Tuesday, March 17th
My first shift of the season and the weather was good albeit a little chilly. Waderscrape had been totally rebuilt during the Winter and is spectacular. There are windows, (no more backs to the wall when the rain is driving in), padded benches and chairs, very comprehensive information posters and a huge monitor showing the livestream from the nest. On this first shift I was accompanied by a new volunteer, Paul, for induction, who also volunteers over at Egleton. I realised that this was my first shift ever without an Osprey being present in the bay and it seemed quite strange. In fact not a single one of our Ospreys had returned to Rutland yet. There were no visitors for the first hour but we quickly discovered that we were both avid season ticketholders for the Leicester Tigers so the conversation never stalled. Tim, Dave and Lloyd arrived during the afternoon to install the large screen. As I looked from the far end of the hide down to the screen I did remark to Tim that I might need a microphone, the hide is much bigger than the original. A few visitors arrived during the afternoon and although there were no Ospreys, they were still keen to see where the nest was and hear about who we were expecting to return. Then, to everyone’s delight, a Water Rail crossed the front of the left-hand channel. I hadn’t seen one for a couple of years and had wondered whether all the work on the new hide during the Winter had scared off the Water Voles and the Water Rails, which were heard last season, but not seen.
I chatted briefly with Ken when I arrived back at Lyndon and the conversation was naturally about which Ospreys we expected to turn up soon and our mutual worries about 03(97). Worries that were totally unfounded when I arrived home and received the message that 03(97) had arrived back at Site B. I, like many, many other people, had thought of him often through the winter. I had hoped against hope that he had arrived safely at his wintering ground and could take the time to fully recover. And of course I also hoped against hope that he would return to Rutland. As this day had approached and I prepared my bag, cameras, notebook, notes from previous years and my dictaphone, I could not steel myself to listen to my recordings from last July when I had filled in as many shifts at Site B as I was allowed, to watch over 03(97) whilst he was so badly injured and I certainly couldn’t have written a diary about it. I’m pretty emotional about these birds under normal circumstances, but to see our most iconic Osprey suffering and unable to feed his family concerned me enormously.
Wednesday, 1st April
Tonight Tim Mackrill was meeting with Jamie Weston of Horn Mill Trout Farm and those volunteers who had offered to help in showing photographers to the hide and acting as lookout for 03(97) coming in to fish at the trout pond. As I lived so near I had jumped at the chance to help out. Jamie showed us around and told us exactly what we had to do and I volunteered for my first shift at 5.30am on Sunday, 12th April – what was I thinking?
Wednesday, 8th April
I arrived at the Lyndon Centre for my regular 9 – 1pm shift at Waderscrape, happy in the knowledge that Maya and 33(11) had both returned two days previously. I chatted with Kayleigh, who had the biggest smile on her face because the Manton Bay pair were back, and she told me about the high number of visitors on Easter Monday and Tuesday. I then walked down to the hide to take over from Roger, who informed me that there had been no fish brought in since he arrived at 6am. There was a steady flow of visitors all morning. One young lad had so many questions, he was like a shadow constantly at my side, but very polite and waiting whilst I talked with other visitors before throwing another question at me. I discovered from his mother that they were from Peterborough and I encouraged her to get her son’s school involved in our education programme as his school is definitely within range for a visit from our team and if his fellow pupils have half as much enthusiasm as him, then a visit would be very worthwhile.
