Sunday, March 28, 2010
Saturday, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.