Work experience with the osprey team – a blog by Lizzie Waring

Arriving at the visitor centre, I was greeted by glorious vegetation framing a view out over the water, and the brilliant news that the two osprey chicks, 3AW and 3AU, had been successfully ringed. The atmosphere of the team at the centre that morning gave me my first impression of just how special these birds are.  Everyone was abuzz with the good news, with beautiful pictures of the ringing happily being shared throughout the office. As can be seen from the pictures on the previous blog post, seeing such incredible birds in detail, bathed in morning light, instills a reverence and admiration that is often lost through webcam images; it was a real treat to share in the joy.

View from the Swan hide, visited during my lunch break. This part of the reserve is often overlooked by visitors, who head in the opposite direction to see the ospreys. (Own source)

I was set to work inputting into excel the data recorded by volunteers monitoring the nest, giving me my first insight into the care and attention paid to the birds. Recordings included the activities of Maya and 33, intruders to the nest, and even species of fish brought in. The patchwork of note styles by the wealth of volunteers (4 hour shifts in pairs) was fun to decipher. The enthusiasm and dedication was evident, with new sticks added to the nest being marked with a jubilant “Stick!” in the notes margin. Analysing the intruders and the reactions of the parents, I could begin to get an idea of the behaviours and habits of the birds. For instance, intruding ospreys often merited a chasing off, whereas buzzards were more likely to be left to move on, with some mantling over the chicks as a safety measure.

After a lunch sat deep in wildflowers and bugs, and a small walk to a nearby hide, I met with a pair of volunteers who were to take me to see the ospreys in person. With my only experience watching ospreys being a dark blob flapping off into the distance, to say I was excited was an understatement.

Walking off across the reserve, it was as if I was stepping into a dream. Wildflower meadows and lush, billowing trees, alive with moths and butterflies, damselflies and spiders; it was a wildlife lover’s haven. With clouds scudding across a pale blue sky, we discussed the history of the project and the work that goes on to maintain and enhance the reserve’s osprey population. Remarkably, when numbers were lower, nests were monitored 24/7 by volunteers, with military grade night vision goggles used to watch for egg collectors and poachers in the night. It astonished me, the complete dedication of volunteers to these birds, willing to spend hours in a wooden hide in the dead of night, trading sleep shifts in bunks in a nearby shed, all to ensure these incredible birds and their chicks were safe.

The long list of firsts on this short walk illustrates brilliantly the quality of the habitats and their management, and shows what a concentrated area of wildlife the reserve is. Spots included my first common whitethroat, chimney sweep moth, common spotted orchids, and further along in the hide, my first water rail. Top of the list though was my first real view of an osprey, a male displaying high up in the sky, ending with a dramatic dive back behind the trees to the water. We hypothesised it was our male, 33, who left the nest on the webcam around this time, strengthening his bond with Maya after the eventful morning ringing the chicks. It was breath-taking to see, and was a great first introduction to the sweeping beauty of these birds.

Some views through binoculars at the Waderscrape hide. Top, a grazing greylag goose. Bottom, common terns perching. The tern on the right would occasionally display to the perched female. (Own source)

Watching from the high tech and comfy Waderscrape hide (assembled by volunteers of course), with the volunteer on watch filling us in, we could see Maya and 33 keeping a stern watch over the nest. Later on, we saw 33 chasing off an intruding osprey. These ‘intruders’ seem to be doing not much more than flying in the general vicinity of the nest, yet still these devoted parents wouldn’t stand for it, determined to expel even the possibility of a threat to their chicks.

Overall, my time here has been excellently spent. As I’ve found, staff and volunteers at the reserve are endlessly friendly and patient, with a wealth of knowledge to impart. To have had the opportunity to learn about their work, and to work so closely with the wildlife on the reserve, has been a fantastic opportunity. I highly recommend anyone thinking of gaining experience in this field to see what they can get involved in, as the opportunities here are wonderful.