Rain, Rain, Go AWAY


MONDAY 5/21/2018 12:15 A.M.

Good evening from the damp, rainy, cloudy, dreary Eastern Shore of Maryland.  This last week has tried the patience of man and bird alike, until the sun peaked out for a while today.  We hadn’t had a stretch of such miserable weather for quite some time.  All I could keep thinking about were the last two seasons.  Last year, during a spell of cold, rainy weather a week before the eggs were due to start hatching, Tom was not able to catch enough fish to keep Audrey satisfied.  Wrought with hunger, she left the nest, ostensibly looking for food.  While the nest was unattended, dastardly crows invaded the nest and destroyed the eggs.  In 2016, we made history at our nest.  Audrey disappeared for over twenty four hours.  Tom stayed on the eggs as long as he could, but eventually had to leave to catch a meal.  The three eggs remained unattended for seven hours in the steady rain when the temperature was 47 degrees.  None of the experts thought the eggs would be viable, but we made history when two of the three hatched.  What happened to the third egg in 2016?  You will have to keep reading to find out!

Before I continue, I want to get out a very important message from our dear partners, the Chesapeake Conservancy.  Tomorrow, May 21st, something huge is happening for them. They will be launching a 24-hour crowdfunding campaign with a goal of raising $100,000 to protect the nest that sustains us all: the Chesapeake Bay. This is a great opportunity to support the organization that brings you right up close to Audrey, Tom, and their chicks every year through the webcam. And thanks to a couple of matching donors, your gift will be quadrupled. Every $1 you give becomes $4! But the campaign is all or nothing; if Chesapeake Conservancy doesn’t reach their $100,000 goal within 24 hours, all donations will be returned. Visit charidy.com/ProtectTheNest between 3 pm May 21st and 3 pm May 22nd to participate in this much-needed initiative.

In the last blog, I summarized the egg laying dates since we have been partners with the Chesapeake Conservancy, starting in 2013.  Here is the rest of the story:

In 2013, our nest was occupied by our current Audrey (Audrey #2 at our nest), but a different Tom than we have today (Tom #2 at our nest).  Four eggs were laid on 4/17, 4/19, 4/23 and 4/25.  Three of the eggs hatched on 5/26, 5/29 and 6/2.  This would make the number of days from laying to hatching 39, 40 and 40.  The fourth egg did not hatch.

The 2014 season brought us three eggs on 4/15, 4/18 and 4/21.  The same Tom and Audrey were here as in 2013. Only two of the three eggs hatched on 5/24 and 5/27.  Days from laying to hatch in 2014 were 39, 39.

Now to 2015, our most unusual season at the secret location.  Although we had the same Audrey, our Tom #2 did not return.  We had a couple of suitors show up that spring trying to win the heart (and other parts) of our lovely Audrey.  The first male that showed up was dubbed “The Dark Stranger”, due to his coloring and the fact that he had not been previously seen at our nest.  I guess the It’s Just Lunch date didn’t work out, because a week later, a new male showed up.  He was a handsome devil, with extremely mottled feathers.  Our dear friend and osprey expert, Dr. Paul Spitzer, coined the moniker “Calico Tom”, who became our Tom #3.  This is the Tom that is at our nest today, but he has lost his calico appearance.  If you go back to the blogs from 2015, you will surely be able to discern from the photos how Tom got his nickname that year.

But the fun wasn’t over for 2015.  As Audrey patiently incubated her eggs well past their anticipated hatching dates, it became painfully obvious that none of the eggs were viable.  This was attributed to our young male not yet being fertile.  We were so saddened not to have any chicks, but Audrey continued to sit.  Now you must do some homework.  Your assignment is to read two of the blogs from the summer of 2015.  The first is titled “Who Said You Can’t Fool Mother Nature”, published on 7/9/2015.  The second assignment is to read “E.T. Phone Home”, published 7/23/2015.  If you are sitting there reading this blog, I absolutely guarantee you will be extremely happy to read those two blogs.  Bottom line:  None of the eggs from 2015 hatched.  But the teaser is that Tom and Audrey raised three lovely osprey babies that season.  Now how could that have happened if their eggs didn’t hatch, you may be asking?  Do your homework, and you will be rewarded with the answer!

