It was fascinating to see how the chick developed over the course of the day. By early evening it had grown noticeably stronger and was able to hold its head up for prolonged periods. At 6:30pm we were watching another feeding session when suddenly we noticed a second egg was hatching. Half an hour later the youngster was out of the shell and at 9:30, when 5R delivered yet another fish to the nest, the new arrival was already jostling for position with its older sibling. It was great end to a fantastic day. We’re now keeping our fingers crossed that the third egg hatches at some point in the next couple of days. Keep watching the webcam. We’ll also be uploading highlights of the day later on this afternoon.