Good morning from the soggy Eastern Shore of Maryland! Well, well, well, this blog is not going to be what was promised. In anticipation of being in our waiting and watching phase of the 2020 osprey season, I had good intentions of finally providing everyone a treatise describing the history of our osprey nest. But the best laid plans of mice and men, etc. etc. etc. stopped me in my tracks. The history blog will have to wait for next time.
When last we met, the countdown for the arrival of our eggs was getting close to the end, and Audrey did not disappoint. She laid three lovely eggs starting on April 17. Unlike in years past when her eggs were produced every two days, this year her eggs arrived three days apart. The last two eggs appeared in the nest on April 20 and 23, and there was great joy in the land (ospreyland, that is). Everything seemed to be going according to plan until Mother Nature thwarted our uneventful incubation timeline.
Before everything went kaflooey, things were normal here at the secret location. Tom and Audrey were doing their osprey thing, building the nest, fishing, eating and making osprey babies.
Here is Tom on the dock one house to the south of us. You can see the buff coloring on the back of his head. Do you think this fish was big enough? Plenty for everyone, no doubt!
I think this fish was as big as Tom!
Tom and Audrey were still on speaking terms, and enjoyed hanging out together.
Tom and Audrey practicing social distancing in the scraggly stick tree during the stay at home order in Maryland
Tom and Audrey not practicing social distancing during the stay at home order in Maryland
Pop quiz: Which osprey is which in the below photo? Make Mrs. COM and Poppy proud!
One of these heads is not like the other
In 2017, dastardly crows destroyed all three eggs in our nest. Here was a portend of things to come in 2020.
Tom with the remains of a fish and a dastardly crow hoping for some leftovers
Crows are very intelligent creatures, and never hang around when humans come to call. Mrs. COM’s presence did not go unnoticed by the crow, and he fled the scene for the time being.
Tom is yapping, either at the departing crow or the arriving Mrs. COM or the double whammy of the crow and Mrs. COM
Tom is contemplating his next move
Audrey is waiting patiently for Tom to bring her a meager offering
Over the years, all sorts of unusual items have made their way into the nest, natural and man made. There was some discussion earlier in the season about some black fabric that appeared in the nest in large quantities. This fabric is filter cloth from our rip rap, the stone revetment protecting our shoreline. The filter cloth is placed over the bare bank before the rocks are laid to form the rip rap. Here is the top of the rip rap with some of the filter cloth showing.
Filter cloth at the top of our rip rap, probably with some pieces missing
The filter cloth under the rip rap between the lawn and the rocks. Look familiar?
So that mystery is solved for you!
One of these days, I am going to capture a really good photo of the “sparklies”, one of my favorite phenomenon that occurs on the water when the wind, wave action and sunlight come together just right. I give this photo a C+ in the sparklies category, and will continue to try and amaze you with the perfect sparklies shot.
Still trying for that perfect sparklies photo. This is not it
I take a vast quantity of photos when I am in proximity of my camera and the great outdoors. Over the years, I have determined that sometimes you are good, sometimes you are lucky, and sometimes good and lucky come together. On April 9, Tom and Audrey were both out fishing and came back to the scraggly stick tree to dry out. Sometimes stay-at-home orders turn out okay, especially when you get to witness something special.
More togetherness. Tom and Audrey drying out in the scraggly stick tree one house to the north of us
I absolutely love these photos, so you are going to have to bear with me. I took a few dozen, so consider yourself lucky with only five. Their coloring looks different with wet feathers, don’t you think?
Wings down on the left and right. Max tail spread on the right
Wings up on the left, but that tail isn’t spread for maximum drying
Dual preening or The Tale of the Headless Osprey
Something has caught the attention of Tom and Audrey. They are both looking to their right (our left)
In the below photo, the buff head is visible on the osprey to the left. Can you identify the osprey? Hint: If you figured it out earlier in the blog, you’ve got it now. Good luck!
Whatever they are looking at has continued to their right.
Nest building has slowed down considerably, but will continue throughout the season with fortifications. Our ospreys will NEVER run out of building materials.
One of our stick lockers. There is another one around a tree in the side yard. These weeds picked the right tree to grow under, most of them are safe from pulling hands
Here is Tom picking up a green marked stick from the back yard. Unfortunately, the camera focused on the water and not the bird, but you get the idea. Picking up stick photos are very hard to capture.
Tom headed back to the nest with a green marked stick, a little late for St. Patty’s Day
The weather on the Eastern Shore of Maryland during April was just plain miserable. It was one of the coldest and wettest Aprils on record in these parts. The conditions adversely affected Tom’s ability to catch enough fish to satiate his own needs as well as Audrey’s. As a result of the poor fishing conditions, Audrey left the nest and eggs unattended for extended periods of time. In osprey hierarchy, Tom has to eat first, as he provides sustenance to his family. If Tom can’t catch fish and doesn’t eat, he will not be able to catch enough fish to feed his family. Those of you who have been with us before this year are aware of Tom’s nickname, given to him by Craig Koppie in 2015 due to Tom’s fishing prowess. Calico Tom The Fishing Fool has been a sight to behold when the conditions allow. This spring, the conditions have been abysmal, leading to the lack of fish. This is not the fault of Tom, as he is an exceptional fisherman (is fisherbird a word?). But the lack of fish and the harsh weather conditions have caused Audrey to leave the nest, both to catch fish and to protect herself from the elements. The well-being of the adult ospreys has to trump the well-being of any eggs or chicks to ensure the survival of the species. This is what we have been seeing at the nest in April, Mother Nature doing her osprey thing.
