Osprey Time

Some of what I’m about to share may be familiar to you. I’ve been telling the story of the Osprey pair for a while now. It’s an interesting one because so few of these birds nest in south central PA (though that may be changing). It’s interesting, too, because I’ve been given access to property not far from the nest and am able to tell some of the story with photos.

Male and female Osprey
Male and female Osprey

We’re going to begin, not where we left off at the end of “Two Days in August,” but on the day I discovered the nest.

The Nest Site

When I first spotted the nest site back in April, I thought the pair were building a nest on a single board. I couldn’t imagine how, but that’s what I thought. Then I realized they were building it on 2 boards that were parallel. At the end of “Photos and Commentary,” I described what I saw this way: “The nest is actually on a crossarm between 2 utility poles. The crossarm consists of 2 boards that are like floor joists. There’s a small space between them, and the nest is being built in that space. Engineering at its finest.” I was impressed.

Then, in early July, I discovered there was “more to the story.” As often happens, I made the discovery by examining a photo—a photo I took on a whim. Not only did the birds build the nest on those “joists,” but they built it right at the midpoint and just above the hardware that holds everything together. They also built it in the spot where 2 cables attach. In other words, they built it in a place that provided maximum space and support. I was impressed even more. 

Female Osprey landing
Female Osprey landing

To top that off, the birds whose diets consists almost entirely of live fish built their nest next to a farm pond, a half-mile from a trout stream, and 5 miles from a major river. And they built it in an area where there’s an abundance of natural and manmade nest materials.

Male Osprey
Male Osprey

I said this before, but to my mind, these behaviors point to the birds’ intelligence, or at least to their ability to plan and problem-solve.

The Mission

Of course, the birds chose a site and built a nest in order to produce young within a certain timeframe. Watching them, you could tell how well they understood that mission and also how committed they were to fulfilling it. I kept nesting diaries on OspreyWatch and recorded this on 6/4, a little less than a month after the eggs were laid: “Observed nest this a.m. The male was on a tear bringing nesting material to the nest. Back and forth, back and forth.” Here’s the photo that accompanied. And yes, Ospreys will continue to build after egg-laying begins.

Male Osprey
Male Osprey

I recorded this a little later on 6/13, a week or so before the eggs hatched: “Visited in the early evening. I managed to catch the male as he arrived from the east and delivered a fish to his mate. He’d already eaten its head. I then watched as he flew east again to get more fish. Then, before she’d eaten a thing and in an act of nest defense, the female took off from the nest and circled and called just above me. She then returned.” Here’s the delivery and drop-off photo. You can barely see the female—a sure sign she’s on eggs.

Male and female Osprey
Male and female Osprey

Nest Defense

Few things are more important in the lives of breeding birds than defending their nests from threats. This is something many of us don’t realize. The female clearly saw me as one even though I was keeping my distance. And both birds saw this bird as one when it showed up out of the blue just a few days before the hatch date, which was 6/20. This is likely an unattached male trying to see if he could take over the nest and replace the male. Note his aggressive posture. His flight had been level to this point.

Male Osprey
Male Osprey

As he hung above the nest, both occupants stood their ground and never gave chase, which is usually what happens. 

Osprey pair fending off an intruder
Osprey pair fending off an intruder

The intruder quickly got the message and moved on. 

Osprey pair fending off an intruder
Osprey pair fending off an intruder

A Different Bird

Let’s wrap this up with a photo of a different bird. In “Two Days in August” I stated how hard it was to capture Belted Kingfishers. I shared a flight shot of an adult male that I called a “near miss.” A week ago, and using a faster shutter speed and steadier hand, I got another opportunity. But this time the photo was one I could be reasonably proud of. Nice side view, creamy background, even lighting, and sharp. And the bird wasn’t flying away from me.

Male Belted Kingfisher
Male Belted Kingfisher

And This Just In

If you’re interested, here’s the EXIF/image file data for the kingfisher shot: Canon EOS R5 EF500mm f/4L IS II USM 500mm f/5 1/2500s 400 ISO. I took it at 8:15 a.m.

Here’s something else you should know about the Osprey nest. It’s next to a busy interstate, above an active rail line, and close to city roadways. If the birds ever ran into trouble providing their own transportation, they wouldn’t have to look far for help.

Quip, Question, Quote

“Whenever I head out with my camera, I want to stay out long enough to tell a story.” A short excerpt from a talk I gave.

“Photography can bring us closer to birds and enable us to tell inspiring and powerful stories about them. Their beauty, diversity, and intelligence make them fascinating subjects for any photographer.” From a Cornell Lab bird photography course promo

This is part one of “Osprey Time.” Thank you for reading! We’ll learn more about the birds, their young, other challenges they faced, etc., in part two. Please stay tuned.

Female Osprey
Female Osprey

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