Friday, August 16, 2019

A better world

We have had a trying few days...and in an odd way, it’s been an uplifting experience. First let me say, I am an idealist. Yup....head in the clouds, often crushed by humanity’s selfishness. But two days ago I got a call about an injured Osprey chick. This poor thing had gone thru such an ordeal. This is a nest in a gravel pit and the fledgling had apparently landed on a conveyer belt carrying gravel to dump into a pile. One of the guys working in the pit saw an Osprey go thru a chute and get spit out into a  pile of gravel and was being buried alive  in gravel. He immediately shut the equipment down and rescued the chick. They called me. It was rush hour and this nest was as far away from me as you can I called the Raptor Center to see if they had a volunteer closer by that could pick the bird up and take it in for medical care. They had one who lived very near the gravel pit and knew about the nest and would do it. Whew. The good news is that although the poor chick was having some trouble breathing ( gravel dust) and an abrasion on its had no broken bones! They gave it oxygen overnight and he was doing better the next day. The rehab director talked to me about possible release in about a week but wanted to know what the situation was at it’s nest. Unfortunately, last evening I got another message from the gravel pit guys about another injured chick. This was late in the evening and I could not get the chick before the raptor center closed so arrangements were made for that same volunteer to pick it up in the early morning. Sadly, that chick died overnight. I spent five hours in that gravel pit  today trying to determine if the dad was bringing fish to the remaining chick. As our population of ospreys has grown, behaviors have changed, and with so many nests close together, I must admit it can be difficult to determine which fledglings belong on which nest, and which ones are roving to neighboring nests! But the real reason I wanted to write this post was to say how uplifting it is to see all these people come together, to work so hard to save one, individual young Osprey. From those wonderful guys in the gravel pit , Nate Paulson and Steve Grzybowski, who were paying such close attention and rescued this little guy, put him in a box, and contacted me; to the Raptor Center volunteer who picked the chick up and took him to get the medical care he needed, to the clinic manager at TRC, Lori Arent and the rehab manager, Josh Travers, to all the other medical staff at TRC  and volunteers there who are caring for him, and of course my efforts as well. It truely takes a village. To see all these people spend their time and energy without ego, and for some of us without pay, to help this little Osprey survive and hopefully make it back to his nest...Well, it speaks to the best part of humanity, who think that every little life matters and is worth their time and energy. Sadly, I once worked for a man that said “we dont care about individual birds, we only care about the population as a whole” , but I just don’t agree and have often felt out of step in my idealism and my concern for each and every Osprey. So to have a trying situation, that definitely has had some very painful moments, and yet to see all these special, caring people work for the benefit of one little Osprey, gives me some hope for the world. I work so hard, and so do these other people, because we all think that each life is precious. When good people come together to do the right thing...I am uplifted by the sense of community, the way it’s supposed to be. No ego, no power issues, just, damn good hearts. Thanks to all who have helped rescue this chick. I hope we manage to organize a successful release for this little guy, so he can have a good long  life. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Which end is up?

Here we are in mid August already. Many of our chicks have fledged, tho we have a few  very late nests that may not fledge till late August! I am spending a lot of time visiting nests and searching for chicks to confirm successful fledging. It’s often a challenge but I rather enjoy these searches. Where’s Waldo! It’s also a time when I have to put together some pieces to solve a puzzle. We have one nest that I have visited five times since late June to early August. Each time I clearly saw two chicks in the nest, usually with a parent. Another monitor suddenly saw three chicks in this nest, on at  least two occasions. Now I know with my wonderful scope, and 26 years of experience, I did not miscount the chicks five times! So how do we explain this? Well, at this time of year, post fledge, it’s not uncommon for a neighbor chick to pay some visits to the kids across the street. As our population grows and nests are closer and closer together, these roving chicks have easy opportunities to stop by and perhaps steal a fish. A few years back, I found a banded chick visiting several different nests and stealing fish from those younger chicks. Pretty funny! That’s one way to survive! 
I have also spent some time this year at a nest with three female chicks which are very entertaining. As I observed one day, Dear old Dad dropped off a fish in the nest and all three chicks dove for it, and a hysterical fight for the flopping fish ensued. Finally one came up the winner, but she had the fish upside down and was trying to start eating the tail first! The problem was, it was still flopping! She turned around in circles as she struggled to keep it away from the others. They were both hollering (“you are doing it all wrong!). She did not dare drop it and turn it around because someone else might get the fish! She struggled for the longest time....trying to grab that flopping tail and get a bite out of it. I was laughing out loud. Finally, exasperated, she dropped the fish and walked away. “ I give up”! All three chicks sat there staring at the fish and crying, as if they expected Mom to come and feed them. Eventually another chick decided to give it a try. This youngster ALSO grabbed the fish with the tail first, and tried to start eating it, at which point I started coaching from the sidelines, out loud, sitting in my car. Turn it around honey! ( gosh I hope no one catches me talking out loud to the ospreys) But this juvenile took my advice and turned the fish around and started to rip and tear those yummy fish lips. Success! Every time I visit this nest I end up belly laughing out loud. The struggle to grow up is real! How can you not love these birds?