There are a couple of problems that ensue when the eggs are left unattended. One obvious one is that the eggs are not being incubated. In May 2016, Audrey left the nest for well over a day. Tom did the best he could, and stayed on the eggs overnight. He had to leave to fish and eat the next morning. With the temperature at forty seven degrees, the eggs remained unattended for seven hours in the pouring rain. I highly recommend that you go back in the archives of my blogs, and read “Beautiful Noise”, published May 12, 2016 as well as “History In The Making”, published May 31, 2016. Both of these blogs are quite apropos for what is happening at the nest now, and should provide some solace to us all. Experts in the osprey field were contacted back then, and their insight was quite helpful in answering questions that we had then and now. If you want to know what happened to the eggs that May, you will have to read it for yourself!
The second and more immediate problem when there are no adult ospreys in the nest is predators. After losing all three eggs to crows in 2017, we have tried to address what can be done to discourage them from attacking the eggs when the nest is unoccupied. There will be more about the crow threat later in the blog.
You have seen many photos of some of the beautiful days at the secret location, and some photos when the weather was dreary and damp. On April 13, the weather was downright terrible.
Tom and Audrey together in the scraggly stick tree during a very stormy Friday the Thirteenth. Check out the high tide under the dock one house to the north of us
As the weather got worse, the wind and wave action steadily increased. Once the rain began in earnest, I had to retreat inside and couldn’t take any more photos.
The same dock as in the above photo a little while later
This is our dock as the weather worsened. COM had to turn off the camera, as the circuit box is down low on the dock and was getting drenched. The purple martin house also had to be lowered due to the high winds.
Waves crashing over our dock
The violent storm passed, but the weather remained cold and wet most of the time. By April 23, Audrey had presented us with three beautiful eggs laid three days apart.
Tom in the scraggly stick tree during a rare bout of sunshine on April 21
Closer view of Tom in the scraggly stick tree with a good view of his eye markings
On April 27 while the nest was unattended, I saw a crow land in the nest and start messing with the eggs. I screamed to COM, and he ran into his office where our dedicated explore computer is located. One of the features of our newest camera is a two-way speaker/microphone system, which allows us to hear what is going on at the nest. The operative word here is two-way. In addition to the camera viewers being able to hear what is going on at the nest, we are able to speak into a microphone by the computer and our voices can be heard at the nest. This is a feature that we hoped could be used to scare off any predators, but had not been tested in action. COM activated the microphone, yelled into it, and voila, the dastardly crow flew off in great haste! We were thrilled! If there had been a bottle of champagne handy, a locker room scene after winning a championship would have been in order. But since it was just us and someone would have had to clean up the mess, a hearty “We did it!!!” sufficed. The crow was not seen again at the nest and much to everyone’s relief, Audrey returned later that day. A true team effort, and a disaster was averted for the time being. If no one had been home or we hadn’t noticed the crow, the outcome may have been different.
On April 29, with another bad storm looming the following day, Tom had an encounter in the straggly stick tree with the dastardly crows, whose numbers seemed to be mounting in the area.
Tom with a big, bloody fish and two lurking crows in the scraggly stick tree. Not Tom’s best side, but the fish was impressive
Tom is giving the closest crow an earful. The fish has nothing to say
A better angle for Tom. The fish has seen better days
On April 30, another very bad storm hit our area. Before the storm really got cranked up, I managed to take some video of what was going on at the secret location. The video starts on our screened porch. I have never posted a video on one of my blogs, so this is an experiment. The wind was buffeting my phone, and made it difficult to steady. Please let me know what you think about posting videos.
During the storm, neither Tom or Audrey was on the nest, so the eggs were exposed to the elements. Although it wasn’t very cold, it was extremely windy and rainy. We experienced steady winds in the 30’s and 40’s, with gusts in the 50’s. The highest gust recorded on our anemometer was 59 miles per hour. That’s a lot of wind!
