The Osprey season has started at Rutland Water, and this was the first turn of volunteer duty of the season for me and my pal Titus. We were on the evening shift at Manton Bay but I left home at 12:45 to go to Titus's place. On the way I stopped at my Little Owl Site No.02, and found an owl out on the end of the barn, in spite of the cold wind. Admittedly, it was on the south-west corner of the roof so a bit sheltered.
|Little Owl - my Site No.02|
Having transferred my kit into Titus's car, we set off for Rutland Water. Our journey takes us down some single-track roads with passing loops, and some of these were still rather hazardous with snow and ice. We called at eight of my Little Owl sites on the way and, disappointingly but not surprisingly (because of the cold wind), didn't see an owl at any of them. However, it was not possible to stop in most places and do a proper check as the gateways and passing loops were full of huge piles of snow from where the snow ploughs had dropped it. We did manage to stop at one place, however, but all I photographed was a female Kestrel.
|Common Kestrel (female)|
We arrived early for our shift on the Lyndon side of the reserve, and so decided to spend a short time at Shallow Water Hide, where one gets a slightly better view of the Osprey's nest. Concerns had been growing about the whereabouts of 5R (the Manton Bay male Osprey - no woossey 'people' names for our Ospreys. They are all known by their ring identification, and even the unringed female in Manton Bay is known as just that - 'the Manton Bay female'! More commonly the breeding male Ospreys return from their overwintering grounds (usually West Africa) before the females. The Manton Bay female had returned on March 21st, and it was now nine days later than 5R had returned in 2012 (March 19th).
As we approached Shallow Water hide we were distracted by a hunting male Kestrel.
|Common Kestrel (male) - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve|
Once in the otherwise empty hide we saw that the water level in the reservoir was somewhat higher than I'd seen it before. The westernmost perching post was leaning at a crazy angle, and the perching post nearer to the nest (on which the Manton Bay female was sitting, consuming a large Trout) was leaning somewhat too.
|Osprey (Manton Bay female) - Rutland Water|
It was soon time to depart again and move to Waderscrape Hide. The Kestrel was still outside the hide, hunting.
|Common Kestrel (male) - Rutland Lyndon|
We arrived to find one solitary visitor (actually another member of the volunteer team, but 'off duty') in the hide. As we set up the kit the MB female was still on the perch, eating the trout. Just after 17:00 we'd only been set up a few minutes, with Titus helping the visitor to the 'scope, and me scanning the skies when, simultaneously, I noticed a descending Osprey and the MB female took her fish to the nest, and 'mantled'. The mantling didn't last for long, however, as the female accepted the new arrival. Titus quickly spotted the green ring on the bird's right leg - surely this was 5R! I quickly got on the radio to the visitor centre, and Paul dashed to the monitor for the nest camera. He quickly confirmed (in a very excited voice) that it was indeed 5R, back from his winter stop in West Africa. I'm afraid that our own excitement was probably expressed a little more noisily than convention requires, but what the heck - we kept chuckling for the rest of the shift!
|Osprey (MB female left, male 5R right)|
Whilst the MB female might have been pleased to see her mate, she wasn't exactly effusive about it. She kept hold of the fish, and soon took it back to the perch to continue her meal. At one point she took it back to the nest to taunt 5R with - and then took it back to the perch again. Eventually she took sympathy with 5R (he'd probably had a long journey that day and was quite tired) and took him the remains of the fish, which 5R then took away to the nearby 'fallen tree' to consume.
|Osprey - 5R departs with his supper|
Usually it's the male Osprey that does the fishing, often eating the head first, before taking the 'tail' to his mate (and family). It must have been a pleasant change for him to be fed a tail end by his mate!
My appologies for the quality of the images. The light was very poor by now.
Whilst on duty at Waderscrape we were also intrigued by a couple of Cormorants sporting mohican haircuts. I understand that, in winter, older male cormorants develop more white in the face, but this pair seemed to have taken this to extremes!
|Cormorant (mature male) - Rutland Lyndon|
I'm afraid that I am not as robust as an Osprey, and although our turn of duty technically finished at 20:00 (it was never going to happen as it was dark by 19:00) the cold (the temperature had fallen to zero degrees) was getting to me and so, at 18:45, we started to pack up, and were on our way home by 19:05.
We broke our duck on the owl front as, at my LO Site No.29 I spotted a Little Owl fly off in the headlights (Titus didn't see it), and a few seconds later Titus saw a Barn Owl fly in front of the car (which I didn't see as I was looking sideways for the second Little Owl).
For us this was a brilliant way to start the Osprey season.
For more on the Rutland Ospreys, please visit http://www.ospreys.org.uk/ where you will find a wealth of information. Better still, visit Rutland Water itself !!!