Over to Ken, for another inspiring Osprey Chapter!
“This Osprey Life.”
Sunday 15th June : I am joined in Wader Scrape hide this afternoon by a steady flow of very pleasant visitors, many of whom have travelled a long way to see the Ospreys in Manton Bay. They watch intently as the pair share a large trout and then rest peacefully together on their favourite perches. As one very contented visitor says just before she leaves : ‘What a lovely life you must lead, sitting here all day observing and studying these fabulous birds.’ Well, madam, it’s certainly true that we are very lucky and privileged to be involved in the Rutland Water Osprey Project, and today’s four hour stint in the hide has been the usual terrific experience, involving not only Ospreys, but also all the other wildlife which lives and flourishes here. Just after 2.00pm, for instance, a Cuckoo starts to call and a few minutes later it flies swiftly past us, its hawk-like silhouette unmistakable against the grey sky. And at 3.30pm the Water Vole family in the channels become active, giving occasional but regular views to the assembled enthusiasts in the hide. The Ospreys watch us watching them. For me, the people I meet here are as inspiring (well, almost!) as the Ospreys themselves. Earlier on today, I sat and chatted with Kayleigh in the Visitor Centre. She perched on a small stool, finger poised over the ‘record’ button, reminiscent of a young Osprey herself, waiting for 33(11) to deliver his fish to Maya on the nest. She waited and waited….until finally he flew into view and, quick as an Osprey’s talons snapping shut, she captured the moment on camera for the website. Later that afternoon, it was published on the web for all to see. While we waited, JW came in after a long morning in the field. He had been out since 4.00am, waiting in his vehicle in the late moonlight at one of our Osprey’s favourite fishing haunts. He knew the bird would come, and it did, closely followed by another…..watch the website and you may see the results of his endeavours. I am pleased this afternoon too, to meet in the hide Abigail and her parents. I first met her three years ago now, when Michelle and I took the Osprey Roadshow to her school. At the end of our presentation a shy fourteen year old approached Michelle and said ‘How do I get a job like yours?’ Now, midway through ‘A’ levels and preparing University applications for courses in Ecology, she has gone a long way to answering her own question!
Monday 16th June : As I drive through the early morning drizzle towards my first school date of the week, I’m still thinking about the comment that visitor made yesterday – ‘What a lovely life you must lead, sitting here all day……..’ Well, no-one on the Project actually sits around ALL day watching the Ospreys – everyone has a multitude of other responsibilities, as today is about to prove. By 8.15am I’m outside Bringhurst Primary School, a successful and thriving school about ten miles or so from Rutland Water. We have been invited in for the morning to take assembly, and also to do some work with Year 6 (aged 10/11) about adaptations and environment, and with Year 5 (aged 9/10) to provide some stimuli for their persuasive writing. Today’s visit has been conceived and planned by our newly established Outreach and Education Officer Lucy. Last season the Project staff and volunteers visited 26 schools and connected with over 2,000 children, and we are on target to surpass that this year. The lessons proceed with pace and challenge, the students responding really well to Lucy’s prompts. The standard of the work produced is impressively high. Even with an audience as young as this, it is possible, with the right approach, to broach subjects as diverse and advanced as the ethics of translocation and re-introduction, the role of government in conservation, and the responsibilities of all of us in safeguarding the planet for the future. Lucy’s final words are heartfelt and sincere : ‘So come on everyone, do your bit : it’s worth it, isn’t it?’ Every child in the room (and every adult too) agrees. Strong stuff, expertly delivered, all through the medium of the Osprey.
I drive home, still in the rain, with a lot to think about. Yes, madam, you were right : ‘What a lovely life you lead…..’ – and it’s still only Monday!
Tuesday 17th June : If it’s Tuesday it must be…………Site B! It’s Week 11 of monitoring here, and the two chicks are five weeks old. Soon the ringing team will be here to weigh, measure, sex and of course ring them, and then, a couple of weeks later, we will wait expectantly for news of fledging and the first few tentative flights – always an exciting (if a little anxious) time. Today in the early morning sun I wend my way through the by now overgrown paths down to the hut. The rape field, so recently a heady scent-filled experience in dazzling yellow hue, is now mostly a uniform sage green. The pods are filling and ripening, and here and there blood-red stands of poppies stain the swaying head-high swathes of green. The chicks peer over the nest edge, the larger one indulging in short bouts of stunted wing-flapping. ‘Count the consecutive wing-flaps’, one of the pioneering Osprey experts told me years ago, ‘and once it gets to twenty, you know they’re near to fledging.’ It’s nowhere near twenty today. The most flaps we manage to count to is ten – half way there, and looking good. The second chick, considerably smaller, does not flap at all, but watches. Today the story here is mainly of intruding Ospreys, including 28(10), instantly recognisable with his strangely bent wing-tip, and several others which go unrecognised. I decide today I don’t like to call them ‘intruders’ or their visits ‘intrusions’. After all, 03 and his mate are ‘intruders’ themselves as soon as they leave here and pass through nearby territories. ‘Intruder’ is a sinister word when applied to humans. So, from now on, for me at least, intruding Ospreys are ‘visitors’, and their intrusions are ‘encounters’. There are several more encounters this morning, one in particular a swift and unnerving pass by a low flying Osprey at tree-top height, which took 03 and his mate by total surprise. They jumped up on the nest in shock, raised their wings, but had no time to fly before the visitor was gone. At 10.26am 03 moved over towards me as I sat in a low chair under the old oak tree. At the last second he lifted up and sailed over me, barely clearing the top-most branches, the wind in his wings. It beat my ‘proximity’ record by several metres. He is soon back, and collects a fishy remnant from the nest – the remains of last evening’s trout. There is no protest from the nest – they have all had their fill. He takes it to the perch – a scraggy collection of skin and fin as far as I can see. Nothing is wasted, and the last I see is the caudal fin disappearing down his gullet. At 11.26, after a talon clean and a quick preen, he launches forth, away to the south-east, and I know that is the last I shall see of him this morning. Another fish is required. My surmise proves correct, and I write these notes back at the car, resting on the open boot with the last cup of lukewarm coffee.
