Thursday, April 28, 2016

End of April....

It's been a hectic week of visiting nests, still trying to get bands read but so many nests are incubating now it's become difficult. We are finding new nests that are just being built now so we are working on identifying those birds. I find myself watching the Ospreys with the color banded leg tucked up so their foot pocket! I ponder why they always tuck up the color band which is usually on the right leg. Do you think if we placed the color band on the left leg we would have fewer problems? Or do you think they would then become right legged standers and tuck up the left leg? Are they really just being difficult? How long can an osprey actually stand on one leg? Very long.....longer than my patience sometimes. Some of them seem to have learned to take off without ever really putting the banded leg down! Ah the frustrations we face! But I never give up. It's so fun to watch an osprey I have known for many years, and realize that even without reading the band, I find their faces familiar, their head markings so unique. I think it's late enough now to sadly conclude that some of my favorite birds have not returned and are probably no longer alive. Our oldest male, who I had known since he was two years old, has not shown up. His mate of 14 years seems to have found a new partner. I am not sure the deal is sealed tho. I thought that my old friend, who was 22 last year, did not seem to be his usual self last year. He was a male who was so dependable, always easy to find, perched near his nest watching over his family....but last year I often had trouble locating him, the female was often seen bringing fish, but then he would show up again. I will miss of my first loves.

And the wonderful male whose chick ended up in rehab last year, has also not shown up. He was so attentive to that youngster who stuck so close to home after I released her ( after her 24 hour adventure which she never explained). He was always seen on his lofty perch, visible for miles, as I drove to his nest. He stayed for one week after the last chick dispersed....flying around with a fish to see if anyone needed it. After a week of no takers...he finally left on his migration. I missed him all winter as I drove past his perch. I was anxiously awaiting his return, but it has not happened. In his place we have another bird that I know quite who was somehow displaced from his territory, and spent last summer visiting nests all over the metro area, looking for a mate and a territory. I am glad to see him settled down with a mate and chicks on the way. I wish him great success, but I also remember the male he has replaced, with some sadness. This is nature, this is life going on, and this is the life of a researcher who has followed a population of birds for 23 years....I know so many of these birds as my old friends. They are like family to me.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Blog about polygamy from Wales Dyfi project

Here is a link to the blog that Emyr posted about great to be able to share what I have observed during all these years. It's an interesting read.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Mare island osprey days

I received a lovely invitation today to attend the Mare Island Osprey Days in the Bay Area...doesn't this sound like fun?

Another case of polygyny

I woke up in the middle of the night and remembered yet another instance of polygyny in our population of Ospreys. Another male who was attending two nests that were almost in sight of each other. These two nests were not as close as our most current case. Chicks hatched on both nests, three chicks on one nest and a single chick on the other. Sadly the single chick was found dead below the nest, probable predation. So, once again, only one nest was successful. That brings the total cases of polygyny to seven,that I know of. And only once did both nests succeed.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Facebook page....

To those of you that are reading the blog but not the Facebook page...the last few posts have generated a lot of comments and might enjoy going to the Facebook page to read them. So fun to communicate with people all over the world about osprey behaviors!


Been having fun the past few days emailing Emyr Evans of the Dyfi osprey project In Wales. As some of you may know, Monty now has two nests and two females. It is a behavior I have observed here five times. (It occurred one other time prior to my involvement in the project). So Emyr contacted me to get my thoughts. It's so great to talk to other osprey researchers and share our observations. Sometimes I hate this internet / Facebook thing because in some ways it separates us, but in other situations it allows us to connect and learn from people on the other side of the planet. That, I love. Anyway, it will be interesting to see how things turn out over there with Monty. Out of the five times I have documented polygamous behavior, four times involved a male going between two nests. Sometimes those nests were at least a mile or two apart, and sometimes they were within a few hundred yards (within sight of each other). Only once were chicks produced at both nests. And that male managed to produce three chicks at two nests and all chicks fledged! It surprised me! In fact I predicted that one of the nests would fail, which is what usually occurs. The Ospreys proved me wrong, and it's not the first time! The success was largely due to significant help from those females as well, who did help provide fish for the chicks as they became old enough to for her to leave them for short periods.
One case of polygyny ( polygyny is the term for one male with two females, polyandry is the term for one female with two males, and polygamy is the larger category that includes both of those...for those interested in correct terminology) I observed two females sharing a single nest with one male. They shared fish and shared Incubation duties, but when a single chick hatched one of the females lost interest and departed. The next year she had her own male and her own nest. Did she know the chick was not hers, or was it just too many birds in a nest? ( in 1986, prior to my involvement in the project, two females laid six eggs in a nest with one male, and none of the eggs hatched).
Well, one of our males has done this three times now, including this year. Now we have documented him at both nests. Quite often one nest will get more attention than the other, and it can be sad to watch a male ignoring one of the females as she begs for food while incubating. I often have to remind people that Ospreys are not "bad" for engaging in polygamy. We should not project our anthropomorphic moralistic ideas upon these birds. Ospreys are largely motivated by two survive and to reproduce. So when an opportunity arises to reproduce twice in one breeding season, some males will take advantage of it. It is often a result of nests being too close together. It's natural for a male to defend his territory against other males, and yet to allow another female into the territory. Some females would chase away another female, but if the male is allowing it, it sends a signal. I think there are all kinds of subtle signals being sent that we humans may not understand.
When the male does not care for the secondary nest, it can be hard to watch, and our human hearts get upset...but that male is making decisions about his own survival, and how much energy he has to provide for two families. The behaviors of the Ospreys change as our population increases and there may be more opportunities for these situations to occur. We are learning as we go...and now also learning as we communicate with other scientists around the world! Stay tuned!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

An explanation, and a plea....

