Stray Leaves from a Manton Bay Summer Notebook

Here’s the latest installment from Ken’s diary…

Sunday September 1st: 23 weeks, 20,000 or so visitors to the Lyndon Centre, and ~ most importantly ~ three more young Ospreys on the wing, making eleven in total since 2010 for the famed 5R and his faithful mate. Sadly now the final shift of the season has arrived. The nest has a bedraggled appearance, with parts of it already falling away into the water below. Three Ospreys are still here ~ both parents and the strident 3J, whose demanding calls reverberate around the Bay throughout the day. ‘One more fish, and then I’ll go….I promise.’ We’ve heard that one before. Mother sits gloomily, her back to her offspring. Father keeps his distance, but rises every hour or so to look for a fish. At 12.20, Mother and daughter rise in heady spirals and drift off South. Is that it? Have they gone? We prepare to relay the message around the world…..but hold on…..they’re back! False alarm. Maybe tomorrow. Last year the final juvenile left the Bay on September 3rd, so maybe this one will do the same, quickly followed, one assumes, by her Mother. And then 5R will keep lonely vigil for a while before he too leaves us.

I take the time to take a retrospective glance through the pages of my note-book, which I started on Thursday March 21st with the words: ‘The Manton Bay female has returned.’ Slowly in my mind I re-live the Manton Bay season just ending……

Sunday March 24th: A heavy snowfall means that the road down to the Centre is blocked, and so there will be no shift today. The female Osprey sits in the bay alone, a scene more reminiscent of Arctic wilderness rather than springtime in Central England!

Sunday March 31st: Still piles of snow everywhere and a biting wind, but at least we are open and up and running. It’s Easter Day, and hurrah! 5R is back in the Bay, bringing the total of returning Rutland Ospreys to seven so far. 180 visitors today to see the Manton Bay pair ~ folk from Lancashire, London, and even Australia and New Zealand! So great is the lure of returning Ospreys! An Avocet flies around the Bay, but few other signs of spring. A freezing but very satisfactory day. Mugs of hot, steaming Lyndon tea at the end of the afternoon.

Sunday April 7th: Much warmer today! Eight Ospreys now back. Manton Bay pair getting down to serious business, to the delight of well over 200 visitors today. Winter birds still present include Goosander and Goldeneye. Visitors include couple who do bird-ringing in Malta ~ not without its dangers, as we learn.

Sunday April 14th: There are two eggs in the Manton Bay nest! There are now twelve Ospreys in the area, including a presumed Scottish unringed female which has been intriguingly nicknamed ‘McNutt’ by the team! At 12.15 an eight year old female, 30(05), actually landed briefly on the nest before being chased off by the rightful owners. A few swallows flit past, and there is a Red-breasted Merganser in the bay. Visitors today to the hide include two Mums with their babies aged eight months and ten weeks respectively, our youngest visitors so far this year. They are held up to view the nest in the Bay! Chiffchaffs singing all around. Is it really spring at last?

Sunday April 21st: I arrive early today and chat with Michelle. Three eggs in the nest now! Several more schools have asked the team to visit them and give them the ‘Osprey Experience.’ As we are speaking an Osprey appears over Lax Hill and comes close enough for us to see that is 28(10), the one with a slight twist in his primaries. Fourteen ospreys in total have returned now, seven males and seven females. In the hide today visitors arrive in good numbers, including a family of four from Matlock who are thrilled and already planning another visit when the eggs have hatched. A French couple tell us there are no Ospreys in France. We inform them that there is indeed a small Osprey colony around the Forest of Orleans, and they promise to visit it when they return home! There is no volunteer for the late shift today, so Michelle comes herself to relieve us. Common Terns are back and Willow Warblers are singing. Life in the Bay is good.

Sunday April 28th: Incubation proceeds. People come in and watch the female on the nest and 5R on guard nearby. Occasionally they change over, and she has a fly around, but is always anxious to get back. He delivers a fish after eating the tasty bits himself. Another arrival ~ 12(10), a female hatched at Site N three years ago.

