I wake after another sticky night with a slightly cooler draft coming in through the windows. Opening the curtains reveals that rain has been and gone but the clouds look to hold more. Setting out from home, there is dampness in the air but no large drops and the road has already dried. As I cross the low and flat Cheshire Plain, the clouds begin to part and I, and my hopes for a continued hot spell, rise after I cross the border once more into Wales. Passing along the narrow valley roads, through a scene approaching high summer, the seasons have progressed since my last journey in these parts. The trees are now a darker shade of green, gone is the first bright flush of spring. The fields are looking drier and the long grass has recently been cropped for hay. There is colour, however, with foxgloves continuing their grand displays, although coming towards their end, and the elders are still out, their white blossom perhaps the last from the trees.
I take the moor-top route for a bit of fun but travel at a more sedate pace to avoid the wandering sheep. Dropping into the valleys, the clouds have once more gathered and the hill and mountain tops are now shrouded. As I approach the cross-roads and turn onto that wooded track, the drizzle starts to fall and my hopes for a warm, or hot, shift seem dashed. Opening my windows, the track is quieter than usual and my lights come on as I pass into the dark beneath the leaf-laden branches. The track is narrowed even more by the undergrowth, with my wing mirrors flicking young branches and bracken as I progress. The spring sounds have fallen almost silent with only a few chirps coming from the wood but the birds are still there; a startled blackbird flies off in front and a wren hops to the side.
Emerging from the gloom beneath the canopy, the clouds seem to have darkened further and the drizzle turns to wind-blown rain. Leaving my car I put my jacket on, glad I’d brought it and wondering whether shorts were such a great idea. However, it’s not cold, almost muggy in fact in the shelter of the caravan. Over the ivy-covered drystone wall, across the river, past the gorse-topped bund and over the low, damp pasture, the small copse still has two large birds sat in the nest at the top of the fir trees. Nothing seems to have changed since my last view of them but as the female stands she reveals not two eggs but two chicks. An odd-looking pair they are, one larger than the other, but already much grown from their hatching and more in control of their once bobbling heads. A flat fish is fed to them, the larger one getting more than its fair share, but once filled, it takes less from its mother and the smaller chick has its turn. Comfortably fed, the female moves over them again and protects her brood from the wind and now lessening rain.
It’s been quite a few weeks since my last shift at protection and the hopes of the osprey watchers have been answered with the hatching of two healthy chicks. There was a time this spring when this seemed an unlikely event, being the sixth and seventh eggs to be laid in a season-long drama, and one of which spent some hours out of the nest cup, only to be nudged back in by the first-time father-to-be.
It was a quiet start to the shift with the female on the nest and either feeding the chicks a flounder (in several stints) or brooding them in the intervening periods. The male was present when I arrived but disappeared just after 11:00am and returned at 2:25pm with another fish (a trout, I think). He then went off again and returned with yet another catch at 3:54pm. This new male seems to have got the hang of his job!
While the male was away, the female started to mantle and looking upwards but I couldn’t see what was concerning her. There has been another female osprey in the area recently but I couldn’t see anything else around.
During the afternoon, the larger of the two chicks started to move around the nest and whilst it didn’t get too close to the edge, there were moments when I really did hope it would turn around and head back to the bowl in the middle.
I gradually saw a few more birds during the day with swallows skimming low over the meadows, young blue and great tits using the feeders outside the protection caravan, a raven passing overhead, meadow pipits still displaying, a pied wagtail feeding on flies, a red kite gliding over the tree tops and a family of mute swans resting at the river’s edge.
At around 2:00pm, the strong wind blew away the clouds and, finally, I had some summer sunshine on an osprey shift – the first proper warmth during a shift this year. I took full advantage and went down to the river and sat on the bridge in the sun, dangling my legs over the side (remembering to tie my shoe laces first!). The sun didn’t last too long as the cloud soon came back, being driven onwards by the pesky wind and afternoon turned back to dullness.
I’ve got another shift in four weeks time and no doubt the chicks will have grown a lot by then and will be looking a bit more like their parents.