Ospreys, Omicron, Occupation and Ova

Good evening from the perplexing, topsy-turvy, never a dull moment Eastern Shore of Maryland! I have started this blog several times over the past few days, and keep having to change the tone and direction of my musings. For my own sanity, this is going to be it, and if something should change later today, so be it!

So here are the facts as I know them: On March 6, 2022, we were very fortunate to have had a visit from Joe and Andrew from Explore at the secret location. They moved the old camera to the dock to be able to view our swans in the winter. The next day, our dear friends Phil and Dean from the Chesapeake Wildlife Heritage and Michael from the Chesapeake Conservancy put the camera and nest poles back in place. With the help of COM, Joe and Andrew, a new camera was installed on the camera pole for better viewing and sound. The NEMA box was rewired to allow the Explore camera operators to switch between the dock camera and pole camera. Here are a few photos from that install.

Andrew working on the dock camera while Joe is rewiring the NEMA box. COM has his hands in his pockets waiting for orders. You can see the camera pole with perch to the right of COM while Joe wires it up.

The sun has disappeared, and the day became quite chilly as evidenced by COM’s newly donned coat. The swans were hoping for a hand-out.

By this time in March, most of our swans had already left for their summer digs up north. A few hardy souls remained, and were duly rewarded with corn every morning.

Dean, COM, Andrew and Phil installing the camera pole.

Phil is getting ready to attach the cross piece which stabilizes the two poles and keeps them moving at the same time in the same direction during wind and wave action.

The kayak contains a trash pump, which is used to jet the poles into the bottom. Dean is pulling it back to land.

With all the equipment installed and ready to go, our handy dandy giant step ladder is carried back to land along with the trash pump kayak.

Our new camera in place next to the nest platform.

Our newest addition at the secret location is a dedicated camera on the dock for winter viewing. Now COM doesn’t have to move the camera to the dock every winter, which was not an easy task.

A close-up of the new permanent dock camera. Thank you, Joe, Andrew and Explore!

Our dedicated crew-Michael, Andrew, COM, Joe, Phil and Dean with the pole complex in the background so you can get some perspective of where it is.

I will tell you one quick story before moving on to other facts that I know. In 1960, COM’s parents gave him a socket wrench as payment for painting their house. He used the wrench to build a hot rod while he was in high school. This wrench has stayed in his voluminous tool collection ever since, and has been used to secure the cross beam between the poles for many years. As everything was being cleaned up, COM realized his beloved socket wrench was no longer in his waders. A massive search ensued, with the wrench eventually being found, but not before a water search was conducted by Dean and Phil. I was so relieved the wrench was found, I really didn’t want to see a grown man cry.

Dean and Phil searching for COM’s socket wrench in the water. Talk about finding a needle in a hay stack! What dedication, what resolve, how fruitless.

Audrey returned on March 18, 2022. We were all so happy to see her. Tom wasn’t far behind, and made his way back to the secret location on March 26, 2022. On March 19, 2022, COM and Mrs. COM left for a fifteen day vacation with another couple, dear friends who used to be neighbors and have since moved to Florida. The sojourn included two days in Lisbon, followed by a cruise to Madeira and the Canary Islands, with a return date of April 2, 2022. April 1 was April Fool’s Day here in the United States, but there was no fooling when Mrs. COM and her friend Sue tested positive for COVID after taking a mandatory rapid antigen test on the ship (confirmed by a PCR test) to be able to fly back to the United States the next morning. We were both fully vaccinated and boosted, and had tested negative twice before boarding the ship. COM and Tom tested negative, and were able to leave as planned on April 2. Sue and I remained in Lisbon in COVID prison until April 11, when we were permitted to fly back home. I can assure you that there is a much longer story about Linda and Sue’s Great COVID Adventure, but that is another story for another day with a different audience. Bottom line is that my 15 day trip turned into a 25 day trip, way longer than I had ever anticipated or wanted. Hence the Omicron portion of this blog title.

During our time away, I kept a close watch on the goings on at the nest, complemented by information from our dear friend Poppy, who at the time was a moderator extraordinaire on the Explore Chesapeake Osprey site. She kept me up to date with the rotten cold, windy, rainy weather. From past experience, we know our ospreys, especially Audrey, do not like that type of weather. They were absent from the nest platform for extended periods of time, but eventually started nest building. Before we left for our trip, many sticks were put out in the back yard to give Tom and Audrey a head start with some prefab building materials. It did not go unnoticed that some of the sticks were adorned with blue and yellow ribbon in solidarity with Ukraine. Poppy is a true friend to the Crazy Osprey Family, and we will miss her sound counsel and voluminous osprey knowledge as part of the Explore organization.

Sticks in the back yard adorned with blue and yellow ribbons ready for pick-up.

