A Life With(out) Ospreys: Paradise (Lost and) Regained

(C) Pete Murray

Education Officer Ken Davies has written this beautiful blog about his most recent visit to Lyndon.

Osprey Education Officer, Ken Davies, has written this beautiful blog entry about his most recent visit to Lyndon to see the Manton Bay Ospreys...

I ease the car slowly down the steep hill towards the Lyndon car-park. Low cloud, light but persistent drizzle, dripping hedgerows and trees. My first visit since March 15th, when the Ospreys were not even back. There are a few parked cars, mostly respectfully distanced from each other. The staff cars form a bubble of their own, close together and totally at ease, just like their owners. I park with them.

I negotiate the cones, each with its note informing me how to proceed towards the Centre. I hesitate at the door, but I am soon ushered in by a familiar voice. The welcome is genuine and sincere, and immediately all the tension and anxiety I felt earlier as I drove here is dispelled. How lucky we are to have these people working here with us, committed to bringing the Reserve back to life again after its long period of closure. The interior of the Visitor Centre, though much changed in appearance to conform with regulations, still exudes a warmth and friendliness guaranteed to put even the most nervous visitor at ease. I follow the duck’s feet painted on the floor and move to the big open space which allows people to stand apart without bumping into furniture, and soon there is a cup of tea in my hand and we are chatting as we always did until so sorely interrupted four months ago now. I feel internally lifted, exalted even, by the welcome back this afternoon….and I haven’t even seen an Osprey yet!

The track to the Waderscrape hide, so familiar after hundreds, maybe thousands, of walks over the years, is strangely ‘new’ and different today. The orchid I always check on at one point is long gone. I have missed the two months of full birdsong, May and June, but on this overcast and murky afternoon there are still a few snatches of summer with a raspy Whitethroat, a cheery Chiffchaff and a showy Chaffinch or two. The Reservoir on my right is grey and brooding, Mute Swans gathered in large numbers on the far shore, a single fishing boat (No.45) looking like a toy, its occupant motionless in his own world. I pass a few people going back towards the Centre. We acknowledge one another with a nod or a short greeting, keeping well to our own edge of the track. No-one stops to chat.

Lyndon Track

At last Waderscrape hide is in sight at the end of the narrow path. It stands gaunt, empty and expectant, door and all flaps open, waiting silently for an infusion of life. It is the ‘Marie Celeste’ of hides. I settle at my usual end (next to the vacantly staring Teddy Bear wedged in the woodwork) and go through the ritual of many years – top-coat off and on the hook, notebook, pen, water bottle near to hand. Oh, add hand sanitizer to that this time. Quick wipe of the binoculars. ‘OK, Teddy’, I say to him, ‘what are these Ospreys up to?’

And there they are. My first view (in UK anyway) of the year. 33 is half way up the left hand poplar tree, a favourite perch from previous years. Maya is on the perch above the camera, and three juveniles are on the nest, with quite a bit of flapping and squabbling going on. I think they are still pulling the remains of a trout around. So where is Juvenile No. 4? Ah, there he is, on a branch of the fallen poplar, his light brown plumage merging in well with the surrounding leaves and branches. No telescope today, so I can’t see which juvenile is which. They move and fly regularly, nest to poplar, poplar to perch, back to nest, and so on. Maya has a flight over the water, trailing talons in the water and cleaning them, while 33 watches on. They are all fine. So good to see them.

A couple come in, sit as far away from me as possible at the other end, and start to watch. Just at that point, there is a change of atmosphere out on the nest. All four juveniles are back at the nest, crouching low. Maya is erect, alert, in guardian mode. 33 leaves his perch and gains height. These are all classic symptoms of ‘Intruder Approach’, and soon I see him (I think it’s a male), flying purposely from south-west to north-east, maybe on a fishing trip from his own nest, or just passing by. 33 ushers him away, with no great show of urgency or ferocity, before circling back over Lax Hill and onto the same perch in the poplar tree. A minor alarm only. Soon the juveniles are flying again – at one point the nest is empty for several minutes as Maya hops up onto the camera perch.

4 Manton Bay juveniles

I am alone again as the distant couple depart, and the hide resumes its eerie and unfamiliar silence. I recall crowded and exciting Sunday afternoons in here, as young Osprey Ambassadors and their families crowd around the telescopes for a closer view of the nest, or queue expectantly as the delicious afternoon cake is cut. Or weekday visits by school groups in term time, when whole class groups work intently on their Osprey activity books, each one determined to become a fully-fledged Osprey Expert by the end of the day. The diary was full of such events right through the season. Not a single one was possible.

Still, I am here now, and so are the Ospreys. Many of our would-be young visitors have linked up with us via ‘Zoom’ and other wonders of technology, so that the season has not been entirely lost. What we have lost this year, though, is the opportunity to share with so many people, young and not so young, that ‘Sense of Wonder’ that comes from actually being here, from seeing, hearing, smelling and touching so many wonderful things, from confronting the natural world head on!

One last look around the Bay before I have to go. A squad of Coots, black and round like chickens, has gathered on the shore to the left.  They are all staring towards me, necks up, white shields garish in the gloom. Common Terns glide languidly past, long, deep wing-beats pressing the air and powering them on their way. One Magpie flutters over the water in ungainly fashion. I vainly look for another, not wishing to invoke the ‘One for Sorrow’ superstition. Cormorants decorate the dead tree - sinister custodians of the Bay and all its life. A small flight of unseasonal Wigeon, whistling as they go, rush out of the Bay and into the open water. Swifts, in their hundreds, dash about beneath these oppressive and sombre clouds, their smaller congeners the martins and swallows looking small and delicate in comparison. The lone fisherman, in Boat No 45, finally stands up, starts his outboard at the fifth or six pull, and makes for the Lodge with a small puff of blue smoke. A long freight train rumbles and rattles its way along the stretch of the Oakham – Stamford line that we can see from the hide. The Ospreys go about their daily routine without further disturbance. I leave the empty shell of the hide to its lonely late afternoon.

Back at the Visitor Centre, it’s almost time to close. There is just time to rescue a large, dark moth which has chosen a white painted window frame inside the Centre as a daytime resting point. Once outside on the end of a finger, it starts to become active, looks quite resentful at its undignified awakening, and then flutters like a small bat into some thick foliage at the edge of the pond. It was an ‘Old Lady’ apparently – an impressive creature! The ‘Sense of Wonder’ never leaves us.

I drive away in high spirits. This has been a transformative afternoon for me after such a long period of isolation. I have returned to find that ‘the world is still turning’, and I am able once again to move with it. Thank you to those who have so ably and kindly assisted me along the way.