Sunday, October 5, 2014

Still here...

Here it is, October 5... And I spent four hours watching what is probably our last osprey here in the Twin Cities.  Our family of late fledgers has lingered much later than most other ospreys and it's been educational to observe them. Last Sunday I was watching the two chicks, one male and one female and their Dad. That turned out to be the last time I saw the male chick. All week we have been watching the female chick being fed by her Dad, food begging, never venturing far from the nest. The last two days she has been quieter and we cannot confirm that the adult male is still around.  We have not seen him. But today the female was still on the nest or in a nearby tree, food begging occasionally , tho I am not sure who she saw that elicited that vocalization.  She disappeared for a while and came back all wet. Was she trying to catch a fish for herself?  Perhaps, or maybe just bathing.
Her crop was fairly empty, and she only pooped a small amount once in those four hours. She did not appear to be dehydrated. One can't help but ponder what this experience is like for these youngsters , to feel the urge to fly off to parts unknown, without a parent, having rather undeveloped fishing skills. This is why it is estimated that half of them will not survive the first year. It's difficult for those of us who have become attached to these birds we have watched for so many months. After four hours of observing her, she took off to the south...going fishing? Or is she off on the big adventure this time...time will tell. Barb and I will keep checking. I hoped that Dad would stay, but it is late and I guess the switch finally flipped in his head and the urge to head south won out over the instinct to care for his offspring. We hope she will follow soon, while she still has reserves built up from all the fish he has delivered so faithfully. We hate to see her go, but she must. 
Here is a touching excerpt from a lovely email I recieved from Karen, who watched over a family of ospreys all summer. I think it expresses what many of us feel this time of year..."Today is quiet, almost eerie... Last night my little lady was on her favorite perch off my front porch/deck. All week long she has been staying close to home and begging for food like she was starving...As evening comes I still don't see her. By now she is usually hanging around close to home. I think that day...the day I knew would come..all too soon. Is my girl gone? I have grown very attached to this little lady. I know her call, I can spot her a half mile away. I have mixed feelings....she is grown, ready to explore her world, I am proud of her. Sad that I will most likely never see her again. This summer went all too fast. I cherish the photos we have taken. I look forward to next year and what it will bring. Thank you for sharing your passion with us, teaching us." 
Once again, I have to say thank you to all the amazing people who have helped watch over these birds all summer, sharing your observations with me, investing your time and your hearts in our Ospreys. A million thanks. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

September 28, they are still here!

September 28, one month after our last chicks fledged, and they are still here! This is what I was hoping for...that they would have at least one month to grow up, polish  their osprey skills, with their Dad still providing for them. I was surprised when the adults laid eggs so late, and we began doing the math then, and worrying about whether or not they would have enough time to grow up before migration. I enjoyed my time with them again today on yet another spectacular day. Leaves are becoming brilliant, temps in the low 80's, and again, those popcorn clouds in a sapphire sky. When I arrived I found the female chick, in one of her usual perches.  She was just sitting quietly, a fairly empty crop. I could not locate any other ospreys. Suddenly she burst into that distinctive desperate, whining food begging which tells me that she can see her Dad with a fish! She flew to the nest and nearly attacked the adult male as he landed with a fish. Settle down! Off he went immediately , and she continued to whine as he circled above. He seemed to be looking for the other chick. When Dad finally disappeared from sight, the young female became quiet and went to one of her favorite low perches further away from the road to eat. She is barely visible there. I waited, hoping to see the other chick. No sign of him, so I went for an iced latte, searched for her brother unsuccessfully, and came back. She had moved to a  higher perch...One of her parents favorite eating spots. She was still working on her fish. All was calm.  Did he leave? Hmmmm.  Then I turned around and was surprised to see another osprey sitting silently behind me. It was her brother.  Then, again, she burst into raucous food begging as I saw another osprey approaching, carrying a fish. She took flight and so did her brother.  Now there were three of them flying around, hollering....two of them had fish and one did not.  Dad went to the nest, followed by the juvenile male and the young female, with her fish. (still thinking she needed another one!) A big skirmish errupted  with Dad escaping first , followed by the young male, with the fish in his beak. He had to get out of there before she grabbed the fish! He had to struggle a bit in the air to rebalance and get the fish in his talons, and he disappeared...leaving our girl alone again. Would she have dropped her partially eaten fish to grab the new one? I think those instincts to eat as much as possible at this time of year completely take over and their behavior can be quite amusing! So she returned to her perch and finished her fish. Another long calm stretch. And then AGAIN, she burst into loud cries for food as Dad approached again! She flew to the nest, no competition this time, and got another fish! Pop flew off to the east and she returned to her perch and devoured that fish in less then ten minutes. This is serious. Pack on the pounds. Dad just keeps delivering food. What a guy! I am sure he feels the pull of two competing instincts...to care for his offspring, and to head south.  A cold front is expected to come through tonight. Was that my last visit with this family of Ospreys? I lingered too long, just watching her in the golden  light, the yellow cottonwood leaves behind her. I didn't want to leave. Barb will check on them tomorrow. Every year there is some osprey, some family, that captivates me more than the others...and this year it's been this nest. Every last moment with them has been a treasure. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Still here!

