Tuesday 4 September 2018

Bringing Ospreys to Bavorov ......

...in a manner of speaking.....

As I flagged up in my last post, Rose's Room - a gift for my 101 year old neighbour - in this one I am indulging one of my passions, and I hope to tempt a few people into taking a deeper look at the subject – and maybe raise a wee bit of money for it too!

My friends know that when I embrace a new interest I very often get carried away by my enthusiasm for it.  My passion for dolls houses and all things miniature has been around for nearly fifty years; collecting GO literature for even longer.   Fungi began to feature in my life around twenty five years ago, though as a Czech that particular interest is probably somewhere deep in my genes. The greeting when arriving on a visit in the Czech countryside is not the usual British “How’s the weather been?” but rather “Are there mushrooms in the woods?” 
A typical newspaper photo at this time of year

But ospreys, beautiful ospreys, I only really discovered about 3 years ago when a friend pointed me in the direction of the Peregrine falcons supported by Sheffield University. They could be watched via a webcam which was streaming the events on the nest live.  I have always enjoyed watching birds in my garden, but this was a whole new experience. 

But not one that was entirely enjoyable because I soon found the inevitable mess on the nest hard to take – lots of poop, dead bits of pigeon, mouse, or some other luckless animal, all jumbled up together alongside the enchanting fluffy white chicks was less than enticing.

So when the same friend suggested I take a look at an osprey nest, also live-streamed, this time  from Manton Bay in Rutland,  I was delighted to find that these birds are far better housekeepers, leaving no unpleasant evidence of their digestive processes around and devouring almost every scrap of the fish on which they exclusively live. I was immediately converted and hooked.

Once again, as is my wont, I am never content to take a superficial look at something new – I need to dig deep to find out as much as I can about the fresh world to which I have been introduced.   And what a world has opened up to me!   Thank goodness we have the internet – there is so much to learn and absorb about these astonishing birds – birds that were almost wiped out in much of Europe during the last two centuries through the activities of humankind.

The fashion for egg-collecting in Victorian times and beyond, the extravagant modes of the Edwardian era which demanded osprey feathers to decorate the hats and make fans, 
(I promise no osprey feathers have been used in this hat department, but you see what I mean?) the widespread use of DDT, all contributed to the demise of the osprey.

For a swift course in "what should I know about ospreys?", including their history in Britain, you cannot do better than to take a look at the Osprey Basics section of the Dyfi Osprey Project website.

Last year was the first time I thought I should like to have a twelfth scale osprey nest in Small Worlds – though I wasn’t quite sure how to manage the ten or so metre high tree or pole it needed to sit on -  but a search for an actual osprey in that scale was depressing.  The usually reliable firm of Schleich, known world-wide for their excellent animal models, especially horses, were less than helpful on the osprey.   Yes, they used to make them ,
What's with the yellow bib?
but they are not very inspiring as I think anyone who knows the birds will agree, and since they are now "retired"they can be difficult, and also expensive, to come by.

So the idea languished for a while though I did put out a search on ebay which periodically produces a ceramic osprey holding whisky, or some sort of model aircraft kit. Nothing I could put on a nest anyway.

I follow several osprey webcams during the season.  The birds migrate to Europe from West Africa and other warm places, usually arriving in March (slightly misguided really when you consider the relative weather situations in early spring), returning to their nest of the previous year, and if all goes well, also meeting up with their former partner who they probably haven’t seen since the previous autumn.

They bond again very quickly and set about tidying up the nest and producing eggs, usually up to three per nest.   The parents diligently care for the young when they hatch, around 5 weeks after laying, watch them fledge between 7 and 8 weeks later, and continue to feed them their fish diet right up to the time they set off, individually, for points south at between 80 and 100 days old.   

The mother may well leave before the juveniles, the father will stay around to continue to provide fish for the offspring, and is usually the last to leave.  

What I find completely amazing is that each osprey in the family travels alone and finds its own way to warmer climes. The young usually do not fish for themselves until they are en route, and they are self-taught.  Once they do start fishing, they join the ranks of possibly the most consummate of fishers.

The webcam and website I spend most time on is that of the Dyfi Osprey Project (DOP) in Wales.  The reason is simple – the camera work is superb, the knowledge freely shared by the small team working there, bolstered by many volunteers and led by Emyr Evans whose book Ospreys in Wales, the First Ten Years is a revelation, 
is brilliant, and there is a lively chat stream on the You Tube Channel which allows us ospreyholics to contribute to our heart’s content.

So when Emyr announced that DOP had been successful in a bid for Lottery funding to build a new and amazing wildlife centre to replace the ancient portacabins from which this highly successful project has been running for the past 10 years (from 2000 visitors to 40,000 per annum in that time) and that we needed to raise match funding of £250,000 as soon as possible, I knew it was time to resurrect the idea of an osprey nest in Small Worlds to try and add a tiny mite to the total....

