A tale of two sites …

A few years ago at our volunteers end of season party, the project team produced and directed a DVD for us to watch, ‘Ospreyenders’. It was hilarious and brought a smile to my face when I thought about it through the dark winter months. I think over the past few weeks at Manton Bay we’ve seen a whole box set of ‘Ospreyenders’ and whilst not wishing to trivialise the situation, it would rival any soap opera on TV. Over the years, watching and observing the Rutland Ospreys, there have been moments of great happiness, huge sadness, tremendous excitement and some funny ones along the way too. I really don’t think my dictionary has enough words to describe the events that have taken place at Manton Bay over the past couple of weeks.
26th March, Manton Bay
This was my first shift of the season at Manton Bay. It was very cold with an easterly wind blowing and, like the Manton Bay female, I was on my own. My co-volunteer, Don, is still having chemotherapy. As Don and I parted company last August, he was starting treatment for cancer and I worried about him. We kept in touch through the winter by email and he told me that he didn’t think he would be able to volunteer this season. I knew that I would miss him, as not only have we become good friends, he has a wealth of knowledge about the project, having been involved since it began in 1997 and regales the visitors with the most wonderful stories and I learn about the early days that I so wish I had been involved in too. I had been in the hide for about an hour when someone started to slide the door. I was expecting Tim to appear as the battery for the iPad was flat. As I turned, there stood Don, he’d come to say ‘hello’. What a lovely surprise it was and to see him looking so well too. Osprey action took over then as the female took to the air to see off another Osprey. A few minutes later Tim turned up and informed us that the intruder was 25(10), the female who bred at Site C last year. She too must have been feeling lonely like the female in this bay. Sadly 5R(04) didn’t turn up and the female continued waiting for him.
During last winter the team and volunteers cleared the channels in front of Waderscrape hide and that morning I saw Water Voles gliding across the channels. One of my challenges of this season is to photograph one, that morning I wasn’t even getting my binoculars to my eyes before they had disappeared. There were lots of Tufted Ducks, Goldeneyes, Shelducks, Canada Geese, Jackdaws, Cormorants, the odd Reed Bunting and more. I had a steady stream of visitors which kept me busy and I can honestly say that it was lovely to be back. It was cold, but this time last year those channels were iced over, so I shouldn’t complain.
9th April, Manton Bay
I wrote this on the Rutland Osprey Project facebook page on the day of my shift when emotions were running high about the non-return of 5R and the ‘new kid on the block’, 28(10), had taken over.
“Sometimes you need to step back and see ‘the bigger picture’. I was on duty at Waderscrape this morning when the team realised that an egg had been laid, surprisingly early, so early in fact that it probably took the mature female, Maya, by surprise let alone 28(10), who let’s face it, only turned up on Sunday to mate with her. I say ‘step back’ because this young male has come in for a fair bit of criticism today for his lack of maturity in incubating that first egg. What you didn’t see from the webcam was him arrive at the nest just after 11am, think about taking over incubation, but then fly off – he was chasing off two buzzards, quite a tussle with one of them which took them high in the sky towards Lyndon Centre. If I had been watching the webcam I would probably have thought that he had just chickened out of incubation, but he was doing exactly what is expected of him at this stage, seeing off predators and protecting that egg. Later in the morning (can’t give you the exact time as the hide was full of visitors) he flew high over Manton Bay towards the bridge and at the second attempt caught a large ‘fish’, which as a volunteer I am supposed to identify. Visitors in the hide tried to help, but we just knew it was big and it could have been a perch or ….? And visitors in Shallow Water Hide must have had the most amazing view of him catching that fish. He proceeded to eat it on the ‘wonky’ perch in front of Shallow Water and I know that after my shift had ended, he delivered a fair portion to Maya. Maybe he has a bit to learn, but to my mind seeing off intruders and providing food is a good start.”
