Birdwatch: Can plunging hunter’s success be repeated here?

The osprey plunges into water feet first to catch its prey.  Pic: Paul Hobson
The osprey plunges into water feet first to catch its prey. Pic: Paul Hobson
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OSPREYS HAVE been seen in several places in Yorkshire over the past week or so searching for fish over bodies of water.

If the hunter sees one it will plunge in feet first, often looking in danger of being totally submerged, but always taking off again shaking any excess water from its feathers before taking its catch to feast upon on the nearest dead tree.

I once watched one at Thrybergh Country Park, Rotherham, plunging down to snatch a sizeable chub which it then turned in its talons so the head was facing forwards for maximum streamlining before flying off.

An angler standing next to me said he had spend hours trying to catch a fish that size then had to watch as the osprey took one in less than a minute.

Ospreys seen in Yorkshire at this time of year are likely to be two-year-old birds which are not ready to breed yet.

The experienced adults leave West Africa in March and are in a hurry to get back to breeding sites, with the majority in Scotland and a few in England and in Wales. They do not linger long in Yorkshire.

But younger birds move around from one stretch of water to another, lingering where the fishing is most productive, and giving birders the chance to see them.

There have been recent sightings at Swillington Ings, Leeds, the Rivelin Reservoirs, Sheffield, Worlaby, North Lincolnshire and Wykeham and Langdale forests, North Yorkshire.

Once they are ready to breed they return to the places where they have fledged, pair up with a female and build a nest although they might not actually breed until the following year.

In late August and September there is another opportunity to see these birds with their mostly white underparts and long narrow wings as they begin to migrate southwards again.

The osprey’s success story since the first pair returned to breed near Loch Garten in 1954 is one of the triumphs of modern conservation. The Scottish population has risen to over 200 pairs and there are more pairs breeding on this side of the border in the Lake District, Northumberland, Wales and at Rutland Water in the Midlands where a project which began in 1994 to introduce ospreys from Scottish nests has proved a resounding success.

Now the hope is that a pair will eventually nest in Yorkshire and with this in mind nest platforms have been put up at several nature reserves in the region.

Bank Holiday sightings included a bee-eater over Flamborough, golden oriole at Spurn ranging between Kilnsea and Sammy’s Point and also a red-rumped swallow there, and a singing Icterine warbler at Buckton.

A nightjar was seen for several days at Tophill Low, and a Temminck’s stint was also on the reserve - another of these was at Scalby Lodge Pond, Scarborough.

Curlew sandpipers were at the Old Moor reserve and Spurn.

Up to four turtle doves have been seen around the tree nursery at Wykeham Forest.