Friday, August 2, 2019

New nests, new pairs...

I know I say this all the time, but CRAZY busy....chicks are fledging and I am trying to be sure we have accurate numbers, and confirming successful fledging whenever I can. Just because a chick flies away does not make it a successful fledge....we need to confirm that they are landing safely somewhere and making it back to the nest to eat. In the process of visiting many nests, it’s amazing how many new adults are out there looking for mates and territories. I found a new nest being started and read the band on a male I had never seen before. I went to another nest to check the chicks and heard all this chirping that was not coming from the nest, so I kept walking and found some dead trees with four adult ospreys perched there talking to each other. Two were banded and two were not. I only got a partial read on one band before they flew off. Today I found three ospreys circling near a nest that had failed in May. The original pair there were both unbanded, but this pair included a banded male, but again he flew off before I got it read. Clearly the growth of the population has stimulated all this increased socializing among these adults. The one band I successfully read was a three year old, so probably looking to establish a pair bond and a territory for the first time. I often see young pairs building nests and claiming a territory at this time, late in the season. The difficult thing is that we must separate frustration nests, built by pairs whose earlier breeding attempt failed, from new nests. If at least one of the pair is banded, this is fairly easy to do...but with so many unbanded birds now, it can be problematic. For good scientific methods, we can’t count one pair of ospreys twice....which can happen when they build frustration nests. When we are counting nests, we are really counting pairs of ospreys. A pair that builds multiple nests can’t be counted twice without skewing the data. Now that we have some fairly dense clusters of nests, and unbanded birds, it’s not always easy to figure things out. So I make many visits, carefully noting feather markings, birds going back and forth between two nests, defending two nests. It’s exciting, fun, educational and exhausting.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Where oh where?

I have spent some long days in the field lately...10-11 hour days...trying to get correct head counts and watching for fledging, making sure bands are read. Yesterday, after one of those long days I got an email from a new homeowner near a nest saying there had been a bald eagle in a tree near the nest all day and she had not seen the chick at all. Oh dear. (He had been on the nest all day the previous day, and I had taken a peek at him myself....still on the nest.) This occurred at 8 in the evening while I was icing a swollen, red toe from lots of walking on a hot day. It made no sense to me that adult ospreys would allow a bald eagle to remain close to a nest. Perhaps the chick had already been predated. I realized there was nothing I could do at that time of I promised to come first thing in the morning. I was there by 7:30 a.m. Nest was empty. Damn. One adult in a tree nearby. I watched closely for 30 minutes.  No vocalizations, no sign of the chick, but thankfully, no bald eagle. I was sadly coming to the conclusion that the chick had been predated. Then the male came with a fish and he flew around, offering it to anyone who was hungry. No takers. After a few fly abouts he landed in a pine tree away from the nest. He nibbled on the fish. I knew he was trying to find and attract the chick. Then something flew past....flapping way too fast, as juveniles often do at first. But he disappeared behind some trees. The male waited . Eventually he delivered the fish to the female, and she took it and immediately flew in circles over the area, behind some trees, disappearing for 10 minutes at a time. Then returning to her perching tree. She nibbled on the fish. Then she did the same thing, circling around the area, displaying the fish, disappearing....and then returning to her tree. After one absence she came back with very little of the fish remaining. She sat in her usual perch and finished the fish. She went on another spin around the area, clearly searching for her youngster, trying to get him back home. She seemed to know exactly where he had gone. FINALLY I saw that rapid flapping and an Osprey landed in the very tippy top of a pine tree. Yes, it’s the chick. Woo hoo, the adult male remained in his perch , but the female went over and perched about three trees away ....close, but no too close.  All is well. I was so amazed to observe all this for 3.5 hours......the parents concern, the female who knew exactly where her chick was, their attempts to get him to return to the nest to eat. He was enjoying his first forays out into the world on his some teenager who was exploring his independence. I left them in their perches to go check other nests. And when I got home at the end of the day, I just had to make one more visit to this nest, so out I went again, to find that sweet little guy on the nest, with a full crop, and both parents perched in the tree near the nest. What great parents. What fun it was to watch this family’s dynamics. Once again, I have fallen in love. I try not to anthropomorphise, but it was quite clear what they were doing. They knew the chick was not dead, and they knew where he was, and it certainly appeared that they wanted him to come home and eat. Many of these interesting behaviors are only revealed if you spend a great deal of time just observing, without preconceived notions. I don’t get to do this very often these days, with so many nests to visit. I dont think there was ever a bald eagle in the tree....I think it was the youngster, who has different coloring than the adults. But it was a treat to sit and watch all the subtle clues and reactions that revealed what was happening at this nest. Very sweet, very attentive adults. Ya gotta love these birds! I sure do! 

