Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Nest in the Park

The park in the town where I live has an osprey that has nested there for about the last decade.  It is hard to imagine why she picked this as the ideal spot to raise a family.  The county seems to have accommodated her by extending a box-like structure on the back of one of the banks of lights used for night baseball games. It is the only light that has this addition to it.  The lower level is also home to many sparrows that nest in the little nooks and crannies.  I have even seen sparrows perched right next to the osprey as though they know she is no threat to them.  There are ball games almost every night and the lights have to get pretty hot, so you have to wonder why she would be willing to put up with all the annoyances. Maybe she is a fan of the game!

She seems to have had only one offspring this year.  Momma is on the light and the baby is crying and telling her to go get some groceries.  Speaking of which, the river from this site is just about a mile due west.  That seems like a long way to go to catch a fish when you consider the birds at the river only have to fly a few hundred feet to do the same thing. But she has been returning to this nest for years.

I think the baby is saying, "Hot... hot... hot!"

You can see the checkered pattern on the youngster on the left.

Monday, July 30, 2012

This Is A Test

Long periods of sitting and doing absolutely nothing are occasionally punctuated by tests of the osprey chick's new-found flying abilities.  I haven't seen all three get into a "dogfight," but I have seen two play games of what looks like aerial "chicken." 

Once or twice, red-winged black birds have joined in, but they were there to ping 'em for sport. They are still days away, if not longer, from being able to feed themselves by catching their own fish.

One had me laughing yesterday. It was going through all the motions of catching a fish with mock dives and strafing runs.  In the process of practicing one run, it flew straight across the river and directly at a great blue heron on the far shore. If it was an adult osprey, it would have turned away before it reached the heron. But, like an annoying teenager, it went right over the bird, causing it to swear and tell him to watch where he was driving.

A great blue heron is, what, about four feet tall?  Notice how it appears dwarfed against the phragmites behind it.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Another Former Nest

 The nest at the top of the telephone pole was the first nest the osprey built on the pole, the one that was removed and replaced by the box by the electric company. It was actually their fifth attempt at building a nest. The edge of the river is at the bottom of the photo and the road parallels the water in this stretch, but it takes a hard right just before the telephone pole, going past the front of the house in the picture. The gentleman who owns the house has very generously given me permission to film from his dock, a portion of which can be seen over on the left. I have spent a lot of time there this year because it affords an unobstructed view of both the river and the osprey nest. Another gentleman who owns the ramp between the two wooden posts also gave me permission to use that spot. I have used it a lot in the past but have not used it much this year.

Here is a close-up shot of the same nest. You can see why the electric company built the nest box to create separation between the birds and the wires. Electrocution and nest fires are both real, though little known problems associated with raptors nesting on electrical equipment. "The large wingspans of raptors such as golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, osprey, and great horned owls enable them to simultaneously touch energized and/or grounded parts, potentially resulting in electrocution (Joint document of the Avian Power Line Interaction Committee and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).  They didn't raise any young in this nest and the electric co-op soon replaced it with the nest box.

Saturday, July 28, 2012


Ever since I have been filming at the river, there has been at least one bamboo pole on the interface between river and marsh.  Who puts them there and what purpose they serve has been an ongoing mystery. The birds, however, appreciate them.  Osprey, hawks, red-winged blackbirds and kingfishers have all used the poles both to rest and to use as a place to spot fish in the river below.  In this photo, a kingfisher has a small minnow in it's bill, one of many it caught that morning while using the pole as an observation post.

The osprey on the pole is an immature osprey and the mother is flying in background.  She was trying to encourage the juvenile to follow her and get some hunting experience. The baby was very reticent.  It would follow the parent for a while, then turn back and return to the pole to sit. This was a couple of years ago and I remember worrying that the juvenile might not learn to hunt in time to survive.

Here is another photo of the parent trying to encourage the baby to follow her in the hunt.

Earlier this spring, I saw these two men inspect the pole that had taken the place of two that were along the shore in previous years.  This one had been placed last year right at the end of the marsh and was quite a bit larger, both in length and girth.  It looks to be fifteen feet or more tall, which is quite a bit taller than the previous ones.  You can see there are no official markings on the boat identifying who they were.  Organizations will often use center-console boats, so they may be there is some official capacity even though they are not wearing uniforms.

