Who’s Your Daddy?

Good evening from the breezy, no, that would be windy, Eastern Shore of Maryland!  Well, I guess there is never a dull moment here at the secret location.  Just when we were looking forward to a nice, normal third season, BAM!  The drama is starting early this year.  After Audrey returned from her winter vacation a little earlier than last year, we were all waiting with bated breath for the return of her faithful companion, Tom.  But lo and behold, a great osprey mystery ensued!

Audrey waiting for her Prince Charming

Audrey waiting for her Prince Charming

As most of the regular blog readers and ospreycam watchers are probably aware, there have been many questions as to the true identity of our male osprey this season.  I have conducted a detailed analysis of Facebook postings and blog comments, and consulted with Dr. Paul Spitzer and Dr. Rob Bierregaard.  In addition, I have spent many hours (which I don’t have to be looking at birds) observing the ospreys at our nest.  Here at the secret location, we have the advantage of being able to view images from the nest directly from the camera without the images coming across the internet.  Our enhanced view makes it a little easier to ascertain subtle differences between visitors and residents at the nest.  So here is my unscientific analysis. Remember, you can click on each photograph to enlarge it for your viewing pleasure:

3/16/2015:  Audrey arrives back to the secret location, and begins nest building the same day.

Another great photo of Audrey snagging a COM stick from the backyard

Another great photo of Audrey snagging a COM stick from the backyard

Audrey in her stick tree where she breaks off sticks in flight and takes them to the nest.

Audrey in her stick tree where she breaks off sticks in flight and takes them to the nest.

Close-up of Audrey in the stick tree

Close-up of Audrey in the stick tree with some visible broken branches

3/23/2015:  By this time, Audrey has been busy building her nest solo, and it looks really good for so early in the season.  A visitor to the nest arrives.  This visitor is solid brownish/black like Tom.  Tom, is it you?

Audrey and the dark stranger during better days when osprey life seemed status quo

Audrey and the dark stranger during better days when osprey life seemed status quo

For a few days, we do not see the dark male return to the nest very often.  This is not the normal behavior for our returning Tom, who could usually be found either in or near the nest .  He does, however, manage to be there for the Baltimore, Maryland Channel 13 interview and taping that took place on 3/25 at the secret location.  Joel Dunn, Executive Director of the Chesapeake Conservancy, was interviewed by Alex DeMetrick, a reporter from Channel 13 and the interview was broadcast later that day and the next day.  Tom, is it you?

Joel Dunn and Alex DeMetrick conducting an interview at the secret location

Joel Dunn and Alex DeMetrick conducting an interview at the secret location

Audrey and the dark stranger make an appearance for the camera

Audrey and the dark stranger make an appearance for the camera

3/27/2015:  A screen shot posted on Facebook shows Audrey and the solid color male “rolling in the hay”.

3/29/2015:  A screen shot posted on Facebook shows Audrey and the solid color male “in delicato”.

Audrey and the dark stranger during one of their last interludes.  Can't a couple get a little privacy around here?

Audrey and the dark stranger during one of their last interludes. Can’t a couple get a little privacy around here?

3/30/2015:  A screen shot posted on Facebook shows Audrey and the solid color male on the nest smoking a cigarette (only kidding, but you catch my drift).

3/31/2015:  A screen shot posted on Facebook shows Audrey and the solid color male. Tom, is it you?

And then…………….

4/1/2015:  A different male is seen in the nest.  Photos posted on Facebook show an obviously different feather color, with the male looking very mottled.  Audrey and the mottled male mate frequently over the course of the day, but she does not seem pleased.  She bites at the mottled male, which is a behavior we have not seen before from Audrey.  Based on Facebook and blog comments, there is much consternation about the identity of this male.

4/2/2015:  The mottled male continues to copulate with Audrey, and she continues to thank him for his lovemaking by biting and pecking at him.  Something is amiss!  Osprey experts need to be called in for a consult.  The Crazy Osprey Family contacts Dr. Spitzer and Dr. Bierregaard.

