Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

OCTOBER 12, 2010

The autumn minuet has begun.
One day in mid-September we noticed that the ospreys were simply gone We don't know if they departed en masse or whether they drifted off to their winter homes one by one.
The geese have arrived. By the dozens and by the hundreds, they sail down into the cornfields, and chatter loudly as they peck about for stray kernels. Hunters and their retriever dogs are in the fields, too.  They're hiding their gun blinds beneath mounds of mowed cornstalks.
Cormorants perch on navigation markers and buffle-head ducks bob serenely on the river. In Anchorage Cove, the great blue heron has resumed his patrols of our shoreline. With his ancient foes, the ospreys, gone, he has the salt marshes and tidal flats to himself. He has even flapped up to perch on the ospreys' abandoned nest.  With an intent yellow eye, he looks downriver for signs of the coming winter.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


The days are shorter, but just as hot. Butterflies sip nectar from the flowers and fuzzy brown caterpillars meander across the road. Yesterday we spotted a Canada goose flying low over the marshes.
Downriver, a few nests are still occupied, but ours has been empty for several weeks now.  Ospreys are still here, though.  We've seen them in stands of tall trees on undeveloped land by the river.  They must fish at daybreak, for we never see them soaring over the water.
We miss them.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

AUGUST 5, 2010

We returned from vacation to find an empty nest, and our hearts sank.  But by nightfall the young osprey was there.  Some instruction in fishing seems to have taken place in our absence, for now he flies low over the water in pursuit of a meal. He's not always successful, so occasionally Mama or Papa drops by with a snack.

Monday, July 19, 2010

JULY 19, 2010

We got up Saturday to find the nest empty.  We were devastated at the thought that we might not see the ospreys again, but before long, one glided low over our yard and landed on the nest.  It was the baby! This "baby" is now the size of an adult bird and has a wingspan of about five feet.  The only way we can tell it from its parents is by its mottled brown feathers.
The rest of the weekend it took short practice flights, mostly upriver and then back over our yard.  Mama and Papa, who seemed to have decided on a tough-love approach by staying away from the nest, came back to voice osprey approval, and also to bring fish for the new flyer. The baby had worked up a great appetite.  This morning, after a flying session, we saw Mama breaking off bits of a fish and tenderly offering them to her youngster.

Monday, July 12, 2010

JULY 12, 2010

Clearly, Mama and  Papa think it's time for the second chick to move on.  No doubt they are weary of doing umbrella duty through days of blistering sun and torrential rain.
They try sitting with the chick and bribing it with fish.  They try example:  Papa swoops and soars, Mama splashes in the river.  They fly off in hopes that the chick will wonder where they've gone and come after them.  Papa perches on the antenna of a neighbor's power boat and cheeps encouragement.
The baby's trying to fly, really it is.  Like its sibling, it stands on the edge of the nest and flaps for long minutes.  We get very excited, but the chick always ends by folding its wings and settling back down. Once or twice it's gotten a few inches of air, but it has grasped the nest so tightly that it has taken a few sticks with it.
Of course all activity in the house has ceased as we watch the birds.  Jack has discovered that the best viewing place is from the couch on the sun-porch.  I check the nest every few minutes.  Once I thought I'd missed the great moment, for the nest looked empty, but an inspection with binoculars revealed a feathered head.  Not yet!

JULY 9, 2010

The weather is cooler, and the ospreys' spirits, and ours, have risen.
Jack met a woman in a doctor's office yesterday.  She's a devotee of the eagle webcam at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County.  She assured Jack that raptor chicks hatch up to a week apart, and that their development is similarly uneven.
We now believe that the first chick, which was the size of its parents and which had been faux-flying for some days, did indeed fly away before the very hot weather set in.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

JULY 8, 2010

The 100-degree-plus temperatures in the last week have taken their toll on the ospreys.  Several days ago, we noticed that there was only one chick in the nest.  We're hoping that that's because the other one has fledged.  Papa, too, has been missing, so perhaps they are somewhere together.  We've grown fond of our ospreys and it's distressing to consider the alternative.
Mama shields the chick in the nest by spreading her wings to create shade. As the sun moves, she does, too.  On occasion, she stands on the edge and flaps her wings -- to get a little air moving, we think.  When it's too hot for even that, she tries some osprey ingenuity:  She plunges into the river, splashes around to get good and wet, then flies back to the nest to resume her vigil.
It's a tiny bit cooler today, and we've noticed some fishing going on.  As we've said, eating fish is how ospreys take in liquid.  So we're cautiously optimistic about their well-being.  We're also actually looking forward to a thunderstorm.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

