Will it ever stop raining? After one of the wettest weeks in the entire history of Rutland Water, I sit in the car trying hard to remember the combination to the lock on the gate at the bottom of the lane leading to the Lyndon. The rain beats steadily on the car windows and roof. My waterproofs are in the boot. I have two combinations in my head and know one of them is right. If I get it right first time, I won’t get too wet, but if I have to do the second one I’m going to be soaked before the day has begun. I am still weighing up my options when another car pulls up behind me and Becky jumps out and swiftly opens the lock and the gate. Phew! First mini-drama over and I’m still dry!
Water is running steadily across the carpark. We are promised ‘bright intervals and showers later’ which is marginally better than the ‘prolonged and persistent rain’ which we have endured all week. I wonder if the Ospreys can sense a slightly better forecast too. Maya has done so well in protecting her four large chicks from all the rain this week. She deserves a break.
Cars begin to arrive, dropping off small, brightly coloured people in a variety of weather-proof garments and wellingtons. This is the early contingent from today’s visiting school party, Form V from Brooke Priory School in nearby Oakham. They run into the Centre out of the rain, as parents drive off again to begin their own day – a few of them slightly anxiously, as they consider what adventures await their children in this green, wet, wild and wonderful wilderness. Don’t worry! They’re about to have a fabulous day! I hear from one early arrival that they were all at school till 8.00pm last night, performing in a fantastic play about – wait for it- Noah and his Ark! It was called ‘Splash’ – how appropriate!
By about 8.45 everyone has arrived – 30 ten year old aspiring ‘Osprey Experts’, their three teachers, and the Osprey Education Team. We visited them in their classroom only a week or so ago, so they are already fully briefed. They are keen and excited to the point of bursting. Our brand new facility, named Teal Hide (‘Teaching, Education and Learning’ or (more likely) named after a pretty little duck) is just perfect. Right on the edge of the Reservoir, well-lit and airy, even with a (distant) view of the Osprey nest far off in the Bay – the children love it. The ultimate setting for a log-cabin adventure!
Binoculars (kindly donated to us by Opticron) are distributed and the rules for using them are solemnly spelt out by three of the children (Kate, Ashleigh and Eloise) : 1) Keep the strap around your neck at all times 2) Only use them when you are standing or sitting still 3) Never point them anywhere near the sun (not that No. 3 is likely to be a problem today!). Then, in keeping with a long held Lyndon tradition, every young visitor who comes with their school to see the Osprey family has to be ‘ringed’ with the familiar blue ring. Today we have a slight variation – we have blue wrist bands already printed with the Osprey Project name AND the number of a famous Rutland Osprey! So, as we set out in the drizzle (is it stopping yet?) for the distant Manton Bay, 30 young ospreylets are sporting wristbands of Ospreys which are in most cases older than they are : 28(10), 30(05), 33(11), and….our oldest surviving Rutland Osprey 5N(04).
Jackie sets a hot pace at the front of the crocodile. Pete is taking photos. Teachers are mingling with the group. As usual I bring up the rear, but I am soon accompanied by chattering young companions who want to show me an assortment of interesting things their keen eyes spot. ‘Look at this slug’, says one ‘it’s got a stone on its back.’ ‘Perhaps it’s pretending to be a snail,’ I suggest, but this is not thought to be a sensible solution.
The group pauses for binocular practice, and we all focus on distant swans, geese, and men in fishing boats. No-one minds the rain now – in fact, I think it might be stopping. A bit further on we stop again to admire a particularly fine specimen of a Common Spotted Orchid, resplendent with three mauve spikes above dark-spotted leaves. A definite sense of ‘awe and wonder’ as Jackie emphasises its rarity.
At the back again, I catch up with a group of boys who are crouching over the dripping and rather unpleasant remains of a dead bird on the puddly track. Even before I get there they are calling out ‘Look at this! It’s got a ring on its leg!’ They’re right! How exciting! We’re in danger of getting detached from the main group, so we decide to hide the corpse and consider how to retrieve the ring on the way back. After a final stop to count Cormorants on the first dead tree (only two today), we pass through the final gate and form a circle in the open space before the track down to Wader Scrape Hide, the final destination for today’s walk. We talk about ‘hide etiquette’, telescopes, and volunteers…….and then we have twenty seconds of absolute silence, still in our circle, to appreciate the soundscape of this favourite spot. ‘And what did you hear?’ I ask. ‘I heard chaffinches’, ‘I could hear the sheep and lambs’, ‘I heard a train’. We listen to Chiffchaff, Song Thrush, the swishing wind in the trees….but no rain. It has finally stopped, at least for now.