Sunday May 12th: 33(11) visited the Bay today! He is a returning two year old, hatched at Site B. I recall how, as a recently fledged juvenile in the summer of 2011, he came down here and sat on the Manton Bay nest with the three youngsters. I remember suddenly becoming aware of FOUR juveniles in front of me! Another quiet afternoon of incubation today. Sky full of Swifts. So good to see them back.

Sunday May 19th: 6.00am: The first egg hatches! Beautifully recorded by the camera. We watch it over and over again. The female is tender and gentle as she nurtures her first-born this season, claws retracted. We confidently tell visitors that the second egg will hatch in about two days time, but then at about 3.00pm we get a frantic message from Paul in the Visitors Centre: ‘The second egg is hatching’. A look at our i-pad confirms this ~ and in double quick time Chick No.2 is revealed to the world! We think these are the first English-hatched Ospreys of 2013, and loads of people from all over the country are here to witness their arrival. A great day to be in the Bay!

Sunday May 26th: Chicks (there are three now) are one week old and thriving. News has spread and hundreds of people come to see them. The hide is packed all afternoon. Hardly time to write the log or keep an accurate account of how many fish 5R delivers. Bank Holiday weekend and Ospreys in the Bay ~ a heady combination!

Sunday June 2nd: A very special day, named ‘Phalarope Sunday.’ In addition to the three young Ospreys being fed almost hourly on roach provided by 5R, two diminutive (and rare!) wading birds ~ Red-necked Phalaropes ~ are in the Bay all afternoon, giving stunning views to all-comers. Tim Mackrill cannot resist coming down to see them, and most of the local birding fraternity (the ‘heavy mob’) are here too. Linda and Becky arrive with a Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme group, which includes Abigail, who will later in the season join me for two great shifts at Site B, and then write a super blog for the website. As a final bonus two of my former students ~ Nyree and Nicola ~ come for a visit, making this just the most perfect Sunday afternoon so far this season!

Sunday June 9th: Chicks are three weeks old and growing rapidly. Crowds come to see them, and we are hard-pressed all afternoon to keep up with their questions and delightful comments. More treats today ~ an elegant Black Tern puts on a super show for everyone, following a regular beat up and down the shore-line. Meanwhile 5R continues to show superb fishing and parenting skills ~ text-book behaviour from our nine year old male. Late in the afternoon a rumble in the east heralds the arrival of a Lancaster bomber, flying low over the reservoir in a scene reminiscent of the famous Dambusters raid, the anniversary of which this plane has been celebrating at an airshow. Fortunately there are no bouncing bombs today and peace is soon restored to the Bay. Minutes later, though, binoculars are turned east again as the very different sound of smooth jet engines announces the arrival of the world’s only flying Vulcan bomber ~ different sound, different era, but chillingly impressive all the same. Ospreys and planes and a Black Tern…..something for everyone in Waderscrape hide! Michelle, Paul and Chris Wood join us for a while. After talking with them, I make a momentous decision: I’ve got to go to Africa this winter to see the Ospreys in Gambia and Senegal!

Sunday June 16th: Chicks one month old and looking very healthy indeed ~ that’s what a diet of Rutland trout and roach (with the odd pike) can do for you! A sudden influx of Reed Warblers has increased the clamour from the reed bed in front of us ~ a welcome exercise now, as we try to separate Sedge and Reed Warbler calls, with the background of the ubiquitous Reed Bunting notes. I paid my deposit for the Africa trip to Tim today! It’s definite! I’m going!

Sunday June 23rd: I shared the shift today with Chris Ditchburn ~ an Africa ‘veteran’, who is going again this winter. We talk in between ‘meeting and greeting’ the very welcome crowds of visitors who are pouring in to view the five-week old chicks. They will be ringed sometime in the week ahead. Chris says ‘Three essentials for your suitcase ~ a torch, an alarm clock and your own loo paper!’ Thanks Chris.

Sunday June 30th: As expected, the chicks have been ringed, weighed, measured and sexed. 1J is a male, weighing in at 1525g. He has two sisters, 2J and 3J, weighing in at around 1870g each. Healthy weights, good-looking birds. The Darvic rings on the right legs are blue, and with telescopes visitors can now identify them individually. One girl called Emma (‘I’m nine, same as 5R’) becomes very skilful at this, and is soon making us redundant by inviting all-comers to come at look at 1J (or whoever) through the ‘scope. Her Dad beams. She has been reading our little book ‘Ozzie’s Migration’. She writes stories herself, including a very good one about a wolf, which she promises to bring to show us next time she comes. Dad is still beaming.