JUNE 30, 2010

The fuzzy baby chicks are now gangly adolescents.  They are almost the size of their parents, and the nest has become a bit snug for the family of four.  Mama and Papa often retreat to a branch on the big ash tree by the river.  There they can keep an eye on the nest, but also have a little space.
The chicks have voracious appetites, and, although their parents hope to encourage independence by not overfeeding, they also spend time fishing to feed the youngsters. The fish also provide the ospreys with water, which they've needed in these mercilessly hot, sunny days.
We've learned to recognize their different fishing styles.  Papa ascends to great heights, then plummets like a bullet into the water, extending his great talons at the last moment.  He snatches a fish and turns it so it's facing forward.  He must know that that will work better aerodynamically. Papa then takes the hapless fish on several soaring, swooping passes over the  nest before he lands.  Mama flaps along the surface of the river, dips quickly and gracefully scoops up a fish.  She returns to the nest with considerably less theatrics.
Flying is likely to come any day now.  The chicks stand on the rim of the nest and flap and flap, sometimes getting a couple inches of air.  Mama and Papa watch with approval.

Friday, June 25, 2010

JUNE 25, 2010

The babies are flapping their wings, and the span is quite impressive.  Now, when Mama flies, they watch  over the top of the nest.  Their turn to fly is coming, any day now.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Saturday, June 19, 2010

JUNE 19, 2010

For some days now, Mama and Papa have been bringing sticks to build up the nest. The babies are getting big. Mama does leave them alone for a few moments, but she still keeps a sharp eye out for intruders: Us, of course, Latte the Cat, and double-heads. These last are skates that swim into the shallows and gambol about. On each side, triangular tips rise above the water, looking like sharks' fins. We haven't seen skates here for several years, and neither, apparently, has Mama Osprey. She starts the "peep peep peep" alarm when she spots one.
The intrepid purple martins find shade on these hot days by perching under the osprey platform.
Papa has resumed dining atop Little Bird's masts, to our dismay. Jack has to hose unappetizing fish remains from the deck and cockpit.
All of us are waiting for a break in the heat and humidity.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

JUNE 8, 2010

Two little dark heads have been sticking up like periscopes for a few days now. Their curved-beak profiles are clearly visible. Mama is still minding the nest, although she does take a brief break from time to time. Papa appears once in a while with a fish. (We are wondering where he is hanging out most of the time.)
Discussion of acquiring a telephoto lens has resumed. You all know how much we like baby pictures.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

MAY 25, 2010

A pair of great blue herons glide by, but the ospreys are too busy to notice.
Mama and Papa stand on the edge of the nest. Mama takes bites of something -- a fish, we hope -- and Papa watches solicitously. Then Mama dips her head into the nest. We think that she is feeding her chicks from the fish she's just pureed in her built-in food processor.
The babies are too small for us to see yet. We'll have to wait a week or so before fuzzy gray heads appear. But we're sure they are there: Mama is spreading her wings over the nest, shading her babies from the strong afternoon sun.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

MAY 23, 2010

We think the baby ospreys are here. Mama and Papa perch on the edge of the nest. They make little darting motions with their heads, as if they're feeding or or grooming their chicks.
Mama, who's been nestbound for some weeks, spreads her great black-and-white wings. She takes off and tries a quick splashdown before circling the nesting platform and landing in a nearby tree. When she's confident that Papa has the situation under control, she flaps away downriver. At last! Girls' Night Out!
Papa babysits. He looks into the nest, then up into the sky, then back into the nest. When night falls, Papa is still keeping his solitary vigil.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

MAY 19, 2010

Mama is still doing nest time 24/7, and appears to be growing tired of it. Her osprey expression -- glaring yellow eyes, down-curved beak -- is even more grim than usual. She is too dispirited even to offer a "peep peep" when we appear in the yard. You mothers out there will know how she feels.

To humor her, Papa brings a fish. With great flourish, he makes several passes over the nest before he lands and presents it to her. Mama downs the fish, leaving a few bites for Papa. He flies away, and she arranges her feathers and resigns herself to egg-sitting.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

MAY 5, 2010

Papa proudly comes home with a fish for Mama. It's the least he can do, since she gets off the eggs only to stretch her wings.
As in most cultures, the best provider is considered to be the most desirable. Last year, when the female was still being coy about her intentions, the male would fly by with a big fish in his talons. That display of prowess, resourcefulness and skill helped the female to make up her mind.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

MAY 1, 2010

Mama is still huddled down in the nest most of the time, but once in a while, she and Papa sit on the edge of the nest and peer in. An animated osprey conversation follows.

Monday, April 19, 2010

APRIL 19, 2010

The eggs must be here!
Mama is hunkered way down in the nest. Papa hovers worriedly.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

APRIL 12, 2009

Mama is doing a lot of nest time.

