History In The Making

Good evening from the incredibly beautiful Eastern Shore of Maryland!  Our seemingly never-ending streak of rainy, dreary days appears to have come to an end. It is a delightful evening here, with temperatures in the high seventies, low humidity, spectacular cloud formations and ospreys everywhere.  I was finally able to plant my vegetable garden, the purple wave petunias are nestled around the mailbox post and my deck planters are an array of color for the eye.  But the best part of all, according to Dr. Spitzer, is that we are all a part of history in the making!  On Friday, May 27, despite being left unattended for seven hours at forty-seven degrees in a steady rain, Tom and Audrey’s first egg hatched forty days after it was laid.  The first hatch was quickly followed two days later by the second hatch on Sunday, May 29, thirty-nine days after the egg was laid.  We are anxiously waiting  to learn the fate of Egg #3, and should know something definitive within the next few days.  So far, for the first two eggs, we are in the typical hatch window for our nest of 39-41 days, with June 1 being day thirty-nine for Egg #3.  Even the experts have been stumped by what has happened at our nest this season. And everyone is walking around with big smiles on their faces and songs in their hearts at the arrival of our miraculous chicks!  COM and I are also happy because Osprey Girl is home for the summer, and all is right with the world.

Here is a photo taken by Osprey Girl of the incredible sky early this evening, complete with osprey pole and nest:


Gorgeous sky the last day of May 2016. Audrey is in the nest with Chick #1 and Chick #2. Tom is chilling somewhere in the neighborhood


I wanted to say a few words about the camera and images that you see.  We have had the same good quality, mega pixel camera for the last three seasons.  Nothing has changed with the camera with the exception of the addition of an infra red light source which COM installed just before the ospreys returned this season.  He spent an inordinate amount of time at the end of the dock fooling with the infra red light source and camera before it was installed on the pole.  I helped him test the IR light source at night, trying many different combinations of filters, running back and forth to the house to observe the results on our monitors, making homemade filters out of plastic containers, and trying it all again and again.  We thought we had it right and the image looked good before Tom and Audrey returned.  But alas, once the IR source was mounted on the pole, and our friends returned from their winter vacation, the light was just a little too intense.  The camera is out of reach now, so nothing can be done to tone it down, but we will adjust it for next season.

The other issue is the quality of the images you see from the ospreycam.  Rest assured that we are producing the highest level of quality that is possible given the constraints of the system.  The camera is fine, but we are limited by the internet connection between the camera and the distribution point, which is not at our location.  The connection is limited by the upload speed of the internet service available coming down the road to the secret location, and is beyond anyone’s control at the Chesapeake Conservancy or from the Crazy Osprey Family.  In layman’s terms, the quality of the image you see is not a camera issue, but a bandwidth issue. (at least, that is how it has been explained to me, and as you know by now, I am somewhat technically challenged).

Okay, enough technical talk, back to the ospreys!  I witnessed something very comical the day that Chick #1 hatched.  Audrey was alone on the nest, and took off, leaving the newly-hatched chick by itself.  Oh phooey, I thought, here we go again.  Audrey took a loop around our yard, took one of her daily constitutionals, and immediately returned to the nest, not missing a beat!  What a good mom, she didn’t want to take a chance of soiling the nest with her new baby.  I had never noticed her do that before, and it was quite amazing to watch. I promise, no more poop stories or photos for the rest of this blog (well, maybe one).

After some initial tentative fish supplying, Calico Tom the Fishing Fool has once again proven himself to be an expert provider for the nest.  I especially love to watch the chicks pass out after their bellies (actually crops) are full.  Tom is sometimes hard to spot when he is not right at the nest or at one of his usual haunts.  But Audrey knows when he is on his way back home, and always welcomes her man with vociferous greetings!  If COM and I are on the end of the dock enjoying a little happy hour, we always know when Tom is approaching without ever looking for him.  Squawking Audrey leaves no doubt as to his approach, and is even louder (if that is possible) when he is returning with a meal.

You may have noticed that Tom and Audrey have been spending a fair amount of time defending the nest and trying to shoo off unwelcome passers-by.  There are a significant number of ospreys and nests in the neighborhood around the secret location.  The closest nest is five houses to the north of us, just north of the big tree.  There are two ospreys occupying that nest.  I am reasonably sure that one of them is the osprey that was hanging out at our nest early in the season before Tom returned, possibly an offspring that was raised in our nest.  When I go walking, there are ospreys everywhere.  I will ask Osprey Girl to take a loop around the neighborhood by water and count the active nests around our area.  I will report back on her findings.