So here comes 2016 and the start of our two year run of bad luck, with a little history making thrown in.  Audrey laid three eggs that season on 4/17, 4/20 and 4/23.  On 5/5, Audrey disappeared for over twenty four hours into 5/6, with Tom holding down the fort as best he could until he had to leave to find a meal.  The details of this incident can be found in “History In The Making”, published 5/31/2016.  Two of the three eggs did hatch, one on 5/27 and one on 5/29.  The number of days from laying to hatch were 40 and 39. Before the third egg had a chance to hatch, the nest was attacked the night of 5/31 by a Great Horned Owl, leading to the demise of one newly-hatched chick and the eventual destruction of the third unhatched egg.  For extra credit, read “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood”, published 6/30/2016.

Last year, our beautiful osprey pair laid three gorgeous eggs on 4/12, 4/15 and 4/18.  On 5/13, a mere four days before the hatching window would be upon us, crows descended on the unattended nest.  Two of the three eggs were destroyed, but the third appeared to still be intact.  Ultimately, the third egg turned out to be damaged beyond viability.  Sadly, for the first time since we have had a nest at the secret location beginning in 1995, Tom and Audrey did not have any chicks to raise.

After the loss of our chick and egg to the Great Horned Owl, it was suggested to us by Craig Koppie, a raptor biologist for U.S. Fish and Wildlife, that we install a “scareowl”, sort of like a scarecrow, but for owls.  COM was on it, and Roger has been gracing the end of our dock since 2016 as Protector and Defender of young ospreys.  Roger has come out of his winter digs, and is back on patrol at the end of the dock.  By the way, Craig also co-authored “Inside An Osprey’s Nest”, which chronicles our 2015 osprey season and includes other fascinating osprey information.  The book may be purchased through the Chesapeake Conservancy’s website.


Roger is looking a little raggedy this season. A new chapeau is in his future



Here is Roger with the osprey complex in the background


Given the less than ideal weather conditions we have been experiencing at the secret location, Tom and Audrey have been exemplary parents-to-be.  Tom is earning his Fishing Fool moniker this season, and so far it seems that Audrey has not had to fish for her self.  Dr. Spitzer wrote a summary of what he calls “The Home Life of the Osprey”.  I asked permission to share it with everyone.   It is a fascinating summary of, well, the home life of the osprey.  Enjoy!

Good brief summary I just sent off to a friend.  This wasn’t learned in one season; or a decade.  But some of us are slow learners.       

Female and male have separate roles post-hatch.  She is heavier, stays dry and warms the nestlings in cold and inclement weather.  He is lighter and a bit smaller; so has a lighter wing-loading–efficient for hunting and toting prey in.  Of course he’s getting wet too.  He does incubate while she takes his prey delivery to a perch.  But throughout the whole 5 month breeding cycle, he’s the provider and commuter.  This begins with feeding her when they return from their separate tropical vacations.  And she does most of the egg incubation; always at night.  With their diving life-style, they don’t carry a heavy down layer.  We think this reduces the efficiency of energy transfer to their eggs; because their incubation period is exceptionally long, at least a couple days more than the Bald Eagle.

A lone male will initiate a nest.  A female will return to her traditional site, but not build cooperatively until she has a mate.  We think this is about logistics–he needs to know the spatial and temporal distribution of food resources.  He really buffers her from all that.  And after the young are flying–she often heads South pretty soon, an early migrant.  He by contrast will stay on for a few weeks, and keep feeding the young.  This also continues to bolster his learning curve about extracting fish from the local habitats.  These days, there is strong competition for quality nest sites, so the male may defend into early September, even if the nest failed.

“Your” nest may be close enough that you are familiar with the female’s food-begging call; which becomes especially insistent once the young hatch.  The male usually has a feeding perch within easy view of the nest.  There he waits for the fish to die, and consumes the head.  Thus the female and young are cued to feed, and their physiology is primed to immediately consume the partial fish the male brings in.  This is desirable for nest hygiene, so that flies and beetles have relatively little time to lay eggs on prey remnants and infest the nest.  We think this predictable, stereotyped behavior has been strongly selected over evolutionary time.

Late last May, I had one high-tide boat-borne afternoon of CT hatch check with friends.  I wasn’t doing the study in 2017, so the exotic novelty of these nest visits returned with a rush.  It was a chilly overcast afternoon, we moved fast and mirrored most nest contents from the marsh below, respecting the birds.  But at one nest I climbed a ladder and thrust my hand into the warm dry nest cup, where three hatchlings were clustered tight to stay warm.  Suddenly, it felt like entering someone’s cozy cabin or living room.  I had a real moment, and was reminded of the title of a ~1900 photo book about nesting ospreys:  “The Home Life of the Osprey”.