The next morning, it was still raining and miserable. It was a great day to stay in one’s robe and slippers, so I took advantage of that opportunity. The nest was still unattended by Tom or Audrey. As COM had some essential work to perform, he needed to leave the house in the morning. Due to the storm the day before, the camera was still out. A little while later, I looked out the window, and much to my horror, saw two crows poking at the eggs. Osprey Girl has been home due to the pandemic, and later said she heard me screaming, “Crows, crows!” After the first crow attack, COM decided we needed a back-up deterrent in case the speaker microphone malfunctioned, and he purchased a very large air horn. That turned out to be a really, really good decision, because when I saw the crows (two of them this time), the microphone was not working due to the storm. I flew out of the house, grabbed the air horn off the porch, and ran into the yard screaming at the crows and blasting the air horn. Now mind you, all this was happening in the pouring rain with me in my flapping pink bathrobe and slippers (not waterproof in any sense of the word). I am fairly certain the crows started to fly away before I blasted the air horn. I guess that flapping robe was scary enough on its own to send them on their way, bolstered by the industrial strength air horn. If any photos were taken of me that morning, I will pay very good money to my neighbors to take them out of circulation.
Unfortunately, I was not able to deter the crows before they destroyed one of the eggs, which turned out to be the second of the three eggs that was laid. But if I hadn’t seen the crows out the window, and if COM hadn’t purchased the air horn, the outcome could have been way more melancholy. As it stands, we will just have to wait and see what the future holds for our clutch of two eggs. We should know either way by the end of May, so stay tuned.
Back to Tom’s great fishing adventure, which occurred earlier in the morning of the second crow attack. Tom had been out fishing in the rain. I saw him dive and hit the water, but he just floated there and didn’t fly away with his catch. As I watched for a minute, he kept trying to fly out of the water, but was unable to get airborne. I realized that he must have caught a fish that was too big to lift. As I was still in my robe, I asked COM if he would take some photos before he left. Despite the rain, he was able to memorialize Tom’s great catch.
Tom floating out in the water about two hundred yards off shore
Try as he may, Tom couldn’t get out of the water
Tom seemed to be trying to pull a fish out of the water.
We were afraid Tom would get pulled under. He couldn’t get airborne
All the commotion caught another osprey’s attention. The identity of this osprey couldn’t be determined due to the distance and weather conditions
Heavily cropped photo of Tom trying to fly with his catch. Check out the size of that fish
We were really concerned about Tom and his inability to get airborne with his catch. Then the most amazing thing happened. He began to swim to shore, dragging his catch beneath him.
Tom realizes he is not going to be able to fly with his catch, and starts stroking his wings and heading for shore
Side view of Tom swimming to shore. He is stroking with his wings in the manner of a breast stroke
Still stroking with his catch in his talons underwater
Doing the breast stroke as the rain falls. He does not want to lose this fish
Tom finally made it to the rip rap where he eventually ate Moby Dick.
After trying to fly out of the water and realizing he couldn’t, Tom swam about two hundred yards to shore, dragging the fish the entire way. In all the years we have been observing ospreys and their behavior, this was one of the most incredible sights we have ever seen. Look at the size of that fish! Tom rested on the rip rap a very long time before he recovered enough strength to start ripping apart his catch.
Later in the day, Tom spent some time on the dock next door with a piece of fish and some unwanted company.
The crows are everywhere
Looks like Tom is giving the crow an earful. The crow is thinking that Tom is way better than a woman in a pink robe with an air horn
Tom is keeping an eye on the dastardly crow
The crow has left. Tom is wondering if he will get a chance to see the robe. He is hoping his bloody mess won’t keep it away
Audrey is back in the nest and is seemingly nonplussed. Welcome back, Audrey, we missed you!
Something has been flying from the end of the filter cloth flag.
There is something skinny and green flying from the filter cloth hanging from the left of the nest. We’ll keep an eye on it
On May 2, Tom continued to live up to his fishing fool moniker. All he needed was a little decent weather, and he was ready to fish.
Tom on the dock one house to the south of us with a nice catch. Check out his left rear talon, great shot of how he hangs on to those fish in flight (and underwater!)
Ready for a big bite. Remember to chew your food, Tom!
No vote needed for this poop shot, finally captured one that counts
This is what normalcy looks like here at the secret location. Whew!
A towering Tom and a hunkered down Audrey. Finally a bucolic moment for our feathered friends
Something startled both of them a few seconds later.
What was that?
Tom decided he needed to check things out.
Tom en route to the north
So everything seems back to normal for now. We experienced another nasty thunderstorm last night, but everything seems fine this morning. There are lots of cute little purple martins flitting around checking out our new purple martin house on the dock. We have been waiting to see them for weeks, and are so pleased they have finally discovered their new digs.
I will leave you not with sunrise photos, but two moon photos for your viewing pleasure.
An April full moon lighting a path on the water
Later the same evening, Tom and Audrey are silhouetted by the light of the moon shining on the water.
A peaceful night at the secret location. This is how we love to see Tom and Audrey
Please stay safe, everyone! Thanks ever so much to all of those who are keeping us safe and fed during these trying times. And another shout-out to COM for doing everything he can to keep our ospreys safe. Until next time, we remain-
Crazy Osprey Man, Mrs. Crazy Osprey Man and Osprey Girl
If you are enjoying the osprey camera and blog, please consider a donation to the Chesapeake Conservancy so they are able to continue supporting programs such as this one. Go to http://chesapeakeconservancy.org today. Thanks very much!