As a writer, I tend very much to avoid that word “iconic“; it is over-used, and I feel it should be reserved for something that is truly special. But when I get good views of an osprey, then I feel I can use it...
There is something impressive about most raptors, it is true, and the osprey is pretty big and splendid even among raptors, being, I think, larger than a common buzzard, and magnificent in its white and darkest brown plumage. What makes it so special for me, is that just as I was becoming truly conscious of the wildlife of the Scottish Highlands, (when I was about ten), the osprey hide at Loch Garten in Speyside was opened by the RSPB, in order to let the general public see these, then very rare, birds. They had been persecuted into extinction in Britain, but, despite continuing threats, particularly by then from egg-collectors, they had returned on migration and started breeding. Once the hide was open, my family started making an annual visit there, and I was well and truly hooked (perhaps an appropriate metaphor, as these birds have occasionally also been called “ fishing eagles “?!).
Accordingly, when Lesley told me recently that she had had a quick view of an osprey over the motorway, I felt rather envious, not having had a decent sighting of my favourite birds, for several years. And so, one fine day (believe it or not, before this recent return to distinctly wintry conditions, we did have some!), I did my usual coastal round trip, which I have described before. One of its main destinations is the Etang, and it was when I was strolling around its eastern shore, looking over the expanse of water, that I saw a very large bird heading straight for me. I recognised it immediately; it was an osprey, and it was flying back and forth over the shallow water, close to the Fishermen’s Huts. It did hover several times, but the water was, as ever, slightly murky in the usual breezy conditions, and sadly, I never saw it dive or catch a fish. I did, however, watch it for perhaps twenty minutes, before it departed to the other side of the Etang, where maybe it had more luck.
There were other birds in view, close by, at the same time. Prominent among them were some great crested grebes, parading back and forth, quite close to the shore. They are also wonderful creatures, and were in full summer plumage, complete with bizarre neck-ruffs and ear-tufts. But, significantly further out, there were other, smaller grebes, and, to make identification even more difficult, they were only just emerging from their winter plumage. It was clear to me that they did have a golden patch behind the eye, which both the lovely Slavonian and almost equally attractive black-necked grebes possess when in full summer plumage, that of the first being even more prominent than in the second. The black-necked are better-known this far south, although, this being the migration season, it is hard to be definitive about which will turn up where!
The unusual amount of rain threatens to turn the gravel of our “ drive “ into a meadow, and I was out one day, on my knees, trying to weed it, when I heard a call which, like that of the osprey, seems to be embedded deep in my brain. It was some kind of eagle, and when I looked up, there were two, heading north across the valley, and high in the grey sky. It was impossible to tell what they were, but they certainly seemed intent on going somewhere, like so many other birds at this season. Very recently, when the cold rain of the morning had ceased, and the temperature had risen as the wind dropped, there must have been a hatch of insects around one of our pines, as the air around it was suddenly full of martins. I am not sure what type they were, and as I was on the phone, I did not drop everything to rush out and make an identification. In any case, they did not hang around long - but it does show that, maddening as our current weather may be, it is still a very exciting season!