Recently, I noticed the bamboo pole had been broken off about ten feet up.  If you know anything about bamboo, you know how difficult it would be to break this pole off clean like that.  I got to thinking about it. If it had been hit from the side, the impact would have had to have dislodged it from the mud at least enough to no longer be upright. So, what could have broken it? I think the best guess would be a bolt of lightning.  It is the only thing I think would have left the pole standing upright in the same position.

Where the top broke off, it left a spear-like piece sticking up on one side, which causes some problem for the osprey trying to roost on it.

Here, the osprey has it's head down studying the pole under it's feet, trying to figure why the pole is spreading apart.

It is laughable how in this photo it looks like the osprey is on stilts.  I hope they put in a new pole and so do the osprey.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Animal Emotions

We tend, as humans, to project human emotions onto wild animals, as though they too experience compassion or joy or anger or even the greatest emotion of all, love. I seriously doubt they experience anything like human emotions and any apparent similarities between our species and theirs are projections we posit on them.  But, hey, whaddaIknow.  I could be wrong. I do know when you look into the eyes of an osprey, you are looking at an emotionless killer who experiences no compassion for the fish she consumes each and every day, often before they have expired.  There is absolutely no remorse or understanding of the suffering of the fish.  These eyes, the last sight many fish experience, are those of a cold-blooded, heartless killer. Nature, red in tooth and claw.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Oprey Parents

The parents are sitting in a sycamore tree where the male usually stayed while the female was nesting and where he had a direct line of sight to the nest box. In this photo, you can see that the male (on the left) is slightly smaller than the female. I  have seen him go after eagles, great blue herons, black vultures and more defending the area around the nest. In fact, I saw him chase osprey that were minding their own business, fishing way out over the river and was surprised at how large an area he considered part of the nesting "territory." When he went after the vultures, he hit one (they were flying) so hard, it sounded like two linemen in a football game colliding.  I think he hit it with his breast and not his talons.  Can you imagine what that might have been like if he sunk his talons into it's back and couldn't let go?  I'm pretty sure he intentionally kept them unextended.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

S-P-L-A-S-H 3

This image of the female from the nest box going after a fish gives you some idea how hard they can hit the water. I would guess the splash reaches ten feet into the air!  I didn't know it at the time, but I learned a few minutes later she was trying to catch rather small shad.

She wasn't successful on this pass, but after she got airborne again, shook off the water and made a large circle around the area, she returned to the same spot and came up with a fish that hardly seemed worth the trouble. I thought maybe she was catching it for the #3 chick (who I didn't think was flying yet), but once she got back in the air and circled back around, she ate it herself.  Through most of the nesting period, the male has been providing the food, so it is nice to know she hasn't lost her touch.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Update on Osprey Nest Box

I was finally able to get back to the river after being frustrated by the extreme heat, late night thunder storms that kept me up trying to keep our dog from totally freaking and early morning rain.  The chicks have developed so quickly I have missed their first flight.  They are already flying so well that, unless you can make out the checkered pattern of the young, they are indistinguishable from the adults.

For the first hour, I didn't even see either parent. So, I guess you could compare them to teenagers who have the keys to the car. You would think that, like a teenager wanting to drive the car everywhere with his or her new-found freedom, the chicks would be out flying all the time and seeing how their wings worked.  I didn't really see anything that could be interpreted in that way, though.  In fact, one of them (the one on the right in the first image) stayed in the nest so long, I thought maybe it hadn't begun to fly yet, but after a couple of hours, it took off. I didn't see any of them try to catch fish, so maybe I will get to see something close to their first attempt. Currently, the male is still returning to the nest, bringing food.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Gather Hay While the Sun Shines

Here are more photos of an osprey feeding the addiction for nest building.  She would fly across the river and drop down into the tall marsh grass, reappear seconds later trailing clumps of marsh grass, then return to her nest, but I never did determine where that nest was.

This one had to take a break from her nest-building activities.
Notice the clump of reeds in her talons. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Things I've Never Seen

I have only seen vultures take a bath once in all the time I have been filming birds at the river.  I hadn't even thought about it until I saw this gang taking turns dipping in the river. It got me to thinking about other things I have never seen.

I've never seen an eagle take a bath - although I have seen them standing in water on the edge of the river.

