It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over

Good morning from the breezy and humid Eastern Shore of Maryland!  Well, we were all hoping for a quiet, normal third osprey season with you, our faithful camera watchers and blog readers.  After all of the drama of the past two seasons, surely a peaceful few months were in store for us.  But it was not to be……………

It certainly started out with the promise of good things to come.  Audrey showed up the morning of the new pole installation in March, and immediately started to build a fabulous nest to house her family to be.  A few days later, a dark stranger arrived and seemed to be ready to take on Tom’s role.  His tenure didn’t last long when, to everyone’s surprise, a mottled visitor appeared at the nest, usurping the dark stranger and assuming the role of protector and defender of the nest.  We all wondered about the skills of this Calico Tom, so aptly named by Dr. Spitzer.  But our new Tom proved himself to be ready to take on the necessary duties of the male partner.  At first, Audrey didn’t seem to be taken by this unusual looking new mate.  His attention to Audrey was met by her annoyed bites and general agitation.  As the days went on, however, he really showed his stuff and Audrey grew to appreciate her new mate.  Calico Tom helped with the nest, provided fish, deposited his share of the DNA (wink, wink) and took his egg incubating duties quite seriously.  And weren’t we all thrilled when three lovely eggs made their way into the beautiful new nest?  Tom turned out to be everything we hoped for, and more.  We couldn’t have asked for a better new mate for Audrey and their partnership grew smoother as the days went by.  Tom and Audrey were functioning like a well-oiled machine, and the window for the first hatching was right around the corner.  We were all waiting with breathless anticipation for the first new life to make his or her grand entrance into our own little osprey world!

So here we are.  The windows of opportunity for the first two eggs to hatch have passed us by.  When I am home, I am constantly looking out the window at the nest, to see if Tom and Audrey are standing on the edge peering down into it with wonder, as they always seem to do when the first hatchling appears.  My eyes keep trying to see a crack in one of the eggs, something that will give us a little hope that we will yet have a new osprey life to take us through the summer.  But still nothing definitive appears.  Here at the secret location, we have been observing our nest since 1995, and have never been without at least one youngster to capture our hearts.  Although hope is dwindling, in the words of Yogi Berra, “It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over”, so we will keep on watching and waiting for our new arrival.

To lighten things up, here are a few favorite photos from the last few weeks.  Remember, you can click on each photograph to enlarge it for your viewing pleasure.

Tom flying under the radar:

Calico Tom skimming over the water with his beautiful mottled feather quite visible

Calico Tom skimming over the water with his beautiful mottled feathers quite visible

Tom is looking for COM’s boat.  What fun is it to poop in the water?

Tom on COM's boat lift-better than on the boat!

Tom on COM’s boat lift-better than on the boat!

A five a.m. view from our back yard:

Sunrise from the secret location.  Wow!!

Sunrise from the secret location. Wow!!

Audrey taking a break from the nest:

Audrey in our neighbor's straggly stick tree.

Audrey in our neighbor’s straggly stick tree.

Can you just hear Audrey now?

Audrey telling Mrs. COM to get lost

Audrey telling Mrs. COM to get lost

Tom, Audrey and friend:

Tom and Audrey at home with the downstairs tenant (check out the bottom right under the nest)

Tom and Audrey at home with the downstairs tenant (check out the bottom right under the nest)

Please don’t forget to enter your photos in the “Where in the World Are Tom and Audrey” contest.  Submit a photo of yourself watching the ospreycam, and include your first name and the location from where you are watching.  We will post your photo in one of our blogs.  The winning photo for the season will win a cool prize from the Chesapeake Conservancy!

That’s it for now.  Keep your fingers crossed, everyone!

Until next time, we remain-

Crazy Osprey Man, Mrs. Crazy Osprey Man and Osprey Girl (who graduates from high school this Saturday!!)

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 today.  Thanks very much!

In Case You Missed It The First Time, Don’t Miss Your Chance This Time!

Good afternoon from the cloudy, warm and humid Eastern Shore!  Everything here is status quo.  Tom continues to fish and hang out.  He has been spending most nights on a piling at the end of our dock, which has been verified visually and by the many little “gifts” (if you know what I mean) he has left on the end of the dock beside the piling.  This is physical evidence of Tom’s night time residence, and definitely not circumstantial evidence!  Tom had three hungry crow friends hanging around the piling yesterday while he was trying to enjoy a fish, but they appeared to go away hungry.  He was also chased by a very brave (and some would say not too bright) mockingbird as he was flying around, and appeared to be annoyed with the bothersome intruder.

