(apologies to Robert Browning)
We are almost half way through the Osprey season and I have only made one contribution to my diary so far. I’ve started to write on several occasions, but somehow just didn’t seem to have quite enough to tell you about. I had already decided earlier this week to put something together and yesterday, whilst on duty at Waderscrape, a lady told me how she avidly followed our webcam and that any snippet of information was always very welcome to anyone who is unable to visit Rutland Water. That was the kick-start that I needed, so I’ll tell you about a few of my shifts so far, a few more Osprey moments.
I know Ken and I seem to wax lyrical every year about the anticipation of arriving at the hide for the first shift of the season at Site B, but that shiver of excitement just never seems to wane. The slow amble to the gate before you catch sight of the nest is always interesting and I was thrilled on this occasion to see a pair of Skylarks on the ground as I walked through the first field. As I had left the car, the three young horses had already said ‘hello’, and I wondered how the six foals that I had loved to watch last Summer were faring, without their mares by now. They were part of last year’s equation and just as with the juvenile Ospreys, I wished that I knew how and where they were.
And so I reached the final gate and looked towards the nest – I was nearing a very special place and I can truly say that my heart seemed to quicken. I reached the hide and a close inspection revealed that nothing had changed, wall to wall carpet, central heating, coffee machine had not been installed… only joking, it didn’t matter at all, I was at number one of my top ten places to visit. For the first couple of hours it was easy watching, with 03(97) and the female both flying around, returning to the nest to mate, and then flying off to various perches. It was good to see them both again and to gently ease back into the job of observing them and making the necessary notes. However, quite suddenly the pace seemed to quicken. They both flew to the nest and there were three buzzards circling above, two of which then landed on the Wellingtonia tree behind the nest. 03 flew off to the East, leaving the female tidying the nest. Very soon afterwards he flew directly over the hide towards the nest, in a fast and furious battle with a female Osprey (5N). As this battle took place, one of the buzzards returned to the Wellingtonia tree to mate. At the same time, at least twenty fallow deer appeared, running in front of the nest, then the third buzzard returned to circle over the nest and the phone rang – it was Paul Stammers enquiring how the first shift was going. I really didn’t know which way to turn, it certainly wasn’t how a first shift should be, gently getting back into routine. 03 returned and joined the female on the new perch and they mated. Another intruder appeared and he chased it off. Phew, the first shift was certainly a wake up call.
A couple of days later the first egg was layed and that long waiting period began. My shifts were fairly routine, but each one was extremely cold spending four hours each time in the hide with not much happening and none of my friends from last year paying a visit; the ginger rabbit, the female pheasant, the chaffinch who would appear at the door of the hide. On May 15th I spent quite the most miserable shift ever at Site B. (I never thought that I would say that !) It was bitterly cold and wet and the temperature didn’t rise above 7c. The waterproofs in which I had spent most of last summer were in use again, I had forgotten my teabags (hot water with a dash of semi-skimmed is not pleasant, but at least I could warm my hands around the mug), and to top it all, even 03 kept disappearing low behind the nest, out of the Westerly wind. The top of the female’s head was only visible occasionally.The high note of this shift was when I heard the first cuckoo of the year, I think that it was asking where Summer was. This was all repeated on May 20th (I did remember the teabags this time), but the high note this time was beautifully rewarding. The pair had spent a couple of hours taking a turn at incubation, shaking the rain off and flying to their chosen perches. At 09.50 03 disappeared and some twenty five minutes later he returned with a small trout, which he took to the nest. The female, however, did not stand to take the fish and they just looked at each other for several minutes. I watched in awe as 03 then began feeding her whilst she was incubating. This carried on for thirteen minutes, when she stood and he carried on feeding her for a couple of minutes longer. She then nestled down and he ate on the nest. He left the remains of the fish on the nest and flew off to the lefthand ash. I found this behaviour unusual, quite magical to watch, but nevertheless, unusual. I was not surprised to learn that the first chick hatched early the next day. This was the reason why 03 did not take over incubation, as there would most certainly have been tapping sounds, if not even a crack in the egg, and it is then that a male realises it is time for his role to change from incubator to provider. Another cold shift came to an end, but this one had been anything but boring.
And so to my shift at Site B this week. The sun was shining, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, the waterproofs were not needed, but I didn’t discard the warm clothing and once again I didn’t forget the teabags. News from the previous day was that John Wright had seen three chicks (from a better vantage site than the hide) and Mr Rutland had now produced an amazing thirty chicks since being translocated in 1997. When I arrived shortly before 8am, 03 had been absent for almost half an hour. In the quiet times at Site B when he is absent, I very often wonder how long he will be gone and at the end of a shift if he is still missing, it is with a heavy heart that I walk away, needing to know that he is safe. I always keep glancing back, hoping to see him and it is amazing just how many times I have reached the first gate and turned to take one final look at the nest, only to see him alighting on the nest. All is well and I carry on, happy in the knowledge that for now, all are safe.
At 08.18 I caught my first glimpse of one of the chicks – the excitement is as wonderful and satisfying each and every time. Shortly after 9am the female was alert and moved her head from side to side, looking at something to the East of the hide. I saw two Ospreys away in the distance and wondered if 03 had had to abandon his fishing trip, as they disappeared out of sight. He returned at 09.25 with a medium trout and took the fish to the nest where the female started feeding. She had her back to me but started feeding a chick in front of her. 03 stood at the side of the nest with one chick in front of him and then a smaller, paler little head appeared and I knew then that there were definitely three chicks. She fed them for thirty minutes and briefly all three heads were visible. She then busied herself collecting twigs and building up the sides of the nest, as they will certainly be exploring soon. At 10.10 03 flew to the nest, possibly checking whether there was any fish left. He flew up high over the nest, circling until he was over the hide. He circled ever higher and then soared off to the North East and out of sight. I read the notes from the previous day and discovered that another volunteer has witnessed 03 feeding the female, he fed her and at times she then fed the chicks. The notes read ‘03 comes to the nest and gets the fish. He then spends thirty minutes feeding the female who offers some down to the chicks but has a lot herself. What a wonderful sight !!! 03 to small Oak, what a star!!!’ It’s good to know that there are others who delight in such spectacles. As I awaited his return, I looked around and remembered all the juveniles over the years that I have seen perching away from the nest, always waiting for 03 to return with a fish. Every year they seem to haunt new places and I wondered where the class of 2013 will choose to perch. At 10.55 the female began to brood the chicks for the first time since I had arrived – it must have been hot up there, there was even a heat haze. At 11.07 03 flew in with another catch of the day, more trout and the female began feeding the chicks, briefly, and then herself. 03 returned to the nest and took a sizeable tail of trout to the T-perch and he too fed. He was quite oblivious to the buzzard that had landed in the Wellingtonia tree, looking down into the nest, but the female was very aware of its presence.
The shift over, I wandered back, occasionally glancing back, but this time with a happy heart in the knowledge that all the family were safely at home. The sky was blue, the sun was shining, my feet were warm and dry. Oh to be at Site B now that Summer’s here …