But for that I would need an osprey or two....
I suddenly realised that I have, amongst my friends, a number of potters. Maybe one of them could create a ceramic osprey rather more useful than the whisky flask?   I knew one of them – the highly adaptable Lynda of the liquorice allsorts, the ballet shoes and the patchwork quilt, would be arriving in late August 

but before that a local friend who is a potter, appeared in Small Worlds.(She too had contributed to Small Worlds in the past – a very stylish dress and hat (complete with feather) in the 1918 department store

Ospreys are almost unknown in the Czech Republic, though there are known nests in countries adjacent to it, some even with webcams, so she was rather taken aback to be met with a request to produce one, but gamely agreed to have a go.  I lent her my 2018 DOP calendar and off she went.

Without warning, she reappeared three days before the village festival in Bavorov, when people come from a fair distance to enjoy the fun. She brought not just one, but two ospreys, and to my surprised delight also a nest complete with eggs and a chick.  “What will you do with them?” she asked.  “Not sure” I replied, “but I will use them in some way try to raise awareness about ospreys here and some money  for the DOP Wildlife Centre as well”.   Thank you Zuzana!

Lying in bed that Friday night, it suddenly dawned on me that Sunday would be the ideal day to make a start on just that.   Lots of people in the village, and the ideal space for a display right outside the doors of Small Worlds, because we share a wide corridor with the library which was closed for the weekend and I could stick up pictures on the library doors into the bargain.

Could I get a display together in the time though?   Anything I wrote about ospreys would have to be translated into Czech – I can speak the language relatively fluently but would not attempt to write anything for display. So I would have to look out sources of information about ospreys already in Czech and then write something for the display to complement what I had found.  I would also have to track down any books or items of osprey interest I might have over here, and also make an attractive display around the nest.

Friday evening was quite busy!  We weren’t expecting as many visitors on Saturday as Sunday but I wanted to have everything in place on Saturday morning before we opened so that we were prepared for the 8.30am start on Sunday. (Czechs are early risers, I am not and we usually open Small Worlds at 11am....)

I proof-read for a translator friend and she nobly rendered my English into Czech at speed, and also looked out a number of useful links in Czech.  She then set up nice documents with a faint osprey picture behind the text and made some small cards with useful weblinks we could leave out for people to take.   
One of the most useful of these is to the imagicat website, a mine of osprey information, including webcams all over the world.

I had already spent Friday afternoon putting the nest into a treetop setting, albeit not up in the air as that would have been too dodgy. 

When I arrived early on Saturday to set up I was a little daunted to find someone I knew already on the doorstep who had brought his father along to see Small Worlds. Since we had been trying to get his father, a model-maker, into the museum for two years without success and he claimed to only have half an hour, I let them in – which actually paid off because whilst his father explored the dollshouses, exclaiming in delight all the way round, his son schlepped the heavy stuff for me!

For such a rush job, I was quite pleased with the final effect......

And even more pleased when on Sunday I discovered that the dodgy internet connection was being helpful and I could have live streaming from Wales on the display table.   

We didn’t raise much money, but I had expected that. 

We did raise quite a lot of osprey awareness though, and I was able to talk about them to my heart’s content.
The display is just the beginning.   

It is now in the museum window, (sadly impossible to photograph well). 

The plan had been to enhance the window display with a fullsize osprey model which I managed to acquire on ebay last week and which Lynda flew over with her.   

However (and I think Emyr may know this) making the model turned out not to be a matter of moments and we have turned the task over to a skilled paper model-maker to complete during the winter. 

I don't think Colin has so far made any birds but his castles are beautifully done.... 

....as was the South Bohemian house he made for Small Worlds.  He felt a local house was sadly lacking.  

There is also an arrangement for me to go into the local school – possibly schools – to talk about ospreys.  I am hoping DOP may be able to give me some tips as to what children find particularly interesting.
During the afternoon, several people told me that they had seen ospreys on fishing ponds here in South Bohemia and a few days later the mayor's wife sent me photos of a board at a nature reserve some distance away and yes, there was an osprey on it. So maybe there are already nests in the wild here.   

But this is very much a country of hunters so I think awareness raising is key at the moment and where better to start than in the schools?

And in the meantime, if you would like to help the brilliant Dyfi Osprey Project create what will undoubtedly be an iconic wildlife centre then there are plenty of ideas on how you can do it - right here!  Or you can go directly to the Just Giving page.....

Another way you can help is to seek out any store of pre-decimal coins you may have stashed away and sending them to DOP (any British coin dating between 1840 and 1967) because there are great plans for table tops and other delightful creations using them.  The postage on my package of half crowns was much less than I expected!

I hope you have enjoyed this insight into a slightly larger world than is usual here on Small Worlds - normal service will be resumed in the next episode (including my not holding out a begging bowl in two consecutive blog posts!),but in the meantime I leave you with a close-up of the resident breeding pair in Small Worlds and just one more look at an osprey doing what he does so very well.....