Wader Scrape hide, adjacent to the Osprey nest, is soon buzzing with excited chatter as thirty pairs of eyes seek out Maya and her brood. Male 33(11) is there too, and those lucky enough to have his number on their wristbands hold them up for all to see. The big screen in the hide allows even closer examination of the nest and its contents, and soon the questions start to come. ‘Which one is the 150th?’ ‘I think it’s that one.’ ‘No, it’s that one.’ ‘When will they have their rings put on?’ ‘I’d love to be the one chosen to climb up the ladder and bring them down!’
And so it goes on….for ages and ages. We don’t need to do anything. Nature itself is doing the work for us. ‘Discover the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in,’ wrote Rachel Carson in 1965. I wish she could be here now to witness this. Day 14 of ‘Thirty Days Wild’ with thirty natural and wonder-struck children. Perfect. Well, almost perfect. The skies have become dark again and the rain returns. We are safe and dry in here, but sadly Maya and the chicks are getting another soaking out there. Everyone watches her valiant efforts to keep them dry. Plenty of time for everyone now to work on their Osprey activity book, spot other species, not forgetting to have a mid-morning snack to keep the energy levels up. Not that there is any sign of tiredness or flagging from this group. A Barn Owl causes much excitement as it flies around the nearby water edge – an unexpected treat for everyone. Young Moorhens are counted and admired, elegant Terns watched, handsome Reed Buntings identified with the help of the book, new species such as Lapwing and Oystercatcher duly noted. But of course our prime reason for being here is to observe, record and explain the life and behaviour of the Ospreys, still such a rare and elusive sight in most parts of the UK. ‘Ethology’ it’s called – that part of science which deals with the behaviour of creatures in the wild. Thank you to my biologist colleague Pete for teaching me a new word today!
All too soon, with lunchtime approaching, it’s time to get organised and prepare for the walk back – but not before volunteer Angela has explained very expertly the vital role played by the team of Osprey monitors throughout the season. Without them, our knowledge of the ways of the Rutland Ospreys would not be as complete as it is. We leave her, and her colleague, to enjoy the peace of the Bay for the final hour of their shift, and we emerge to find the rain easing off, the warblers singing their hearts out, and the sky brightening.
I had quite forgotten the bedraggled ringed corpse hidden in the verge, but of course the eagle-eyed boys who first spotted it are already kneeling over it and wondering how we are going to transport it back to the Centre. Oh for the days when everyone (well, every male anyway) carried a little penknife! We cannot muster a single sharp object between us, so we are forced to lift the entire macabre remains into a large black bin bag kindly supplied by one of the Brooke Priory teachers. Ashleigh is quite happy to carry the bag all the way back.
The pace quickens with the thought of packed lunches – it’s been a long and exciting morning……and there’s more to come! During lunch another group from the same school drop in at the Centre. They’re having a cycling day, and still have quite a way to go, so they’re happily eating their lunches in the picnic area, which is now drying out under the trees in the dappled sunshine. This time last year, almost to the day, they were here, experiencing the same sort of day their younger friends are now enjoying.
But not quite the same. The day is due to get even more special for all of us – young folk and adults alike. But first, there is more work to be done. Straight after lunch my colleagues Jackie and Pete (biologists both) lead us all as we construct a brilliant Osprey food chain, with it all there in front of us as we build it, with Osprey as the apex predator, and the tiny microscopic water organisms at the bottom. Then we check out some new words – everyone knows ‘carnivorous’, ‘herbivorous’, and ‘omnivorous’, and can name creatures which come into those categories, but how are you with ‘piscivorous’, ‘folivorous’, ‘fructivorous’ and a few others? Well, these young scientists know them all now, with examples. ‘Good words for a spelling test next week’, says Miss Gatenby.