Friday, April 9, 2010

APRIL 9, 2010

Nest-building continues, with the ospreys, and also with the bluebirds and purple martins who have arrived in the last week.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Saturday, April 3, 2010

April 3, 2010

We decide to photograph the ospreys. Captain Jack dons a bright yellow jacket and drags a deck chair to the water's edge. He sits down with his camera and waits. Of course, the ospreys vanish until he gives up and comes back in the house.
There is much discussion of buying a telephoto lens and/or a tripod. I bring up the fact that ospreys are supposed to get accustomed to seeing certain people (Such as the people who put up the platform for them!) and will accept their presence. Last year, though, that never happened.
So far this year, the notoriously observant birds (See "eyes like a hawk".) have spotted us sneaking around the corner of the garage and have sounded their annoyed "peep peep peep." Our appearance on our deck drives them to take flight. The only place they're not bothered by our presence is...the top of a mast. They've figured out that the windsock is not threatening, and also, that "Little Bird," docked next to our sloop "Kykuit Voyager," is a ketch and therefore has TWO masts to perch on.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

MARCH 28, 2010

The male osprey has remembered his favorite perch. It's 53 feet above the cove and offers a 360-degree view of water, land and sky. It's the top of our sailboat's mast. Captain Jack is not pleased. Last year, he had to contend with fishbones littering the cockpit and guano soiling the canvas. He tries last year's trick -- a windsock. So far so good. Ospreys, who will dive-bomb bald eagles who come too close to their nest, are frightened by fluttering cloth.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

MARCH 27, 2010

Ospreys fish in Anchorage Cove. They drop from great heights to splash into the river and to come up with a fish in their talons. A bald eagle is fishing, too, and a great blue heron paces up and down the water’s edge. A cormorant rises and beats its wings against the water.

MARCH 26, 2010

Nest-building begins! A few sticks from last year’s nest remain, and the female has tamped down the grass in the center. The male takes off on low-flying reconnaissance missions and most times comes back with a 3-to-4-foot stick.

He places it awkwardly on the nest, and more than once, it falls into the water. The female retrieves it and the male goes off again.

The platform is the preferred nest site from the human perspective, but not necessarily from the ospreys’. They build nests in channel markers and buoys, and atop telephone poles. Last year, an adventurous pair assembled a nest over the traffic lights on the Miles River Bridge. One day it was gone and we suspected that road crews had removed it. For a day or two, we saw puzzled-looking ospreys wondering what had happened, and then in another day or two, they rebuilt the nest. This time it stayed.

A three-hour power outage on the Miles River Neck this morning was blamed on nest-building ospreys.

MARCH 25, 2010

The male arrives! He, too, has flown hundreds of miles from his winter habitat in South America. There is a joyful reunion, with amorous aerial acrobatics and with the male perching on the back of the larger female.

MARCH 21, 2010

The osprey settles into her nest. This is the second year she has been here. The platform, put up in 2008, had some interested shoppers but no buyers the first year. Last year, though, a new couple – probably a pair of young ospreys who had themselves been hatched nearby – moved in and raised two chicks. That same pair is back this year. The female, who has flown from her winter home in South or Central America, or the Caribbean, arrives first. When she sees us, she sounds the alarm by an annoyed “peep peep peep.” Then she flies off, hoping to distract us from noticing her nest. When we go inside, she goes back to the nest.

MARCH 10, 2010

The osprey flies straight up the Miles River, her great black wings flapping in the gray morning sky. Over Buzzards Roost Cove, she hesitates and makes a swooping circle or two to get her bearings. She recognizes houses, trees and bright red and green navigation marks on the river. Confidently, she wheels north for the final half-mile of her long journey. She sees a nest of sticks set on a wooden platform at the edge of Anchorage Cove. She has found her summer home.

This year she has arrived early. Local lore has it that St. Patrick’s Day is when the first ospreys come.

MARCH 9, 2010

The geese head north in the light of the setting sun, making ragged V’s across the sky. They have spent the winter, hundreds of them, in Anchorage Cove, a well-known hurricane hole on the Miles River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

It has been a hard winter for the geese, the deer, the foxes and rabbits. Several snowstorms dumped more than three feet of snow on the fields where the birds and animals find the corncobs and grain left behind by harvesters the previous fall. Fierce winds blew down trees. Thick ice covered the cove.

Buffle-head ducks splashed in the water under a dock where an ice-breaker bubbled to keep boats from being frozen in the ice. Tundra swans, rarely seen on the Miles River, tucked themselves into fluffy white pillows on the ice.

But now the snow is gone. The sun is higher in the sky and garden plants are beginning to sprout.