Sunday July 7th: The heat is intense today. Even by mid-morning the heat haze is making the use of telescopes difficult, and lethargy descends on the nest, affecting parents and juveniles alike. The wader passage is starting though, and we pass the time by spotting Green Sandpipers, Greenshank and Redshank for our visitors. 5R does not seem inclined to fish today. He had one earlier, in the cool of the morning, and will probably go out again later. Suddenly the door of the hide slides open and eight immature females (aged about 17) breeze in. They are wide-eyed and inquisitive, flitting about the hide like exotic butterflies. One tells us that they have just finished exams at their London boarding school, and are now enjoying a week of freedom at a cottage nearby. They peer down the telescopes. We give them the basic information about Ospreys, and in between glances at their i-phones, they attempt to take it all in. At the end another one says : ‘So Ospreys are unique to Rutland Water, right?’ Er, no…..but before we can correct this, they rise as one, like a flock of nervous shore-birds on a tide-line, and depart with murmured thanks. Barrie and I look at one another. Did that really happen? All in an afternoon’s work in Waderscrape. Before we have time to recover, a young couple come in and watch intently for a while, before the girl asks ‘Could you identify this bird for me?’ ‘I’ll try’, I say, ‘where is it?’ ‘It’s here,’ she replies, ‘on my tattoo’. And she rolls up her sleeve to reveal a very accurate tattoo of a Tree Sparrow. I get the field guide out and she studies it very seriously before agreeing with my ID. Her boyfriend is now revealing his tattoos ~ eagles, wolves, a tiger ~ and they are both preparing to show us even more when (fortunately) 5R comes to life and our attention is diverted briefly, before this bizarre dialogue is resumed. Is there a tattooist nearby? Could he do an Osprey for them? We suggest Yellow Pages might have the answer, although on second thoughts John Wright might accept a commission……! Can anything else happen today? Yes! Andy Murray wins Wimbledon ~ we watch the last few games with Lizzie after closing time in the Centre….and (far more importantly!), one of the chicks is helicoptering on the edge of the nest. The scene is recorded for posterity on the webcam. Phew! Quite an afternoon!

Sunday July 14th: The juveniles are eight weeks old now, and two have fledged during the week. 1J and 3J are making regular flights, with 3J looking especially strong as she soars over the Bay. 2J sticks to the nest, but her maiden flight won’t be long. At 2.08 5R brings in a large roach. He eats for some time on the perch, but then the nest suddenly becomes a seething mass of wings and feet as all three juveniles vie for their share after he brings it in. An interesting visitor today is a young woman called Jasmine, who has just completed a degree in Animal Conservation and is now intending to work abroad for a year gaining experience in more aspects of the natural world. She tells me I must be sure to visit Abuko Nature Reserve in Gambia, where winter Ospreys abound.

Sunday July 21st: A chilly and grey afternoon, in marked contrast to the previous few Sundays. The water levels in the Bay are dropping now, as the marks on the nest-pole show. A moulting Black Tern is present. All three juveniles are flying now, keeping everyone on their toes as we try and keep track of their whereabouts. They are looking good ~ and people from all over the world are coming to see them.

Sunday July 28th: Hot on the heels of a fun-packed ‘Osprey Extravaganza Day’ on Friday, I’m back again for a more tranquil Sunday afternoon shift. I meet Lloyd, who tells me he has been ringing Common Sandpipers, using a method whereby they wander into miniature walk-in traps and then can be caught and fitted with their rings. There is also a Wood Warbler at Egleton today. Osprey chicks are ten weeks old now, and enormous! We must stop calling them chicks ~ from now on they are ‘juveniles’.