I've never seen an osprey take a bath - although with all the diving into the river, they could be considered to take more baths than any other bird.

I've never seen a vulture land on water - so, I wonder why they fly over the river so much. It isn't like they could pick something up out of the water; their feet are not designed for clutching prey.

I've never seen an eagle carrying a stick back to it's aerie.  But, that is probably because they nest much earlier than even the osprey.  They don't migrate and actually start nesting before the snows leave.  And, I don't do snow.

I've never seen an eagle's aerie.  I know there has to be several around, but they don't build them in the trees on the edge of the river as far as I can tell.  Having watched a few fly into the marsh, I suspect there are nests back in that area, but it is only a suspicion. I don't do snow and I don't slog through marshes so...

I shouldn't say that.  I do have a pair of waders that I have used numerous times to allow me to film right on the edge of the marsh pond at North Beach. They have allowed me to get much better photos of birds than I could have gotten fifty yards back.

I have never seen a great blue heron take a bath - although, here again, they can get pretty wet while stabbing for a fish beneath the water.  I have watched them preen (which may substitute for a bath) for what seemed like an eternity while I watched through the camera waiting for them to do something else. And I have the crick in my back to prove it.

So, there is still a lot to see.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Getting Out of Dodge

These two photos are from two years ago when the same pair of osprey first built their nest on top of the telephone pole.  They managed to build a pretty nice nest before the electric company tore it down. They waited until the birds had migrated before doing so. It was unsafe for the birds and could have potentially disrupted electric service in the area. The following year they built them the nest box.

The female is the one bringing in the stick.  I can tell because if you look closely, you will see that the male is banded. He knows how difficult it can be to maneuver those sticks and decides to leave after she hits him with it.

Friday, July 20, 2012

On a Sunday Morning

Since I have been on the subject of nest building, I thought I would show some of the photos I took on a Sunday morning when the same pair of osprey that now have the nest on the telephone pole attempted to build a nest in another questionable location.

The first indication that something was up was when the female went flying by my location with this rather large stick. Watching where she went led me to the boat of one of the neighbor's that had it's Bimini top deployed.  Over the next couple of hours, I was amazed to see how fast the pair assembled the beginnings of a good-sized nest.  This was on August 2, which is well past the window of opportunity in which to raise a family.

Osprey need almost the entire summer season to raise a generation of offspring.  They arrive back in this area about the middle of February.  By early May the female is brooding her eggs. By June, the chicks are developing by leaps and bounds and by mid-July to early August, they have begun to learn what they can do with their wings and how to find fish on their own. In September, the new brood will migrate south without their parents. So, you can see, the entire summer is devoted to raising the next generation.

The female successfully negotiated the stick from the last image into place on the Bimini top. Whew! That was tricky.  Then it is off for more sticks. From what I have observed - and, remember, I am no expert and could be mistaken - I think the female chooses the nest site. I say this because she chose this location and I also saw her evaluating a telephone pole just before they built the first nest on the telephone pole.  The one I saw her inspecting was not the one she ultimately chose.

Now that she had made her decision, she worked non-stop to find more nesting material and construct a good base.

So where was the male while she was doing all this work. He was somewhere nearby probably watching her efforts. But, he finally flew in to inspect her work and join her in further construction.

Now work could move along even faster with one bringing in sticks and the other placing them into the design.

After a while, marsh grasses were added to the list of supplies.

Alas, it was not to be. The owners spotted what they were up to and disassembled the nest before they could settle in.  With each poorly chosen site, however, they learned and finally they chose the site at the telephone pole.
The first photo was taken at 7:46am, the last nesting photo was taken at 8:50am and the nest was disassembled at 9:08am.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Feeding the Addiction

In the world of osprey, you can never have enough nesting material. Most birds build a nest and their done.  Not so osprey.  Before, during and after raising the young, they are building the nest.  I thought it was surprising the first time I saw a male bring a large branched stick for the female to struggle to place while there were a couple of young in the nest.  But maybe even more surprising is the foresight (and faith) it takes to continue to build the nest knowing that it won't be used again until the following year. I have never seen one bring in fresh leaves like the female from the nest box.

Osprey don't land and pick up nesting material.  Whether sticks of grass or even mud, they pick the material up from flight (see yesterday's post).  I have never seen an osprey on the ground. I've read accounts of them nesting on the ground, but I have just never seen it. Many of their choice sticks are spotted from the nest floating in the river.