Another interesting day with the ospreys! Yes we still have some! Most nests are empty now but our youngest chicks are both still here and Dear old Dad is still dutifully providing for them. He amazes me! It took me a while to locate these guys today...initially locating the female chick perched very low on a branch...barely visible to me. Suddenly she started food begging loudly, wings down and out. I realized Dad was near, and he flew into the nest with a fish and the female chick flew hell bent to grab it. He immediately flew off and she returned to her perch with the fish. Surprisingly, after all that noise, she did not eat! I noticed that her crop was pretty full already, so this was her second breakfast. She just sat there, pushing food down in her crop,  happy to have another fish. Thirty minutes later she broke into the hysterical food begging again, as Dad came back with another fish. He displayed it, and then sat in a high perch so the other chick might see him. Nope. The female kept begging for another fish as she held a whole one in her talons. Funny.  Finally Dad gave up and left with the fish. He swooped so low that I had to go search for him...as I did that I saw another osprey flying without a fish...must be the other chick. He lands  in a tree...yup, that's him. Then he heads to the nest, food begging loudly. Of course, Dad came with the fish for his other chick. So now everyone is fed and Dad heads out again. It's so interesting  how long they are sticking around! I have to express a special thanks to  a first year volunteer who has visited this nest, almost daily all summer!  Barb has been reliable, very curious, asking many questions, and learning so much in her first year of osprey watching. I have enjoyed our many emails, our time together in the field. This nest has been an interesting one, and I could not visit as often as she has, so together we have been able to keep good track of these late fledgers.
I am so grateful to all the wonderful volunteers I have worked with...some checking over ten nests weekly, some checking one or two nests several times a week, it truely takes a village to do what we are doing! THANKS THANKS THANKS!  Each and everyone of you is so important!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

September 17...still some ospreys around

What a stunning day...70, popcorn clouds, low humidity. I would say perfect. What a pleasure to be out there searching for ospreys. I managed to find four young ones and two adult males watching over them. I had hoped to check more nests but became mesmerized at two nests. I stopped at one nest where a chick has been missing since right after banding. I continue to see only one chick there. She is actually the young lady who I caught stealing fish at another nest! She was not on her nest when I arrived but I could hear her! I quickly located her Dad, sitting where he always is...in a tree across the lake from the nest. She finally came screaming back to the nest...that desperate, whining food begging that some of you are familiar with. Wow. She had as full a crop as I have seen, and was still asking for more! I have to pull out that blimp imagery again. She is rotund. Think basketball with a head and tail and wings attached. I was enjoying watching her, taking in the turning leaves, shimmering in the fall light. A kingfisher was chattering away and fishing nearby.  I also checked the nest where our youngest chicks are. In the early morning I saw one chick, eating in a dead snag. I came back after stopping for my second cup of coffee. I could not find any ospreys. Every perch was searched to no avail. Checked a few other nests that were empty and quiet. Returned and still spotted no ospreys. I made some notes in my almost full field journal and when I looked up...Dad was in his favorite perch right above me, in a  tree near the nest. He had a huge fish! But no chicks were seen or heard. He remained there with the fish in his talons, not eating. He scanned the skies in all directions. He waited. I was taken aback by how handsome this osprey was with his almost completely white breast,  his bright yellow eyes with a spot in the 8 o'clock  position of his right eye (helpful for identifying birds). The leaves behind him were turning yellow, and the bright blue sky peeking thru the tree. I remind myself to be present in this moment and take it all in. He waits. I wait. No chicks came screaming. They were both seen last night, and one this morning. Was today the day they departed? Finally he started eating the fish...ripping and tearing a few bits and then searching the area again. I watched him eat sporadically for  two hours, stopping occasionally to scan the area for his offspring.  It was actually fascinating to watch his eating method...those fish eyeballs appear to be quite juicy! Three turkey vultures visited, circling above.  I was hoping to see both chicks but none showed up...and then suddenly our peaceful scene was disturbed when he jumped up, giving a unique alarm call which announced that there was a Bald Eagle in the vicinity. Off he goes. All ospreys gone. We will continue to check on these birds, knowing that our days with them are numbered.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Still here!