On April 3, we received responses from Dr. Spitzer and Dr. Bierregaard.  Here is a portion of Dr. Spitzer’s response:  

“The ospreys are back, bearing spring on their long graceful wings. In fact many have been back for awhile, and have endured some very chilly weather.  They are fresh from the tropics, and as a human I do not relate well to the sudden end of their warm “separate vacations” (a human frame of reference).  Why come back so early? Charles Darwin found the key 150 years ago, when he began to explain “evolution” by “natural selection”.  This is about passing on osprey genes.  You must reclaim your nest and your mate as soon as possible, to avoid contention for both.  My sources tell me “Tom” showed up late; and now he has been usurped by a New Male whom I will call “The Calico Cat”.  Calico displays a remarkable patchwork molt of new dark and old bleached body feathers.  The bleaching comes from Bay summer sun, plus those long tropical interludes; and perhaps from constant immersion in water.  We have contacted experts on avian molt (there are such specialists!) for their learned opinions about Calico’s very unusual mottled appearance.  (Most ospreys by contrast appear dressed in deep rich brown for a formal masquerade ball, including mask.)  We’ll let you know what they say. As to osprey ethics–that is a human cultural perspective.  These are NOT little people in feathers.  The fittest creature is the one whose genes fly into the future (by natural selection), and Calico is the Osprey of the Hour.  Although he does look a bit Punk. Remember:  Ospreys have also evolved sequential nestling starvation (brood size reduction) when there is not enough food.  BUT–they do not overpopulate, outstrip their resources, and die in famines.”

Dr. Bierregaard also gave us some very useful input.  When asked how long it would take for feathers to take on a mottled appearance, he told us at least a year.  We told him what was going on at the nest, and this was his response:  

“Ah, the spring Osprey soap operas! Yes, that was a different male—the feathers don’t fade quickly, so you’re right—this is a new guy. When one bird in a pair doesn’t survive the migration cycle, the drama can get very intense as pretenders to the throne vie to fill the vacancy. We had a nest in NH a couple of years ago where the regular male didn’t come home. The old female did and suffered through the fight with 3 males trying to claim the nest. They were all copulating with her and spending so much time fighting that they didn’t feed her or do much of anything in the way of nest building. So the platform was pretty much a sheet of plywood with a few sticks on it. The female kept laying eggs, but the males would kick the eggs out of the nest (they weren’t sure whose eggs they were). That year was a washout. But the next year, all was well. Apparently during the first year the contending males sorted it out, or 2 of them didn’t make it through the next migration cycle, or something. In any case, for the last 2 years the old female and new male have been successfully cranking out young. In fact, we’re planning on tagging the new male at that nest this spring.”

Based on what I have observed for the past few days and input from our resident osprey experts, I believe we have a different male now occupying the nest.  As Audrey has now had osprey sex with the dark stranger and the current mottled partner, the title of this blog seems quite appropriate.  But in our little osprey world, the male will always be Tom, and our female will always be Audrey.  That’s how it has been since 1995 when our first ospreys came to stay, and that tradition will carry on here at the secret location.

Last season, Audrey’s three eggs were laid on 4/15, 4/18 and 4/21/2014.  The eggs hatched on 5/24 and 5/27/2015.  The nest is looking good, and ready for some egg action.  Audrey has been bringing in soft nesting materials to line the nest, most of which has been clumps of grass clippings.  COM’s spring sticks, gaily festooned with yellow construction tape for the Easter and Passover holidays, can been be seen in the nest.  Keep an eye out for the next color sensation!

Thanks to everyone for all of your input about our current dilemma.  Until next time, we remain-

Crazy Osprey Man, Mrs. Crazy Osprey Man and Osprey Girl

Remember to join us on April 16 from 4-6 p.m. at Pusser’s Caribbbean Grille Restaurant, Annapolis, Maryland for the third annual Welcome Back Osprey party.  Members of the Osprey Club are invited to hear Dr. Rob Bierregaard speak about his osprey tagging studies.  The Chesapeake Conservancy folks and The Crazy Osprey family will also be there to meet you.  You may join the Osprey Club and sign up for the party at the Conservancy’s website or Facebook page.

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://www.chesapeakeconservancy.org today.  Thanks very much!

283 thoughts on “Who’s Your Daddy?