As I entered the centre before the start of my shift, Tim was on the phone but pointed at the screen. My heart leapt as I thought that maybe 5R had returned, but Tim was in fact pointing to the first egg. As I drove down the track two Red-legged Partridges were trying to outrun the car before scurrying into the hedge. As soon as I reached the hide I caught up with the events of early morning. Once on my own there was a cacophony of noise from a few Oystercatchers flying past. Jackdaws were busy building a nest in the bottom of the dead tree, the Cormorants and Mallards were basking in the sun, the Dexter cattle on the far shore were snoozing, a pair of Gadwall appeared down one of the channels and a pair of Tufted Ducks down another channel and the Water Voles didn’t appear, they’d probably heard that the paparazzi were ready to snap them.
As I checked the webcam in the evening for the final time that day, Maya looked to be nodding and I knew that 28(10) would be roosting nearby. I had very mixed emotions at Waderscrape today. Having watched over 08(97) and 5N(04) a few years ago, and then 5R(04) and Maya, I thought about what a magnificent provider 5R(04) had been. How quick we are to accept new partners for these birds in our excitement of a new season, but let’s not forget the ones who don’t make it back, or don’t even make it to their wintering site.
10th April, Site B
This was a special day for me as it was my first shift at Site B. Once the festive period of Christmas and New Year is over, my mind turns towards the oncoming Osprey season. I very often drive within the vicinity of Site B and every year without fail, I begin to worry about the fact that 03(97) might not return. This worry increases with each passing week until it is announced to the whole world that Mr Rutland is back. He did it again this year, first of our Ospreys to return. I never once thought that 5R would not return, I think I took it for granted that he would return year after year, just as 03 has done, and entertain the world.
Upon leaving the car, I walked along the track through the field, where a few ewes and lambs could be seen. I looked towards the nest as I approached the final field and could only see the head of an Osprey who was obviously incubating on the nest. When I reached the hide I was told that 03 had been missing for 35 minutes, since 11.25am. Half an hour later he flew back to the nest and changed over incubation duties with the female, who flew to the left-hand Ash. At about 1pm a couple of Red Kites circled over the nest prompting the female to leave the Ash tree and return to the nest. 03 did not rise though, he is always loath to give up incubation duties. A few minutes later she nudged him and he reluctantly flew to the Ash tree and then to the pruned Ash. A while later a Red Kite appeared over the nest again and the female stood up and 03 flew to the nest. He fleetingly returned to the nest a while later and then flew swiftly away to the south east.
Fifty five minutes later, sitting in the hide, I heard a couple of ‘chips’ behind me, the female looked up over my head and 03 flew to the T perch with an enormous trout that was putting up a good fight to stay alive. 03 perched with the trout dangling from his talons. It seemed almost as if he was catching his breath after flying the distance back to the nest. The trout continued to struggle vigorously and 03 eventually managed to transfer it to his right talons. As the trout hung below the perch I could see that it was as long as 03 was high and I have never seen him struggle so much. One hour later, as my shift ended, he was still tucking into his fish. (I was to learn later from Tim that the pair were still feeding on it the following morning). As I reached the first gate I glanced back at the nest for the first time this season, but certainly not the last, and watched 03 feeding and the female patiently waiting for her turn. 03 and his female are a textbook pair of Ospreys.
16th April, Site B
I left the car and started the trek to Site B. Nursing a cold and having spent far too long the previous day watching both the Manton Bay webcam and also the Dyfi one and hearing about the battles being played out at both sites, I didn’t have my mind on the job ahead. I soon realised that the first field did not just contain sheep that morning; there was a herd of bullocks too. Fortunately they did not spot me and I quickened my step through the first gate. As I took over the shift I was told that there had been a Pied Crow around the hide area. I waited patiently and sure enough it appeared. As it walked in front of the hide the only white parts showing were the edges of the primaries. It paraded in front of me for the whole morning and when it took off, the top side of the primaries and secondaries were completely white. It did interact with five or six crows but was mainly alone. I queried this bird with Tim a few days later who thought that it was probably part albino as Pied Crows are mainly found in Africa. It kept my interest through a very peaceful shift. There were Red Kites and Buzzards around for most of the morning and I thought that they were probably the same few who kept reappearing. The Osprey pair will need to be vigilant this year as I have not seen such a presence in the past. This textbook pair will cope.
