Birdwatch: Magnificent sight of the osprey

An osprey fishing. Picture by Paul Hobson.
An osprey fishing. Picture by Paul Hobson.
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Ospreys have been seen flying above lakes and reservoirs across Yorkshire over the past week or so.

To watch one fishing is a magnificent sight as it dives into the water, green talons outstretched and wings half closed.

Just when it looks as if will be totally submerged it takes to the air again in a shower of spray and, if successful, deftly turns the fish in its talons so it is facing head forward making it more streamlined.

It then takes its catch to a convenient dead tree to be consumed at leisure.

These large fish hawks, which look very white when seen from below, are mostly making their way south from Scottish breeding sites to spend the winter in West Africa.

When they arrive back in March and April, ospreys seldom linger on their way north because they need to reestablish their territories.

But now, with the business of breeding over, they can afford to take their time and will stop to fish for a while in suitable waters, especially the females, one of which has been present for some two weeks at the Lin Dike end of the Fairburn Ings reserve and also at the St Aidan’s site.

Females depart from the nest sites first leaving the males to tutor the young ospreys to improve their fishing skills before they too move south.

Ospreys are one of this country’s wildlife success stories.

After returning to breed in Scotland in the 1950s numbers have built up to over 200 pairs thanks to the dedication of conservationists and in 2001 the first pair bred across the Border at Bassenthwaite in the Lake District.Now they also breed around Kielder Water in Northumberland and in the Glaslyn valley in north-west Wales.

An ambitious reintroduction project began at Rutland Water in 1996 using young ospreys from Scottish nests and this has proved an unqualified success with 117 young fledged and this year a second reintroduction project has started at Poole Harbour in Dorset, a regular stopping off point for ospreys on passage.

Eight young ospreys have been released, the first of 60 planned over the nest five years, and all being well they should return when they are ready to breed in 2019.

Similar reintroductions are being planned in Spain, Italy, Portugal and Switzerland while the Poole site is seen as an important stepping stone between the Rutland ospreys and those in the Orleans Forest in France.

Perhaps, with the installation of some nest platforms at suitable locations, ospreys might be encouraged to breed again in Yorkshire before too long.

Sightings over the Bank Holiday included sooty and Balearic shearwaters off the Yorkshire coast while more than 3,500 little gulls are coming in to roost at Hornsea Mere while more than 100 others have been calling in at the Tophill Low reserve. A wryneck was also seen.

A juvenile rose coloured starling was still being reported near the Driftwood holiday park at Kilnsea.