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!)

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