I am going to start a slightly controversial conversation here, and I know some of you will not agree with me, but many will. The question is about posting specific locations about nests online. I have made a very considered decision not to post locations on this page. I am becoming increasingly troubled by other sites where people do post clear locations, road names, directions etc. Unfortunately, I have seen birds harmed by people who make very poor decisions about wildlife. Our oldest male last year had to be euthanized...among his many injuries were BB pellets. I have been watching a nest where chicks have pre fledged several years in a row, ending up on the ground, vulnerable. One died, one was rescued. I learned that someone was flying a drone over that nest to get photos. I have seen too many people approaching a nest with a camera only to have the adults fly off the nest, screeching alarm calls and causing them to leave eggs uncovered. Sometimes they happily tell me that the birds are "talking" to them. Yes they are...they are saying, get away from my nest! I know that most of the people reading this page are true bird lovers who would never do anything to disturb our beloved Ospreys. But the difficult part about a page like this, a blog, or any social media site, is that anyone can read it. We are reaching people who may not have the birds best interests in mind. I try to educate here, and with this post I am asking everyone to consider what the ripple effects are of sharing too much in public forums. I am happy to share privately with people I trust, but am very careful about what is posted publicly. Last year I returned a rehabbed chick (who pre fledged) to a nest and the youngster flew off upon release and it took her 24 hours to find her way back to the nest. At that point she was dehydrated, hungry and a little freaked out. A photographer was there and I explained the situation and asked him to please give this bird at least 24 hours undisturbed to get used to being back home before he approached the nest at all. Within an hour he was right under the nest taking photos. The adult male was flying and giving alarm calls, trying to protect his offspring. I suppose this produced some great photos. Some people do not care about the welfare of these birds. So I am just careful. Please put the birds first. I can't control what some people post on other pages, but I can control it here and I will hide any posts with specific directions or locations. We do talk openly about the Arboretum cam, because people do not need to go there to see what's happening. I wish we could afford more cams. In other countries, nests are protected much more than they are here. I know many people understand and share my think before you post.
P.S. Anyone who wants to talk about specific locations should email me privately.

Saturday, April 16, 2016


 Forgot  to mention that I found another nest incubating yesterday. In fact, she was laying an egg as I watched! When I pulled up this female was in this in between posture......not upright, but not in incubating posture. Kind of hunched over and she kept staring down between her legs. I watched her for about 20 minutes like that. The male arrived, he looked down too, and then she settled into incubating posture. we go!

Friday, April 15, 2016

The rest of the story....

I was out there all day again many nests. But the highlight of the day was going back to visit the male who suffered a fractured keel last summer. As many of you recall, he was in rehab for a month, leaving his mate alone to care for three chicks. When I released him back at his nest, I was surprised to have the female go after him as if he were an intruder. She was relentless in her nest defense, chasing him away for the last month of the breeding season and preventing him from bringing fish, though he tried. After the chicks fledged and one of them had dispersed, she began her migration, leaving two chicks still hanging around the nest and he was finally able to bring fish and remain in his territory. His parental instincts remained intact and he watched over his offspring until September. He was one of the first Ospreys to return this spring and he has been working very hard on his nest for several weeks now. Well, his mate finally returned in the past few days. She is unbanded but her markings match the drawings I had made of her. The story has a happy ending, as she accepts him, they are coexisting peacefully and copulating successfully. It was such a pleasure to watch them together today. When I left they were sitting side by side on the nest, snoozing. Yeah! Wishing them great success this year!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

What a day.....

First of all I must send out a huge THANKS to Cathy Gagliardi for the generous donation I received today! Made me cry! You have no idea how much it means to me to know that what I am doing matters to people and that they are willing to show support like this! I am deeply grateful! 
Also a big THANKS to Barb Ankrum for all the time she has been devoting to trying to read those damn bands in the past week or so. It's often so frustrating, and requires so much patience and perseverance. Some Ospreys are cooperative, and some are not. I appreciate all you do Barb!
Today I visited 18 nests, 143 miles, trying to read bands and figure out what's going on. First of all, we have our first eggs!!!!! Chicks are on the way! I read a lot of bands, and some will require another shot at it. Oy. The sun and wind made it too challenging at those nests that I cant get very close to. I will have to try again on a cool, calm, cloudy day. The three "C"s. I found most nests occupied now, but a few are not....five nests had no Ospreys.
The best part of being out there during these early days is to witness the "skydance". As usual, I can hear the vocalization that goes with that behavior long before I can spot the male performing this courtship ritual. He is often very high in the sky and hard to spot. Doing the dipsy doodle dance, undulating in the sky, up and down, usually displaying a fish and singing his heart out...."look at me, look at this magnificent fish I am offering". Many times I can see the female on the nest watching him intently. But it always cracks me up when you look at the female and she has her back to the male and is not paying any attention. C'mon honey! This is impressive stuff! Well, at least, I am impressed! OK! So maybe he is doing it for ME! And some older males do the dramatic display, with no fish...."you know me, you know I can catch a fish for you".
ah, these days pass so quickly before we are into the ho hum incubation phase. Get out there and enjoy!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Arboretum Osprey Cam

