Friday, July 25, 2014

Fledging drama...

The story for today...I checked nests all day and planned to end at a nest where I was told that the first chick has fledged this morning. When I arrived at about 4 pm, the gentleman who is watching that nest told me that the chick had tried to land on the top of the antenna on a cell tower and then slid down into the cell tower itself. The chick was down amongst the cables and well below the top of the tower, with many panels around her. Our first concern was whether her feet were caught in the cables or wires. After looking from every angle we determined she was free and appeared to be uninjured. But she was just perched there looking around, as if she was trapped in a cage. I watched or over two hours...chick did not seem to be making any effort to extricate herself. Dinner was served on the nest to the other chick. That did not seem to motivate this one. Finally at 6 pm I went home for some dinner and tried to figure out what to do. No cell tower employee would come out on a Saturday. I went back at 7pm and the chick had not moved. But her interest in getting back to the nest was increasing. She finally started turning around and trying to stretch her wings...but they hit on the mechanics of the cell tower. She turned around several times, looking up, looking down. She finally hopped a little closer to the edge of the tower. Stood there nervously for quite a while, trying to flap her wings in tight quarters. Then she went back to the center of the tower. Argh! Then Dad flew past with a fish. Now this chick had been stuck here for at least 4.5 hours and she was hungry...so she went back to the edge of the tower and looked down, put her wings out, retreated a bit, then finally, with me whispering "just do it", she took the leap and was out of there and flying loops which eventually led her back to her nest at 8:30. She began hollering loudly for food, and when Dad came quickly she grabbed that fish before the other chick had a chance and began inhaling it. Whew. Suddenly I was exhausted...probably from holding my breath. So there you go...that's what I go thru at fledging time! Thanks to Perry for his observations and concern over this young bird. All is well that ends well. I found several other chicks that had fledged also at other nests and one that could not be located tho I searched for quite a while. I will keep looking to confirm successful fledging.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fledging...

I was able to eeek out a little time to visit a few nests today. I am happy to report the first chicks have begun fledging in recent days. Now our monitoring work can be a real challenge...Locating young birds, and trying to confirm that they get back to the nest successfully. A chick disappearing from a nest cannot be considered a successful fledge! This is the time when I listen for food begging coming from the ground. A chick that flies a little too soon can wind up on the ground and adults will not usually feed them there. If left there overnight they may be predated. They are very vulnerable. I also search nearby trees, lights, power poles, looking for chicks near the nest. I am happiest when I observe them flying and they make it back to the nest safely. If you watch enough ospreys you will recognize a newly fledged chick...they work much harder at flying than the adults...flapping faster, making very awkward landings...sometimes ending with a face plant. They also can circle endlessly trying to figure out how to stop! I have concluded that flying is easy, landing is hard.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Learning to rip and tear, and more losses...

Another nest visited today has lost two chicks, one nest had lost one chick and one had failed. The losses continue. I observed five extra ospreys circling, calling, chasing above one nest. I was amused to watch one little guy on his nest alone, trying to figure out how to rip and tear a fish on his own. He was barely five weeks old and did not really have strong enough feet to hold the fish as he tried to take a bite...so every time he pulled up the whole piece of fish came up. He kept toddling around the nest carrying this fish piece in his beak, like if he found the right spot on the nest, this would be easier. It was charming, but why was he alone? His Dad was in a tree, tho he eventually took off to chase a turkey vulture who got too close to the nest. I did notice a lot of flies at this nest and a chick was missing here...so there may have been a dead chick up there. The female arrived with a fish and fed the chick and then left again. I searched for the adults and could not spot them anywhere. I will recheck this nest this weekend. I am more puzzled this year than usual. I am finding a lot of chicks alone, a lot of females fishing...perhaps fishing is harder due to high water and males are being less successful.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Highs and lows of field work...