It’s that time again!  The “Where In The World Are Tom and Audrey?” contest is officially open!  Please send a photo of yourself or anyone else watching the ospreycam on any of your devices.  Send the photo, along with your name and from where you are watching.  I will post your photos on each blog.  At the end of the season, the contest winner will receive something cool from the Chesapeake Conservancy.  Not sure what your prize will be, but it will be cool!  Send your entries to Tom_audrey_osprey@yahoo.com and keep an eye out for your submission to be posted on the blog.

Speaking of the blog, the views continue to go up and up.  The total number of views since the blog inception at the beginning of the 2013 is season is rapidly reaching HALF A MILLION!  Wow!  We are over 485,000 views as of earlier today.  In that light, please send your guess as to which date the blog views will hit HALF A MILLION to the above email!  It will be this season, so get your guesses in.  If you are the winner, a cool prize will also be coming your way!  Make sure to include contact information in your email.

Here are some of the photographs that have been taken since the last blog was published.  I hope you enjoy them!


After Tom catches a fish, he will eat first.  The male has to be fed before anyone else to ensure the survival of any osprey family. Without Tom to bring home the bacon (fish bacon, that is), no one would eat very well.  As you have noticed, he will usually eat the top half of the fish, and bring the bottom half back to the nest.  Here is Audrey on the dock two houses to the south of us, on her favorite swim ladder with her fish snack:



Audrey on the swim ladder with her sloppy seconds. I do believe she is squawking!



Audrey: “Are you kidding me? Can’t a girl get a peaceful meal alone?”



Audrey at the end of our dock. The crab pots will be in the water shortly



Once again, Mrs. COM has gotten too close. Audrey does not stay to hear what I have to say



Tom is on his observation post while Audrey incubates



Tom is taking his turn incubating. Audrey is doing what she does best, squawking


Audrey is enjoying the tail end of her fish.  You can see the deep-notched yellowish tail, so this is a menhaden.  I know I said I wasn’t going to talk about poop, but this dock gives new meaning to the term “poop deck”:



Audrey is sitting on a piling at the end of the dock just south of us. I’m not sure I would want to have happy hour out there!  Nasty!



Audrey has that far off look in her eye


And off she goes!!!



Escaping from Mrs. COM’s incredibly annoying camera. Cool reflection!



Flying low



Skimming the water


Guess who?



Need I say more?



Audrey in the scraggly stick tree.  Guess how many fingers (talons, actually) I have up?



Ah, that feels better!



Who is trying to sneak up on me? I see you!


Audrey loves this swim ladder.  She frequently sits here while eating and to take a little break from the nest:



How does she do that?



If you look carefully, you can see Audrey’s left leg tucked up into her belly


Another favorite hang out of Tom and Audrey is the scraggly stick tree one house to the north of us:



Audrey is trying to decide whether to leave or stay


This is a good view of the infra red light source attached to the camera pole.  It’s the silver device mounted on the pole just under the covered camera.  Don’t you love COM’s fancy K-Mart trash can camera cover?



Audrey is patiently incubating her eggs. At this point, we weren’t sure if they were viable. You can see one of COM’s marked sticks down in the nest


We have loved living on the water at the secret location for twenty seven years.  One of my absolutely favorite phenomenon is when the sun hits the water at a certain angle and the breeze is blowing at a certain speed.  If the two come together in just the right way, the entire surface of the water sparkles and twinkles until it is blinding.  I have dubbed this phenomenon “the sparklies”.  You can see just a few of the sparklies in this photo:



Tom, his fish and two mooching crow friends on COM’s boat lift. Love those sparklies!!



Mrs. COM has chased off the crows, but Tom could care less and just wants to enjoy his fish


This photo was taken the day that Chick #1 hatched, and shows the second feeding:


Tom proudly sits on his observation post while Audrey feeds her newly hatched chick



Tom is looking at Mrs. COM while Audrey continues to feed newly hatched Chick #1. This photo was taken from the end of our dock



Here is a series of photos of Tom and Audrey while Chick #1 is being fed:






Out of my way, woman!



