Some stories to tell

Peter Cairns/2020VISION

Here at Rutland Water Nature Reserve we are lucky to have an 'army' of fantastic volunteers, involved with everything from habitat management to visitor engagement. Here is the first round of accounts from volunteers who have spent a lot of time monitoring the Ospreys with the Osprey Project…

We are very grateful to all of our volunteers who get involved and get stuck in with the day-to-day goings on at the Nature Reserve. It would definitely not be the same without their camaraderie, expertise, dedication and, of course, brilliant senses of humour. Please enjoy reading the first round of some of our volunteer’s most memorable moments whilst volunteering.

Maya, 33 and roach

“I love talking to the people from all over the UK (and some from abroad) who come to view our ospreys and find out more about the project. Many visitors have their own osprey story to tell, and I have learned so much from trying to answer the fascinating questions I have been faced with.

Spending time down in Waderscrape Hide noting the movements and behaviour of the ospreys really connects you with the rhythm of the seasons. It is a real privilege to observe the elegant dance of the great crested grebe, the tiny fluffy black moorhen chicks, the quick dash of a water vole, three pale owlets emerging wide eyed from their nesting box.

And of course, in 2019 our Manton Bay pair successfully raised four chicks to fledging for the first time. In late summer we watched, hearts in mouth, as our 150th Rutland chick jostled with his siblings in a frenzy of wing flapping and helicoptering before finally taking flight. I was so excited to see photographs, earlier this year, of that very same bird at his wintering grounds in the Gambia, having successfully completed his first hazardous migration south.”

Maya

“Like many people, retirement from a busy career gave me time and energy to devote to other interests; as a life-long countrywoman and lover of the outdoors, the opportunity to volunteer with a Wildlife Trust was one I embraced with relish. After a few years working in the Visitor Centres at Rutland Water, I expanded my ‘career’ by joining the Osprey Project and it’s been a joy and a privilege working alongside such an enthusiastic and knowledgeable team.

My monitoring work has not only increased my knowledge of Ospreys but also of many other creatures that call the Reserve their home. The walk down to Waderscrape hide on a Spring morning is a joy – although the shifts during the ‘Beast from the East’ were challenging - and the pleasure in watching Maya and 33 raising their families each year is so rewarding. Highlights are always the relief at their arrival back at Manton Bay, the first egg, the hatching of the little bobble-head chicks and the heart-stopping moments of their fledging, all tinged with sadness when they leave the safety of Rutland to head off into the unknown.

The other great pleasure of volunteering is the connection with visitors and sharing their excitement as they watch these amazing wild creatures going about their daily lives. It never ceases to amaze me the distances some visitors travel to see the ospreys; it is their delight in watching the birds ‘in the feather’ that is the icing on the cake of being an Osprey Project volunteer.”

The four chicks from 2019

The four chicks from the 2019 season.

“It was my wife’s fault! She had suggested that I might enjoy a break from work to come and sit in this smelly workman’s hut hidden in the vegetation on the far side of Lagoon 1 and keep watch on these young Ospreys. She hadn’t said that it would rain, and that it would be cold, and that the Ospreys would hardly move!  And now there’s a storm starting.

It was 1996 and Tricia had been employed as project assistant to help Helen Dixon with the first European translocation of young Ospreys. Her main task seemed to be cutting up fish, putting it on plates, and crawling into avaries built on precariously high platforms. But it was all very adventurous and exciting stuff, so the next year saw me volunteering as much as I could to help the project. In 1997 the release pens were re-sited on Lax Hill and I remember being part of the reception committee at 4am waiting anxiously for Helen and Trish to arrive back from Scotland with their precious cargo. The white van arrived as daylight dawned and with great, great care we unloaded the cardboard boxes, and took them up the ladders. I helped transfer the birds into the pens and that was my first acquaintance with 03, the feisty young male with a white ring who was to go on to become the founding father of the Rutland Water population.”

Maya and 33 with chicks from last year

Maya and 33 with their chicks from the 2019 season.