I live so close to Rutland Water that it is not just volunteering that takes me there. The events in Manton Bay were worrying me, so on Good Friday, on the way to do my shopping in Uppingham, I called in to the Lyndon Centre. 28(10) had been missing for more than a day. The news wasn’t that great really. 28(10) had not been seen and the female had not eaten. The team were concerned about his capabilities as a provider and sadly, were also wondering about the viability of the eggs, as they had been left many times. The following day, Easter Saturday, and still worrying about both 28(10) and Maya, we found ourselves at Lyndon again. 28(10) had been spotted on the ‘wonky’ perch at the far end of the bay at 6am but he seemed not to dare to venture to the nest. Maya had been chasing 33(11) off, but as she spent more and more time off the eggs, it was thought that it was the beginning of bonding between them, but she was also still defending her eggs. We have never seen an Osprey ousted from its nest here in Rutland. We could not even bring ourselves to go to Waderscrape, however from Tufted Duck Hide we saw her having a spat with a Red Kite before returning to the bay. Driving over Manton bridge, on our way home, we saw an Osprey contending with a Red Kite and it would almost certainly have been Maya. She has been defending non-stop and Tim told us that she had not eaten for three days. When I looked at the webcam the next morning, 28(10) was back on the nest but looked cowed.
23rd April, Manton Bay
I drove down the hill to the centre. It was sunny and calm. When I arrived at the hide, 28 was sunning himself on the perch. It was as if nothing untoward had happened. I wished that it hadn’t. There were plenty of visitors who were obviously interested in the shenanigans of the Ospreys, but who were also delighted to see the Water Voles. One young boy spotted one on the mud to the right of the hide. It kept scuttling back into a hole and then venturing out again. I haven’t achieved my challenge yet but have several photos of a Water Vole hole. It was lovely to see Maya take a bath and relax a little and also to see 28(10) take over incubation which he had finally learned how to do.
24th April, Site B
It was not just at Manton Bay that things were getting back to normal but also on the approach to Site B too. As I started the walk to the hide, there were the sheep and the bullocks and today, just as in other years, there were also two mares, one with a very small foal which automatically brought a smile to my face.
During the afternoon there was an almost constant presence of Red Kites and Buzzards. An Osprey circled over the nest too and prompted 03 to leave his favourite perch in the small Oak. I called Lyndon to warn them that 03 had seen it off in the direction of Manton Bay. From the description that I gave them (makes him sound like a criminal), it was initially thought that it could be 33(11) but I later learned that it was in fact 30(10)who fledged from Manton Bay. Sure enough he did turn up in the bay but didn’t cause any trouble. It was a beautiful warm and sunny afternoon and whilst I don’t mistake a gull for an Osprey very often these days, I almost mistook 03 for a Buzzard. He circled over the rape and his white ‘undercarriage’ took on a yellow appearance from the rape and for a split second it fooled me.
30th April, Site B
I was slightly late leaving home and about 100 yards out of the village, I realised that it was misty and wondered whether the nest would be visible. I parked and hastily set off into the first field. The herd of bullocks started to approach and seemed particularly lively. They certainly took some shaking off. As I walked further along through the field I came across the two mares and this morning, low and behold, two foals; beautiful little bay foals, one fast asleep, flat out under the trees and the other one near his mother. I deviated from the track so as not to wake the ewes and lambs strewn across it and went through the first gate. The rape was now higher than I am and it is a thick yellow blanket. Dressed in black, from the air, I must have appeared like a hole that needed darning in that thick yellow blanket. For the fashion conscious you will know that yellow is one of the colours of the season and it is certainly going to be the colour of the season at Site B, but as we all know, fashion comes and goes and this yellow will fade and eventually go, hopefully before the end of our Osprey season. It’s heavy perfume invaded my senses, clinging to me and its pollen stuck in my throat; it is pervasive.
