I’m fortunate enough to live 15 minutes away from Rutland Nature Reserve where I volunteer on the osprey reintroduction project. That’s where I spent my Saturday evening, which aptly was also Earth Day. I spent 3 hours eagle-eyed (pun intended) watching the beautiful osprey pair, Maya and 33, for their every movement. They are the osprey pair nesting at Manton Bay who are currently sitting on a four eggs (a first, they usually have 3).
For a few hours every month I sit in a hide with a fellow volunteer to help help monitor the pair’s behaviour. We record anything of interest such as catching and eating fish, what fish it is, how long they leave the nest for etc. The nest sits across the bay about 200 hundred metres from the hide and armed with a pair of binoculars, telescopes and a webcam we track every moment of these fish hunters’ stay on the bay from March to September.
It was a fairly quiet shift regarding the ospreys, as it often is before the chicks hatch. I arrived with only Maya sat on the nest. Within 40 minutes all she did was get up to move the eggs before settling again. Not that I ever tire of watching this stunning bird of prey. Then as often happens with wildlife, everything happened at once.
The male 33 sneaked back to the nest and before we even noticed him, he was mantling and protecting Maya and the nest from an intruding osprey. A timely return it seemed, unless he’d been hiding in the nearby bare brown trees that match his chocolate feathers. He briefly took over incubating the eggs to let Maya stretch her wings before she proceeded to unceremoniously kick him off with her larger size. Once the coast was clear he was off again to find that allusive fish.
In the meantime the hide was buzzing with visitors. Part of our role is to also educate the visitors about the ospreys. It is a joy to see their excitement at seeing these wondrous birds. Hushed gasps, bird names called out and a snapping of cameras filled the hide. I learn far more from the expertise of fellow volunteers and visitors than they do from me.
The buzz reached peak excitement as someone pointed out a watervole just in front of the hide! An adorable fluffy beaver like creature. It ran along the bank then stopped for a nibble before vanishing into undergrowth. I was thrilled that I finally saw one! They have appeared on a few shifts I’ve been on but they always vanished before I could glimpse one. A heron, a few reed buntings, a sedge warbler, cormorants, great crested grebes, a moorhen and a coot pair also visited the pool in front of the hide. I spent most of the time being entertained by a coot dipping and diving in the transparent pool.
With 10 minutes to spare before heading home, 33 turned up with a giant trout. It was nearly the size of him! I had a grim fascination as I watched the dead fish (headless) still writhing in his claws as he ate. With both ospreys accounted for and a large dinner now caught after 24 hours with no fish, we felt satisfied and headed home after our shift.
On Sunday morning I had another lovely wildlife encounter. I headed to the stables for my horse-riding lesson. Equestrian centres are actually perfect places for many birds as they offer a variety of nesting sites in stables and barns. They also have an endless supply of nesting material from bales of hay and straw and perhaps the odd clump of horsehair.
I saw a flight of swallows flitting across the buildings, as if playing in the sun. I stepped into one of the barns to listen to the barrage of sharp swallow calls. One lone bird sat on a power line, the needle points of its pronged tail defined against the blue sky. It’s always a thrill to see the return of migratory birds.