Ken’s Diary Chapter 3

Another wonderful account from Ken Davies, this time about his shift in Waderscrape Hide in Manton Bay. Read on and enjoy….


Last month’s series of three minor earthquakes here briefly thrust Rutland into the spotlight – at least according to that esteemed daily newspaper ‘The Guardian’, which made the geological excitement the topic for its third leader. Unfortunately I managed to miss all three of them – the first measuring 3.2 on the Richter scale, the second 3.5, and the third just 1.7 – but many visitors to Manton Bay in the days following seemed quite relieved to find us unperturbed and calm, and the waters of the reservoir still and peaceful, with no evidence of a tsunami and no humanitarian aid involving the Red Cross.

Actually, the coverage in ‘The Guardian’ – and doubtless other media outlets too – did us a great deal of good, and we are grateful to the leader writer, especially for this :

‘Now Rutland Water, a kind of inland sea in a landlocked county, has grown into one of England’s finest wetland nature reserves, with internationally important wintering populations of Gadwall and Shoveler as well as five pairs of breeding Ospreys, which produced 14 fledged young last year.’

There are no reports that the Ospreys were disturbed by the earthquakes, although one correspondent on the website did suggest that the aberrant behaviour of the male in Manton Bay could be the result of seismological activity! In any event, the plates appear to have settled down again, and no doubt the events of April 2014 will be recorded in the Rutland annals, just like the meteor of September 1749 (details of latter on request!).

Meanwhile, the season proceeds apace for all residents and visitors – human as well as avian and mammalian. It is always a great pleasure to observe and record returning migrants and these past few days have seen the arrival of many new species, including Terns, Swifts, Swallows, Martins, Cuckoo, and Warblers. Just earlier today a newly-arrived brilliant Yellow Wagtail delighted us in front of the hide, and a rakish Hobby dashed through our field of view and was gone in an instant. Another feature this year has been the regular sighting of Water Voles criss-crossing the channels, giving rise to fanciful allusions to our own version of ‘Wind in the Willows’ (again, details on request!). Add to this Stoat, Fox, Badger, Deer, and hosts of smaller creatures, plus the first appearance of Orchids – and you will understand why so many people love this place.

Today one of our visitors in the hide hailed from Sweden, where she sees Ospreys regularly and awaits their arrival each spring with keen anticipation. This got us talking about the recent ‘World Osprey Week’, during which correspondents from all over the world worked together to track the northward migrations of Ospreys fitted with transmitters – from Amazonia to New Hampshire, from Mozambique to Sweden, and of course from Senegal to Rutland. It was absolutely staggering to watch these journeys unfolding on the screen in front of us. I for one will never forget the Skype call on the last day of the week, when children from Italy, Spain and the UK were united in songs and readings about the Ospreys they had seen. The whole week was uplifting, full of optimism and hope for the future – and the memories of it help us through the ups and downs of this season.

Just after our Swedish friend left us today, 33(11) dived into the water just in front of the hide and emerged with an enormous roach which he managed to carry to the nest in the bay despite the aggressive attentions of a Great Black-backed Gull, which harried him all the way. I suspect that, if the Gull had not been chasing him, he might have made for a more solitary landing place, where he could have begun his meal in peace, but as it was he had to make for the first available port of call – the nest – where Maya was waiting; she eagerly grabbed the fish and took it to the adjacent perch and began to eat! 33(11) regained his composure and then launched out into the bay again. Within seconds he hit the water, this time remaining with wings spread-eagled on the surface, his talons working below to try and gain a proper hold. He made two attempts to get airborne, and each time we saw the back and red fins of a huge roach, perhaps half as big again as the first one. He tried valiantly one last time, but the fish was just too heavy for him. Ospreys cannot remain in the water too long – they do not have waterproof feathers like ducks – so he had in the end to relinquish his hold and take to the air without his prey. He sent a shower of droplets into the air as he shimmied his feathers and shook like a Labrador emerging from a dip in a river, and returned to the perch where he watched Maya eating the fish he had caught just a few minutes earlier. It’s all going in the right direction!

A lull in proceedings, a return to the note book.  People often ask us down here in Wader Scrape hide if there are any good books about Ospreys which they can read to increase their knowledge. Of course the first one we mention is Tim Mackrill’s superb ‘The Rutland Water Ospreys’ (Bloomsbury 2013), which tells the reader everything he or she could possibly want to know about these magnificent birds, but there are other books, notably (for the serious Osprey student) ‘Ospreys : a Natural and Unnatural History’, by Alan F Poole (Cambridge 1989).  I have listed several other titles in a previous diary entry. Only recently I added another one to my growing Osprey Library – a terrific book by Finnish Ospreys experts Pertti Saurola and Juhani Koivu, entitled ‘Sääksi’, which, as all you fluent Finnish readers will know, means ‘Ospreys’. Pertti took part in ‘World Osprey Week’ and provided fascinating data of his Ospreys returning north from deepest Africa. His book contains literally hundreds of fantastic photographs of Finnish Ospreys in colour and black and white……. but the text is in Finnish. Inside, I found a separate summary of the contents in English, and this little note :

‘This book has been published for raising money for the Finnish Osprey Fund. If we can find a publisher, the book, or at least a summary leaflet, will be translated into English in the future. We are very sorry, but until then you can only enjoy the pictures – or begin to learn an exotic language spoken by 40 per cent of those strange people who live north of the 60th latitude.’

Well, Pertti, I’ve bought ‘Teach Yourself Finnish’, but I have to say progress is slow. Finnish seems to me not just exotic, but impenetrable. Here’s a sentence or two from the book (page 77) :

‘Tämänkin jälkeen koiras istuskelee pitkiä aikoja toimettomana pesän lähistöllä ja lähtee kalaan vasta sitten, kun naaras ja poikaset ovat pitkään kiljuneet nälkäänsa.’

See what I mean?  ‘A’ Level French and German, and a background in Latin and Greek make no difference at all. But the pictures in the book are wonderful. Thanks Pertti, a lovely book – written in your own small, intricate, subtle – and totally incomprehensible – language!

Such discursive notes are completed during quiet intervals today : at one point no fewer than FIVE Ospreys were visible on or over the Bay, and minutes later one came hesitantly down to a perch. Who is that? Blue ring right leg doesn’t narrow it down much – but JW is further down in the next hide, so we will wait for him to analyse his photos and maybe come up with an answer. The newcomer soon disappears again, leaving the Bay to Maya and her new companion. Dare we call him a partner yet? Well the signs are encouraging – successful mating, no aggression, fish delivered to nest – promising, maybe not for this season, but for the future.

Thoughts about earthquakes, Osprey books, exotic Finnish….plus Ospreys and so much more in this beautiful setting……all part of a Sunday afternoon at Rutland Water Nature Reserve for everyone lucky enough to be here.


Sääksi, a Finnish book on Ospreys

Sääksi, a Finnish book on Ospreys