Tuesday, April 17, 2012

I just discovered an article posted online about me and the Twin Cities Metro Osprey Watch. Here is the link:

This reporter originally contacted me for information regarding the Ospreys nesting at Coon Rapids Dam. He was writing about asian carp and the possibility of Ospreys carrying them upstream. One thing led to another and this article is the result. Hope it will stimulate some more interest in these birds and the research we are trying to do.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Many people ask why it is important to monitor these Osprey nests. This is a labor of love, driven by passion, to learn more about these magnificent birds of prey. They are an indicator species and therefore their status reveals much about the health of our environment. Because Ospreys eat primarily fish for their entire lifetime, they are vulnerable to chemicals that are present in the water and ...can accumulate in their bodies. Any drop in their productivity can be a red flag to us, and therefore their population needs to be monitored carefully. The productivity dropped last year so its important to follow up this year to see if this is a trend. Of course there are normal ups and downs to their productivity, but it is the long term trends that we are interested in.
Eagles are monitored quite carefully and blood samples analyzed, but they eat things other than fish so may not be as affected by contaminants as Ospreys are.  Since Ospreys are a large bird that nests in the open, they are fairly easy to monitor, so I am hoping to continue this work and find interested people to assist with this research.
 I remember years ago meeting with Harrison "Bud" Tordoff, the well known University professor who was so instrumental in the Peregrine project. He urged us to monitor and band as many Osprey nests as we possibly could, for as long as we possibly could, as long as there were people willing to do this work. He pointed out that we cannot always know what we are researching for, but if we continued to collect the data, in hindsight it might be extremely valuable. I am trying, Bud!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Interesting few days. Some nests are eerily quiet and empty...ones that have had long term residents. Some people expected the Ospreys to return early due to the warm spring, but Ospreys migrate to South and Central America for the winter and have no idea what the weather is like here. They leave on their spring migration as a response to the amount of  daylight. Of course they did  not run into snow and frozen lakes south of here so I expected we might see them a few days early, but not weeks early. Many returned at the normal time. The empty nests may be a result of something else...and that makes me continue this research. Today I was observing two nests that had new males on them. Different behaviors on each of them. On one nest I noticed that the male was very calm and not defensive...sitting very close to the female, side by side touching their wings, basking in the warm afternoon sunshine and snoozing a bit. I wondered if he was from a nest that had a lot of human activity because he was not concerned about my presence at all. I read his band and, yes, he was from a nest that is near an elementary school. The other pair I observed were having a little more difficulty with their new partnership. The male had a fish and did not offer it to the female...he went to a tree to eat and ignored her. When several other Ospreys showed up and were flying and chirping above, he flew up and started a sky dance, which is a courtship behavior, as if to say "she is mine" to the other ospreys...and perhaps to say to her, "pick me". He still did not share his fish. He later went and got another fish...ate part of it and then went to the nest to give it to her and she immediately flew away, rejecting his offer. We will see what happens.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

For those of you following the saga of the freeway nest and that female, J4...She has a mate! There was a male on the nest today and he is unbanded. He does not display any of the defensive postures of a new male so is probably the male from last year but I will have to dig out the drawings I make of the distinct markings on unbanded birds. Any way, her long wait is over. Good news. Other birds are waiting and some nests are still empty. As reports roll in, I am very busy checking nests and reading bands, training new volunteers. The miles I put on my old car is crazy. This is what  passion does to you...but I truely want to know what is going on out there and to answer the many questions I still have about these birds.
What is it about them that is so captivating? Wish I had more time and money to do the research I really want to do.

