Good afternoon from the lovely Eastern Shore of Maryland and the eighth season of blogs from your stay-at-home (for the time being) author! Welcome back to another season following the saga of Tom and Audrey, our favorite Chesapeake Bay osprey couple. When last I wrote, we were way back in the lazy, hazy days of summer following the adventures of Tom, Audrey, Lil Bit and Archie. Who could have ever predicted where we are today? Hopefully, I will be able to take your mind off of our plight for a few minutes with the first blog of the new decade.
When I sat down to go through the photos I have taken since the last blog, I quickly realized that I had way too many to publish in one sitting. I have formulated a plan which I hope my reading public will like. This blog will cover happenings starting in early March this year. Next week, I will go back in time and entice you with blog #2 of 2020, and go back to August 2019 where we left off. Sound like a plan? It does to me!
As those of you who follow the blog know by now, at the end of every season, our nest is completely removed from the platform. There are always questions about this destruction, much to the chagrin of many of you. One of the reasons for the removal is due to the weight of the nest. If the nest was permitted to remain, our ospreys would continue to build on top of their old nest year after year. This could result in a really big, heavy nest that would weigh way too much for our little 2 inch galvanized pole (check out the great pair of homophones for you homeschoolers, you’re welcome). Reason number two is to remove any bird parasites that could winter over in the nest. It was suggested to us many years ago by those in the know that yearly removal of the nest would be the way to go, and we have followed that advice faithfully. Over the years, we have also lost poles to ice that forms in the bay during the winter, usually because of the movement of ice that is moving, melting or breaking up. Poles are expensive and time consuming to replace, so we now take the poles down at the end of each osprey season. I have posted photos over the years of the ice damage, check out some of the older blogs if you are curious to see that phenomenon.
So if the poles come down, the poles must go back up. This happens in late winter shortly before our ospreys make their way north from their winter digs in South America to their summer Chesapeake home. Pole removal and installation is a big job requiring a group effort. On a cold, dreary, rainy, early March morning, the tides and wind were favorable for the task at hand, and pole installation commenced.
Over the past couple of years, the camera pole has been moved from out in the water to our dock to enable viewing of the lovely tundra swans that grace our waters from November through March. This is what the camera pole looks like during swan season, attached to one of the dock pilings.
The winter home of the camera pole
The platform pole is completely removed, and spends the winter resting quietly on our rip-rap. The crew has moved the pole from its winter quarters to the dock while awaiting its move to placement in the water.
The platform pole ready to make the trip out to its new home. You can see the pulley at the bottom of the platform that facilitates the raising and lowering of the pole.
The task of installing and removing the poles necessitates a cast of hundreds. Well, I may have exaggerated a little bit, four is actually an optimal number. As in most years past, Phil and Dean of the Chesapeake Wildlife Heritage are indispensable to the job at hand. For the past couple of years, we have also been fortunate to have the help of Michael from the Chesapeake Conservancy. COM is always in on the action, and does a substantial amount of prep work behind the scenes during the off season. And of course, Mrs. COM is always around to help as needed, but more importantly, to bake muffins to thank everyone for their invaluable help. This year the flavor was lemon poppy and they were yummy!
Here is a little taste in photographs of what it takes to install the poles. It was a dreary, rainy day, so not the best lighting for the photos. However, sometimes you have to take what you can get.
The platform pole is about to travel out to the water. The crew, from left to right, COM, Michael, Dean and Phil
The pole is much heavier than it looks. It is a 20 foot long, 2 inch galvanized water pipe.
The kayak marks the spot where the pole base is located in the water. There is a trash pump in the kayak which will be used to jet in the poles.
Administrative note-I had to look up what a trash pump is, as the name sounded kind of funky. Here is what I found out:
Trash pumps are designed to pump large amounts of water that contain hard and soft solids such as mud, leaves, twigs, sand, and sludge. Most devices are portable, heavy-duty centrifugal pumps that feature deeper impeller vanes and larger discharge openings than other pumps.
We all (or most of us) learned something new today!