As I approached ‘the gate’ to the final field, the mist was lifting slightly and I could see the nest, but not 03. That is generally when my heart quickens and a slight panic sets in. It is momentary, as I know he could well be away fishing or out of site on one of many hidden perches. I walked further along the edge of the field and could see an Osprey perched very low on the left- hand Ash. I then saw one flying, but because the rape is so high, and the field undulating, I could not see whether the one was still on the Ash tree perched low or whether it was flying. It was chasing some crows and as I arrived at the hide, I realised that it was the female, taking a little exercise and amusing herself chasing the crows. 03 was incubating and all was calm. She landed on the pruned Ash, preened a little, flew around a couple more times and then landed on the nest to have a chat with her partner. A few minutes later I heard my first Cuckoo of the season which for me always heralds the promise of Summer. A Buzzard glided over to the left of the hide, I could hear a Woodpecker drilling in the wood behind me and I was once again in the peaceful surroundings of Site B. During the morning each Osprey collected some dead leaves or seed pods from the surrounding trees and took them to the nest. Once again there were Buzzards and Red Kites around and at one stage a Buzzard perched on the top of a bush to the right of the hide until it was flushed by another Buzzard. The pair were present for the entire shift; he is obviously supplying plenty of fish. In a few more weeks he will have to up his game, but for now, they are calmly waiting.
May 7th, Manton Bay
I was following a silver coloured car as I drove to the Lyndon Centre and it made me think of Don who also has a silver car. I wondered when he would join me again. I reached the car park and got out of the car, Tim had just arrived too and as we greeted each other, out of the corner of my eye I saw someone approaching us. I turned and there was Don who had come to share the shift for a couple of hours. We drove down to the hide and relieved the early morning shift who informed us that 33(11) had not caught a fish yet that morning. It was my first time at Waderscrape since 33(11) had usurped 28(10) and I can honestly say that I felt a slight resentment towards him. It certainly took a while for me to bring Don up to date with events.
The Osprey pair spent a lot of time on the French perch and the near perch. 33(11) brought in many sticks and clumps of dried grass. On one occasion when he flew to the far shore to collect grass, he flew up and there was another Osprey with him (Maya was still on the nest). And just as quickly as I’d seen the second bird, it vanished and 33(11) flew between Wadercrape and Shallow Water hides. For a moment I thought that I’d imagined it but when I mentioned it to the visitors several of them had seen a second bird too. It could possibly have been the youngster who had returned to Manton Bay only the day before but had still to be identified. 33(11) made several circuits of the bay looking for fish and then flew over to Heron Bay to search. He returned to the nest and although Maya was not food-begging, he took to the air once more and ended flying further afield over Lax Hill. He returned twenty minutes later without a fish. It was windy and the water was very choppy and the sky darkened for quite a while. When I left at 1pm they were together and it would seem that they are bonding. He is a very strong looking bird with a very white front, like his father, 03, and it’s maybe because of that that I warmed to him a little.
May 8th, Site B
The very next day I was back at Site B. The rain had started in the morning and as I left home it was quite persistent. I made sure that I was totally rainproofed before I got out of the car. As I entered the first field I saw the bullocks over at the gate through which I had to pass. I walked on and spotted the two foals and one mare sheltering under the trees whilst the other mare was out in the open pasture enjoying the grass. Preoccupied with the horses I had taken my eye off the bullocks and as I looked ahead straight ahead, they were all coming towards to me, strewn left and right across the track. Fortunately I had remembered my stick today and as they walked slowly towards me, a decision had to be made; should I go for the open field and be chased or should I go for the fence and get crushed. I went for the fence and they started to turn towards me. In the sternest voice I could muster, I shouted ‘Go on’ several times and waved my stick and they got the message, although continuing to give me menacing looks for quite a while. I don’t think I’ve ever been so relieved to get through a gate into a rape field. I trundled along the track, slip sliding my way in my wellingtons through the rape with all my many layers on. My new waterproof boots had been returned as they didn’t meet their specification and I had spent a shift the previous week with a very cold and wet foot. I reached the final gate but it was raining so hard that I didn’t even bother to look across to the nest. I came up a slight incline and decided to have a quick look but couldn’t see 03. I couldn’t even see the female’s head in the nest, she must have been hunkered down low. Then I glanced left again and there he was, perched in tight to the trunk of the left-hand Ash and I was to learn when I reached the hide that they had been in these positions for almost four hours, having shared a small trout at 6.30am. I was told that the birdsong had been wonderful earlier, before the rain set in.