And now for the great news!  Dr. Paul Spitzer has provided a wonderful treatise (maybe not quite a treatise, but almost), which I have named “Everything You Wanted to Know About Osprey Eggs But Were Afraid To Ask” (my name, not his!).  It is a wonderful overview of, well, everything you ever wanted to know about osprey eggs with some additional osprey information included at no extra charge (a joke, Dr. Spitzer!).  Please enjoy while we continue to wait and watch!

Paul Spitzer, report #3:  The Osprey’s Marvelous Eggs

 Birds lay eggs:  That’s how they make more birds.  Many of us are greeted by those eggs each morning at breakfast.

 Every spring, for a month or so, the osprey population’s entire annual reproductive investment lies warm and protected in their big stick nests:  “Nest Eggs” indeed!

 Because osprey nests are prominent and fascinating to human beings, we have learned much about the ecology and aesthetics of their beautiful eggs.  The “clutch size” ranges from 2 to 4, and roughly 80% of Chesapeake females lay 3 (the “modal clutch size”).  It is known from banding studies that a 2-egg clutch reflects a young female, a first-time breeder.  4-egg clutches are associated with food-rich nesting areas:  We shall learn why.

 A three-egg clutch takes about 6-7 days to complete; a 4-egg clutch probably 8-10.  The Eastern Bay Osprey Cam has allowed precise documentation of this timing; even in one case the time of day the egg was laid.  Incubation begins with the first egg, so the eggs hatch in sequence.  Marked eggs typically hatch in 37-38 days.  This “incubation period” is even longer than that of the Bald Eagle, at 35 days.

 Once the egg hatches, the nestling will take about 7-8 weeks to reach its first flight, and will remain dependent on parents to catch fish for a variable period thereafter.  So this is a reproductive commitment of 4 months; well over 4 if we count the initial spring return from the tropics, courtship, and cooperative rebuilding of the nest. Although these traditional nest sites are markers for food-rich habitat, there is no way breeding ospreys can completely predict the food regime or the challenges of weather for 4 months.  Thus they and many other species have evolved “Brood Size Reduction”.  If food is limiting, and weather turns very cold and rainy, the sequential hatch protects the older, more vigorous young from starvation.  This process can occur well into the nestling period, up to week 3 or even 4.  In places where the food regime has weak years, such as Gardiners Is., NY, many broods are reduced to zero.  Chesapeake food is generally available:  Particularly in the great tributary rivers and creeks sheltered from extreme weather, fledging broods of 2 and 3 young are common.  That is the history of the Osprey Cam nest.  Fledging 4 young requires a very rich food regime, and a very vigorous male supplier of fish.  Sometimes it is seen in the early colonization of what will become a great osprey colony; such as Smith Is., MD, and Martha’s Vineyard, MA, in the 1970’s.  So large broods are a predictor of potential population growth, given adequate predator-proof nest sites.

Now, let us turn to beauty and recent ecological history.  Osprey eggs are typically the size of a “jumbo” chicken egg, ranging in weight from about 65 to 80+ grams.  Words fail me as to how beautiful they are.  Watching Osprey Cam, one sees the russet glow of the 4-egg clutch.  This particular clutch is very cinnamon.  Others are rich browns, and some have a white to cream-colored background covered with dots and swirls as dark as mahogany.  There are also spots and flecks shaded delicate lavender.  Clutch-mates tend to have some artistic consistency, but there is enough variation that one wants to admire each entire clutch as an avian work of art.  Toward the end of the incubation period, gentle polishing and weathering have sometimes reduced the eggs’ appearance to old scuffed shoes.  But—aha!—the life within is about to make its appearance.

 The stunning beauty of osprey clutches was not lost on the old naturalists.  And there was the gamesmanship of climbing to nests, mostly in high trees in those days; or low but way out on isolated marshes and beaches (still true in portions of the Chesapeake).  The 19th Century saw the hobby of egg-collecting, or “oology”.  There was even a little journal devoted to it, “The Oologist”, although this appears preposterous from our modern conservation perspective.  The 20th Century result was museum cases full of dusty old blown-out eggs.  Osprey eggs were among the great prizes, so they are well represented in these curio, throwback collections.