The nest was visited by other neighboring ospreys, both male and female. During an extended absence by Audrey, one female osprey in particular was persistent in trying to claim squatter’s rights. She was dubbed “The New Lady” by Poppy. The New Lady was resistant to Tom’s attempts at osprey nookie, and was quite proficient in blocking Tom’s attempts to build a nest. This new drama caused consternation among our viewers, and much speculation about the new female occupant of the nest. As predicted by Poppy, Audrey reappeared to reclaim her rightful place as the Grand Dame of the secret location, and all seemed right again. The nest continued toward its former glory as the egg wait began.

The return of Audrey on March 18. She is viewing her digs from way up high in Joe’s big tree.

A closer view of Audrey in the tree on 3/19/2022

This was as close as I could get without scaring her off. I can always tell when she has had enough by her head bobbing and unhappy sounds.

The above photos were the last I took before Linda and Sue’s Great COVID Adventure. My photo journal resumed on April 12, the morning after I successfully received my boarding pass (with some trepidation it wouldn’t happen). I received a stupendous welcome home present from Mother Nature.

My welcome home sunrise gift from Mother Nature

April 12 turned out to be a great day to be home to gather photos for my next blog. Calico Tom the Fishing Fool was in full fishing fool mode.

A yummy bite from an unfortunate fish while on the swim ladder of my neighbor’s dock two doors to the south of us.

I love the ooey, gooey parts, thinks Tom.

Tom’s exorcist impression. Just please don’t throw up green vomit!

Tom takes his fish from the swim ladder to our neighbor’s boat lift. Do you think the fake owl is keeping the ospreys away?

I don’t know about you, but I kind of think the owl has lost his effectiveness.

The great photo ops continued on April 12. I looked out my kitchen window to an incredible chase between an eagle and two ospreys, one of which had a fish. The eagle was trying to purloin the fish from one of the ospreys, and the second osprey came in to defend his pal. As you can imagine, the action was fast and furious. Most of the photos I took didn’t focus on the action, but on the houses on land. I was able to get a few usable ones, but they aren’t the greatest photos in my repertoire.

Osprey with fish on the left being chased by an eagle in the center, with a second osprey in the mix on the right

The battle continues
The eagle is much bigger than the osprey

A little while later after the aerial battle was over, I caught Audrey on a stick hunt after she left the paltry nest.

Audrey waiting in the nest for Tom to bring her some dinner.

She gives up on Tom, and begins searching for the perfect stick.

Audrey headed to the Crazy Osprey Family stick farm and snagged one, but my camera focused on the grass instead of her, and the photo was unpostable. You will just have to believe me on this one! I was able to get one in focus as she flew back to the nest.

Nest bound with the perfect rail stick.

And back to the nest she goes. The nest could use some help.

Audrey looks quite proud of herself. That was a big stick.

Time to start rearranging the furniture. Tom is no help as he gives himself a manicure at the top of the camera pole on his favorite perch.

Right over here, I think

Just a little more to the right…….

April 12, 2022 was a great day for my camera. It was a good thing, because for the rest of April except for the weekends and two other days, I worked every day. Now you know where the “Occupation” part of my blog title originated.

While we all watched and waited for the first egg to be laid, Tom and Audrey continued to add to their nest and get to know each other again (wink, wink) after their long hiatus. Their meet and greets (wink, wink) paid off on April 19, when Audrey presented us with her first beautiful egg.

The proud almost papa on COM’s boat lift on April 20, with two close ups following

Tom is such a handsome fellow.

Just on schedule, Audrey laid her second glorious orb on April 22, 2022, which was preceded by an equally glorious rainbow the day before on April 21.

This was a full rainbow, but so large I couldn’t capture the entire arch.

Can you see a pot of gold?

The opposite end of the rainbow as it fades away.

The day after Audrey presented Tom with their second egg, the proud papa spent some time on top of the dock camera while Audrey incubated.

Tom surveying his kingdom on the day after the second egg arrived.

Audrey right below the camera pole, nestled down on the two eggs.

Audrey took a little break from the nest on April 24 while Tom took over incubating duties. There was no doubt who was on the NEMA box. Guess why?

Getting ready for a changing of the guard.
Audrey flies to the NEMA box, and joins her purple martin buddies. Mrs. COM loves, loves, loves the purple martins. They sing the sweetest songs ever. But they dive bomb me when I walk out on the dock, must have some eggs in there!

After Audrey arrives at the NEMA box, she gives Tom an earful. “Hey buddy, I am supposed to be eating on this box!”

Looking over at Tom on the nest. “Hey, buddy, let’s get moving!”

I guess you couldn’t hear me the first time. Let’s try this again, louder this time.