I really didn’t think that I would see much happen that afternoon, because even if it stopped raining, I could’t step outside the hide as the drips would continue to fall from the Oak tree under which the hide sits. Half an hour into the shift, and as if to try to lift my spirits, I heard a cuckoo – just three times. At 12.40 a Red Kite appeared to the right of the nest and was instantly set upon by a Crow, but the Osprey pair only watched. The Kite glided closer and closer to the hide and drifted over, so near and so low, I could almost hear it. A pair of great tits chased each other in front of the hide and over to the fence in front of the rape. At 13.50 03 actually moved and started to preen. At 14.05 as the rain stopped, a Song Thrush sang in the Oak immediately to the right of the hide and 03 flew out to the top of the pruned Ash, preening. At 14.15 they changed over and the female flew to the T-perch. This meant that she had been incubating since 08.47 that morning until 14.15, five hours twenty eight minutes. That is a long time and I wondered if a change over had been missed. The Cuckoo returned, so clear that it must have been very close and the most beautiful Song Thrush was serenading me from the tree just to the left of the hide, it was as if everything was coming alive after the torrential rain. I heard a woodpecker drilling in the trees to the right of the hide. I searched but couldn’t find it and as I turned to look at the Ospreys, the woodpecker, Great spotted Woodpecker, flew right over my head. The Song Thrush was back behind the hide, singing really loudly and there was a Red Kite up in the sky. 15.05and 03 flew swiftly south west, low over the rape and just to the left of the hide. He appeared to be looking up at the dark grey clouds gathering behind the hide and I thought that he had probably gone to fish before the rain came again, but he returned ten minutes later with a twig and they changed over. The female flew to the T-perch, as the clouds grew darker and darker. At 15.32 the femle left the perch and had a tussle in the sky with a Red Kite which eventually disappeared behind the trees to the right of the hide.The female flew behind the trees surrounding the nest and landed high up in the far left-hand Ash watching the Red Kite. As I walked away from the hide the female swiftly flew several circuits of the trees around the nest as if she was in training for a marathon and then she returned to the nest and relieved 03 of his incubation duties. 03 high flew to the left-hand Ash. Earlier in the season I had been thinking that I hadn’t seen any rabbits but as I walked along the track one hopped out of the rape in front of me. I got towards the last gate and looking up saw that a Buzzard was being mobbed by two crows, right over my head, one crow making contact. It hadn’t been the quiet, uneventful afternoon that I expected. Little did I know that it was about to get even more eventful.
I went through the gate into the field with the ewes, lambs, horses, foals and the bullocks. The bullocks were scattered right across the track, really spread out and as I walked further along the track there were about twenty of them lurking in the dark under the trees to the left. As I got nearer they started to stir and the ones which had been lying down, stood up and they all turned towards me and started moving. Then one on my right, a black one looking very threatening, turned and started walking towards me and all of a sudden, whilst they were not that close, they were all around me. I managed to hold my nerve and slowly walked along the track, lifted my stick a couple of times to stop them in their tracks and eventually got back to the car. Some volunteers do not visit Site B for the very fact that the bullocks are there and after that experience, I don’t blame them. However, wild horses or should that be bullocks, will not keep me away from that nirvana of a place.