We pass you over to our wonderful education officer, Ken Davies, for a wholesome insight into what’s it’s like watching the Ospreys at Lyndon, to celebrate the enthusiasm and hard work of the project so far, and of course, sharing his passion for the reserve.
“It’s Sunday May 12th 2019. I arrive early for my Sunday afternoon shift at Lyndon. It is only 11.00am – fully two hours before I am due in the hide. I check in at the Visitor Centre, have a brief chat with the staff on duty, and then head out for a walk on my own in the morning sunshine. I have a lot to think about today. You might say this is a special Sunday for me…….
I walk away from the Centre and down towards Teal Hide on the lakeside. It’s being rebuilt as an educational resource and is nearing completion. It’s going to be fantastic. The bookings diary is full right through to mid-July – so many schools and youth groups will be based in here when they come to see the Ospreys in the days and weeks to come. For now, it’s incomplete, silent and still, an empty shell….but already expectant, waiting for the happy chatter and lively excitement which young people always bring to the reserve. The water laps and ripples around it. I turn and walk back up the track. Brimstone and Orange Tip butterflies flit around. The birdsong down here is immense – summer warblers, back now in good numbers, compete to impress with their performances. In turn sibilant, harsh, lush – sections of an intoxicating orchestra of sound. I am pleased and relieved that I can still hear them and differentiate between their contributions. I turn down a path and walk further away from the Centre, towards a hide called Swan. I do not get very far. No-one is here. Virtually everyone goes the other way to seek out the Ospreys. I am amongst newly emerging green foliage, gorse bushes to the side in full and sweet bloom, whispering tree branches above, mats of delicate blue forget-me-nots and pale yellow primroses below. I come upon a newly installed wooden bench, placed here and dedicated by his grateful family to a former volunteer who passed away earlier this year. I love the simplicity of the words they have chosen for the neat plaque. It says ‘Keep Smiling’. And how could I not on a day like today? I sit on his brilliant bench in regal splendour. In fact it’s a throne from which to survey my surroundings – beautiful woodland, oak leaves moving gently in the breeze, and a little further away the gently rolling waters of the reservoir, with newly returned Swifts, Swallows and Martins arcing overhead, graceful Common Terns skimming the surface, courting Great Crested Grebes rising chest to chest, dripping bills holding scraps of water weed. How could anyone sit here and not smile?
Suddenly it’s time to go back to the Centre, meet my companion Chris for the afternoon, and begin the walk down to the Bay for our four hour shift in the hide. I am very familiar with the walk. I know every step, every bush, gate and fence-post. I know where the Whitethroats will build their nests, where the orchids will grow, where the Speckled Woods will emerge. I keep diaries and journals, and have done so for the past thirteen seasons. I love to look back at them. They allow me to reflect on past encounters – with Ospreys, of course, but also with creatures of all types, including human beings. Fellow volunteers and visitors from near and far are all recorded. My journals also allow me to mark milestones in my personal time here. And that’s what makes today special. You see, today is my 300th Sunday afternoon shift here in the Bay.
Monitoring down here began in March 2007, when translocated male Osprey 08(97) finally settled down with a mate after years of short-term liaisons with transient females which never lasted more than a few days. And what a partner this one has proved to be – none other than green-ringed 5N(04), offspring of the legendary 03(97) and his equally celebrated partner 05(00). If successful in 2007, 5N would be the first Rutland-born Osprey to breed in England since the 1840’s! No pressure then. People reading this who were there at the time will remember the tension and excitement as the season progressed. So far, since 2001, there had been only one – and on one occasion, two – nests, and they were both at remote locations, well away from the reservoir on private land, where the volunteers on duty hardly ever saw another living soul, unless it was a young Tim Mackrill or John Wright (not so young) coming to check, or a relief team coming to take over after a four hour stint.
Monitoring in Manton Bay in 2007 was a hugely different affair, and the public came in their thousands to see the Ospreys from the original Wader Scrape and Shallow Water hides. As well as recording every aspect of the Ospreys’ breeding season, it was necessary now to speak to the throngs of visitors from all over the UK and beyond, who came to witness this wildlife spectacular. 08 proved, in that first season at least, to be a good parent (most of the time), keeping 5N and the chicks well fed, warding off potential rivals, and fishing successfully in full view of the crowds in the hides and the Visitor Centre. The carefully prepared rotas provided round-the-clock monitoring and safeguarding for the Ospreys, and a superb level of information for visitors from the army of well-informed staff and volunteers. Their reward was successful fledging in July 2007. Phew! Everyone deserved their fish and chip supper at the end-of-season social in September!
Every summer since then, the Osprey nest in Manton Bay has been monitored by the ever vigilant team of volunteers. Some, like me, have undertaken regular weekly shifts for every one of the thirteen years in which watches have been maintained, and an average of twenty thousand visitors have come to the Lyndon Reserve each season. School and other youth groups, various wildlife trusts and clubs, university students and many U3A groups have added to that number.