“I became an Osprey volunteer is 2015 shortly after moving to Oakham from Northamptonshire where we lived in a village close to Fineshade Woods where Red Kites are a daily spectacle. To be able to continue to watching birds that in the past had been driven to the edge of extinction, but which are now again a part of our landscape and inheritance was a great opportunity.

I always like to fit in a few early morning monitoring sessions when in Spring and early Summer the countryside around the Water is at its most beautiful. Rather than driving to Lyndon I sometimes walk from Manton in order to watch the early morning sun rise and the reserve is at its most peaceful best.

It is always uplifting at the start of the season to be there around the time that Maya and 33 return, and then to wait expectantly as their eggs appear. For Maya to have laid four eggs, both last year and this, is a thrill.

And then there are my fellow volunteers. The friendships made and the comradeship built up with so many dedicated and like-minded people.

I am always surprised too at how far some of our visitors travel to came and see the Rutland Ospreys, in the words of a famous radio show host: “not just from the UK, but from around the World”. It is a privilege to be able to talk to so many people about the birds and to live and volunteer in such a beautiful place.”

Maya at sunrise

“We have witnessed some amazing wildlife whilst volunteering at Lyndon during the past 5 years. One was a cuckoo that alighted in the reeds in front of Waderscrape Hide. We expected to only get a fleeting glimpse, but instead were witness to a feeding session that lasted half an hour. The cuckoo repeatedly disappeared down into the reeds and reappeared with large, hairy, black caterpillars.  It flicked each one, skinning it and revealing the juicy interior.

My most memorable highlight was the fledging in 2015 of the male S2. I had a soft spot for this juvenile as he had been furiously helicoptering for a few days, at times hanging on to the sides of the nest which prevented lift off, but which gave his wings a really good workout.

Then he just launched himself off the side of the nest, as if he had been on the wing for weeks. There was no short flight to a nearby perch for S2. He was off for a 15-minute flight around the bay, with Maya escorting him back, twice. Rather than land on the nest, S2 first landed on the low bund, that separates Manton Bay from the main reservoir. He stayed there for half an hour, his head moving from side to side as he took everything in. When ready, he took off without a hitch and made a textbook landing back on the nest.”

Maya and 33

"When I stopped full time work I planned to do an environmental studies course. It switched to online only so instead I volunteered at Rutland Water.  That was 9 years ago and the best decision. 

My first love is the osprey project. I knew nothing when I began but the staff were so welcoming and friendly and ready to help, I’ve learned so much and in a much more fun way! Sitting in Waderscrape hide monitoring Maya and 33 whilst looking out over beautiful scenery, or doing look-out from the water on an osprey cruise is amazing. Whatever worries you have drift away. Sharing information with visitors is a joy: I’ve never yet seen a visitor come to see the ospreys and not leave without wearing a big smile, even if they weren’t that interested to begin with, because these birds are incredible and have a story to tell. To wait every March to see which of the ospreys do or don’t arrive back from migration is breath-holding time. To watch how the project has developed each year with new arrivals, new breeding pairs, new chicks reared and fledged and the amazing work done to make it succeed - and to be a part of it - is a privilege. 

I had to be persuaded to do the Visitor Centres because I didn’t think it was ‘my thing’ but I love it, interacting with the public. Given Rutland Water has been voted most popular nature reserve in England, most people arrive keen and happy and those who aren’t – well they too are happy when they leave. See the Visitors Book comments!

New friends. The walks, talks, parties and other events arranged by staff for volunteers completes a wonderful experience. And the whole reserve to enjoy. Best thing I ever did."

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World Osprey Week at home activities

As school closure continues, each week we are adding more wildlife  activities for youngsters to do at home. Please visit the World Osprey Week page for more information.

Below is a link to a survey in relation to the Osprey Educational Resources. We would really appreciate as much feedback as possible, so if you have two minutes to spare, please do fill one in. Even if you haven't used the resources, we would very much like to hear your feedback.

https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/T9W9DTJ