OSPREYS are striking birds. They have an impressive wingspan of almost five feet and can look quite imposing as they soar above you.

At this time of year they are busy migrating away from our shores to spend their winters in West Africa. You often spot them as they make their way south.

I saw one over Thixendale just a week ago and once spent a fascinating few weeks watching one that had stopped off to fish on some ponds dug by my father in Givendale.

But this summer I had a far more exotic encounter with this magnificent species. I was on a family holiday touring Australia’s Great Barrier Reef when I spotted a nest high on a ridge on an island overlooking the reef.

Ospreys build huge nests, known as eyres, from driftwood and seaweed. They use the same ones every year, and the material can build up. This one was so large you could see it from almost a quarter of a mile away.

Australian, or Eastern, ospreys are marginally smaller, and paler in colour, than the ones we see here. They are also more common. This one took off and circled its silhouette against the azure-blue sky. I suddenly felt inspired to photograph it.

It was late afternoon and I scrambled 350 feet up to the top of a ridge overlooking the nest to decide how I could photograph the nest without disturbing the birds. I spotted a dense bush opposite me. There was little chance the birds would spot me from that vantage point.

I returned the next morning before dawn. As I got close the female osprey lifted off. I had to work fast. I climbed into the bush with two camera bags and set up my tripod and camera.

I needed to improvise so I tied a pair of camouflage shorts and some camouflage camera covers to the branches above my head and my hide was complete.

It wasn’t long before the female was back. As she landed on the sticks, I noticed something move. It was then I realised she had a chick in the nest. It was roughly four weeks old.

As the sun rose the female was bathed in a golden light; perfect for photographs. She looked up and called and the male appeared out of the sky, its talons stretched out with a small sergeant fish in its grasp.

As he landed on the nest the female grabbed the fish. But the male was reluctant to let go and tried taking off again. He hovered over her in a brief tug of war, but the female had the fish firmly in her beak and he eventually gave in, landing disgruntled onto the nest beside her.

The chick rushed forward in excitement. The female went to the other side of the nest and fed it, turning her back on the male.

The male, still looking a little put out, started to look around the nest as if searching for something. The female ignored him and fed the chick with small morsels of fish. She ate any larger, bonier bits herself.

The male hung about a little longer. It watched intently as she fed the chick, its head comically bobbing up and down as it followed each stretch of the female’s beak.

He eventually gave up. When he returned he landed on straight on her back, clearly intent on mating her. His talons were clenched tight, so as not to damage her, and he rested on his elbows. But she was not cooperative.

Instead she peered at him intently, with a look that said “where’s my food”. The male seemed more intent on wrestling with the sticks in the nest, as if he thought some were out of place.

She suddenly took off herself, calling out angrily. It was as though she had given up on him and decided to catch a fish herself. The male looked shocked to be left in charge of the chick. He faffed about with the nest in a disconcerted fashion. But it wasn’t long before she was back with a decent sized mackerel. She had already eaten its head and was soon feeding the chick its second meal of the day.

I watched them for most of the day, taking 1,000s of photographs of the birds against the bright blue sky. Back home in my studio in Thixendale I’ve been sorting through them all. I can’t wait to turn my experience into a new painting.