It was a day full of highs and lows. I visited one nest this morning where I had noted one chick missing about ten days ago, and today I saw something I had not noticed  then. The decayed remains of a chick hanging from the nest. How could  I not notice it last time? Hard to believe. Or did the chick die on the nest and the parents just pushed it over the edge? I am not sure, but it was a very sad sight. I was also deeply concerned that the single remaining chick was alone on the nest. No adults anywhere in sight. I waited for a long 35 minutes, my anxiety rising, thinking about how we could rescue this chick...when the male arrived with a fish. Whew! But what happened to the female? Another five minutes and the female arrived with a fish! The male dropped his fish and left and the chick and Mom had a feast. I proceeded on to check about 15 nests and I found extra ospreys flying around at six of them, including intruders trying to land on nests and being chased away. A lot of chaos. I stopped at the nest where two chicks disappeared/died as a result of a probable Great Horned Owl attack. Not an osprey in sight...so quiet.  I visited another nest that had three chicks last week but only one today. This chick was also alone when I arrived, because the female had gone fishing. The male was never seen, but the female returned with a big fish and they also feasted. I do not know what happened to the other two chicks.  If the male is gone, the female may have had too much difficulty feeding three chicks on her own. I also confirmed another chick missing from a nest that had two big healthy chicks last Thursday, but only one could be located today. Both adults present. Last week they were hopping and flapping...preparing to fledge, and now one of them is gone. I did not want to look for a body as the remaining chick is close to fledging and I did not want to frighten the chick into  jumping too soon. I can only guess about what happened at this nest. I also took a peek at a nest that had three lovelies a few days ago, but one of them died suddenly when they went to band them. I was not present but there may be a necropsy done to determine the cause of death. The remaining two chicks looked healthy today. The  last three nests I visited all had the right number of chicks present and accounted for. It was a relief.  And I did observe one nest that actually had one more chick than I originally thought! Celebrate! More nests tomorrow...

July 15...

Well, it is turning into a catastrophic year for the ospreys. More chicks are dead or missing, nests are empty, the head count diminishes. I will be checking as many nests as I can in the coming days. Volunteers, please check nests and count heads more frequently if you are able. And we have not yet gotten to the usual mortalities which occur around fledging time. As I have said in the past, Ospreys are an indicator species so when their productivity decreases, we need to pay attention. We need to look at this carefully...there are always ups and downs from year to year, but this feels different. We will see what the final outcomes are...and we will compare our data to other states, other researchers.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Banding...

I have attended a few bandings in the past few days and most chicks are looking very good and healthy. However we have come upon two chicks at different nests that had a large number of black flies swarming and crawling on them. Vanilla was applied to one of them as this is believed to help keep the flies away, and the other had both vanilla and some essential oil bug repellant applied. It is not known if this will really help. I will try to keep my eye on these nests to see if those chicks survive to fledging. I also found another chick missing from a nest today. We may never know for sure what occurred there. It is easy to blame black flies this year, but there are many causes for mortalities. 
PS...july 13: another long day in the field. Sad to report that one of the chicks who had black flies on him last Thursday is now missing from the nest and presumed dead. Another nest that had just one chick is now empty. It's a challenging year for the ospreys.



Friday, July 11, 2014

Pre-fledging behaviors...

I am starting to see pre-fledging behaviors now on some nests. Older chicks are flapping their wings and hopping with exuberance. For some reason when I see them flapping, I count the flaps...am getting up over 30 flaps in a row as they build strength in those beautiful long wings. Chicks fledge at about 55 days...males tend to fly sooner than females and there is some difference bird to bird. Nothing hard and set about exactly when they take that leap. It sometimes seems as if a gust of wind takes away a young bird who was only intending to do some flapping...but, like it or not, is suddenly airborne. After 21 years of watching these first flights I have concluded that flying is not that hard, landing is! Sometimes they fly around in loops, as if trying to figure out how the heck to get back to the nest and stop! It often ends with a face plant on the nest. Haven't figured out the brakes. By this time the young birds are almost as large as the adults...do you how to tell them apart?