 Now we have two twists of fate that no one could see coming; the sort that make human life so interesting and humbling.  The stable, bioaccumulating organochlorine pesticide DDT, rightly hailed as a wonder chemical for tropical in-house control of malaria, elimination of human body lice, etc., had unintended effects on certain predatory birds at the end of long food-chains:  It thinned their eggshells and killed the developing embryos.  Impacted species included the Osprey, Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, and Brown Pelican.  Ignorant, misguided broad-scale application of DDT for ecosystem mosquito control and agriculture devastated all of these species in the eastern US.  When I began my Ph.D. osprey population studies in 1968, I found dented eggs collapsing under the weight of the incubating birds.  Eggshell thinning was a “biomarker”, the sort of thing prized by toxicologists:  But such a clear, measurable signal is often impossible to find in nature.  Thus the “great DDT experiment” became a paradigm in environmental toxicology, and those healthy but obscure old pre-DDT eggs languishing in museum storage became the “control” evidence.  After DDT was banned by the Federal government in 1972, the subsequent recovery to abundance of the impacted “bioindicator” bird species completed this unintended but beautifully documented experiment.

 As a result, the use of various chemicals in the environment has been subject to much more advance screening, scientific monitoring, and regulation.

  Paul R. Spitzer, Ph. D. 1980 Cornell University, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Windy Hill on the Choptank River

May 18, 2013                 


Thank you, thank you, Dr. Spitzer, for your enlightening information!  Until next time, good bye from the beautiful Eastern Shore!

Crazy Osprey Man and Mrs. Crazy Osprey Man

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 today!  Thanks very much!

A Crabby Bird Wearing A Backpack

Happy allergy season everyone! It’s Osprey Girl. It has been a while since I have posted a blog, but there is no better time than the present. Today I will be shifting the focus from our beloved Tom and Audrey to another feathered friend named Crabby. Those of you who were at the Welcome Back Osprey Party in April will know what I am referring to and the rest of you are about to know.

On April 17, 2014, Dr. Rob Bierregaard and his team tagged a female osprey here on the Eastern Shore, who was subsequently named Crabby. Dr. Bierregaard is a Research Associate of the Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  He has trapped and tagged dozens of ospreys during his career as an ornithologist. Trapping a bird is not easy, but the setup that was used made the process go smoothly and the bird was not injured. The team set up a trap (picture below) and placed it on top of Crabby’s nest while she was away fishing. When Crabby returned to sit on the nest, the trap was sprung and a series of knots tightened around her talons, preventing her from flying away. Dr. Bierregaard immediately waded out into the water and put a ladder up to the nest. Once up at the nest, a black hood was placed over Crabby’s head in order to calm her down. Crabby was then carried back to shore. Back on land, a tracker was fitted and placed onto Crabby’s back, secured by nylon straps. The tracker is set up like a backpack for a bird and runs on solar power. Once the tracker was secured, Crabby was free to go and continue on with her life.  Although Dr. Bierregaard had been trying to catch male ospreys, he determined that Crabby was actually an unattached female who happened to be visiting the nest.

Trap used to catch Crabby

Trap used to catch Crabby

Hooded Crabby

Hooded Crabby

The most interesting part of tracking Crabby is that we can see her every movement. On August 25, 2014, Crabby packed her bags and began her journey south from Maryland to her winter home. There was little traffic, and she made a few pit stops on her way down the east coast. Crabby arrived in southern Florida on August 29. The next day, she left the Florida Keys around 4:28 p.m. and landed in Cuba 6 hours later (customs was clearly not very busy/ existent). Crabby then travelled across the beautiful Caribbean. She left the Dominican Republic the morning of September 8th and landed in Venezuela 25 hours later. Dr. Bierregaard continued to track Crabby’s flight across Venezuela.  The last leg of her trip took 14 days and ended on the coast of French Guinea. Crabby wintered in this location and on March 15, 2015, she began the journey north back to Maryland.

At the nest

At the nest



This year Crabby did not return to the pole where she was tagged. Instead, she chose a tree in a different part of the Eastern Shore not very far from where she was tagged. Dr. Bierregaard contacted Crazy Osprey Man (COM) a few days ago asking him to attempt to track down Crabby’s new home based on information from her tracker. On Sunday, May 10, COM and I made the drive to Crabby’s new location and saw her happily flying about. In our area, ospreys typically nest on poles in the water, so it is unusual that she chose a tree on land to set up her nest. One of the main problems with nesting in a tree is that predators can more easily reach the nest.

Crabby's nest. Crabby is not home

Crabby’s nest. Crabby is not home

Dr. Bierregaard holding Crabby

Dr. Bierregaard holding Crabby

Crabby’s full journey is detailed on Dr. Bierregaard’s website which I have linked below.  I encourage each of you to take a peak at it! Once on the site, you will be able to sign up to receive regular updates about Crabby and the other ospreys that Dr. Bierregaard has tagged.

Jeff from the Chesapeake Conservancy holds Crabby

Jeff from the Chesapeake Conservancy holds Crabby

Adios Amigos! Until Next Time,

Osprey Girl Osprey Home Crabby’s Maps