We have had some conversations in the comments of our Facebook page (link on the blog page) about the Arboretum Cam, but I thought I would post here about that nest also. We initially saw a five year old male, N3, on the nest alone, but today the male from last year, Z3, has shown up with an unbanded female....which may be the same unbanded female as last year. (Z3 is now four years old.) This pair seem to have shown up together. The defensive behavior we are observing may be his reaction to N3 or other males in the area. We may see some chaos until things settle down here, as we did last year. Wishing them better luck this year! 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

More Ospreys!

113 miles and 21 nests today....lots more ospreys have been riding the wind back to their homes. I read some bands, waiting endlessly for some birds to show me their legs...some never did. I am still finding that it's quite a big game of musical nests this year. Also discovered one osprey nest taken over by Bald Eagles, and one taken over by Great Horned Owls. Ahhhhhh! Build your own nests! 
That, in turn, causes those Ospreys to show up in unexpected places! Oh, they keep me hopping! I keep plugging away at the huge task of gathering data! Trying so hard to get many bands read before the leaves come out and the eggs are laid. It's just so much easier during these early days, but it takes a lot of patience. Thanks to the volunteers who have been trying so hard to do the same. Sometimes we just have to share the frustration! But you must remember when you are waiting, waiting, waiting for a bird to turn around, or move to the nest edge, or return to the nest...breathe, feel the sun on your face, enjoy the cool breeze, listen to the sounds, notice the markings on the birds, be in the moment. There is pleasure amidst the frustration!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

More Ospreys!

Many more Ospreys are arriving back on their breeding grounds in the past week. I visited 16 nests today and 7 of them had at least one osprey....3 of those 7 had a pair present. I read 5.5 bands today. Some of these birds are our old friends, returning and connecting with their long time mates, but I am also finding new, younger birds at some nests. That doesnt mean they will remain there if an established territorial bird returns, the interloper is usually quickly chased off. At one nest I watched the established pair repeatedly escorting off a new pair that kept trying to land on the nest. Nest defense is part of the spring ritual. When new birds come upon a nest that is not being defended, they see it as an invitation to move in. Time will tell what the outcomes are on some of these nests. I am always happy to see old friends, but also know that not all of them will survive migration. We are still waiting for our oldest bird....hoping.
At one nest I watched the female from last year with a new male in this territory. He came from a nearby nest that blew down last year.
No sign of the territorial male yet. They were copulating and the male was clearly "guarding" her...sticking very close to prevent any other male from copulating with her. They were quietly canoodling, tho she was not always receptive to his attempts to mate...when suddenly they both shrieked and flew up into the air....I knew immediately what that vocalization meant. Eagles! Sure enough soon two juvenile Bald Eagles flew over the nest and both ospreys began dive bombing, chasing and screeching. The two eagles landed in some nearby trees but the Ospreys were relentless in their aggression....finally escorting the eagles out of the territory so they could return to their nest and continue getting better acquainted! This female was not completely open to this males advances, but she knows that she needs to hedge her bets....if her old mate does not return, she may need this guy. Always so interesting to watch.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Sunday, April 3....

I was out and about again today. I met with some lovely folks who shared info about a "new" to me, tho it's been there a few years apparently. Then I checked about six other nests, read the band on one male...another old friend who I have been watching for many years. He was sitting quietly on his nest, alone, snoozing in the sun, waiting....but a perfect chance to read his band. 
I visited the nest that had a pair on Thursday....they are still there, still the same male...not her old partner, but this new young fellow. He arrived with a goldfish and flew circles around the nest, displaying the fish, but she did not food beg so he headed to a perch to eat it himself. It was clear he was offering it to her, but she was not hungry, or not interested in him. Time will tell! Still not too many Ospreys have returned, but new reports are trickling in of we will keep making the rounds, identifying the birds when we find them. The strong northerly winds may be slowing some birds down. Patience!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Day two....

Today I visited 23 nests (96 miles) and found only ONE osprey! And he was at a nest where he didn't belong! But that's what happens this time of year! Some of them are checking out real estate! I was actually very happy to see this fellow because his nest blew down in a storm last July and I never saw him after that. So I was relieved to see him alive and well. Perhaps he figures why start rebuilding if I can find a new territory. I know that either his mate or one of his chicks was severely injured in that storm and was euthanized at the Raptor Center so he may need a new mate as well as a new home. He has had a tough time, nested unsuccessfully several times at one site, moved to another site and was successful for several years until that storm last year. I am rooting for him this year! A very handsome Osprey!