Monday, April 9, 2012

As I promised in the past post, here is a description of what "hacking" is, for those who are unfamiliar with the word. It is a term that is originally from falconry and is a method for soft release, usually of a young preflighted bird.
In the case of the osprey reintroduction, we collected young ospreys from northern Minnesota at about 5to 6 weeks of age. At that time they are old enough to know they are ospreys ( no threat of imprinting) but cannot fly. They were put into "hack boxes", which were large 6'x6' boxes with hardware cloth around the outside and a roof on top.This served to protect them from predators  The boxes were placed high on some scaffolding to simulate their natural nesting habitat. We built a nest inside the box for the chicks to lay in. They were hand fed twice each day and they spent time looking out at the world surrounding them to become aclimated to their new home.  They exercised their wings and learned to rip and tear a whole fish. As they began to show the developmental signs of being ready to fly we originally opened one side of the box for them to fly. This unfortunately left the ones who were not ready vulnerable to predation. So I developed a way to release them individually by taking them to the roof of the box in a box or duffle bag and we let them slowly step out of the box. We had perches up there for them and a big plate full of fish so they understood that this was the place to return to for food. It worked every time. They would sit for a while and eventually take flight when ready. They returned to eat several times a day and would often congregate on top of the box and food beg. I was one of the hack site attendants, and the sound of that chorus of hungry young ospreys was a delight to hear as I rounded the bend with a 5 gallon pail of fish for them.Ospreys will return to the place where they learned to fly when ready to breed. This is the process that was used to restore Ospreys as a nesting species to the Twin Cities.  Most of the birds on our nests now are wild hatched but there is still one hacked male alive at 19 years of age.
This is the rest of the story of purple banded J4 from Iowa, the freeway nest female...it occurred to me that many of you like to hear these life stories of various Ospreys. In my last post I touched on some of J4's history, so here is the rest, the prequel! She initially came to nest on that very tall freeway light in 2005. She was with a banded male whose band was not read...not for lack of trying tho! During the incubation period he was observed having difficulty breathing and struggled to haul sticks up to the nest. He would gasp for air in a behavior that is called "gaping". Its not a good sign. Raptors are vulnerable to an illness called aspergillosis, which is a fungal lung disease which can be stress related. Don't know if this was his problem. At any rate he disappearred after I observed his difficulties and he was presumed dead. This left J4 incubating those eggs alone with no male to bring her fish. She food begged loudly everytime another Osprey flew by and eventually she did attract another male, KM ( hatched on the Arsenal nest in 2001). He was interested in copulating and would eventually bring her a fish , but when she left the nest with the fish to eat, he would not sit on those eggs which were not his. The eggs were left uncovered too much and they died. So the nest failed that first year, but KM and J4 did bond and remained together at that nest though the 2010 nesting season. They produced 13 chicks together. Sadly last year, he did not return. J4 returned from her long migration to her nest being gone and no mate. She did find a new unbanded male and they settled at the nestpole near Gleason Rd and 62 on Creek Valley Elementary School grounds and dealt with all the stresses of that nest site as described in the earlier post. And now she is alone again and we are waiting to see if she can find another mate or if her unbanded male will eventually show up. Because she was hacked out ( I will describe the hacking process in another post) in the Iowa reintroduction project, she is more accustomed to humans than some other Ospreys and seems able to handle the activity level at that site, but not all Ospreys will. Hope she can find a male who is tolerant of people. Wish her luck!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Many of you may have heard about the Osprey nest that was on the freeway lights near 62 and 169 in Edina that was removed by the DOT in Dec 2010. That pair moved to a new not-so-great nest nearby where they were hounded by the sandblasting and painting of a nearby water tower, and people playing tennis at the courts beneath them last summer. They managed to fledge three chicks in spite of it all. Well that female is back and has been sitting there alone now since March 28. I got a report of a second osprey there but I visited the nest twice yesterday and again this morning and she was alone.
Hope she attracts some handsome young Osprey soon. She is ten years old this year and was originally hacked out in a reintroduction project in Iowa. In her prime.
Osprey season is in full swing now and I have spent most of the past week visiting nests and reading bands. I have identified 29 ospreys by their bands already. There are pairs on many nests, a single bird still waiting on some and a few nests which are still empty. Its early still and there will be much interesting behavior to come in the next few weeks. I have discovered many instances of extra pair copulation in a species that was believed to be "mostly monogamous", according to the literature. The nest swapping and mate swapping is fascinating and requires me to read bands early and often to document much of this movement. I was lucky to witness a fishing Osprey today...hovering above the water and plunging feet first into the water with a big splash and coming out with a large fish. His partner has  not been seen yet so he had the luxury of eating the whole fish himself, as I read his band!
One of the problems with this activity of reading bands is that it apparently looks suspicious. The police were called again on me yesterday...and when I explained what I was doing he was nice about it and told me just to stay on the side of the road...unfortunately that was not close enough to read that particular band so I will need some permission to trapse onto private property. I always wonder who called the police anyway? It happens to me every year...a few times. I will not be deterred from my goal of reading ALL bands tho! I read 79 of them last year.

camouflaged chicks

This photo shows how well camouflaged the chicks are by their juvenile coloring. Every dark feather has a buff colored tip which breaks up their profile and causes them to "disappear" in the nest. They cannot fly at this age ( aprox 5-6 weeks) so their only defense is to "pancake", which is what they are doing.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