What’s going on down there?



Dad is in the house!



Are you going to eat that?



Well, if you aren’t going to eat it, I’ll finish it



Tom takes the left-over fish and flies away to enjoy it in peace



Notice the deep-notched fish tail, probably another menhaden. Tom is heading to the dock south of us




I wonder what Tom and Audrey are discussing?



Tom, Audrey and an eavesdropping downstairs neighbor



You watch for intruders from the North, and I’ll watch for intruders from the South



These are the faces we will use to scare them off!



Tom is finally enjoying the sun on COM’s boat lift


I hope you have enjoyed my latest batch of photographs.  The hour is getting late, and I have another early wake-up tomorrow.  So 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!













Beautiful Noise

Good evening from the relentlessly soggy Eastern Shore of Maryland.  Since I wrote the last blog, we have had rain in some form for the last fifteen days.  People (and ospreys) do crazy things when the weather is this dreary.  My purple wave petunias, destined to be planted around the mailbox, have taken up residence next to the back door, still in their plastic trays.  My vegetable plants, stirring up wistful visions of 4th of July tomatoes from the garden, are sitting on the deck with sodden feet, as the ground is too wet to plant anything.  The grass looks verdant and happy, as it grows with unabashed enthusiasm, but it is too wet to mow on a regular schedule.  And here I sit with the weather prediction of yet more rain to come.  I guess the weather gods are still angry!  But the extremely good news is that our Audrey is back, making more noise than ever.  The only good thing about all this bad weather is that we have to keep our windows closed most of the time.  This doesn’t stop us from being able to hear all of her squawking, however, it does keep the decibel level down to a dull roar!  But after our recent incident, I am so very happy to hear all of Audrey’s beautiful noise!!!!!

Since the last blog, we have had some excitement (isn’t that an understatement!).  The arrival of our third egg on April 23 was a happy day indeed.  I missed the blessed event, as I was enjoying my forty year college reunion with 29 sorority sisters in a Midwestern state known for its horses.  It was a most wonderful weekend for all of us sixty-somethings.  As far as egg laying goes, I think we all breathed a sigh of relief not to have a fourth egg this year.  The time from an osprey egg being laid until hatching ranges from 35-42 days.  In our nest, we seem to have a range of 39-41 days.  I’m sure you can all do the math, but here it is in black and white for your viewing pleasure:

Anticipated Hatching of Tom and Audrey’s Eggs 2016:

Egg #1 laid April 17, hatching range May 22-29

Egg #2 laid April 20, hatching range May 25-June 1

Egg #3 laid April 23, hatching range May 28-June 4

Now, the above dates are all based on the premise that these eggs are viable.  No one knows for sure what will become of them after our Audrey went missing in action for over twenty four hours, which leads us to the next story.

The sun rose on Thursday, May 6, 2016 to a very wet, cold and dreary day.  Tom was sitting on the nest, incubating the eggs, with Audrey no where to be found.  We checked all the usual places on docks and trees in the area, and there was no sign of her.  Going back over the video from Wednesday, May 5, she had departed the nest around 2:00 p.m., and did not return that day.  Here is the last photo of Tom and Audrey before she disappeared for over twenty four hours:


Tom and Audrey about an hour before Audrey disappeared for over 24 hours. The downstairs neighbor is enjoying the view


A little over an hour after the last Audrey sighting on Wednesday, an adult Bald Eagle was seen sitting in the big tree two houses to the north of us.  This is one of the usual places that Tom and Audrey like to hang out when not in the nest:


An adult Bald Eagle, enemy of the osprey, sitting in the big tree where Tom and Audrey like to hang out.  This is the same place the eagle was sitting when Tom was dive-bombing him the next day after our couple’s return


