An Olympic Day

Here is Ken’s report from a fantastic day last week…

Tuesday July 3rd :

A damp, overcast morning in the county of Rutland. In villages and towns all around Rutland Water, people are up early, making last minute preparations for their part in a very special series of events ~ the Olympic Torch will be carried through the district today!

In one particular village, not too far from where I am watching the Site B family this morning, children and adults alike are going through last minute routines. There will be songs, dances and cheers to greet the torch as it is carried through the streets. Crowds will gather, waving flags, blowing trumpets, clapping their hands. It’s been going on for more than forty days throughout the length and breadth of the land. But today it’s the turn of Rutland – The smallest county in England maybe, but ‘multum in parvo’ as the County motto says.

I conclude my morning watch at the Site B nest. ‘Off to see the Torch’ is my final comment in the log. I park well outside the village and walk in past people hurrying to gain a good vantage point for the moment the Torch passes them. Here is the school where Osprey Project team members recently took morning assembly and gave the children and their teachers a presentation about the Osprey families which live so close by. The whole school community will be out to witness the progress of the Torch.

Amidst great excitement, we see the white-clad runner bearing the golden torch running towards us, surrounded by guardians, and followed by cars and coaches in special Olympic livery. As it passes, the flame flickers brightly in the grey sky as the torch-bearer holds it aloft for all to see. It’s gone in a moment. The crowds cheer. Some run after the torch, not wanting to lose this experience so soon. Others start to disperse homewards.

The Olympic torch in Rutland


I look up. A distant speck in the sky. An Osprey watcher is never without a pair of binoculars, but even without them I know who this bird is, soaring high over the village through which the Torch is even now just passing. Broad strong wings, gleaming white breast, confident circles in the air. A less experienced bird might well have mistaken the shining wet road for a winding river, or the gilded torch for the glint of a shining fish in the water. But this Osprey is fifteen years old, already a nest builder during the Sydney Olympics of 2000, a father of six (including 5R and 5N) by the conclusion of the Athens Olympics of 2004, and of no fewer than eighteen by the time the flame was extinguished in Beijing in 2008. That figure will, we hope, be raised to twenty seven when the London Olympiad reaches its climax later this summer. His scientific name ‘Pandion’ recalls a legendary Athenian King ~ a fitting Greek connection on this memorable day.

Leaning against a wall, I watch him for a long time. Inevitably my concentrated gaze attracts attention, and a small girl, perhaps seven years old and part of a class walking by, asks me what I am looking at. ‘It’s an Osprey’, I reply. She peers upwards, shielding her eyes. ‘Oh yes’, she says ‘I see it’, and tells everyone around her. ‘You came to our school and told us about the Ospreys’ she adds. She’s right. And little does she know how happy and proud she has just made me feel.

Later the same day, I am at Whitwell Creek to see the Torch take to the water across the reservoir to Normanton, from where it will resume its land journey out of our county and into Lincolnshire and beyond.

As always I am scanning, scanning and scanning. Would it be too much to hope for? I’ve already had one Osprey soaring high over the Torch procession. Could 5R(04) possibly put in an appearance this afternoon? I keep hoping, but fail to spot him. In my mind I imagine him, I conjure him, his memory stirred by the Torch back to the year of his birth (2004), when he and his sister 5N first sailed out from Site B over the waters as Athens prepared for the XXVIII Olympiad. There is no sign of him as the flame flickers and falters in the breeze as the boat puts out from the harbour. He is watching, I know he is.

And how many other Ospreys have been close to the Torch as it wends its way through Rutland and Leicestershire today? Maybe some of our returning band of two year olds, experiencing their first Olympic year, saw it as they criss-crossed a wide area, revisiting their natal sites, or cruising around looking for possible nesting places in years to come? Did 28(10) see it as he re-visited his birthplace at Site B? Or 30(10), the young male who first launched away from the Manton Bay nest in July 2010? Or maybe 11(10), son of 08(97) and 5N(04))? And then there’s that young female 25(10), daughter of AW(06) and hatched at Site O ~ did the Torch catch her attention as she moved through her old haunts? I like to think so.

The last time we had an Olympiad in the UK was in 1948. At that time, there had been no breeding Ospreys in England for nearly one hundred years. There were none in Scotland, apart from the occasional vagrant. Rutland Water did not exist. Now, sixty four years later, we have a developing colony here in Central England, over 220 pairs in Scotland, small numbers becoming established in Wales and Northern England ~ and of course another Olympic Games starting soon.

If we have to wait six or seven decades for another UK Olympics, how many pairs of Ospreys will we have by then? It will be up to that little girl who witnessed the Torch passing and then saw an Osprey soaring over her village, and thousands of children like her, to grow up and continue to value and protect their environment and every creature living in it. If they do, then Ospreys, like the Olympics, will go on forever.

6 responses to “An Olympic Day”

  1. Margaret McCallum

    What a wonderful blog–thank you so much. My old English teacher would definitely have given you an A for that. Fabulous description of the whole event

  2. Pat Selman

    That is an incredibly beautiful, moving and heart-felt blog, Ken. it has brought a lump to my throat So poetic and positive too

  3. Nick Gordon

    Ken, thank you for yet another of your wonderfully descriptive diary entries, I’ve never commented before, but always look forward to, and thoroughly enjoy, reading yours in particular!
    I love your mention of the little girl’s comment, and your point in closing, that of course, it’s the youngsters we need to become enthused enough to get involved in the conservation of our Ospreys. I’m sure that with the work you all do at Rutland, particularly with the African project, plenty of these kids will be motivated to become involved themselves – you should all be extremely proud of the work you do, many thanks!!
    Regards, Nick Gordon

  4. Lynette Foster

    What a super blog Ken and so glad you saw the torch procession go by and an osprey to boot overhead.

  5. Dee Ewing

    Ken – what a fabulous blog – so evocative. Rutland are very lucky to have you. Well done!

  6. Sue Doran

    As fascinated as we are in what Ospreys do, it appears they are interested in what we do too 🙂 This is a wonderful blog posting, I echo all that others have said before me in the responses.