I have always loved the outdoors and became very interested in raptors many years ago. I remember vividly the first time I ever saw an Osprey.  As I was doing some late spring cross country skiing in central Idaho, a large bird flew over the Salmon River and a companion identified it as an Osprey. Several  years later,  I was searching for Eagles in Montana, and many people directed me to the north end of Flathead Lake. Most of the large raptors there, however, were Ospreys not Eagles! As I was watching these magnificent birds, I followed one up a river and watched as he plummeted feet first  into the water right in front of my eyes, completely submerging and coming out with a large trout, getting lift off out of the water and heading to a perch to eat. It took my breath away and stirred something deep in my heart. The addiction had begun!

When I returned to Minnesota , after years of living out west, I volunteered on the Osprey Reintroduction Project at Hennepin Parks in 1994. My degree in art had made me very visually aware and I seemed to notice things about these birds that other volunteers did not. As a result, I was hired as the hack site attendant on the reintroduction in 1995. ( At that time the project was a joint effort between Hennepin Parks and The Raptor Center and I was hired by TRC.) I was offered an opportunity  to try to fist train a captive, permanently disabled Osprey at The Raptor Center the same year, something that had never been done  there before.  Ospreys are known for being difficult to keep alive in captivity and they are not as easily trained as some other raptors.  But I bonded with the pair of Ospreys there, Stan and Ollie, and had great success training them to eat on my fist and to tolerate being around large groups of people for education purposes. I received a Special Achievement award from TRC for that work  in 1996. Sadly, Stan got a severe case of bumblefoot  and had to be euthanized, but I continued to work with Ollie for four years. I  worked as  wildlife Technician at Three Rivers Park District ( formerly named Hennepin Parks) from 1997-2008, with my primary duties being  The Osprey Project ( monitoring all nests in 8 counties, supervising volunteers, banding chicks and writing annual reports).  In 1998 I traveled to Michigan to serve as a consultant on their Osprey reintroduction project and I met the well known Osprey researcher, Sergej Postupalsky.  We were kindred spirits and have remained in touch ever since, sharing our observations, discussing  research methods , terminology, outcomes and sharing our annual reports every year. He has been a great source of inspiration  for me. (He has been studying Ospreys in Michigan for 50 years!) It was through these conversations that he encouraged me to write a paper about my  field work which had revealed many interesting behaviors which had not been documented previously in this population.  This culminated in the paper “Two-Year-Old Nesting Behavior and Extra Pair Copulation in a Reintroduced Osprey Population”, Journal of Raptor Research, Volume 42, Number 2, June 2008 ( co-authored with Judy Englund). The following year another paper was published “Migration routes, reproduction and lifespan of a translocated Osprey”, Wilson Journal of Ornithology, volume 121, Number 1, March 2009 (co-authored with Sergej Postupalsky and William Stout). In 2008 I had to leave  the park district, for many complicated reasons, and I created the Metro Osprey Watch program to continue monitoring all nests and pursue the research on Osprey behaviors.  I have many topics I am researching including productivity, extra pair copulation and mate fidelity, nest site fidelity and movement among nests, age of first breeding,  population expansion etc…

Why am I starting this blog? I have been studying the Ospreys in the metro area since 1994. I have become more and more passionate about these birds and the research that is being done about them. I love to share my observations and my knowledge about them and love finding kindred spirits who care about them. I am excited about what I am learning regarding their behaviors and realize that I need a forum to share some of it. I am also concerned about their survival, the impact that global climate change and environmental contaminants may have upon their population. They are considered to be an indicator species so their health reveals much to us about the health of our environment.  They are a species that exists on all continents except Antartica.  I also have come to realize, sadly, that there is a great deal of misinformation about them being passed along disguised as “science”.  I hope to create a conversation, share observations, raise concerns, connect with other Osprey researchers and perhaps, occasionally ruffle some feathers. This will not be a place where I post all my data, since I am collecting this data to be used for writing papers that I hope will be published in peer reviewed scientific journals or magazines.  I am very concerned with using solid scientific methods, terminology and criteria in my studies, but I hope that the tone will not be too dry for the average Osprey lover to benefit from reading my blog. I am enthusiastic about what I see when observing Ospreys in the field and they still surprise me! I hope I can prompt some of you to fall in love with these magnificent birds of prey, develop some insight into their behavior and get involved in helping to  study and protect them.