Phil and COM are locating the pole base in preparation to jet in the platform pole
Did I ever tell you I am glad to be taking the photos and baking the muffins instead of being in the water? Consider yourselves told!
One down, one to go. Our trusty 14 foot stepladder is at the ready.
Now the tricky part begins. The camera pole has to be disengaged from the piling, lowered down and transported to the pole base without the camera getting wet. This is not an easy task. Phil is the choreographer of this water ballet.
Phil and Dean are in the water under the dock, while COM and Michael are ready to assist
The pole is down and resting on the dock. As heavy as the pole is, the camera makes it even heavier and it cannot touch the water
The inside of the pole needs to be cleaned out so it will fit on the pole base out in the water
The camera pole arriving at its final destination. COM is carrying some of the cable to hook up the camera. Mrs. COM helped feed the cable out to COM from the dock, so I did help!
The pulley on the platform pole is needed to raise the camera pole.
Dean is jetting in the pole as it is raised. There are lines running all over the place, physics is a beautiful science. All hands on deck were needed for this maneuver
The muffins are calling. Faster, faster!
Everyone is out of the water, and it’s time to clean up
Mission accomplished! From left to right: COM, Michael, Dean and Phil
The next day dawned sunny and bright, wouldn’t you know it. Check out the top of the camera pole. COM decided that he would make it easier for Tom or any other interested osprey to perch on the top of the pole, and built the cutest little perch just suited for osprey talons. What a guy! Our ospreys don’t realize how good they have it.
The finished product the next day. Check out the new perch
Close-up view of the new perch, probably one of a kind. This is also a good view of the pan, tilt, zoom (PTZ) camera and the infrared (IR) light source, which is also an analog camera but only used for the IR light to provide nighttime viewing
With the poles in, we were open for business, osprey business that is. All that was left to do (at least for now) was wait. And lo and behold, our first osprey came to call!
The Visiting Lady-first osprey to visit us this season
Upon closer observation, it became quite obvious very early on that this was not our Audrey. Although she had Audrey eye markings, her chest had a heavy necklace and she had a buff patch on the back of her neck like Tom.
The Visiting Lady on the empty platform
A closer look at the Visiting Lady’s necklace. Definitely not Audrey
The Visiting Lady knows how to feed herself.
Visiting Lady trying out COM’s new perch on a dreary day
Visiting Lady on the electric box, one of Audrey’s favorite haunts.
The Visiting Lady was a beautiful osprey, and we were beginning to think that we might have Audrey 3. All of our ospreys since 1995 when our first pole was installed have been Tom and Audrey. Before the beginning of the 2020 season, our nest was occupied by Tom 3 and Audrey 2. The plot thickened when a male osprey showed up, and looked very much like Tom. To add to the intrigue, they did the osprey deed (if you have to ask, you don’t need to know).
The Visiting Lady with her Tom impersonator
And then a few days later, on March 20, a great aerial battle ensued. After the Showdown At The OK Corral (osprey style), our lovely Audrey reclaimed her rightful place at the platform. The Visiting Lady has not been seen since. There are a multitude of platforms and other man made nesting sites available in our immediate area, so VL and her Tom impersonator have probably set up housekeeping nearby. The burning question in everyone’s mind was whether or not our real Tom would return to his summer digs and awaiting partner.
Audrey passed the time hanging out on the platform and in her usual places around the neighborhood. She fished and ate, then got bored (most of us can identify with that feeling right about now) and brought a few paltry sticks back to the platform.
On March 29, there came a sight for sore eyes. Calico Tom the Fishing Fool was back in town!
The real Tom and Audrey back together again. Yippee!
Hanging out together in the top of Joe’s tree, two houses to the north of us
A close-up of Tom and Audrey at the top of Joe’s tree. I think they really like each other
While all of the bird permutations were going on, COM decided he needed a new boat.
What do you think? Just needs a little work
Okay, just pretend it’s April 1. Only kidding, a belated April Fool’s joke, we need some chuckles right about now, don’t you think? Not really COM’s boat, I hope he laughs when he reads my blog. I will let you know.