  1. TOO FUNNY JOHN !!! TOM IN THE NEST, CHIRPING, LOUD CHIRPING IN THE BACK ROUND, SOUNDS LIKE AUDREY. THEY DISTINCT CHIRPS !! THIS TOM, HAS SHORT, CONCISE , AND AUDREY LOUD AND CLEAR WITH WHAT SHE WANTS !!! SHE TALKS A LOT SOMETIMES, THAT BEING A WOMAN THING.BREEZY OUT THERE ALSO !!!

  2. Just before 11:30, I believe it was Audrey who had been on the eggs… she stood up and stepped aside allowing a good view of the eggs. Then she took off — a spectacular view of both eggs! They’re beautiful and remarkably different from each other as to coloring and markings — and within seconds Tom (if it was, in fact Audrey who was originally there) flew in. Then a couple of seconds after that, Audrey returned. Both were there for a bit, then Tom took off again. And Audrey returned to incubation duty. Those eggs are not going to be left unattended for long!

  3. TOM JUST BROUGHT AUDREY FOOD, SHE TOOK THE FISH, AND LEFT THE NEST, TOM CLEANED HIS BEAK AND IS NOW ON THE EGGS !!! HE HAD EATEN THE HEAD, AND BROUGHT HER THE BODY !!! GOOD JOB FOR BOTH !!

  4. OK, I AM NOW SURE TOM WAS ON THE NEST, AUDREY IS BACK. TOM FLEW OFF AS SOON AS SHE RETURNED, HOPE HE DID NOT DAMAGE THE EGGS HE FLEW OFF WITH HIS FOOT, LOOKING LIKE IT WAS ON THE EGG. SCARY !!! SHE LOOKS VERY REFRESHED, AFTER HER MEAL, AND A BREAK !!

    • Good Morning from sunny Long beach Ca. Looking forward to rain next week!!
      What is that Green thing on the far side of the nest?. Something is bothering Tom
      he keeps twitching his head ..Joan

      • It looks like a leaf, doesn’t it? It might have just blown into the nest. The twitching is normal, I believe. I have seen all the birds do it, even the chicks. It may be a form of exercise……? Necks must get stiff when you’re constantly on the alert for predators.

        I wish you luck with your rain. Several steady days of the stuff would be good. When my friends complain about the rain here in Annapolis I say to them, “You could live in California!”

      • Not so sure now that it’s a leaf. Audrey just tried to move it and it didn’t appear to have the consistency of a leaf.

  5. Audrey just squawked Tom off the nest and I was able to see that there are still just two eggs. The eggs look very similar now and Audrey is trying to move that green thing, whatever it may be, around the nest.

  6. Audrey was just standing on the green thing — it seems fairly rigid because it didn’t give at all; maybe a piece of wood??

  7. I was convinced this afternoon that with all the fussing and moving around Audrey did that certainly she was making a space for a third egg. No such luck. When Tom came to take over nanny duties my theory was blown out of the water.

    • Thanks Jane for the encouragement, in Jan. we were all saying sure clad we live in Ca
      ..Way to much winter for us. Nice to watch on TV.

      • Several people I know agree with you, including my daughter. She says,”I’m not doing this next year.” Close friends who have live here forever are moving to The Villages in Florida. I prefer winter to summer and we only had about 20 inches of snow, after all. It was much colder, though.

      • Something just happened to the nest in the last half hr. to forty-five mins
        The green thing had been moved to the fore ground I checked on the Falcons and now
        the nest has a big hole in it and the Green thing is gone ..It sounds like rain on the Cam
        roof Did a wind come through?

    • Audrey on nest Tom flew in Audrey gets off nest, looks like she is giving him instructions
      Tom flies off Audrey gets back on nest. Maybe she was giving him her food order

  8. Looks like Tom just brought a fish for Audrey and she took off with it immediately, while he settled down on the eggs. It’s cold and rainy here in MD!

  9. Caught Audrey moving the green thing around again its been all over the nest..
    like any female she wants to put a décor piece in just the right place.. Seems to want it
    there.

  10. Tom has been on the nest very much. Last evening he incubated the eggs all through that rain and I think for very long periods during the night. He’s been very devoted to the nest and Audrey gets long breaks to fish. It’s harder to hunt for fish during gray weather and after storms. The fish are hard to see. And we were all worried Tom would not perform his duties!

