First osprey returns to Anglian Water’s Rutland Reservoir for the summer

Anglers across East Anglia will be scanning the skies for a rare visitor this weekend. For the first osprey to return to Britain's shores for the summer has arrived safely back at Rutland Water.

After completing the 3,000 mile return journey from the west coast of Africa where he spent the winter, the bird has now dropped in to the same nest he used last year.

Rutland is host to Britain's largest osprey colony. The birds are seen in the autumn in spring, as they pass through the fens on their migration to and from Africa.

Last October, one bird kept pike anglers company for several days on gravel pits near King's Lynn, hovering and making spectacular crash dives for its prey.

An osprey was also seen over several days at Billingford lakes, near dereham, where it fed on roach before taking off for the next stage of its long flight south for the winter.

The birds have also been seen on lakes in the Wensum valley, including Swanton Morley pits.

The first bird to return this year is a 14-year-old male bird, know as 03(97) but nicknamed Mr Rutland in honour of his significant contribution to the population at the reservoir.

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He has raised 23 chicks with three different females since his first clutch in 2001. His return this year comes a day later than last year, and the same date that he came back in 2009.

Ospreys return to the same nest site every year, and pair with the same bird every year until one of them dies or is displaced by another bird. There are believed to be around 150 breeding pairs.

Tim Mackrill, osprey project officer at the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, said: 'The days of having to trek into the wilds of Scotland to be sure of seeing an osprey are over. This project began with the objective of establishing a self-sustaining colony of ospreys in central England, and we're well on the way to achieving that aim.'

The project, which is a partnership between the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust and Anglian Water, released 64 Scottish ospreys at Rutland Water between 1996 and 2001. The first birds bred at Rutland in 2001 – including 'Mr Rutland' – marking the return of a species that had been missing from central England for more than 150 years.

Mr Mackrill said: 'It's looking likely that more birds will return in the coming few days. Calm, settled weather in southern Europe will encourage the birds to make the final step back to places like Rutland Water, where many will raise a family.

'The first bird back showed no signs of fatigue after his long migration, and immediately set about building up the nest, helping himself to some ash branches that we had pruned the morning before. As usual the local crows gave him a bit of hassle to welcome him home, but that didn't last long.

'This year, the birds that hatched at Rutland in 2009 are likely to come back for the first time. Nine young fledged that year, which could mean more ospreys in the skies above Rutland Water than ever before if a good number of them make it back. They'll be unlikely to breed this year as they'll still too immature, but they're sure to be scoping out the area for future years.'

Ciaran Nelson, from Anglian Water, said: 'Rutland Water is the source of drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people, but it's also home to some spectacular wildlife. It's fantastic that we can combine these two things, and the continued growth of this colony is outstanding news for future of ospreys in England. '

Tim lead an expedition to Gambia and Senegal in January this year, to learn more about how the ospreys that spend the summer in the UK survive in winter.

'It was fascinating to see the interaction between the experienced adult birds, and the younger birds who were spending their first winter in West Africa's wetlands. Only about three in ten young ospreys survive their first year. We learned a lot about just how much skill the birds need to acquire during their first winter, just to catch enough food to stay alive.'