Fisher Kings and Friars

If you have been up at Dodd and Whinlatter this summer you will most likely have been greeted by one of the fantastic Lake District Osprey Project Volunteers. From April 1st to August 23rd the sites are manned, and womanned, without charge, to provide visitors with updates on the ospreys, information on wildlife and passion about the beautiful world around us. Sometimes they take a well-earned rest of course, to go on holiday and it is always good to see pictures of birds and wildlife sent from other places.


Here’s a view of another iconic bird, the puffin, taken by Annie in Shetland last week. In Cumbria, our closest spot to catch a glimpse of these is at St. Bee’s Head, and then only sometimes, in very small numbers.

At first glance the diminutive hole-nester, with its painted Easter-egg beak, appears to have nothing in common with the majestic osprey.  However, like ospreys its main diet is fish, although to achieve the same end, its method of catching its prey and body adaptation is very different.

An osprey, being a bird of prey, catches a single fish with its talons, then tears it to pieces with its beak; a puffin catches with its beak which is modified to be able to hold a full load of sand-eels, heads and tails protruding on each side like a set slippery silver whiskers. These it feeds to its young or swallows whole.

An osprey hovers and plunges into water feet first, the soles of its toes covered in spicules designed to provide grip against fish scales; a puffin dives in head first to chase prey, using its wings to virtually fly under water. Its strong grooved tongue holds the fish firmly in its beak.

A puffin can swim and land on water and has the ability to completely waterproof its feathers; ospreys can do none of these things, usually a fatal disadvantage if blown off course over the Atlantic. This means that a puffin can travel to the middle of the fish rich Atlantic outside the breeding season, a relatively safe environment, (excepting man’s interferences, plastics, pollution, overfishing) whilst an osprey journeys the hazardous way overland, crossing the arid sandy seas of the Sahara to its winter home in West Africa.

A last word in Latin, the puffin with its upright stance, waddling walk and black and white plumage is named  Fratercula arctica, the Arctic Friar. The osprey on the other end of the scale is named after a Greek King, Pandion haliaetus. Both fool the fishes beneath them by having pale undersides, perfect camouflage against the light sky, which of course gives rise to the famous fish proverb,

‘He jumped out of the flying Pan into the Friar’,

warning small fry of those unfortunates that having avoided capture by the one bird meet their ends with the other.