Tom sat on the nest and incubated the eggs for the rest of Wednesday, all that night and into Thursday morning, with the exception of nine minutes at 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday night when he was off the nest.  At approximately 8:05 a.m. on Thursday morning, he took off and the eggs were left exposed to the elements.  At 9:00 a.m., the temperature was 47 degrees and it was raining.  It was so eerily quiet without Audrey’s usual begging calls for a meal. As the hours went on, we became more and more worried about the welfare of our osprey pair. There was no sign of either Tom or Audrey at any of their usual haunts until approximately 2:48 p.m., when Audrey returned to the nest from who knows where.  As unhappy as all of you were, evidenced by the comments on the Chesapeake Conservancy’s Facebook page, you can only imagine how we felt here at the secret location.  It’s one thing to look at an empty nest through the camera lens, and quite another to be staring out the window at the driving rain and wind, with the pole and empty nest staring right back at you.  We have very large picture windows on the water side of the house, and there was no escaping that view, devoid of any sign of an osprey no matter where we looked.  I just knew something horrible had happened to Audrey, because I did not think she would ever leave her eggs unless she couldn’t get to them.  COM was a little more optimistic about Audrey’s well being, and thought she may be trying to protect herself and stay out of the elements.  I was already thinking about an obituary blog for Audrey, and was just numb thinking about what had happened to her.

So what does the Crazy Osprey Family do when the going gets tough?  All together now, we ask the experts!  We contacted our osprey experts, and here are a couple of thoughts we received from them while Tom and Audrey were missing and the eggs were laying bare:

Dr. Spitzer’s comments:

We don’t really know much about vulnerability of osprey eggs to prolonged cooling early during incubation.  So once again you may be extending Osprey Science.  Of course, if they do resume incubation you will have to wait until term for Proof of the Pudding.  Then do as last year if necessary.

Julie Zickefoose, in  her recent book “The Bluebird Effect” (Houghton Mifflin, available via Kindle for $10, which may not do justice to her splendid artwork) has an excellent chapter on her long-term work with Tree Swallow nests.  In rotten weather, these (largely) insectivores may abandon incubation for several days–then resume under more favorable conditions, with continuing egg viability.  This book also has an excellent osprey chapter.

Of course this is an epic run of rotten weather.  Generally ospreys just hunker down for that long incubation, despite their recent return from the tropics.  Early bad weather doesn’t appear in egg viability data as a problem, as far as I know–I am copying three long-term osprey colleagues (Poole, Scheibel, and Bierregaard) on this.  There is general agreement that prolonged wet, cold weather post-hatch does substantially depress nestling survival.  But little nest abandonment (that we know of) under current, albeit rather arduous, incubation conditions.

Dr. Bierregaard’s comments:

Sounds to me like something happened to Audrey. Has she been seen today? 18 hours on the nest for a male is very strange. 

 I’ve seen birds off of eggs in really miserable, cold, rainy, windy weather for at least 2 hours and all eggs hatched. Ospreys have a very thin down layer and females do not have brood patches, so Osprey eggs never really get all that warm under incubating adults. I believe this explains their very prolonged (38 days or so) incubation period, which is about a week longer than similar sized raptors—a real outlier on the curve.

Good luck!

Of course, our dear friend and raptor biologist Craig Koppie has offered to help find foster chicks for our nest again this year if we suffer a repeat of last season’s failure to hatch.  I guess we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

So the waiting and watching begins yet again here at the secret location!

This rotten weather has made for some terrible conditions for taking photographs, but you know I cannot resist.  So here are some photos for your viewing pleasure, all taken since the last blog was published, most with terrible lighting.


Audrey sitting in the scraggly stick tree. She will sit here sometimes after finishing a fish while Tom tends the eggs



Audrey in a stare-down with Mrs. COM. She has been letting me get a little closer of late.


Tom has taken a liking to sitting down low in the scraggly stick tree:


I can’t do a thing with my feathers in this rain, thinks Tom


I was taking a few nice photos of Audrey in the nest when Tom decided to take a swing by the nest:


Osprey Photobomb!


Tom also likes to spend time on our neighbor’s dock two house to the south of us.  One of the spots where he likes to perch is the boat lift:


Tom perched on my neighbor’s boat lift two houses to the south of us.



It’s Tom’s turn to have a stare-down with Mrs. COM


Mrs. COM has gotten a little too close for Tom’s liking, and off he goes:


Tom captured in flight as he makes a mad dash to escape from Mrs. COM and her infernal camera


This photo isn’t centered very well, but neither was the photographer as I was spinning around trying to capture the action:


Calico Tom, the fishing fool


Tom headed back to the nest:


On approach to the nest during the escape run. Audrey is ignoring him



Arriving! The downstairs neighbor doesn’t seem too concerned


Over the last four years, I have discussed Audrey’s raucous utterings (a nice way to say loud, obnoxious, continual squawking).  As I have mentioned in the past, when the windows are open during the nice weather (what’s that?), we have to mute the sound on our osprey watching computers in the house.  There is a seven second delay between what is happening in real time, and when those sights and sounds are broadcast over the internet. So we hear every squawk in stereo, first coming from the outside in real time, then on the computer, hence the muting inside.  It’s enough to drive a person crazy, but I will never, ever complain about that beautiful noise again!

