I’ve occasionally written about my enthusiasm for birdwatching and my previous obsession for seeing a puffin, which was finally satisfied on the Gobbins Cliff Path walk in Northern Ireland. But, inevitably, while one itch is scratched another new one comes along to take its place.
Where it used to be puffins, now it is ospreys.
It was mainly with the hope of seeing ospreys that I recently visited Rutland Water. After a near 150-year absence in England, ospreys were reintroduced at Rutland Water in 1996, and have been breeding there since 2001. This year, there are thought to be 27 individual birds in the surrounding area. My chances of seeing one of them? Realistically? Low. However, I hoped to have increased my odds by booking a Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust osprey cruise aboard the Rutland Belle.
The boat left Whitwell Harbour at 7 o’clock in the evening. I arrived early, but there was already a hardy assortment of twitcher-types assembled by the edge of the reservoir; muscular woman in camouflage fatigues; nervous-looking men with long camera lenses equal to their own body weight. My own small point-and-shoot seemed woefully inadequate, in comparison. I didn’t even have any bins. Everyone else had bins, for God’s sake. Bins were de rigueur.
The cruise was accompanied by a nature warden and several volunteers from the Lyndon Nature Reserve Osprey Project and, within only a couple of minutes of departure, the first osprey was sighted. It was a long way off, a tiny speck, flying high above the dam at the east end of Rutland Water, but it was a promising start.
In the pleasant, early evening sunshine, the Rutland Belle made steady progress westwards towards Manton Bay and a site where it was known that the ospreys were nesting. At a respectful distance the boat stopped, and a bevy of binoculars were focussed on a wooden T-pole standing high in the water, on top of which sat a large, white-fronted bird of prey. Through the zoom of my camera, I could just make it out as an osprey, but it was a long way distant. I cursed my unpreparedness in not equipping myself with powerful binoculars.
As we sat observing, I overheard one of my fellow voyagers say how in Florida you can see ospreys perched on practically every other telegraph pole. Florida. Rutland. It didn’t make me feel any better.
Returning to Whitwell, a third bird was spotted close to Normanton Church to the south. It repeatedly made dives towards the water, but never once succeeding in catching a fish. I managed to take one photo of the bird in flight, but it was to prove as close as I was to get.
Nevertheless, I was thrilled by the experience. Three ospreys in the distance is better than two in the bush. However, I fear it has simply ignited my desire to see more.
Last year’s puffin has become this year’s osprey.
© E. C. Glendenny
E. C. Glendenny improvises in lieu of bins.