Tuesday 2nd August : Week 20 : 8.00 – 12.00 at Site B : Warm, 19 degrees C, calm and sunny.
I’m still on a high after the amazing events in Manton Bay on Sunday afternoon, so there’s a real spring in my step as I walk down to the watch-point, breezily greeting the bullocks and the horses on my way. Tom and Ann report a busy two hours since they arrived at 6.00am, with a fish delivery and a lot of action around the nest. We chat for a while, and out of the corner of my eye I spot 33 slide off his perch and fly purposefully south. The time is 7.59 : my shift has not even started yet, and he has left! We know where he is likely to be heading, don’t we? Of course, he’s had his fishy breakfast and now he’s off to spend the day with his new chums in the Bay! And there’s a Family Fun Day there today too! No doubt he will join in with the fun! That could be the last I see of him today!
Oh, well, at least his Mum and Dad are here…..but not for long. Time : 8.05 : 03 leaves his perch and flies strongly east. Is it a fishing trip, or another day excursion to see ‘the boys’ at the other nests? Five minutes into the shift, and I’m down to one Osprey. Time : 8.14 : the female launches into the air and flies along the front of the wood and then south-east. Where is she off to? Goodness only knows. So, 15 minutes gone, three and three quarters hours of shift remaining. No ospreys. Every few minutes, I scan the empty nest and all the favourite perches, and forlornly search the skies for a familiar shape returning. Nothing. This has the feel of early September, not early August. It could be a long morning……
So, what does an Osprey watcher do when there are no Ospreys to watch? Well, if you’ve got a companion with you, you chat, you set the world to rights, you generally pass the time with light congenial conversation. But if, like me today, you’re a lone worker, you have to invent some more ingenious strategies to prevent the onset of delirium. For a start, I pretend the wooden shed is in fact a charming beach-hut like the one I used to love at Frinton-on-Sea. I take a canvas chair outside, set it up under the oak-tree, and take my boots off ~ wonderful! I pour a coffee and eat a sandwich. I take out my note-book and make a list of ‘things-to-do’ in the next 225 minutes :
- watch and study in minute detail the behaviour of every living thing I can see (birds, butterflies, insects, mammals). If desperate, extend the list to include inanimate things like clouds and aeroplanes.
- make list of jobs I’ve got to do when I get home.
- write a story for children about Ospreys, for use when we start going to schools again in September
- listen to other people’s conversations on the radio link with Lyndon and Manton Bay (This one fails badly as soon as I hear John say ‘Yes, all five birds present in the Bay’)
- contemplate the season with all its comings and goings, ups and downs, thrills and spills.
- think about all the new people I’ve met this year, the old friendships strengthened, the new experiences, the exciting times to come.
It’s 9.50 now. No Ospreys maybe, but my sweep across the blue sky with the binoculars produces just a few migrating Swifts at a terrific height, and ~ up there with them ~ a single Hobby~ my second in three days~ circling, soaring, drifting, darting ~ its body full of curves, arrow-sharp, aerial perfection. Maybe a local breeder, or a migrant, who knows? Today is all the better for seeing that.
Tim phones and says I needn’t stay if I don’t want to in view of the lack of Ospreys. Actually I’m enjoying it. The Ospreys may be away, but this is still their home and I’m almost ‘house-sitting’ for them ~ except that I’m not doing a very good job and those dratted Magpies are all over the nest, searching for little fishy morsels that might be in there. And Buzzards are sailing around without fear of dive-bombers from above today ~ are they still intruders even though no-one is at home? Anyway, I couldn’t possibly leave. What if they come back? What if my relief team (Bob and Norman) reached the hut and found it all locked up and deserted? Not good form at all.
I look back in the notes. ‘No Ospreys all shift’ someone had written on Sunday, and ‘Ditto’ was written underneath for Monday. Well at least it’s not been that bad today. I did have them for 14 minutes!
11.00am : No change : From my low position in the canvas chair, I survey the clouds (Desperate Measure No.1). I’ve got a fabulous book called ‘The Cloud Spotter’s Guide’, but I wish I’d paid more attention to it because I’m still having trouble sorting out my ‘cumulus mediocris’ from my ‘cumulus humilis’. Tiring of that, I spot a row of five ladybirds walking along a strand of barbed wire in front of me (Desperate Measure No.2). Different sizes, different number of spots. Four are red with black spots, one tiny one is yellow with black spots. The front one comes to a barb in the wire and stops. The others line up behind him, but then grow impatient and try and climb over him. Two fall off, one flies, the front one turns round and goes back. I am attempting something Darwinian to explain this, when my mobile rings. It’s my car dealer. My vehicle is being recalled for an urgent safety check and could they have it as soon as possible? Great. Is it going to explode? Or fall to pieces? Oh no, Sir, nothing like that, we just need to check it over for you….So that’s tomorrow sorted.
11.50 : My relief approaches! I hastily put my boots on and return the beach hut to its former identity as a shed. As always, we talk for a while, about the Ospreys (or lack of them), about cricket, the public school system, and other vital topics. As I walk back, I conclude that this has been a very enjoyable morning which I would not have missed for the world. It’s all part of the Osprey Experience, and the knowledge that this pair and their juvenile are now acting independently away from the nest for much of the time is yet another useful piece of the jigsaw.
Back at Lyndon, the Family Fun Day is in full swing. Paul is making loads of bug boxes for eager youngsters, and Tim and Michelle are being interviewed by a reporter from Radio Rutland. Later Michelle introduces me to a super Osprey puppet called Peter, specially created for the grand Puppet Show. How strange! Only an hour ago I was at Site B writing an Osprey story for children and wondering what to call the hero of the tale. Now I know : ‘This is the story of an Osprey called Peter….’ Watch this space for the first instalment!
I drive home (very carefully in view of that phone call!). I wonder if the Ospreys came back for Bob and Norman…….