Another Chapter of Ken’s enjoyable Site B diary!
No time to dawdle on the walk today, or to linger at favourite spots on the way to the watch-point – there is a huge black cloud approaching from the south and it looks likely to deliver one of the forecast heavy thundery showers this morning, just at the time I am at my most exposed! I don’t mind a soaking on the way back, but at the beginning of a four hour shift it can make life unpleasant. So here we go – make a dash for it!
At one point, part of a field has been very finely ploughed in preparation for sowing, and I notice two pale brown birds standing on the far side of it. Visibility is poor, the gloomy cloud is coming down and closing in, and my binoculars are beneath several layers of clothing to protect them from the approaching deluge. I have to stop. What could those two birds be, standing there, out in the open, on the bare brown earth? Quite sizeable, upright stance, a mixture of pale and medium browns. For a minute, I’m back in Africa, and watching Senegal Thick Knees, or even Cream-coloured Coursers, but reality soon kicks back in : this is Central England, in May, and these two birds must be identified. At last the binoculars are retrieved from the depths and just as I focus on the birds they start to hop….yes, hop! Of course, they are Mistle Thrushes, looking huge in the half-light, and eventually flying off with the familiar harsh call. Nice birds, and by no means as frequently encountered as they once were. I move on, just as a bad-tempered Raven goes kronking over me, with a ‘Fancy not recognising a pair of Mistle Thrushes’ look about him.
I make it to the hut in the dry. The Osprey chicks are still less than a week old, safely ensconced beneath their mother. 03 looks particularly fine this morning, his white breast piercing the gloom which still threatens to engulf us at any moment. He too must have witnessed my moment with the Mistle Thrushes, but isn’t as rude as the Raven. Rain starts to fall – I got here just in time. All of us – the Ospreys and I – sit it out. The only living thing still in full voice is the ever-present Song Thrush, heartily throwing out his magical phrases in defiance of all the elements.
Time passes. Eventually the rain stops, giving way to weak, watery sunshine. The Thrush is joined by a chorus of sopranos, mezzos and contraltos as all species in the vicinity seek to re-assert themselves. Three Grey Lag Geese, honking incongruously in this sylvan setting, do a circuit of the tree-tops. I am conscious today of another undercurrent of sound – it’s the constant buzz and hum of insects, wings whirring at breakneck speed. Bumble bees of various sizes, flies and airborne midges of a thousand kinds – all contributing to the sound.
At 9.02 03 leaves his perch at last, and returns to the nest. He picks up the lower half of a large trout, brought in early this morning, and starts to feed from it on the edge. Then I witness a behaviour which several observers have noted since hatching – he actually delicately offers small pieces of fish to the female, who is now standing beside him. She accepts and swallows them, and looks at him for more. I count twenty passes like this in succession before I lose count and start again. Eventually, approximately one in five or six morsels are passed down into the nest cup, and presumably fed to one or more of the tiny chicks, out of my view. This behaviour lasts for 10 minutes, after which the female settles again over the chicks, and 03 continues to eat on the edge of the nest. Bits of fish skin and sinew fall from the scant remains, and get caught on twigs and branches as they drift downwards.
I give my eye a rest from the telescope, and consider what I’ve just witnessed. I have seen 03 feed the chicks before, but feeding the female is new behaviour for me. Looking back in the log, I see that other observers feel it is at least unusual, and maybe exceptional. All of which goes to prove : there is always something new to learn, no matter how many years, and how many hundreds of hours, we spend with these spectacular birds.
The weather is dry now. The bright yellow of the rape blossom may be fading, but the overall impression here now is of a rich, lush, seething eco-system, overflowing with new and vigorous life. Just as I am writing this, a most exquisite female Fallow Deer tiptoes delicately past me in the long grass, ears and tail twitching, large eyes and quivering nostrils ever alert to any danger. I am lucky today – the breeze is carrying my scent away from her. She drifts to the edge of the rape field and almost effortlessly clears the barbed-wire fence. She looks back just once before merging silently into the crop. I suspect she has a fawn secreted somewhere nearby in the undergrowth ; she visits it every few hours.
Another call, familiar but surely out of place, distracts me. High in the air, two Common Terns are displaying and circling together with deep exaggerated wing beats and accompanying elongated cries. I should not be too surprised – we are not too far from their colony on the reservoir. But seeing them away from their normal habitat threw me initially – another ‘Mistle Thrush’ moment!
03 launches into the air at 10.52 and flies rapidly south-west. This could be a fishing trip. However, just twelve minutes later an unidentified male Osprey flies directly over the site, south-west to north-east, hotly pursued by 03, who escorts him efficiently but not over-aggressively, off the premises. He then wheels around and lands on the nest-edge for a few minutes, before sailing off south-west again at 11.20. I hope this time he will not encounter a potential intruding Osprey, and so will be able to go off and catch another fish for his new family.
Thirty minutes go by and he is still not back. I imagine him on a lagoon somewhere, waiting on until the glint of an unwary trout or roach catches his eye and draws him down to a dive……
My time here is over once more and I begin the walk back in the sunshine. At one point I stop to listen to an amazingly rich Blackcap song, and, looking down at my feet, find I am in the middle of a beautiful blue carpet of forget-me-nots. An apt image to end another perfect shift. And next week I’ll do it all again……….