Here are a few photos of Squawking Audrey (Donald Trump’s nickname for her):


Squawking Audrey doing her thing in the nest



Squawking Audrey, probably complaining about the sun being in her eyes during the one bit of good weather we have had in the last 15 days



Squawking Audrey making her presence known from our neighbor’s swim ladder. She is probably squawking at Mrs. COM this time


Here is a fun series of photos during a shift change, featuring Tom and once again, Squawking Audrey:


Audrey arriving back at the nest after finishing her fish. Tom looks pretty comfortable and is not looking like he wants to leave



They both see something. What could it be? A lady with a camera, perhaps?



Squawking Audrey living up to her moniker



Tom has had enough, and decides to let Audrey have her way. See ya later, Audrey!



Ah, mine, all mine, thinks Audrey, as she settles back down on her eggs


We have been seeing a lot of wet ospreys in the last couple of weeks:



Wet Audrey on a dreary day sitting down low in the scraggly stick tree



Wet Tom trying to dry out on our boat lift. This is during the same bit of decent weather when Audrey was complaining about the sun in her eyes.


Here is another series of photos featuring Tom on our boat lift, one of his favorite haunts:



Wet Tom perched on our boat lift. Check out those talons! I’m glad I’m not a fish when Calico Tom the Fishing Fool comes calling!



Time to try to dry off! Tom shaking out his feathers



After shaking out his feathers, Tom stands on one leg. This is probably as close as he has ever let me come to him


The final series of photos for this blog shows what Tom does with a fish after he catches it and before he brings the back half to Audrey.  The fish is a menhaden, which has a very deep-notched yellow tail (although this tail is rather bloody).  When I first noticed Tom in the scraggly stick tree with his fish, he must have just landed.  The fish was still intact and flapping furiously against Tom’s strong talons.  Although it was really unsettling to watch, the photo op was too good to pass up:



This is shortly after I noticed Tom sitting down low in the scraggly stick tree with his fresh catch



The fish continued to flap furiously as it was being eaten alive! Nature can be brutal



Dinner is served



Tom is getting a better grip on his prey



Multitasking-Eat and poop while your photo is being taken



Another big bite. By this time, the flapping had slowed down considerably



This is a good view of how Tom eats the fish from the head down



It takes a long time for Tom to eat his fill



Taking a little break from the fish, who by this time had stopped flapping (much to my relief)



Tom is still looking wet, probably from a combination of fishing and the weather. This was as close as I got to him, as I wanted Tom to eat his dinner before the weather went south on him


Last night, during a brief respite from the rain, COM and I went out on the end of the dock for a quick happy hour.  Our dock happy hours have really been curtailed due to the continuing inclement weather.  While we were sitting there, Audrey, who was sitting on the nest and being reasonably quiet for her, started raising a ruckus.  We looked around, and noticed Tom very close to the nest, but about two hundred feet in the air.  As we watched, he came diving down, crashed into the water and snagged a pretty big fish.  We hadn’t been able to catch Tom in the act of actually catching a fish this year, so we were thrilled to witness the Fishing Fool at his best! When Tom flew off with his meal, that really got Audrey going in full squawk mode with her beautiful noise.  So much for our peaceful few minutes on the end of the dock with a glass of wine and some cashews!

I will leave you with a photo from the last full moon.  I had just returned home from my nine hour drive after the reunion weekend.  The moon was so beautiful shining on the water and nest, I dropped my suitcase on the deck, and ran to get the camera.  It’s not the best photo ever taken, but wasn’t bad for a quick shot in the dark:



April 2016 Full Moon at the secret location


Time to wrap up this blog, for it is now the wee small hours of the morning, and wake-up (once I go to sleep) is just around the corner.  Until next time, we remain-

COM, Mrs. COM and Osprey Girl (soon to be home for the summer-yippee!)

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!