Sunday August 4th: Michelle outlines her plans for school visits over the next few months, and then I go down to the hide. Wader Scrape is busy today, and living up to its name with Wood and Green Sandpipers present. The Osprey family is active too, and there are plenty of visitors anxious to see the juveniles flying. They oblige from time to time. Our fellow volunteer and school presenter Deb comes in, and we reminisce about the season rapidly approaching its final stages. A woman asks Barrie ‘Why do you give your Ospreys such uninspiring names, such as 5R, 03 etc?’ As a founder-member of the Project back in the mid-90’s, he is ideally placed to give a perfect answer, highlighting the essentially scientific nature of the Project in aiming to re-introduce the Osprey into Central England, the unwillingness of the early pioneers to ‘anthropomorphise’ these wild creatures by giving them human characteristics such as names, and finally the fact that we do not find the labels we give them ‘uninspiring’ at all. Just the opposite ~ the mere mention of ‘03(97)’ ~ parent of 30 offspring now ~ is indeed inspiring to anyone who discovers his story. Anyway, Simon Barnes of ‘The Sunday Times’ did give him a name ~ ‘Mr Rutland’ of course.

Sunday August 11th: The juveniles are three months old. Michelle has constructed a chart detailing all five pairs we have breeding this year, plus the 14 juveniles’ genders and ring numbers. There is a copy in the hide, and we show it to visitors, who are suitably impressed. In addition to the five breeding pairs and 14 juveniles, we have several immature two and three year olds around, plus the female 30(05), whose mate did not return this year. So well over 30 individual Ospreys have been seen and identified by John Wright and the team this year. Another exciting fact: 30(05) has been fitted with a satellite transmitter, and will soon be sending back GPS readings! Still plenty to look forward to!

Sunday August 18th: The last day of the famous Birdfair across the reservoir at Egleton. Here in Manton Bay we are very busy ~ everyone wants to see the Ospreys before they leave. One juvenile (2J) has already left, beginning her first migration alone. The others are still here. A Peregrine dashes through, causing mayhem amongst the flocks of Gulls and Lapwings. Putting on a show for ‘Birdfair’ obviously. The late team who take over from us will have a very busy time. We later hear that visitors were still here as the light faded at about 8.00pm.

Sunday August 25th: Now 1J has gone as well. We always tell visitors that the adult female leaves first, but this pair shows that this is not always the case ~ 5R’s mate waits much longer than most other females. The Site B female has been gone for several weeks. A busy afternoon, with lots of people anxious to see 3J and her parents before they depart. 3J looks very settled on the nest ~ her food-begging calls are largely ignored, but from time to time 5R launches off to catch fish for himself and his daughter. The adult female is also catching fish for herself now. Visitors include two young graduates in various conservation studies ~ one is off to Adelaide soon to work with Kangaroos, and the other has been doing butterfly studies in Tanzania. They both realised they knew a lot more about the creatures of other lands than those occurring near their own homes ~ thus their visit here today!

Sunday September 1st: And so we come full circle and it’s Week 23. The last rites are duly observed ~ a chat with Lizzie, a piece of cake, and then down to the hide. Some swallows flit by, the occasional Common Tern is still here, and an exciting Peregrine strikes terror into all the water birds. The decrepit and flattened nest is empty when we arrive, and no Ospreys are in view. But 5R and his mate, plus the clinging 3J, are only teasing us, and they soon re-appear. There are Greenshank and Garganey about ~ Barrie tracks them all down. Visitors are few and far between today ~ perhaps they think it’s all over. Well, it almost is.

Over the 23 Sunday shifts, we have observed 83 bird species, including 14 we have seen every single time (like Osprey and Tree Sparrow!) and 7 we have seen only once (like Red-necked Phalarope). The human visitors have been almost as interesting as the wild ones, and have included tourists from many diverse lands such as Australia and New Zealand, France, Germany, Hungary, Spain, and US states including Baltimore, Wisconsin, California and Michigan. Rutland Water Ospreys certainly attract worldwide interest!

At 5.00 pm we take the equipment back for the last time. The drive home is tinged with sadness, but reflections on a highly successful Osprey year certainly raise the spirits and banish end of term blues! And there is a lot to look forward to ~ the end of season Party is coming up soon, school visits start again in a week or so, 30(05)’s migration will be shown on Google Earth, and………..there was something else……… what was it………..?

Oh yes! I’m going to Africa in January!

One response to “Stray Leaves from a Manton Bay Summer Notebook”

  1. Cath

    Brilliant blog. Have a great time in Africa.