Maya and 33(11) had been back for 2 days and the refurbishment of the nest was spectacular and they were also doing what was expected, mating. Tim Appleton, Reserve Manager, also visited the hide with a visitor. At one stage I heard him telling some of the visitors of that first summer that he had seen a pair of Ospreys in front of his cottage overlooking Rutland Water. Visitors love to hear the history of these birds and even more so when it’s from the horse’s mouth (sorry Tim – only a metaphor!). Throughout the morning there were several intruders – 28(10), a female and another Osprey and each time 33(11) took it upon himself to shepherd them away from Manton Bay. Maya and 33(11) both seriously chased some Egyptian Geese off who were merely swimming past the nest pole and a few minutes later 33(11) took to the sky again to chase off a Red Kite. There is hardly a shift goes by when I don’t see at least one Red Kite, but I have never seen an Osprey chase one off so vehemently – this male is in serious protective mode. At 12.50 I realised that since arriving at 8.45 I had not stopped to have a cup of tea, there had been so many visitors. Peter and Di arrived promptly and took over and I slowly walked back to Lyndon. Having been ill for several weeks, I was feeling pretty tired and my voice was giving up the ghost. Arriving at Lyndon, Tim Mackrill was in the office and I told him about the morning, and left with a parting shot that I now needed a pair of rollerskates as well as a microphone as the hide is so much bigger than the old one. I learned later that 33(11) had brought a fish in during the afternoon.
Sunday, 12th April
On Saturday I took a call from Jamie Weston to confirm my shift at Horn Mill on the following morning, well more like the middle of the night to me – Sundays normally find me in bed with a cup of tea and the newspapers.The alarm rang out at 4.50 and at 5.25 I crept out of the house leaving my husband and both cats slumbering peacefully. It was still dark as I drove out of the village and then I as neared the open countryside it dawned on me that I had forgotten my binoculars, the most crucial piece of equipment needed as lookout for 03(97) flying in to fish. I sped back to the house and retrieved them. When I arrived at Horn Mill at 5.35am there were already a couple of cars parked on the verge; one young man had driven from Folkestone and the two gentlemen in the other car had travelled from Oxford. I quickly went through the procedure and took their payment – I was so nervous my hand was shaking as I wrote the receipts; Jamie had told me that 03 had flown in at 6.13 the previous day, but the sun was already up now, a sunny, calm morning, and I began to panic; what if he came in early and actually flew over us as I was taking them down to the hide. I installed them in the hide and told them I would radio when I saw 03(97) come over to roost. I was back at my car at 5.50. I opened the windows but then decided against that as I still had a cough and thought I might spook him. At precisely 6am I saw a bird winging its way towards the pond and my panic heightened – is it a Kite, is it an Osprey, eureka, it was an Osprey and as if he’d learned the script, he landed in the Willow tree over the pond. Just as he alighted on a branch I radioed down to the hide, ‘Hello, he’s just flown in and is landing in the Willow tree’. I prayed that the radios were working. I twisted in my seat and stared at 03 through my binoculars, I stared for 25 minutes. And as I stared hard at him I thought I heard someone walking past the car until I realised that it was my heart pounding! At some stage my phone vibrated but I dare not take my eyes off 03. He started weaving his head left and right, eyeing up a fish and then swiftly swooped down to the pond but did not hit the water and he returned immediately to the Willow. Less than 2 minutes later, the same thing, but this time he hit the water coming up with a trout. He must have entered the water no more than 12/15 feet from the hide and I wondered later that morning whether they had actually been splashed. He rose up from the pond and with such grace, flew over the hill and back to Site B with breakfast. Whew, I was a nervous wreck. I glanced at the message on my phone, it was from Jamie who at 6.10 had messaged ‘He’s in the tree isn’t he?’ I messaged back that he had arrived at 6, attempted a dive at 6.25 and then caught one 2 minutes later. Just as I pushed ‘send’ Jamie appeared from his bungalow. I left the car and we stood chatting about what had happened, much like me, Jamie never tires of seeing Ospreys. We hoped that the photographers had got what they came for. 03(97) has caught a fish at Horn Mill every day since his return on March 17th , and has been fishing there for many years. Jamie had also told us at our preliminary meeting that it was trout from Horn Mill that had been used to feed the original translocated Ospreys and that included 03(97). It is wonderful to see conservation working hand in hand with local enterprise. I drove home absolutely euphoric, what a way to start a day. I was certainly ready for a cup of tea if only to calm my beating heart.