A strong cold front came thru with gusty north winds on Tuesday night and Wednesday. I thought this might carry away a lot of our friends...reports have come in of empty nests. I went out to check some nests myself and was surprised to find chicks on 8 out of the 11 nests I visited! All chicks appeared to be females and were hollering for food. I saw three males bring fish and a few more perching nearby while the youngster ate on the nest. It's always interesting to see which chicks are still around, counting heads, reading bands on the few that are banded. I try to confirm successful fledging and my last bit of data collection involves seeing which chicks have survived and remain in their territories just prior to migration. Also fun to observe the males behaviors as they wrap things up...flying around with a fish to see if there are any hungry chicks still around. I was also noticing how much the juveniles eye color has changed since they had that intense, rusty color of very young ospreys. Now I am seeing gold eyes...not quite the bright yellow of most adults, and some chicks eyes could be described now as rose gold....just that hint of rosiness left. Pretty. I also notice how the buffy colored tips of the dark feathers are becoming less obvious as the feather edges wear a bit. Many of the chicks seem larger than the adult makes who are feeding them! They have definitely been packing on the pounds! I enjoy watching them in these late season days...drinking in the details, filling the last few pages of my 200 page field journal. Lots of data to sift thru duriing the long cold days of winter. I will go check on our youngest chicks this weekend!

September 9...

The leaves are starting to turn...fall is upon us. I feel the urge to migrate too. I got the big "Fall into the Arts festival" behind me last weekend and I finally had time to return to checking nests again today. I visited 18 nests...and much to my surprise, I found 11 nests had young birds on them! Many nests have been empty on recent visits, but the kids came home to roost today. I have noticed over the years that it seems as if the juveniles, who have been out exploring their worlds since fledging, return to their home base just prior to beginning their migration. I suspect that is what I encountered today. That is certainly not the case with all chicks tho. There are two nests in particular that I have visited over and over, hoping to find a missing chick...but they were not there today either. But I do keep finding some attentive adult males still hanging around. (no adult females seen today). I was watching one male today doing the one eye snooze. Did you know that when they have one eye closed and the other open, they are resting the opposite side of their brain. ie: if the right eye is closed, they are resting the left hemisphere of the brain. This of course allows them to rest while still being on the alert for predators. Some say they can even do this while flying! But I digress... I also spent some time watching our youngest chicks to fledge...still both returning to the nest and I was lucky enough to find their secret hangout! Hard to see from the road, but now I know where they are zooming off to! A fun day in the field...I treasure these final days.

Hungry...

Another funny little vignette from the life of an osprey...I was watching a juvenile in a tree eating a fish leisurely today. Nibbling, looking around. I was hoping to locate his sibling too, so I was just hanging around scanning all the other trees, listening...then suddenly this chick began food begging desperately as he hung onto the remains if the fish he had. Ah...here comes Dad! He lands on the branch right next to the chick with another small fish. The chick starts inhaling the fish he has, trying to quickly make room for more. If any of you have watched ospreys eat you know how they sometimes struggle with the tail piece...a little too big to swallow, but difficult to get a good hold so they can rip and tear Into smaller bites. This guy was struggling...trying to swallow this huge tail piece, but having to spit it back out, repeatedly, all while whining the way chicks do...looking at Dads fish, trying to swallow his tail piece, food begging...as, once again, I started laughing out loud. He finally ripped his fish into smaller bits, as Dad began eating the other fish. Then he managed to finally swallow the end of the tail. He sat there and watched his Dad finish off the other fish. Too late. He whined as the adult male flew off. Ha ha. They are eating machines this time of year.