What a brilliant day it was yesterday – 33(11) returned! Education Officer and Osprey Monitoring Volunteer Ken Davies was on duty in Waderscrape Hide when all the excitement transpired – here is the story in his words.
All the Threes……it’s 33!!
Sunday March 27th : Easter Sunday : 1.00 – 5.00pm in Manton Bay.
The first day of British Summer Time! Hooray! There’s a definite spring in our step as Barrie and I walk briskly down to Wader Scrape hide for our third Sunday afternoon shift of the new season. My first Chiffchaff of the year is welcoming us as we emerge onto the top meadow, and it’s not long before we are seeing Sand Martins and a few Swallows weaving intricate patterns out over the lively waters of the reservoir. Intermittent sunshine counteracts the chilly breeze, and the mood is definitely upbeat as we approach the hide.
‘Something’s going to happen today,’ I say to Barrie, ‘I can just feel it inside.’
‘You said that last week’, counters Barrie, ‘and nothing did.’
Undeterred, I breezily enter the hide to find Anna making up the log. It doesn’t take her long – Maya caught a fish at 7.30am this morning, took it to the perch and she has not moved since – that’s five and a half hours! Whilst this may not have made for an exciting shift for Anna or her visitors, it makes me even more convinced that something awesome is going to happen this afternoon. Why else would Maya sit there for hours on end, staring watchfully around and hanging on to a fish without actually eating it (apart from the odd nibble)?
At 1.04pm precisely, Maya suddenly rises from the perch and returns to the nest, the fish remnant still firmly in her talons. She stares upwards for perhaps five seconds, and then lifts off again and returns to the perch. What caused that? What had she detected? Maybe another Osprey had passed by at a great height, well beyond our sight and sense capabilities, but within range of hers. She was momentarily excited, without doubt, but perhaps soon realised the passing bird was just that, and had no intention of coming down to the bay for a look.
Serenity returns. Anna departs, just a little dejectedly, and we take over the controls, alert, on edge, pumped up, and (in my case) convinced that Maya’s little movement was the precursor of more exciting events sure to follow. I start to count swallows and martins, but give up when I realise there are now hundreds out over the water. Two Great-crested Grebes decide it’s time to dance, and begin their courtship in earnest, watched by a ring of more soberly attired juveniles, maybe last year’s young. Their turn on the dance floor will come soon enough. Egrets, rumours of a Peregrine, Snipe, Heron – all a good supporting cast today, but not quite enough. I’m with Maya – six days now waiting, a big storm called Katy brewing down south – it’s got to be today.
Just after 2.00pm our good friend Abigail arrives, home on vacation from university, and sensing like me that it is a good day to be down in the Bay. We have a lot to catch up on, and time goes quickly by. Visitors arrive too, today from Windsor, Oundle, Birmingham, among others – all pleased to see one Osprey immobile on her perch, but hoping too there might be another. A very kind woman shares large broken pieces of Easter egg with Barrie and me – delicious, and very appropriate today! Experience has taught us that Ospreys sometimes arrive back here for the first time mid to late morning – maybe they spend the night somewhere on the south coast, perhaps catch a fish early the next morning and then fly up to us here in Central England. Well that slot has well and truly gone – it’s almost 3.00pm now. But that’s not always the case – didn’t Maya drop onto the nest at 6.30am last Monday? So there’s no hard and fast rule – the male might arrive at any moment. Still plenty of time. Stay positive. Adrenalin still high.
3.28pm : I am mid-sandwich when Maya’s wings start to twitch and flick, and she’s up and back on the nest. This time the movements are more urgent, accompanied by neck-stretching, upward stares and high-pitched calls. We peer up into the sky, scanning frantically to find the incoming Osprey that is surely causing all this excitement. At first we see nothing, and she continues to call, to mantle, to crouch low, to whirl around covering all directions.
And then I see him. Coming in at tree-top height from the north, over Heron Bay, and making for the nest. Through binoculars it looks like a male. Maya in the nest is in a frenzy now, beside herself, in an extreme state of nervous movement, eyes bulging, wings a blur of movement. Surely it’s him. It’s got to be him. At last he is at the nest, and touches down beside her. He then commences wing flicking and mantling and together the two of them put on a dazzling show of……..what? Joy, recognition, greeting, or merely instinctive behaviour? They nervously face away from one another on opposite edges of the nest, turning slowly with raised wings in stylised manner, like two warriors strutting around one another. Through the telescope the blue ring on his right leg is clearly visible to everyone in the hide, but we need to see the number. I hurry to the big screen at the other end of the hide – and then the identification is clinched. It is indeed returning breeding male 33(11), father of Maya’s last brood of three, and the King of Manton Bay!
But something strange is happening. Maya has left him in the nest and is towering high above, still grasping the fish, and displaying just like a male when there is a rival about. Could there be a third Osprey up there, an intruding female perhaps, which is provoking this behaviour in Maya? Sure enough, we soon spot a third Osprey, also high in the sky. Perhaps she has been following 33 as he made his way back over the surrounding countryside, and now wants to have a look at his nest. When we look back, 33 has now left the nest himself, and is flying off around the front of Lax Hill, maybe to find his first Rutland fish of the season. He is leaving the two females to sort out their disagreements. Maya is soon back on the nest, still with her fish in her talons (eight hours since caught) and a little calmer.
A few minutes pass, the atmosphere in the hide tense and expectant. Then another Osprey approaches from the Heron Bay area across the reservoir, and lands on the nest. Maya promptly leaves, again with her fish. The blue ring on the bird in the nest shows clearly through binoculars. Well, 33 wasn’t away very long, was he…………..? But hold on a minute…..
The ‘phone rings. It’s the Visitor Centre. Yes, the bird on the nest has a blue ring, but the number is clear – 25!! So, the intruder is identified – it’s 25(10), the breeding female from another of the sites, who has been waiting for her mate of last year to return for over a week now and is apparently on one of her regular forays to visit the other nests. And here she is in Manton Bay, at the most inconvenient of times! We need her to leave, to go back home and allow Maya and 33(11) to rebuild their bond. But before she can leave Maya lands on the nest again by her side, and a tense stand-off occurs for a few minutes before the interloper lifts off and towers, still threateningly, over the nest, while Maya and her much-travelled trout sit staunchly below.
Barrie, Abi and I, together with enthralled visitors, gradually piece together events, but when we look back over the Bay, we find 25(10) is leaving to the north-west, while Maya and (to our surprise and delight) 33 are sitting side-by-side on the perch, both lustily eating fish – he a fresh small pike (his first Rutland fish of the season) and she her now rather decrepit trout. If all goes to plan, Maya should not have to fish for herself any more between now and August – her newly arrived partner will keep her fully provided, as he did last year.
The scene is set. In the late afternoon, the pair sit calmly next to one another, still eating, wings now stilled and properly folded, his whiter chest and darker plumage contrasting in the sunshine with Maya’s slightly paler back and brown throat patch. It’s a tremendous relief to see the pair re-united after seven months apart – a full ten days earlier than last year – both having survived the hazards of migration, wherever that took them. They are the first Rutland pair to get back together this year, and hopefully others, such as 25(10), will welcome partners back soon with similar shows of excitement.
We – the three of us and the visitors – were so lucky to witness this reunion this afternoon – a red-letter day (or blue-ring day) which will remain long in our Osprey memories. Just before 5.00, as our relief team (Jan and Sabine) arrive and we breathlessly try and take them through the saga of 33’s return, I modestly decide to refrain from reminding my companions of my remarks just a few hours ago :
‘Something’s going to happen today. I can just feel it inside.’