An early start all round

Here is a brilliant report from one of our volunteers Gavin Young, who wrote this following his early morning shift at Site B.

The 0415 alarm call is, at first, unwelcome as I am woken for my first monitoring shift of the season and shuffle to the kitchen to put the kettle on. I say unwelcome, but it doesn’t take too long for me to warm to the task. A little while later I take some enjoyment at having the A14 largely to myself and the journey north is vastly improved by the rising sun. As I pass into Rutland the beautiful surroundings distract me a little and I miss my exit but still arrive with plenty of time to enjoy the walk in to the hut.

On arrival, I find that I am not the only early riser. The female is on the T-perch finishing off a meal presumably caught by her mate earlier this morning and brought back to the nest site. When she has finished she returns to the nest to take over incubation, dislodging her mate who seems reluctant to leave, but makes his way over to a favourite perch on the left hand ash. In the wood behind, through a mess of twigs and leaflets a crow paces up and down, plotting. A pair of yellowhammers call back and forth and a woodpecker makes his way through the wood behind, hammering intermittently.

It’s a lovely place to be and especially on such a beautiful day. But it’s not just for the enjoyment that we come to this spot to watch the Ospreys. I have already noted in the file that the female is feeding and if the male had not been up so early I may have had some chance of identifying the fish species. Over the next couple of hours the pair switch positions and, more importantly, incubation duties – the timing is duly noted. A little later, as I leave, a goose is pointlessly bothering the nest site and is chased away. As I watch the lumbering bird give up and move on, the more agile Osprey in tow, my replacement is no doubt scribbling down the details. All these daily and regular incidents are recorded, compiled and analysed to improve our knowledge of Osprey behaviour.

There is yet another reason why volunteers give so much time for these magnificent yet vulnerable birds and that is protection. During incubation, nests are watched to guard against and deter egg-collectors. I have spent many late evenings and nights here with a colleague with nothing to see in the darkness but the other-worldly view through a night-vision telescope, waiting to be relieved by the rising sun and its dawn chorus accompaniment. In addition, Tim and his team communicate with local landowners to explain the project and foresee any issues that may arise. Ospreys in the UK enjoy legal protection as well as their fame.

But what about when Ospreys are off our patch? The dangers of migration have been illustrated recently by tracking satellite tagged 09’s Spring 2012 journey way out to sea (and back, fortunately) before his unfortunate end on a ridge in the Atlas Mountains on the return journey in Autumn. Those who do succeed in their journey face further problems with other Ospreys and local human populations as they compete for territory and food. Although inconclusive, it seems that AW’s demise in early 2012 could have been at the hands of man and there have been other cases of Osprey’s being targeted as they compete with local people for fish .But there is evidence that when the same people are educated about the lives and amazing journeys these birds make, they are much less likely to be taken.

Over the last few years the Rutland Osprey Project has set up an education project in The Gambia to help students learn about wildlife, bird migration and Ospreys. Book sales, concerts, marathons and other challenges have together raised funds to supply five schools with computer and optical equipment. The schools have also been linked with schools in the UK for the benefit of all involved – not least, our Ospreys.

The team are hoping to continue this work and widen the scope of the West Africa Project by including more schools both home and abroad. And with this comes another year of book sales (many natural history books have been donated and are available to buy from the Lyndon Visitor Centre) and challenges, with plans for some of the team to begin a migration of their own. Sometime in early autumn they will begin their journey by cycling from Rutland to Dover, followed in 2014 with a row across the English Channel.
Back to the present and everything is busy in Rutland with eggs in nests, eyes glued to the webcam and hordes ready to descend on Lyndon over the bank holiday weekend. Off site, female 12(10) is causing a stir by staking a claim to the Dyfi nest vacated by the Rutland bird Nora from last year, a sign that Ospreys are really making progress in the UK. With all this mania nationwide, I feel privileged to have had the Site B pair all to myself, if only for a couple of hours.

3 responses to “An early start all round”

  1. Lynda Berry

    OH NO ! ! Not more competition in the diary-writing stakes – only joking Gavin. What a beautiful report – thank you so much. Site B is a very special place and I find that although we all write about in different ways, we all seem to paint the same picture. Thanks again.

  2. Peter Pritchard

    Excellent blog Gavin, lovely way to catch up with life at site B after our migration to OZ this winter, avidly waiting to get back to site B ourselves.

  3. Brian Hayes

    A really nicely written piece. We can’t all be with you on your watches but it’s great to hear what you get up to and why you do it. Thanks for taking the time to write this. Hope the birds stay safe.