While we have been doing this in Teal, there has been unusual activity in the Visitor Centre. Chairs are re-arranged, music stands put up, backing tracks tested. Our friend Rob from Rutland Radio has arrived. We receive a message that it’s time to go up to the Centre. Form V are arranged in front of the screen, tall ones at the back, smaller ones at the front. Tension mounts.
There cannot be many nature reserve visitor centres which have staged a world premiere, but today we have one, here at Lyndon. The first ever public performance of ‘The Hundred and Fiftieth Chick’, a song written and composed by Mrs Grantham, music teacher at the school. As preparations are completed, I take a look at the sheets of music on the stand. ‘With a celebratory bounce and swung quavers’ says the instruction before the first bars, and, my goodness, as the music begins and the youthful singers straighten up, with Maya and family on the big screen behind them, the whole Centre reverberates with the joyous sound of young voices putting all their energy into this newly created song.
‘So pick up your binoculars and get here quick,
For the hatching……for the hatching……for the hatching……for the hatching
Of the Rutland Osprey Project’s a hundred and fiftieth chick’
Those of us watching and listening – teachers, Osprey staff, volunteers, members of the public- are just enthralled. The words encapsulate the Rutland Osprey story from the beginning to now, and are so skilfully constructed. It must be so difficult to rhyme anything with ‘Maya and Osprey Thirty Three’ but Mrs Grantham has pulled it off. Even the legendary 03(97) is celebrated in one verse
‘He successfully bred here till he reached nineteen,
And his offspring can still be seen…..’
Afterwards Rob interviews some of the performers, including our Osprey Ambassador Eloise and three of her friends, and the composer and lyricist Mrs Grantham. Rob has recorded the song and will feature it on his Monday show on Rutland Radio on June 17th between 7.30 and 8.00am. Pete has filmed it, and hopefully it will appear on the Osprey website at some point. Performers and composer are thanked and congratulated over and over again.
Back in our Teal Hide base, everyone is thrilled and elated. The song was a triumph, and today will go down in the annals of the Project. We are near the end of the day now. No visit to Lyndon is complete without the ‘Zygodactylic’ spelling game, which is duly completed to accompanying laughter, confusion and fun. Finally it’s time for recollection and contemplation.
‘Best Moment of the Day’ – what was yours? Everyone has his or her own. A moment to think, and then we start. For many, especially those here for the first time, it has to be the various aspects of the Osprey family. What a rare privilege to be so close to them, and share their daily lives! Feeding, flying, resting, sheltering from the rain – all are mentioned. The Barn Owl was very popular too, as were the Oystercatchers and the Yellow-legged Gull (well-spotted, another rarity!). ‘Just being in the hide and watching the Ospreys’, says one, and ‘Finding an orchid’ says another. So many highlights.
Just time for some shopping in the Visitor Centre. And if you’ve nearly completed your activity booklet, don’t forget to get your certificate signed to prove you are an ‘Osprey Expert’. I see pens, badges, dragons, books, fossilised shark’s teeth and many other memorabilia being purchased, as well as drinks, ice-creams and chocolate!
Oh, I nearly forgot! Our Senior Reserve Officer Becky has thrust her hand into the black bin bag and retrieved the by now quite horrific and grisly bird, the species of which has still not been fully agreed upon. From the small amount of it left, I think it might be a Blackbird. Becky has removed the ring, washed it, and put it into a clear small plastic holder. The words and numbers on it are far too small for my eyes to read, but Kate, aged ten, takes the ring, sits at a table and carefully writes out the letters and numbers for us. All this information will be recorded online and sent for identification. We will of course credit students of Brooke Priory as the finders and inform them when we hear the details.
And so, as the sun shines at the end of the day, parents begin to arrive to take our visitors home. A nice message is recorded in the Visitors Book. We are invited to the school later in the month to hear a full rendition, with instrumental accompaniment, of the song we heard for the first time just a couple of hours ago. We are tired, but elated, and relax over a cup of tea after the last child has been collected, and the brilliant staff from the school gone home for their weekend.
It has been a tough week, with so much rain and a few cancellations, but today has been fabulous, a real antidote. The Ospreys in the Bay are fine (all six of them), and they have fully played their part today. We thank everyone involved today for their contribution. Together we have enabled and encouraged thirty more members of a new generation to discover with us ‘the joy, the excitement, the companionship and the mystery of the world we live in.’