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Let Us Osprey

I decided to spend my prize money from the LACS competition win on a couple of sessions at an osprey hide near Rutland water in the Midlands. I've photographed ospreys before when we visited Scotland a few years ago and the results were pretty poor so I was keen to try again.

Ospreys are an incredible bird of prey that feeds exclusively on fish. They have a wingspan up to 1.5m and they dive feet first into the water to catch fish. In Autumn they migrate south to spend the winter in Africa taking a 3000 mile journey to Senegal and the Gambia before returning to the UK in Spring.

The Osprey was once a common sight in the UK. Intensive persecution and habitat loss during the 18th and 19th centuries led to the extinction of Ospreys as a breeding bird in England in 1847. A fragmented population remained in Scotland with breeding last recorded in 1916. Ospreys were still sighted as passage migrants and in 1954 the natural re-colonisation of Ospreys in Scotland began with individuals thought to have been Scandinavian in origin.

The re-colonisation of Ospreys in Scotland was slow and it was predicted it would take over 100 years before they were once again breeding in England. So in 1996, a translocation project began, which involved moving Osprey chicks from nests in Scotland and releasing them at Rutland Water with the aim to create a self-sustaining breeding population of Ospreys in central England.

The project reached a milestone in 2001, when 03(97), a male Osprey that had been translocated to Rutland Water Nature Reserve in 1997, raised a single chick with a metal ringed female from Scotland, close to the reservoir. This was the start of a huge conservation success story. Today, over 200 young Ospreys have fledged from nests in the Rutland Water area since the first chick in 2001.

The re-introduction of the osprey wasn't welcomed by everyone and a local trout farm weren't pleased when they began taking their fish. An abundant supply of fresh trout at exactly the right size for a fishing osprey meant that they started to have a significant impact on the business, and by 2013 they were losing up to 1000 fish a year, so they took the decision to put nets over all of the farm in to prevent these losses and protect the fish stocks.

However after speaking to the Team Leader at the Rutland Osprey Project, the farmer decided to take a very different approach and left the largest pond open for the birds to fish. With the help and guidance of the Osprey team a hide purely for photographing these amazing birds in action was built. The hide is sunk into the ground beside the pond and provides the only opportunity so far in England to experience and photograph Ospreys at extremely close quarters.

The trout farm used to be owned by Roger Daltrey. "Who" I hear you cry, yes Who indeed!!

I decided to book an afternoon session and then an early morning session the next day and so arrived for my first session at 4pm and was escorted down to the hide after a short introduction on what to expect. The hide is set down almost at water level looking out over a pond absolutely rammed with jumping trout. A walkie talkie is linked to a spotter up in the car park who gives a running commentary as soon as an osprey is spotted. While awaiting their arrival a red kite swooped down to pluck a dead fish from the surface and a pair of kingfishers perched beside the pond.

Every so often the radio would crackle into life and we would be told where the osprey was and what it was doing before the shout "Dive Dive Dive" went up and an osprey plunged into the pond to grab a fish.

They fully submerge in the pond disappearing into an explosion of water and spray before emerging with their prey. Every dive I witnessed during my visit resulted in a fish being caught, which is great for the osprey but we would have appreciated a few misses so that we got more diving action.

The action is fast and exhilarating and after the bird had disappeared quick reviews of the photos we'd taken were greeted with gasps or groans depending on the results.

The sesiion finished as the light disappeared and I retired to the local pub I was staying at for a couple of pints and some food before a short sleep and a return to the trout farm at 3.30am the next morning.

It took awhile to get light but this didn't discourage the ospreys and the first two dives were in the dark and resulted in some awful pictures!

Luckily the light improved and the results on the next dives were much improved.

All in all this was a brilliant trip and I'm already looking forward to a return trip next year. I've worked out what I can work on to hopefully get even better shots. Fingers crossed all the birds have a safe trip back to Africa and return safely next Spring.


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