Just one hour later, I am with Lucy and Barbara in the majestic Assembly Hall at Stamford High School, as we prepare to give our Osprey Roadshow Presentation to an audience of three hundred and fifty girls (aged 12 – 17) and their teachers. This is a very important part of the Project’s work, and we are so grateful to headteachers and their staff for allowing us to come into their schools. In a presentation lasting about half an hour, we outline in words and pictures the Osprey’s story, the success of the translocation project, and the growing international impact of Osprey conservation. We even throw in a snippet of Shakespeare, when we refer to that scene in Coriolanus (Act IV, Scene 7) – all Osprey aficionados know it well – in which the Bard gives Aufidius the lines :
‘………………..I think he’ll be to Rome
As is the osprey to the fish, who takes it
By sovereignty of nature.’
‘Sovereignty of Nature’ – I like that. Definitely a book title there!
Wednesday 18th June : A special visit to Rutland Water today by a team from the BBC TV’s Blue Peter programme! Presenter Lindsey Russell will be filmed working on an Osprey nest on Brown’s Island with Tim and Lloyd, for transmission at some later date. Pictures will be on the website by now. My own association with ‘Blue Peter’ goes back to the 1950’s, when I had a nice letter from Valerie Singleton and Christopher Trace, thanking me for sending them a story about a Moorhen’s nest I found. No Blue Peter Badge though!
Thursday 19th June : Today is the birthday of Osprey Project Manager Paul Stammers, otherwise known as Lord Stammers of Lyndon. A press release this morning stated that Lord Stammers will be spending the day quietly, surrounded by friends and family, at Lyndon Manor. We all send our very best wishes for a Happy Birthday!
Friday 20th June : A very busy day for everyone! School visits at both Egleton HQ and Lyndon, important guests wandering around, plus the daily routine of welcoming visitors and running the Reserve! As if that’s not enough, there are preparations to be made for a special event this evening – The Rutland Osprey Project Inaugural Mid-Summer Lecture and Ploughman’s Supper. I arrive a little late for this, and find everyone already seated at tables and about to tuck into a fabulous supper of local fare – all donated by local producers and suppliers free of charge, in support of the Wildlife Trust and Ospreys in particular. We have pies, cheese, bakery products, wine, spirits and soft drinks – all locally sourced and delicious! And then we are treated to an inspiring address by environmental historian Dr Rob Lambert from Nottingham University, speaking under the title ‘What have Ospreys ever done for us?’ In a wide-ranging and thought-provoking talk, Rob traces the Osprey’s story from the 19th Century era of persecution and annihilation, through the mid 20th Century years of intense protection, to the current status of the bird now as sustainable tourist icon. There are many surprises along the way : careful examination of old records reveals that a small number of Osprey pairs continued to breed in Scotland in the 1920’s, ‘30’s and ‘40’s, and there were a surprising number of people active in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries who observed and described breeding Ospreys, positively encouraged landowners to feel a sense of pride if they had Ospreys on their estates, and voiced concerns that Scottish Ospreys on their way north were being killed in England. These early visionaries deserve recognition, argues Rob, before moving on to praise the work of that ‘radical maverick’ George Waterston, the driving force behind the RSPB’s ‘Operation Osprey’ in the 1950’s and 60’s. Despite opposition and ridicule, Waterston did more to ensure the Osprey’s survival and popularity than any other person, and the Loch Garten nest has become ‘the most observed nest in history’, with approximately 2.3 million visitors so far (and counting). Looking ahead, Rob encourages us all to engage with Ospreys in as many ways as we can – not just scientifically, but economically, culturally, artistically, sociologically, and in countless other ways. The possibilities are endless. He warns against the dangers already being encountered following the amazing success of the Red Kite introduction – initial euphoria is being replaced in some quarters by apathy. Could this be followed by annoyance, irritation, and – ultimately – antagonism, taking us right back to the causes of the disappearance of this and other species in the past? And could this happen to the Osprey in the future? Those of us involved in the educational side of the Osprey Project are certainly doing what we can to counteract the alarming incidence of ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ (NDD) in young people, but our whole society needs to work on this too, to ensure the future prosperity of all our worlds.
One paragraph of mine can hardly hope to cover adequately all that was raised this evening, but Rob has certainly set us thinking afresh about our work and attitudes towards Nature in general and Ospreys in particular. One quote sums up, for me at least, our aspirations :
‘I like to be able to glance up from my everyday work, and see an Osprey.’ (Kathleen Jamie, Findings, 2005).
So may we all, Kathleen, so may we all. After thanks to Lucy (Outreach Officer) for having the foresight and initiative to arrange this terrific event, we depart into the cool June evening . For me, another week of ‘This Osprey Life’………..the next one starts tomorrow!