It has been an exhilarating experience over the years, with some incredible highs and a few lows too. The success of 2007 was not repeated in 2008. The birds returned and eggs were laid, but 08 developed a wanderlust trait and took to disappearing for days on end at the delicate incubation stage. This put pressure on 5N, who became the target of harassment by other unpaired males, with the result that she had to leave the eggs unattended to ward these threats off, and even fish for herself on occasions. The inevitable result was that the eggs did not hatch, and eventually 5N gave them up. She and 08 returned again in 2009, but perhaps recalling the failure of the previous year, she would not settle and eventually occupied another territory well away from the reservoir, where, happily, they bred successfully again.
There were some compensations in 2009. A ‘new kid on the block’, 5R(04), brother to 5N, took up residence on the Manton Bay nest, and worked hard to find a mate. He did not find one in time, but I remember being in the hide with John Wright one day late in the season when John spotted an unringed female Osprey flying towards us. ‘I’ve seen her a lot lately’, he said ‘and she’s been taking a lot of interest in 5R and the nest. Could be interesting if she comes back next year.’ John judged her to be about two years old. His surmise proved correct. Both she and 5R returned in 2010 and took over the Manton bay nest. For the next four seasons (2010 – 2013) they raised chicks successfully in the Bay, to the delight of staff, volunteers and visitors. We called her ‘the unringed Manton Bay female’……until enterprising staff Kayleigh and Lucy came up with the name Maya, by which the Osprey world now knows her.
Though generally times of progress and growth, the years 2010 – 13 were not without setbacks. Three male Ospreys, including the breeding male 08(97), disappeared during one summer under very suspicious circumstances. Police conducted very thorough enquiries, but the mystery was not solved. Not everyone is a friend of the Ospreys. On a much happier note, one Sunday afternoon in late July 2011, with a hide full of people, I looked through the telescope and found, to my initial consternation, that there were FOUR juveniles on the nest! After a few minutes we were able to confirm that the intruding juvenile was 33(11), recently fledged from one of the outlying nests and just paying a visit to his half-brother’s family! I wonder if he was already thinking ‘Hmm, this is a nice spot….would do me nicely when I’m all grown up…’ He didn’t have long to relax – 5R soon realised there was a ‘cuckoo’ in the nest and sent him packing, relative or not!
2014 was a traumatic year for the Manton Bay Ospreys. 5R did not return from migration. We all (Maya included) sat and waited, scanning the skies well into April, but he did not come. At first she spurned all advances from other male Ospreys, but eventually she succumbed to the charms of a persistent suitor – the popular four year old male 28(10). He became a favourite owing to a slight deformity in his right wing – a kink which did not seem to hinder his flight at all and made him easy to recognise, even at a distance. The new pair settled down and a clutch of eggs was laid.
All appeared to be on track, until the aforementioned 33(11) – a younger but more powerful male – began to make aggressive intrusions on the nest, even landing next to Maya and ousting her from the eggs. 28(10) tried valiantly to ward him off, engaging with him in spectacular aerial battles and talon-locking encounters which thrilled visiting photographers but depressed those of us who knew what the inevitable outcome would be. 28 could not compete with the strength of this young invader, and eventually retreated to another part of the reservoir. 33 was triumphant, immediately scraping his defeated rival’s eggs from the nest into the water and standing proudly with his newly won nest and mate. By this time the season was well advanced, and Maya was not in condition to produce a second clutch. ‘The Year of the Troubles’ ended with them both defending the territory, but having nothing to show for all the battles of the previous few months. I for one was glad to see the end of that season.
33(11) went ‘from villain to hero’ in the course of a few short months. He returned in the spring of 2015, immediately began to build up the nest, and he courted Maya in the most impressive manner. To everyone’s great joy, 28(10) also returned, characteristic wing kink still there, and settled with a new mate not too far away. He is best known now as the proprietor of a nearby trout farm! 2015 was also notable as it produced the 100th chick since the very first one in 2001.
33(11) has been a model Osprey parent in the five years to date (2015 – 19), taking a full and active share in incubation and even feeding the chicks on occasion. He is a master fisher. He and Maya have so far produced fourteen chicks, counting the potential four in the nest this year. They are indeed the public face of the Rutland Osprey Project.
The 300th Sunday shift proceeds like all the others. The first two chicks hatched yesterday (May 11th). It would be good if the next one – the 150th – hatched during my 300th shift. There is a nice symmetry about the numbers 150 and 300. It doesn’t happen. The 150th is saving itself for tomorrow I reckon. Lots of visitors today – families, local people, Osprey fans from all over the UK. Water Voles, a Water Rail, a dashing Hobby and hundreds of Swifts and Martins provide a pretty strong supporting cast I would say. In fact the four hour shift produces a bird list of 55 species. They will all be added to the record in due course.
Three hundred Sunday shifts cannot be summarised adequately in just a few pages, but the notebooks, diaries and journals (including this report) will be there long after I have gone to the great osprey Valhalla which surely awaits. My thanks are due to everyone who has shared these Sundays with me – notably Barrie, who has been there for the great majority of them and has the dubious honour of being the person who introduced me to the Project all those years ago. The support of successive Osprey Project Officers, Field Officers and Lyndon Centre Managers and the companionship of so many brilliant fellow volunteers and visitors over the years has really given me immense reward and pleasure.
Another three hundred Sundays? No chance….but just a few more would be nice.”