Sunday, July 21, 2019


Just a quickie tonight....our first chicks have successfully fledged! Fun to watch them today doing their loops, perching in different places as Mom stayed near the nest watching over them. It’s very exciting! But it’s also a vulnerable the door is open to them getting into all kinds of new trouble. I am always prepared with boxes, towels, in my car. Hope I don’t have to do any rescues this year. I also enjoyed watching some chicks practice the fine art of self feeding. One chick had a fish and kept switching which foot he would hold it in, and in the process he kept turning in circles. “Am I left footed? Am I right footed? How do I know? Nothing feels right!”
We are also dealing with a lot of sad struggles on some nests, but I will save those stories. Tonight, let’s celebrate these first flights and behavioral milestones which are so fun to observe!

Wednesday, July 3, 2019


The accumulating nesting failures this year are continuing. Below is a photo from last year of a nest built in a dead snag in a marshy area. About a week ago that nest held two beautiful chicks....and yesterday when I visited this nest it was gone and the chicks perished. This is the challenging life of an Osprey, but it still breaks my heart. ( in fact I pulled over on the side of the road and let out a few swear words.) I had so recently watched those sweet chicks with such joy. All the heavy rains and storms must have collapsed the nest. This was one of very few nests in a tree that we have documented in this study. This also points to why the increasing nest attempts on cell towers and ballfield lights are actually a smart adaptation for the ospreys since those structures do not fall. Many nests have failed for many different reasons this year. I am still trying to decipher the unifying factors in all these failures, if there are any. My cursory count of nest failures so far is 46. And this is still early July, with more failures possible. We had 40 failures last year and 37 the year before. To me this is a growing to a startling number. It’s curious that so many of the failures are clustered together and nests in other areas are successful. Many of our chicks are a little younger than they usually are by early July, but still a delight to watch the little guys motoring around the nest. Some of the older ones now are almost fully feathered, while some recently hatched chicks have not even been seen and counted yet! What a weird year.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

June 27 update...

It’s been a busy few weeks trying to keep up with all the changes on our nests. Sadly, I believe we are heading for a record year regarding nest failures. We already have about 36 failures, probably more as I write. Last year we had 40 and the year before we had 37.....but this is still only June. One day last week I checked 24 nests and 11 had failed. Many of the failed nests are near each other. It becomes a real thrill to pull up to a nest and see three chicks motoring around on the nest...a real cause for celebration! Some surprises have occurred also tho. There was one nest that was clearly being  horribly attacked by black flies, with the female flying off the nest over and over. I watched that nest one day for 90 minutes and I believe she was on the nest for approximately 15 minutes during that visit. I thought for sure that nest was headed for failure....but it did hatch successfully! I have come to the conclusion that eggs may survive longer periods without being incubated than I originally believed, if the weather is warm. But most of the nests where we observed adults struggling to shake off the black flies, have failed. There are many other nests where I cannot say what the cause for the failure is. Since the failures occurred during the time when we observed swarms of black flies on other nests, it may be related to that issue.  I wish I could visit nests more often. Many nests are only visited every couple of weeks. One week they are incubating, or caring for newly hatched chicks, and at the next visit, the nest is empty. When I do the annual report, I will try to separate the failures into nests that failed to hatch and nests that failed after signs of hatching were observed, but without more frequent visits, I may not know for sure on many nests. I am continuing to find new nests, with two found this past week! I wonder how many there are that I dont know about! At any rate, having said all that, the black flies seem to have died off and many ospreys that survived the swarms, are much more comfortable now. This year has raised a lot of questions in my mind. I watched one nest, which has failed for five years in a row, and wondered why they stay at this site. Would moving to a new territory improve their chances of breeding successfully? Well my answer to all questions is to just keep watching, keep taking notes. Clearly this is going to be a tough year regarding our productivity rates, but as I keep saying, this is why we keep going. So few long term studies exist and being able to look at the data that has been consistently collected for 26 years maybe very useful in helping us understand this planet and the changes it is experiencing. On a happier note, it is such a joy to watch the developmental stages the little guys go thru...I was noticing how interesting it is when you see the chicks move from being entirely focused on a very small world which consists of their siblings and their parents, and each little bite of fish, to becoming aware of the world that surrounds them. Suddenly they are toddling off to the edge of the nest to look around at their world. They begin watching other birds that fly over, or even planes above. Their little worlds are expanding. They will move out into that world sooner than you think!  These little friends of ours  grow so fast.