Translocation - first flights

When the birds in a particular pen were ready to be released, volunteers were posted discreetly at key vantage points around the Reserve and the front of the pen was gently lowered. Often it was several hours before the birds launched themselves from their platforms although some birds took advantage of their freedom immediately. It was always a tense moment for the project team who still found it hard to believe that the birds would be able to fly. But fly they could - instinctively knowing how to use their wings to gain height, how to glide, how to change direction in the air. The first flight often lasted for 3 or 4 minutes and often terminated when the bird, rather inexpertly, landed in a tree or on one of the nearby artificial nests or perches.

It's always a memorable day for the project team: click here for an emotional account of the release in 1999


Photo: Martin Withers

A 1998 bird (notice the orange-brown ring) contemplates its maiden flight from the release pen.


Monitoring with telescope, radio and note book from the observation gallery in the AW Birdwatching Centre.
Once the birds were flying freely, the task of the volunteer monitors changed dramatically. Rather than viewing the caged birds on TV screens, the monitors now used binoculars and telescopes to try to keep track of the young Ospreys. There were three monitoring stations from which most of the reserve could be viewed and the team were able to communicate with each other using short wave radios. One person was responsible for recording the locations and movements of the birds as they began to explore their surroundings.
It was now that radio tracking of the birds began, using a strange looking piece of equipment known as a yagi. By moving the large aerial around and twiddling the knobs to receive different frequencies, it was possible to identify particular birds even if their ring numbers were not visible.

George Bachelor monitoring with a yagi from Lax Hill

Helen Dixon putting out fish for the young birds
Fish, now cut into larger pieces or left whole, continued to be provided on the platforms near the release pens. Until they migrated the young Osprey came back to feed on this fish, just as their siblings in Scotland returned to their nests to take fish that continued to be provided by their parents.

There were one or two occasions when young birds ran into trouble during their early flights and it is then that the need for efficient monitoring became obvious. One year a young bird was seen to dangle its legs into the water in one of the lagoons, presumably tentatively looking for fish. Unfortunately its talons became entangled in weed and it was unable to rise out of the water. Had it not been for efficient monitoring, the bird would probably have drowned, but the project team were able to reach it without delay. Even so, controlling a bird with a five-foot wing span which is panicking and thrashing around in water is no easy task. The answer was for Joe (stripper) Davies, the Assistant Warden, to remove his shirt and wrap it around the bird. It was taken back to the pen to recover and was released successfully a day later.

Another year the monitoring team realised that they had lost visual contact with one of the birds for several hours. The yagi was used from several different positions and the bird's location pin-pointed - an area of thick scrub with dense ground cover. The bird may have crash landed in the scrub and found that it was unable to spread its wings in order to take off again. Again the bird was rescued and re-released. No doubt such accidents are common causes of early death in young wild birds.

With a background of fields: an Osprey as seen from Lax Hill monitoring station.

Ospreys feeding in the evening light

Another story which has become legendary at Rutland Water, concerns bird 05 in 1998. This bird had exhibited rather unusual behaviour while in the pens and had been noted as perhaps rather unintelligent. Soon after its maiden flight and on a day when there was a strong south-westerly gale and squally showers, 05 was seen flying low over the reservoir to the north east and apparently unable to make headway against the wind. Osprey volunteers have all manner of 'day-jobs' and that day local vicar Michael Rogers was part of the monitoring team. Monitors alerted the Project Officer to the plight of bird 05 and Helen Dixon and Kate Aspinall headed off in a vehicle towards the village of Hambleton fearing the worst. Michael's parting words to them were , "Don't worry - I'll pray for its safe return." On their arrival at Hambleton the team were able to pick up a strong radio signal from 05, coming not as they had feared from the water but from the village itself. At first they could not locate the bird at all, but suddenly they realised where it was - sitting on top of the spire of Hambleton Church, looking for all the world like a weather cock! The story did not end there because later, 05 moved to the roof of Hambleton Hall, the exclusive hotel and restaurant. Helen and Kate, wet and dirty in wellies, plucked up courage to approach the reception desk and ask permission to watch the bird from the grounds. The bird found Hambleton Hall much to its liking and stayed on the roof for about 18 hours before deciding that the food, after all, was better on the Nature Reserve!

Each year, while the birds were flying freely, the annual British Birdwatching Fair took place at Rutland Water. Thousands of birdwatchers from all over the UK and, increasingly the world, gather for a three-day event. Many of them visited the observation gallery of the Anglian Water Birdwatching Centre from where they were able to see the ospreys and learn about the project.

Click here for a link to the British Birdwatching Fair home page.

An Osprey's-eye view of the Bird Fair and the lagoons.
The white objects are marquees

By the end of August or early September the young Osprey were often spending long periods of time away from the Reserve and out of range of the yagi. They were seen at various other lakes and rivers in the vicinity and usually returned each night to feed. Then, often on a bright clear breezy day, radio contact was lost with individual birds and they did not come back. On occasions this start of migration was witnessed by volunteer monitors and members of the project team: a bird would set out with determined purpose towards the south, flying strongly and gaining height as it became a speck in the sky and then nothing. The birds did not all leave together, although some days, when the weather was right, two or three birds left at the same time. Eventually the calls of the birds no longer rang around the Reserve, the volunteers went home and prepared for the end-of-project party, the release pens were dismantled and Project Officer began to write her yearly report.

 

In the years before 1999, that was the last we knew about the young Ospreys, apart from the odd report of sightings which often did not arrive for several months. However, from 1999 to 2001 there was an additional dimension to the project as we received daily reports from someof the Rutland Water Ospreys using satellite tracking.

Click here for reports of subsequent sightings or here for a link to the satellite-tracking information.

©2006 Rutland Osprey Project.
Photographs and images by members of the Project Team unless otherwise stated.
The project is a partnership between Anglian Water and the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust,
with funding from Augean Plc through the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme.
The project is based at Rutland Water Nature Reserve.