The ‘sea eagle’ watched fish moving below

An osprey.
An osprey.
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IT is teatime. The mug is full of proper tea which almost resembles creosote. A nice half hour’s rest between four hours of butterfly monitoring and preparing the car for its MOT.

Slack time, staring vacantly into the blue sky, mulling over chalkhill blue butterflies and the cost of new tyres.

Airliners ploughing their white furrows, wood pigeons skimming past like paper darts, and thoughts of answering letters. Harvesters hum-drumming far away in the wheat fields. The usual garden scene that almost allows the eyes to droop for a few minutes.

But then, in the words of the 1950s pop song: ‘Crash, bang, alakazam, wonderful you came by’. In the shape of a thin white line in the sky. “Quick binoculars,” I call urgently to anyone who wants to join in the emergency, who can actually only be my wife. But it is pretty obvious who the UFO is. Long silvery wings bent at the carpal joint and then, as the bird turns, big black patches on the underside of the wings. I could almost see the crest of this heraldic icon of the Scottish conservation and RSPB story.

An osprey on its way to the refuelling stop in Chichester gravel pits or harbour. It circles, like one of those Parham gliders that whisper overhead when the wind is northerly. Who knows, it might even be the one seen on Springwatch TV. Or just one of the 500 ‘fish eagles’ now in the air and on their way to Africa.

About 40 will use West Sussex as a refuelling stop. My teatime bird slid off to one side, unlike the red kites which peer down at me hoping I might be dead.

Ospreys are only interested in live fish. They have a special foot for this which other raptors do not share. The osprey has four toes of equal length, the outer one being able to swivel backwards and forwards giving a sure grip on a slimy fish. This can lead to disaster.

In 1839, a shepherd boy rescued an osprey from the sea at Rottingdean. Its feet were embedded in large fish. Both bird and fish ended up inside a glass case.

In Germany, a large carp was netted that had the skeleton of an osprey attached by its claws into its back.

West Sussex ospreys are safe now as they fatten up on mullet spawning in the sea shallows.

Last year I was in a hide among the reedbeds surrounding Thorney Island’s Great Deeps. An osprey flew in and settled only forty yards away on a fence post.

Its orange eye was visible through my binoculars, while the crest raised and lowered as the ‘sea eagle’ watched fish moving below.

Suddenly it pounced, splashing the deep and emerging at once with a tiddler the size of a sardine.

It returned to the fence post and tore the fish to pieces. Well, I hope my car passes its MOT so that I can get down to Thorney Island again to see the ospreys passing through this September.