Ken’s Diary Chapter Four

Ken Davies has kindly written another account of the idyllic life at Site B. Read on and enjoy! Over to Ken….


Taking the same route regularly at such an early hour means that I see familiar people. I feel I know them, even though I’ve never spoken to them and probably never will. There’s the man reading his paper leaning against the bus stop, the woman jogging along being pulled by two spaniels, the postman on his early round, the man chalking up ‘Today’s Menu’ on the board outside his pub. And familiar vehicles too : the refuse collecting lorry with the registration C4 RUT  (oh yes, even the bin wagons have personalised registrations here in Rutland!), and there’s the farmer taking livestock to the nearby market, his rather elderly Land Rover never exceeding 25 miles per hour!

It’s Week 5 of incubation at Site B, and probably my last shift before hatching. I am alone today.  I emerge from the car and a friendly black cat appears from nowhere and nudges me as I’m trying to hop into my wellington boots without getting my feet wet in the long grass. Then it goes into the middle of the road and lies on its back, looking towards me to see if I want to play. I don’t, but encourage it to leave the road before a feline tragedy ensues, and it slinks away, bent on mischief I am sure. The walk to the watch-point is as delightful as ever : I thread my way through skittish lambs, winsome foals, sedate mares and frolicsome young cattle. I am suddenly conscious that new life is everywhere, and this thought lightens my step and cheers my thoughts. As well as imminent hatchings at the Osprey nest, I imagine hundreds of egg shells beginning to crack in nests hidden away in hedges, holes in trees, under eaves, on beams in barns and a hundred other secret places within my sphere today. Listen! You can almost hear the shells starting to break open! I pause to greet the Egyptian Geese, say ‘Good Morning’ to the Whitethroats, and greet every fellow living thing I encounter with a hearty word or two. Good job I’m on my own today – my happy mood is verging on the eccentric!

The morning is bright and clear after the rain, and my first distant view of the Ospreys confirms that all is well – he in a small oak-tree and she on the nest. I think this is Day 35 of incubation, so we are indeed getting close to hatching. This is first shift of the day, so I have to unlock, set up and begin the notes in the log. Someone has left a copy of last Saturday’s ‘Independent’ in the hut, but a quick look reminds me why I stopped reading newspapers years ago, and I use it to stand my dripping wellington boots on in the corner now that I have changed into more comfortable shoes. I don’t know why, but everything here seems just perfect today – I put my euphoric mood down to the black cat I met earlier! I hope it portends good luck and successful hatching later this week.

03 and his mate take short turns on the eggs. I time each incubation session – ten minutes, fourteen minutes, twenty eight minutes. It seems to me they are changing over much more frequently than in previous weeks. Perhaps they can begin to feel and hear stirrings in the eggs beneath them and want to share this as often as possible with one another. Another sure sign that the young are on the way is the fact that both parents, when not incubating, are bringing in bundles of soft furnishings for the nursery – no sticks now, but instead gentle grasses and stems to support the new arrivals. It’s looking good.

I told a disabled friend about the fantastic chorus of bird songs here and he asked me to try and record it for him to listen to at home. I prepare my recording device and put it outside on a fence-post. I hope it catches the virtuoso Song Thrush, which is pouring forth his ecstatic song just above my head. Only this morning I heard from David Attenborough (not in person!) that most male Song Thrushes have a repertoire of about one hundred phrases, with each one being repeated three or four times before another one is selected in apparently random order. I listen for phrases and try and note them down in sonograph fashion, but give up after about six.

Lone monitoring of the Ospreys means you have to stay alert at all times – otherwise you can easily miss a move.  Even so, I have to study the newly arrived Swifts, which are here in large numbers for the first time this season. A pack of them are high in the blue sky over the wood,  jagging about like black sickle-shaped scribblings, apparently going nowhere but moving inexorably northward. A minute later they are gone. More will be behind them, fronting the next batch of heavy cloud. I come back to earth to find a Brown Hare lolloping lazily past me in the grass. Suddenly he freezes, eyes popping, nostrils quivering, and then he turns tail, presses his ears back and vanishes like an express train. Perhaps he caught my scent, or that of a Fox lurking in the depths of the wood.

Change-overs at the nest continue at regular short intervals. This pair have a close bond. At one point 03 leaves the nest and joins his mate on the nearby perch. For a moment they sit close together. It’s almost as if he is saying : ‘I just felt them move. Quick, go and listen!’ She flies to the nest, looks down and then wriggles comfortably onto the eggs. ‘Yes, I can feel it too!’ He rewards her by bringing her an especially soft bundle of foliage, before resuming his vigil as sentinel on the perch. (Anthropomorphic section ends here!).

A superb Green Woodpecker flies in huge undulating loops over the field, its yellow rump merging perfectly with the crop and giving it a distinctly disembodied look – a head and neck and then a tail – with a gap in between. I hope my sound recorder outside caught its wild, laughing call. As the morning warms up, Buzzards and Kites venture out and make use of the thermals to soar around, occasionally calling and displaying to one another. The Ospreys do not react. A male Orange Tip butterfly visits the blossoms of Ground Ivy one by one, passing within inches of my feet in its quest for the sweetness deep down in the heads.

At 10.47 precisely, 03 flies majestically over the field and goes out of sight in a south-westerly direction. I am convinced at this point that he has gone for a fish, but just seven minutes later he is back with another collection of grass and moss. Maybe there was an early fish this morning, well before I was here; certainly there has been no food-begging on the female’s part. At 11.00 a Cuckoo joins the soundscape which has continued unabated all morning. My tape is still running, but was the Cuckoo close enough to be recorded? We shall see. Kayleigh calls with the news that the first egg at Glaslyn has hatched! Congratulations from all here! Could that be the first of the year in the UK? The Site B female laid a day or so after her congener at Glaslyn, so the estimated time of arrival is probably Wednesday or Thursday.

From next week onwards, if all has gone to plan, my shifts here will be very different. We will be counting how many beaksful of fish are being gently lowered into the nest cup, and trying to work out into which quartiles of the nest the adults are reaching, so that we can make an estimate of how many chicks there are. It will be only after fifteen days or so after hatching that we might be lucky enough to see wobbling little heads peeking over the rim. All a far cry from the high definition cameras in use on other nests – but perhaps more satisfying and challenging. I think so.

Time has moved on and I have to leave. Just time to complete the log and rewind the primitive tape outside to see what I’ve recorded. Hardly up to ‘Tweet of the Day’ standards, but the Song Thrush is clearly the chorus leader, with regular accompaniment from Blackcap, Chaffinch, Green Woodpecker and several others. Sadly the Cuckoo was too distant to register. At intervals a familiar voice is heard on the tape : ‘Wow, look at that!’  (Swifts I think);  ‘Here he comes!’ (when 03 swept across the field)   ‘Hi Kayleigh’ (the telephone call) ; and finally ‘Time for a coffee, I think !’ But the voice doesn’t give the whole story. For that, you have to be here.

I walk back – as usual, elated, refreshed and invigorated. All being well, next week will be very different.   Incubation watches are over (for me) for another year.  There is no sign of the black cat back at the parking space……..