  11. SHE FLEW OFF THE MINUTE I SAID THAT, THEN CAME BACK, TOM FLEW IN, AND SHE FLEW OUT. TOM MAKES ME A NERVOUS, AS HE IS NOT AS EASY ON THE EGGS, AND SITTING ON THE EGGS AS AUDREY !! PRAY FOR THE BEST !!

  12. OOPS! Must not be see to well Green thing is there and no hole in nest
    I apologize for the error.. but it was raining .. and yes Kathy Tom is a little frightening
    as a new dad he is a quite clumsy

  13. Add me to the list of people concerned about Tom’s somewhat casual treatment of the eggs. While Audrey settles on them carefully, Tom seems less concerned about his approach. I assume the shells are quite sturdy…..?

    • They all will walk on their “knuckles” when in the nest so as not to harm the eggs or the chicks with their talons. If you watch carefully you’ll be able to notice it. I remembered it from the year before. It’s quite fascinating!

  14. It’s 8:30 pm and lightning is lighting up the nest and water. How have Tom, Audrey and the past eggs weathered up in major thunderstorms?

  15. The nest looks quite spectacular this morning at 7:30. The morning sun is reflecting on the water in the right side of the frame, as though it were a painting. Audrey’s on the nest, the wind ruffling her feathers. And the nest reflects a “woman’s touch.” As Jim observed, she’s moved that green thing round until that it’s “just so” — on the outer edge of the nest, where it can’t hurt the babies when they hatch — and as the moss and other soft greenery dry, some of it is turning orange. All of that lit up by the pale orange glow of the morning sun is very pretty indeed. And to cap off this scene of osprey domestic bliss, Tom flew in, seemed to give Audrey a “peck on the cheek” (truly, I’m not making that up or anthropomorphizing… his head was down next to hers and seemed to brush it.) she got up, stepped aside, he settled rather gently onto the eggs and she took off at 7:38/39. Now, at 7:44, he’s calling out just a tiny bit, but so much more quietly than Audrey. Actually, his calling out is rather musical… different pitches, different volume for different parts of his calling, some of it quite soft almost as if to himself (“Am I doing this right? Oh dear, I don’t want to upset Audrey… you know how she gets when she’s upset. Hmmm… I really hope I’ve got it right.”). What a great way to start the day… a glimpse of the ocean and the morning reflecting on the water, close-up looks into the lives of these majestic creatures… couldn’t enjoy any of this if not for this fantastic osprey cam. Thank you so much to all who make it possible. A lovely day to all of you.

  16. Very eloquent description of the beautiful morning Fran. This Tom does seem to be more affectionate to Audrey, perhaps it’s my imagination and he’s really sweet when he’s ready to take over incubating the eggs, he nudges gently until Audrey moves aside. (lillie)

  17. I am Joan Not Jim though my email looks like I might be Jim.. Have been gone so missed all the excitement will check to see for my self so happy with the sight and all the comments Thank You, Joan

  18. Oh my! there’s a third egg?! Haven’t seen it yet–been away. p.s. Fran,, did you say ocean? This water is on the Chesapeake Bay–have I missed something?

  19. So exciting! A third egg! I agree Tom is very affectionate. Lots of kisses. And Audrey doesn’t seem to mind. I think she really appreciates having so much time away from the nest, something that didn’t happen with the former Tom.

  20. Good morning all. A third egg! Wow! It’s wonderful the way all of these shared observations create a picture of what’s happening over the course of each day in the nest. Glad some enjoyed my “word picture” of a lovely morning after a storm. Alas, didn’t reread or proof, so herewith are corrections/amendments/”oops moments”: Yes, Linda, I know the nest is on the Chesapeake Bay. I just got lost in my musings… the sounds of gentle waves took me to the sounds of my favorite quiet beaches, and I guess my mind just drifted away. Didn’t even realize I’d written “ocean” until I read your post. Oops! And another “oops” to Joan. Sorry about that! Just glanced quickly at the “Jm” in your heading and my eye apparently inserted an “i”… voila! It became “Jim.” My bad for rushing through. Anyway, this is such a very nice and diverse community, isn’t it? Blessings to you.

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