Rutland Water nature reserve is renowned as one of the best reserves in England, and is the base for the Rutland Osprey Project.
Rutland Water was home to the first osprey chick to fledge in central England for 150 years, this took place in 2001 and 14 years later they are celebrating again; this time the 100th Rutland osprey chick has fledged on the reserve. After the long and arduous task of reintroducing birds like osprey to central England, the team at Rutland Water has created a self-sustaining population. This is not only a triumph for wildlife in the East Midlands, but for the UK as a whole, as the population of osprey from Rutland have spread right across England and Wales. This bird, once extinct in the area and only found in tiny numbers in Northern Scotland is now becoming a much more common sight across the country, a direct impact of the reintroduction at Rutland Water.
After taking its first flight the young bird will continue to hang around the nest. However in a few weeks, like all osprey young, the bird will leave the UK and head towards West Africa. A lot of the time the young have not even caught a fish for themselves before migrating, and even more remarkably they travel alone, they get no help from their parents! In fact a lot of the time the parents leave first. They somehow know what they are supposed to do, and have the directions almost imprinted in their brains.
I definitely have a soft spot for ospreys, they are an amazing species that I have worked with in the past. I remember seeing my first ever osprey, at Rutland Water in what was probably 2003 (ish) when I was 12; possibly a little before. In fact the first osprey I saw was flying over the car park at the Birdwatching Centre, we headed over to Rutland from Loughborough with the hope of seeing one (they were still pretty elusive back then) and got out the car with generally low expectations and suddenly there it was! It is always nice when wildlife surprises you in unconventional places. I also did some work with the RSPB up in Abernethy Forest in the Cairngorms and worked at the osprey hide watching the ospreys and recording data such as prey type and behaviour. I was lucky enough to see one of those chicks fledge. Before they actually dare to jump off the nest, they hover over it and then land very suddenly. They do this on and off sometimes for days before either committing to jumping off the nest, or in the case of the chicks I watched, they get blown away from the nest by the wind.
In Canada ospreys are not endangered, in fact it seems as though they are everywhere. Out here I have seen them fishing on numerous beaches, in fact at one point I was watching six osprey on one small beach. On the beach they have to be wary as bald eagles love to watch them hunt and then steal their prey from them. I observed one osprey catch four fish, only to lose them all to a large bald eagle, who was perched in the trees watching. The osprey would dive and before it could get away, the eagle would fling itself from the tree, quickly flying at the osprey until it dropped its catch. In the Rocky Mountains it is not unusual to watch osprey fish in lakes and rivers, they are often seen nesting on telephone poles. There was one time I remember we were on a verge, looking down at a huge osprey nest on a telephone pole. Because the species is so common it really is not a big deal to see them, I often find myself watching them whilst people (even birders) take no notice. There is a very ‘we see them all the time’ attitude, which is not a bad thing of course, because it means they are numerous, but I always feel they are slightly undervalued.
The project at Rutland Water is a big deal for the area and for wildlife in the UK, at a time when Rewilding is a current hot topic, it is interesting to see an example of a highly successful reintroduction in England (and from a biased East Midlander point of view, it is lovely that it takes place in the East Midlands!).