April 24 was the day before the third and last egg was laid. COM and I witnessed one of the more amazing sights we ever see here at the secret location. Fortunately, it was a Sunday and I was home and not working. I looked out the window to see Tom diving for a fish and catching it. As he tried to fly off with his meal, it became obvious that the fish was too big for Tom to carry. After several failed attempts to become airborne with his prize catch, Tom decided to swim the fish into shore. It was an amazing sight to say the least. I am not going to comment on each of the photos in the next series. What you will be seeing are Tom’s attempts to get airborne, which failed, and what was happening in between each attempt to fly. As Tom reaches the rip-rap (the large rocks protecting the shoreline from erosion), he loses the fish and flies off. He certainly gave it his all, but the fish was just too big. Thank you, COM, for taking some photos while I ran upstairs to get properly dressed for a photo session in the back yard on a Sunday morning.

Tom has lost Moby Dick, and flies to Joe’s big tree to dry off.

While Tom has been doing battle with Moby Dick, Audrey has been watching with great anticipation while conducting her incubation duties in the nest, and is mentally cheering him on.

Come on, Tom, you can do it, you big, strong, handsome osprey. Do it for Mama, come on Tom, please?

Even with Audrey’s urging, it couldn’t be done. Several minutes later, I saw a really big, really dead fish floating out from the shore. I am fairly certain it was Moby Dick, and took a photo, but it was too far out to capture the size of the one that got away.

Tom drying off way up in Joe’s big tree after doing battle with the whale.

Tom is really wet.

Maybe if I lift one wing, I will dry out faster, thinks Tom

Audrey laid her third and last egg right on schedule the next day, April 25, much to everyone’s delight. The weather remained cold and windy, and I was starting to feel uneasy when Audrey didn’t seem to be incubating her eggs (ova per blog title above) properly. The last time I saw Audrey before yesterday was on April 27 as she hunkered down in the rip-rap trying to stay out of the cold wind.

Audrey is hunkered down in the rip-rap on a cold, windy day.

On April 29, just four days after the laying of the third egg, tragedy ensued at the nest. Audrey had not been seen for a couple of days. The eggs were unattended, and the New Lady visited the nest, only to step on one of the eggs and break it. Shortly thereafter, a dastardly crow discovered the newly broken egg, and devoured it. The second egg was soon to follow. After trying with gusto to break and eat the third egg, the crow gave up. Several more times that day, crows arrived to attack the remaining egg with no success. Obviously, the egg had some type of abnormality and the shell was way too thick for even a crow to break. On May 1, 2022, a crow finally succeeded in breaking into the last remaining egg. The empty nest sat as a sentinel, reminding us of yet another unfulfilled promise of new life in our little osprey world. I could hardly bear to look out the window, with the nest and camera poles standing silently and without activity. A simmering melancholy fell over the secret location, as well as over all of the faithful camera watchers and blog readers in our midst. The season was over before it barely began.

Or was it? The New Lady visited the nest several times after Audrey’s disappearance, and she and Tom seemed to be maintaining a truce, although it didn’t last long. There was some hope that this New Lady might interest Tom and salvage the season, but things didn’t work out. Tom chased her off several times, and she didn’t come back. We were all worried about the fate of Audrey, who still had not been seen.

While at work today, I received a text from Poppy, telling me that Audrey was back. Where had she been? We will never know. I do not have any answers as to why she didn’t behave as a female osprey should, not incubating her eggs properly and disappearing for days at a time. I am not an ornithologist, or educated in the way of birds. All I have learned about ospreys and their behavior has been gleaned from observations, reading and talking to others who are experts. So I don’t have an explanation for you as to why this keeps happening. I will try to talk to some real experts, listen to their opinions and report back in the next blog.

What I do know is that I am so relieved to have Audrey back, and in full voice I might add. I do not know what will happen for the rest of the season. But it is still early. She didn’t arrive back at the secret location last season until April 28, 2021, after I had already written my obituary blog in her memory. Her first egg wasn’t laid until May 14 last season. So I will keep my fingers and toes crossed, and we will have to wait and see what Mother Nature has in store for us over the coming days and weeks. In the words of the immortal Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over”! Here’s hoping!

I know I usually end my blogs with a beautiful photo of a sunrise or moonrise. I have been working more days than not working, and frequently leaving before the sun comes up. My early morning photo taking has been quite stymied. So I will leave you with a photo that I don’t claim to be beautiful, but captures the spring we have been having here at the secret location. The local car wash owners are quite happy. Can you say Claritin?

A thick layer of pollen blankets the water by our rip-rap, turning it green. Gesundheit!

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 ae able to continue supporting programs such as this one. Go to http://chesapeakeconservancy.org today. Thanks very much!