I'm certain I've mentioned this before, but I'm going to go ahead and say it again anyway; the best experiences are unplanned. The Wednesday of my week in Wales with my parents had been our planned day to visit Skomer Island but we discovered that strong winds meant the boats weren't running, and so we found ourselves up and abluted very early with no destination. Rather than waste the opportunity, we decided to head north towards Aberystwyth with the intention of visiting the Dyfi Osprey Project. This was around about a two and a half hour drive from our campsite in Haverfordwest so we had originally deemed it too far to travel when planning the holiday but since we'd made an early start and had a picnic already packed, it seemed silly not to go for it.
I can't express how excited I was at the prospect of seeing ospreys in the flesh. They have been my favourite bird of prey for a while now although I always felt like a bit of cheat saying that when I'd never actually seen one! I follow all of the monitored osprey sites on social media, including those at Rutland Water, Dyfi and the Lake District but from where I live in West Sussex, they are all too far away for me to visit for the day. It had become a dream of mine to see the birds in the flesh, one that I hadn't anticipated fulfilling any time soon.
The project is located on the Cors Dyfi reserve managed by the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust, on the A487 north of Aberystwyth. The reserve itself is not huge but it's beautiful, with lots of vegetation and very dense reedbeds, perfect for spotting warblers. We arrived in the car park and were lucky to find a space, given that it only facilitates 50 cars. When I was speaking to one of the staff there, he did tell me that they are hoping to expand the car park in the future to stop people parking on the main road during the busy season. There is a hide just outside the visitor centre where we spent some time watching the feeders being mobbed by a variety of song birds, including siskins and redpolls, which were both first-time spots for me.
After some time in the hide, we made our way along the raised wooden walkway, listening to the popping of seed pods as they opened in the heat. The forecast had been spot on; it was a baking day and there was no breeze at all where we were. The skies were clear and perfect for spotting birds of prey. I spotted my first meadow pipit and reed bunting on our walk to the 360° hide, their chirps mixed in with the songs of reed warblers.
As we neared the osprey hide, we stopped to watch a reed bunting singing at the top of a shrub. A movement in the sky caught my eye and I brought my binoculars up to focus, and as the sun highlighted a white head, I realised I was seeing an osprey for the first time. I'm not at all ashamed to admit that a shiver went through me as I watched this beautiful bird gliding through the air. It's the first time I've ever had such a strong physical reaction when seeing a new species; it was just so surreal and very special.
I didn't think to take a photo of the 360° hide which is a shame as it's an impressive structure, constructed from wood and featuring expansive windows giving views of the entire reserve, as the name suggests. When we got there, we were told that Monty, the male, was perched above the nest and that it was Glesni, the female, that we had seen soaring outside. Monty and Glesni have both featured on Springwatch and Autumnwatch in the past, so it was almost like seeing a celebrity, but much, much better! I tried my best not to hog the scopes but I found it almost impossible to tear myself away from the fantastically close view of Monty guarding the nest, where the heads of the three juveniles were just visible.
Monty perched abover, Glesni on the nest and two of the juveniles either side of her.
The three juveniles, photo courtesy of the Dyfi Osprey Project
We stayed for a long time in the hide and had several enjoyable conversations with the staff and volunteers there. It's wonderful talking to people who are so passionate about birds and wildlife and who really know their stuff. The most fascinating thing I picked up was that the juveniles, once fledged, will instinctively know that they have to migrate, they aren't taught or encouraged by their parents. I find the concept of instinct extremely interesting, especially in a situation like this where these animals just know they have to fly thousands of miles at a certain time without any prompting.
The juveniles spent some time flapping and stretching their wings. I was told that they were approaching their fledging period and funnily enough, exactly a week after our visit, the oldest chick took her first flight from the nest, closely followed by the other two. It remains Monty's job to continue to bring in fish for feeding until such times as they are ready to migrate; Glesni more or less has no more part in their upbringing.
There's an open deck area at the back of the observatory, where we sat and had our picnic with undisturbed views of the reserve and surrounding hills. We watched Monty take off and fly towards the left bank of hills before he disappeared over the top, most probably to go fishing again. I was hoping we might see him return with a catch before we left, but he was still gone by the time we came to leave.
I'm so pleased that the boats to Skomer weren't running that day. Apart from the fact that I think we would have absolutely roasted in the heat had we made it to the island, it meant that I was able to fulfill a dream that I hadn't imagined I'd be able to fulfill for quite some time. The osprey is such a majestic bird and being able to see the Dyfi family in the flesh has just cemented their place at the top of my raptor list.