Thank you, Dr. Spitzer, for always letting us share your wealth of osprey knowledge with our camera watchers and blog readers.  We are so grateful to have you as an osprey expert in our midst!

This blog is getting long enough, so I will finish up with some photos that I have taken since the last blog was published.  The weather certainly hasn’t helped my endeavors, but here are a few for your viewing pleasure.

Tom has taken to using the cross piece that stabilizes the two poles:


Tom has found a new perch



A closer view. There is no escaping the camera of Mrs. COM


Tom and Audrey aren’t the only visitors to our pilings.


Hmm, I kind of like it here, thinks Mrs. Mallard. She hasn’t been introduced to the traveling camera just yet.  Mr. Mallard has already relocated to the water.  He is visible under the dock to the right of the photo


COM is feeling badly that he didn’t install some type of perch at the very top of the new camera, as Tom used to frequent the top of the K-Mart trash can camera cover quite frequently in years past.  COM has already thought up a contraption to use next year.  In the meantime, Tom has figured out how to sit at the tippy top of the camera pole quite nicely.


DSC_1851 (2)

As dusk approaches, Tom decides to survey his kingdom


DSC_1847 (2)

I’m King of the World! (with apologies to Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack Dawson). No icebergs around these parts!


Audrey’s favorite off nest perches continue to be the electric box on our dock, the scraggly stick tree and the dock one house to the south of us.  Here are two of them.


DSC_1855 (2)

Audrey loves to eat on the electric box post. She is trying to ignore me


DSC_1860 (2)

Audrey in the scraggly stick tree one house to the north of us, which doesn’t have many leaves this year. At this rate, I am not sure how long the tree will be with us.


Audrey has been very patiently incubating her eggs.  Tom loves, loves, loves to take his turn on the eggs.  Sometimes Audrey has a really tough time getting him to leave.


DSC_1863 (2)

Tom heads back to the nest. Audrey is looking at him and thinking “And where is the fish? Do you really think I am going to leave here without a fish?  Guess again, buddy.”


DSC_1865 (2)

Audrey is asking (more like telling) Tom not to come back again without a fish snack. Tom is staring off into the distance while perching on one of the nest supports, and seems oblivious to her nagging


DSC_1869 (2)

“I just can’t do a thing with my hair (read head feathers)”, thinks Audrey


DSC_1868 (2)

Something has caught both of their attention. There have been many other ospreys in the area.


When not on the nest, Tom likes to frequent our boat lift and the scraggly stick tree.  He spends hours each day in the tree.  Here he is on the boat lift.


DSC_1861 (3)

Tom hanging out on our boat lift


I spotted this osprey feather in the yard today.  I should have put a scale in the photo so you could better determine the size.  If it is still out there in the morning, I will take another one with a scale.  Rest assured it was a really big feather (although I am not sure how one quantifies “really big” when it comes to feathers)



Someone has lost a beautiful osprey feather.


Between leaving for work before the sun comes up and the lack of sunshine of late, I do not have a new sunrise photo to post.  But after a peak of sun today, once again the rain came.  Fortunately, it didn’t last very long, but came down with great intensity.  Here is the pre-rain sky.



Building thunderhead before the brief but intense storm this afternoon.  One of the big trees that our ospreys use is on the right


It shouldn’t be very long now before our first hatch, depending on which two of the original three eggs remain in the nest.  We are well in to the hatch window for Egg #1, and at the beginning of the window for Egg #2.  So keep watching for that first pip!  By the time I write the next blog, we should have two new chicks in the nest.  Fingers crossed, everyone!

Please, please remember to make your contribution to the Chesapeake Conservancy during their crowdfunding campaign tomorrow, starting at 3:00 p.m. and running for 24 hours.  Any donation will be greatly appreciated.

Go to charidy.com/ProtectTheNest between 3:00 p.m. on Monday 5/21 and 3:00 p.m. Tuesday 5/22 to help them attain their goal and protect our magnificent Chesapeake Bay.  Thanks so very much!

Don’t forget to do your homework, there will be a quiz on the next blog!


Until next time, we remain,

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