Thursday, March 31, 2011

MARCH 31, 2011

Nursing a bad back, Jack steers Little Bird to the osprey nest.  He pokes at the platform with 1. A boat hook,  and 2. A long, pliable pole of unspecified origin, the type found in abundance in our boat shed.  He collects the bird's feathers and bones in a bucket, and sweeps the platform clean.  He makes an appointment with the doctor for his backache.

After he sees the doctor, Jack takes the bucket to Chesapeake Wildlife Heritage.  A chipper and knowledgeable young woman there says the remains are those of a mature osprey.

Jack floats my theory that, with her mate gone, another male has taken up with the female.

"That could be true," says the young woman.  "Male ospreys have been known to step out."

She has another idea:  The osprey was killed by an owl.  Weak after its long migration, it was an easy target.  The owl took the osprey to the platform to finish it off.

Jack asks if the dead bird could have been our male.  The pair out there now are more subdued than they were.  Perhaps the female is mourning.

"It's more likely the wedding cake factor," the young woman replies cheerfully. "The initial excitement wears off fast."

This morning, the ospreys get back to the business of nest-building.  Jack reported that their second attempt (the first nest was cleaned away by Chesapeake Wildlife Heritage) was messy, filled with cornstalks and other debris.  Today they're gathering sticks -- two- and three-foot sticks.  They set them carefully in place.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

MARCH 29, 2011

Still baffled by the dead bird in the osprey nest, we call Chesapeake Wildlife Heritage.  Everyone opines at length, but we reach no conclusions.  They say that for a fee they will come out and opine some more.  Of course the Scots in the family decline.  They say we had better get out there and get that dead bird out of the nest. It's mating season, and the ospreys shouldn't be distracted.

We wonder if we can reach the nesting platform, about 15 feet above the water, from Little Bird, our ketch.

The ospreys flap and cheep-cheep and cozy up to each other.  We don't think they're distracted.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

MARCH 27, 2011 -- LATER

We're going to have to call in CSI Eastern Shore.  This case gets curiouser and curiouser.

Late this afternoon, both ospreys returned. They were in a fine mood, and we were very relieved. They seemed not at all surprised or dismayed at the presence of a dead bird in their nest.

The dangling bones appear to have come from the wings of a very large bird.  One remaining dark feather turns in the breeze.

So we wonder:  Ospreys are notoriously territorial, and as far as we know, they respect each others' boundaries.  We don't think they killed another osprey.  They might have killed a great blue heron.  Herons, for all their fierce appearance, are shy birds.  They don't socialize, especially with ospreys.  There is -- or was -- at least one heron in Anchorage Cove.

We estimate the time of death to be between 9 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. Sunday. We were here the whole time and we surely would have heard any ruckus. The hulking bird we saw this morning must have been one of the ospreys, its feathers puffed for warmth in the cold air.  The corpse was not in the nest yesterday evening.  By this morning it had appeared.

And -- How did that bird get into the ospreys' nest?  It was too big for the ospreys to have carried. A heron did sit on the nest last fall to look for fish, but that was long after the ospreys had flown south. Since ospreys eat only fresh fish, what reduced the bird, whatever it was, to a carcass?

(I was worried I wasn't going to have anything new to write about this year!)

MARCH 27, 2011

We are trying to remember what we saw.  When we got up this morning, a  large, dark bird was hulking over the nest.  Beside it was a smaller figure that also looked like a bird.  Absorbed with the Sunday papers, we didn't give it a lot of thought.

By early afternoon, the large bird was gone and the smaller shape had not moved.  Jack went out on the dock to investigate. The shape is a bird that looks much like a decapitated osprey.  Large bones are caught in the sticks hanging over the edge of the nesting platform.

Overhead an osprey wheels in the sky, then drops to the nest.  We think it's the female.  She stands for a long moment on the corpse.  She looks about as if she's trying to understand what has happened. Then she takes to the skies again.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

MARCH 24, 2011

The female is sitting on her nest in the gray morning light.  Suddenly she spots a black speck coming up the river.  Her attention -- and ours -- is riveted.  The osprey takes off and flies downriver toward the speck, which veers inland about a half-mile away.  The female returns to her nest, arranges her wing feathers and settles in.  We all are glum.

"Look who's here!" Jack cries this afternoon as I walk through the door.  I am pleased, but puzzled, at his effusive greeting until I realize it was not for me.  The male is back.

Outside are much flapping, joyous peep-peeping and a renewed enthusiasm for gathering sticks for the nest.  Inside, there is palpable relief.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

MARCH 22, 2011

Two men arrive from Chesapeake Wildlife Heritage.  They conclude instantly that to straighten the pole they need to jettison the nest.  Before I can protest (as a female, I resent this waste of the osprey’s time and effort), the nest is gone, the pole is upright and the osprey is nowhere to be seen.  I think she must be furious that her handiwork was destroyed in such a cavalier manner, but Jack assures me the Wildlife guys said ospreys prefer to build a fresh nest every couple of years.  I am dubious, but the men are right.  Soon the osprey returns to the platform with a twig.  By nightfall, a number of sticks are in place.

MARCH 17, 2011

The rope is in place and the osprey doesn’t seem to care.  The pole is still bent and she doesn't seem to
care about that, either. The first few days she was here, she went fishing in her graceful way of skimming the water.  Now she’s picking at the nest and making swooping missions to our neighbors’ shoreline to find twigs.
She casts a worried eye downriver.  Where is he?

MARCH 14, 2011

The osprey is here.  She’s sitting atop her nesting platform as we take our morning coffee and newspapers out to the sunporch. 
We’re delighted to see her, of course, but we wish she’d waited a few days more. Gale-force winter winds and moving ice floes have bent the platform pole.  We had intended to straighten it before she arrived.
Now we feel guilty.  This bird has just flown from Costa Rica and we were too lazy to have readied her summer home.
The osprey goes fishing as we discuss what to do.  Should we tie a rope to the pole and then to the dock to pull it straight?  Will the osprey, which is irked by even the smallest change in her environment, abandon the nest?  Should we call Chesapeake Wildlife Heritage, the people who installed the platform?