Trundling down a woodland track, past the stone cottage and old barn, I splash through rainfall streams crossing the path. Winding round the rocky hillside, a wren flits across the way in the darkness under the enclosing trees. Emerging from cover, the landscape opens up from the old moss-covered oaks into wide damp pastureland bounded by water channels and stone walls. Across the river and the sheep fields, sits a tumbledown building, long past its best and beyond use. In the quietness of its surroundings, silence broken only by the low bleating of sheep and the occasional steam train whistle, it stands alone. Within a neighbouring copse, high up in a fir tree, watched over by Snowdon, is a large, jumbled collection of branches, twigs and turf – a cradle for a precious clutch of Welsh osprey eggs.
The nest isn’t only watched over by the mountain; it also stays observed by a dedicated group of volunteers putting in hours and days to ensure that no one disturbs the birds or steals their eggs. The rarity of these eggs is what makes them so valuable to collectors. A display of Welsh osprey eggs would enhance any collection, but this would not require the theft of one clutch but two. For whatever reason, egg thieves must have five eggs to display, and at up to three eggs a clutch, it takes two nests to fulfil this requirement. However, the value of these eggs is even greater to those who give their time to protect them and there is a growing band of people willing to put up with rain, cold and discomfort to prevent any attempts to take the clutch.
On Saturday morning I got up at 6:30am to travel to the Glaslyn Osprey protection site near Porthmadog, north Wales. It takes just over two hours to get there from home driving via a choice of scenic roads across the hills and moors or via the fast coast route. My first shift of the year started at 10:00am and as I settled down for a long eight-hour guard duty, tinkering with the new camera equipment, the female started to shuffle on the nest. As she stood up and stepped to one side, there beneath her was the first white and speckled egg of the year, her thirtieth and hopefully one of three to come. As the first to see the egg, I let Elfyn, the organiser of volunteers, know what I had seen, and within a few minutes the news was out. Quite a start to the shift!
With the rain coming down from the start, the caravan with the monitoring equipment (Osprey Protection Spy Cave) seemed the best place to stay but eventually I went out to the forward hide, where the volunteers get closer to the nest and have a chance of better views. The hide gives a clear sight of the nest and tree and any one approaching them would be seen easily, even at night.
The quietness and natural beauty of the valley is one of the bonuses of volunteering there. While the rain, wind and cold can make it an uncomfortable existence for a few hours, we are rewarded with views across Snowdonia and the sights and sounds of wildlife, both birds and mammals.
After my shift I checked-in at a local hotel and then decided to really get into the Osprey way of living and try some water from the Glaslyn Valley and Porthmadog fish for my tea (pictured below!)