Here comes another stick.  Notice how the chick is ducking and shucking. It has learned to watch it's head when momma comes home carrying something.  Watching them bring sticks to the nest (over time), I have noticed that they can be a little clumsy.  There are always a lot of branches under the nest where they missed their mark, but they never seem to attempt to recover them.  I have also witnessed one of them make pass after pass trying to land with a stick so small I could hardly make it out in it's claws.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

I could see the osprey slowly descending over the pond, but I also knew what water was in that area was inches deep at most, so I knew it couldn't be going for a fish.  What could it possibly be after? This is the type of situation where you just shoot and hope to sort it out later.

With talons outstretched, was she going to try to capture the sandpiper? The only time I have known an osprey to take something beside a fish was once while my wife and I were fishing.  Actually, I didn't see it; she did. An osprey took a mallard duckling. Personally, I have never seen them eat anything but fish.

To my surprise, it closed it's talons around a clump of mud mixed with decaying reeds and headed back to her nest at the edge of the marsh pond. I have never seen an osprey on the ground even when gathering nesting material.

If I had simply watched and wondered what the osprey was doing, I would not have had this series to show you.  Sometimes you have to shoot first and only later understand what you were seeing. I take a lot of pictures that I know I'm going to throw out.  But, I take them so I can relate what I saw to my wife who enjoys me telling her about what I have seen, then I toss them. The telephoto lens allows you to see things you could never see with your naked eye, much like a pair of binoculars.  But, it also can be compared to a microscope because after you bring them up on the computer, you can zoom in and look at small detail in the photo.  That is what this series represents.  I zoomed in and cropped them closer so that you could see in detail what the osprey was doing.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Rest of the Summer

I have been thinking about it and have pretty well decided to devote the remainder of the summer to following the osprey family.  At this point in the yearly cycle, activity tails off at the river with not much going on most days.  I'm not sure why that is, but I have found it to be true almost every late July through August.

Having followed the activities of this family for several years now - at least in attempts to build a nest and raise a family - to finally get to the point where success is within their grasp, I think it would be a good idea to see it through to its outcome.

Soon, they will be trying out their wings over the nest, catching the wind and making short soaring attempts directly over the nest.  Then will come the day when they actually fly off for the first time.  This will be followed by a period where they will be flying all over the area, learning what they can do with their wings and learning to control their aerial movement. That will be followed by the crucial lesson of catching their own fish, which they will need to master before setting off on their fall migration.

All these things will follow quickly one upon another between now and September and I would like to see how things play out, so I think I will stick with the river this summer.  In this image, the female is just returning with the sprig of leaves. All three chicks appear to be about the same size, which is good, since runts get picked on and sometimes do not survive.  While they may appear to be the same size, there is assuredly a "pecking order" among the three as there always is in every clutch.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Updating the Family Photos

It seems odd to me in the bird world that size does not equate with maturity.  When you see a young bunny, you can tell it is a young bunny.  And that is true of fish and frogs, but not necessarily fowl.  This portrait of the three offspring of the osprey pair shows almost adult-sized birds, yet they still have not flown. Recognizing immature birds has more to with body coloration and patterns.  When you look at the young next to the parent bird, the difference becomes obvious.

The female (second from right)  has the main responsibility of nurturing the chicks.  Both the male and female share in the responsibility of protecting the nest. Here, they are all waiting for the male to bring in the fish he caught a little earlier.  I have noticed he has modified his routine slightly.  Instead of simply flying by with the fish and letting the female know he has caught one and will be bringing it back as soon as he has eaten, he lands on the nest, presumably to teach a lesson about obtaining food.  Once they have seen it, he flies off, returning later with the back-half of the fish. Here they are awaiting his return.  Instead of the female feeding them, they are probably feeding themselves at this point.

Try to imagine all three babies testing their wings at the same time and you can see why I think the nest is too small.  Over the next couple of weeks, they will learn what they are capable of doing with their wings by practicing in the nest.  Eventually, they will begin to hop up a foot or two and "learning how to walk," as it were, by kiting over the nest.  The square footage of the nest box does not provide much room for that to take place with three chicks.  It may be that the female will move to a nearby tree to give them a little more space.