Tweet of the Day at Site B

Here is the latest update from Ken Davies’ dairy written during his shift at Site B on Tuesday June 18th…

One of the many good things about being on an early shift at Site B is that I am up and about early enough to catch BBC Radio 4’s long-running daily series ‘Tweet of the Day’ at 5.58am, when David Attenborough (or recently the exquisitely named Miranda Krestovnikoff!) narrates a one minute spot devoted to the sound of a particular species of bird. This morning it is the fluty magical call of the Golden Oriole which fills my kitchen as I prepare my breakfast and provisions for a four hour stint at Site B. I’ve never heard a Golden Oriole there, but I recall that night watchman George Batchelor told me he had definitely heard one there a year or two ago. So you never know…..

Later at the watch point, I am listening to Blackcaps and Cuckoos as I settle in, and a row of juvenile Swallows are on the top bar of the rusty metal gate a few metres across the meadow in front of me. Every few minutes their elegant parents sweep down and fill one of the gaping yellow beaks with a rich mixture of winged insects amid a flurry of wing beats and excited calls. 03(97) leaves his perch at 8.29am and just 31 minutes later he returns with a good-sized trout, dropping down from a cloudy sky with verve and style. He starts to eat his prey on the perch, but is interrupted by a familiar call ~ the abrupt chipping sound of an intruding Osprey! He is alert, taut, on tenterhooks, as the interloper sweeps across the face of the wood. The female and the three juveniles lie still until the danger is past. A few minutes later the atmosphere relaxes again, as 03 resumes his meal. The tension has eased. He flies over to the nest with a good portion of the fish still in his talons, and is about to release it from his awesome grip when multiple chipping intruder calls start again, this time behind me. So more than one intruder, but where are they? I cannot see them, but 03 obviously can ~ still with the fish securely held he is off like a rocket, directly towards me and over the trees, as the chipping calls continue to resonate around the wood. The female and the juveniles, who thought their meal had arrived, recede into the nest again, staring south and over my head, waiting patiently for 03’s return.

At that moment Tim phones. He is not far away, and has been watching FIVE different Ospreys, one of whom is carrying a fish. So that is where he went! Just before 10.00am 03 returns again, still clutching his much-travelled fish, which is now, at long last, delivered to the nest, where the female sets about it with gusto and relish, while three heads vie for her attention and a taste of the air-dried trout! The breakfast lasts over half an hour, and I join in with a well-earned sandwich and a coffee.

During the lull I examine more closely the shifting flowers and grasses of the meadow in front of me. Today it is a riot of yellow and blue, as the buttercups and germander speedwell combine to create a shimmering image of intoxicating beauty. The barley field beyond is gently swishing in the breeze, and beyond that again, the Osprey family relax in their tree-top fortress ~ both adults side by side, the membrane flicking over their eyes as their heads droop in a sleepy interlude. I’ve said it before, but confidently re-affirm my belief that this is a naturalist’s paradise.

Suddenly it’s 11.20am and I am within 40 minutes of the end of my shift. I notice that 03 is staring intently upwards into the blue sky. I follow his trajectory and come eventually to two distant dots, which prove, with the help of binoculars, to be two Buzzards circling at a huge height. I wonder what 03 sees. Is it different to what I see? In any case, neither of us react. He stays on the edge of his nest, I in my green canvas chair. Down on earth again, three necks and heads are moving through the barley field towards me ~ the first Fallow Deer of the day. One is a handsome pricket, another a nervous doe, and the third is very dark, almost black. They stop abruptly, having caught my scent as the light south-westerly takes it toward them, and then they’re away, pronking high like impala in the veldt. I check for ripples in the barley behind them ~ no, the legendary Rutland panther is not following them this time.

And now the sky is full of Swifts ~ hundreds of them criss-crossing in a twisting mass of crescent-shaped wings. I check as many of them as I can just in case one should display a hint of a white rump and reveal itself as an exotic overshoot from distant lands ~ a Pacific Swift, perhaps, or an Alpine. No luck today ~ but I still religiously go on checking every Swift I see!

I spend the last few minutes composing my own ‘Tweet of the Day’. My Osprey friends will know the sounds well.

‘Ospreys employ a variety of calls and notes throughout the season. If you’re lucky enough to be present at the end of March when a male greets a female in display after a winter spent apart, you will be treated to a variety of excited, high-pitched squeals which carry a very long way. Later on, breeders will use guard calls, alarm calls, intruder ‘chips’, and food-begging vocalisations which can be very loud and downright annoying if you’re sitting near an occupied nest for four hours.’

Catch up with all previous ‘Tweets of the Day’ on the BBC I-Player. I’m looking forward to tomorrow ~ it’s the Lesser Whitethroat, that smart little warbler which currently has a nest just off the track on the walk to Manton Bay.

But will I be around at 5.58am? I’ll have to be, if only to hear that name again ~ Miranda Krestovnikoff !