A pink-tinted journey to a wet osprey shift

Setting off in the early morning light, I look upwards in hope, seeing clear blue sky and thin hazy clouds dissected by contrails. Out on the Cheshire Plain the fields are bursting with the results of the farmers’ toil – cattle, sheep and crops. The harvest can’t be far off; the once green shoots of spring have now grown into tall golden lakes of wheat and barley. The roadsides are marked by large stands of rosebay willowherb, adding a pink splash of brightness to the dominating dark green of the surrounding pastures, hedges and woodlands. Across the border, the sky is brighter still but the sun hasn’t yet broken through its cover.

The warmth in the car is deceptive; this might be the peak of summer but the passing air is cool. Pressing onwards into the hills, the hope is starting to fade as the clouds begin to enclose the view once more. There is mist amongst the forests of tall pines and dampness on the road where showers have already been. Turning onto the high moorland road, fine drops of rain start to appear on my windscreen. Approaching the top, there is another pink flower in abundance; the season’s final display of foxgloves, later than the others in the lower fields and hedgerows. More pink joins them, with thistles standing amongst the roadside sheep, both trying to resist the growing breeze.

The rain comes down, turning from fine drops, to drizzle and into a heavy downpour as I flow down into the villages and back onto the main road. Turning right at the pub, there’s one last set of rises and one last show of pink for the journey. As I crest the top of the hill above the hamlet, yet another display, with the heather blooming in small patches amongst the crags. The view is almost washed out as the rain comes down heavier still and as I make a final descent onto the floor of the Glaslyn Valley, all hope for a fine summer’s day seems lost.

There’s no opening of windows this time as I turn through the narrow gate onto the wooded track. The only sound accompanying me is the heavy fall of fat drops onto my roof. The trees and undergrowth look invigorated by the water, a deep and rich green covers the land. Out into the wet meadows, the weather seems to be autumnal not high summer. Over the railway line, past the caravan, across the river and the bund, the chicks are growing fast in their tree top home. Feathers have sprouted and wings are being stretched – a first flight can be only a few short weeks away.

IMG_6923This weekend, the turning of July into August, should be the high point of summer, when the weather is at its warmest. Instead, my shift down in the Glaslyn Valley was probably the wettest so far this year and the temperatures barely got into the mid-teens. The rain was coming down heavily when I arrived at Protection and was torrential at times during the day.

It was an uneventful shift, just how we want them really. The female spent a bit of time chasing crows and the male brought a large fish in at 2pm (a sea trout I think – I’m not very good at this fish spotting lark!). The sky began to brighten around noon, after another great outburst from the darkness above, but the hope of a nicer afternoon didn’t last long as the rain came down again not long after 1pm. Much later in the afternoon the sky brightened again, with a sliver of blue sky as well but it was a too little too late.

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Young great, blue and coal tits spent the day messing on the feeders outside the caravan – several even visited me inside and had to be persuaded to leave. There was up to a couple of dozen young and adults, and a constant twittering accompanied my day. Two great-spotted woodpeckers made frequent visits to the feeders too, one begging for food from the other. A peregrine also put in a fleeting and distant appearance, gliding at speed up the valley.

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The chicks have grown a lot since my last shift four weeks ago – they’re unrecognisable from their younger, more bobbly, little selves. Their adult plumage is coming along nicely and they certainly now look like ospreys. With the heavy rain at times during the day, the female tried her best to protect the chicks from the worst of it but they’re getting a little big for her now. They all looked a bit miserable as the rain came down and are probably yearning for some proper summer weather just like the rest of us.

There’s one more shift for me this year, in a couple of weeks’ time, and hopefully the chicks will be about to fledge and maybe summer will make an appearance too!

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