So happy to have Tom the Fishing Fool back in town!
A neat eater he is not. Tom is making quite the mess on the piling.
Does a poop shot count if you can’t see the poop? Not sure if we can count this as the first poop shot of the 2020 season. What is your vote? Majority rules.
Poop shot sans poop. Every vote counts!!
And with Tom back, nest building commenced in earnest. The viewing public couldn’t see this wonky stick in any camera view, but it drove us crazy for a few days.
Wonky stick at the beginning of nest building
I think it is stuck in the cross piece.
One of my favorite phenomena on the water is what I call “the sparklies”. In order to see them, there has to be the right combination of wind and lighting. This photo doesn’t do them justice, as it is focused on the osprey and not the water, but here is a little inkling of the sparklies.
There have been many comments on the explore page about the nest and sticks, particularly the marked sticks. We collect sticks from our yard and some neighbor’s yards, and keep them under a tree. This is our stick locker. In addition to putting out many sticks au naturale, COM ties construction tape of varying colors to a few of the sticks so we can track their progress from the backyard to the nest. What colors have you seen so far? If your answer is pink, yellow and blue, then you win the prize! There will be more to follow, so be observant and your efforts will be rewarded. Tom is a nest builder extraordinaire, and there will be many sticks placed in the days to come.
Sometimes I get the feeling that Tom and Audrey really enjoy each others’ company. Here are a couple more examples to go along with the above two.
Tom and Audrey in the scraggly stick tree (terrible lighting, but good subject matter)
A closer view of Tom and Audrey in the scraggly stick tree.
Hanging out together on the ladder
You can really see the difference in the eye patterns between Tom and Audrey in the next photo, which is one of my favorites so far this season (even with the terrible lighting)
Reunited and it feels so good….
Tom catches the fish, so he gets to eat first.
Audrey is waiting on the electric box for Tom to bring her some sloppy seconds
It must have been a good size fish before Tom got his beak into it
You may have noticed a new addition on our dock. For many years, we have tried to attract purple martins to a purple martin house in our yard, and only managed to attract house sparrows, which are not desirable birds to have. I have always loved purple martins, as they have the sweetest song and eat bejillions of mosquitoes. Our buddy Phil from Chesapeake Wildlife Heritage suggested we put a particular type of purple martin house out over the water, which is designed to only allow purple martins to roost. COM was happy with a new project, and with Phil and Dean’s help, we are the proud owners of a beautiful new purple martin house. There are a few scout birds around, so we hope to start a colony here in the near future. Stay tuned for more on our newest project!
A very wet Audrey on our new purple martin house
Same photo from above, but now you know about the new purple martin house. It has all kinds of guards to keep out predators and unwanted invasive birds
I am going to close for now. The photos in this blog cover all of March through April 1. I am having trouble getting my photos to transfer from the camera to my computer, so until I figure it out, I can’t post any of the newer photos I have taken.
In the meantime, I will get out another blog next week with highlights from August 2019 through February 2020. And there should be some eggs coming very soon, yippee! Here’s hoping for another fabulous osprey season with Tom and Audrey.
I usually leave you with a photo of one of our spectacular sunrises here at the secret location. For a change of pace, here are two photos of the March Super Full Worm Moon rising over the water behind our house. Mother Nature at her finest, for sure!
Super Full Worm Moon, with a reflection visible in the water
The Super Full Worm Moon, breathtaking
Before closing, I want to give a humongous shout-out to everyone who is helping us through this destructive pandemic. From health care providers, those who keep our hospitals clean, laboratory technicians, food service personnel, law enforcement, grocery store clerks, truck drivers, trash collectors, mail carriers, transportation workers, mechanics and anyone else I haven’t named who is trying to get us through these turbulent times, we all thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Your efforts are truly appreciated by everyone. Three women who mean the world to me (JH, HL, JS) are included in the above list. You know who you are, please stay safe while helping others.
Everyone wash, wash, wash your hands and don’t touch your faces!!
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!!