Good afternoon from the sunny, cool Eastern Shore of Maryland! There has been a beehive of activity here at the secret location since my last blog. The partnership between the Chesapeake Conservancy, Explore.org, the Crazy Osprey Family and Investigative Options, Inc. is up and running, and has generated much interest in our favorite Chesapeake Bay osprey couple. A hearty hello to all of our new viewers, and welcome back to our faithful friends who have been with us in previous seasons. I thought I would use this blog to update the action at our nest and address many of the observations made by our new followers. I know you are all wondering when the first egg will be laid, so here are some quick stats from last season. Audrey arrived on March 8 and Tom arrived on March 31, 2016. The three eggs were laid on April 17, 20 and 23. This year, Audrey arrived on March 21 and Tom arrived on March 25. I will leave you to ponder possible egg-laying dates. Maybe some of you can start an egg-laying pool! Hopefully, these tidbits of information will assuage some of your concerns. So without further adieu, our 2017 blog season continues!
At 12:02 a.m. on March 21, an owl was observed sitting on the platform. Although said owl was a beautiful bird, his/her presence caused some alarm in the COF (Crazy Osprey Family), as we lost a two day old chick and an unhatched egg to an owl early last season. We sent the camera stills to our favorite osprey expert, Dr. Paul Spitzer and our favorite raptor biologist, Craig Koppie, who each confirmed that our late night visitor was indeed a Great Horned Owl. They both expressed concern about the presence of the owl after the incident last year. So our Osprey Protector and Defender, Roger, came out of his winter quarters and took over his watchful duties. COM (Crazy Osprey Man) was at the ready, and prepared Roger for placement at the end of the dock. But before Roger was in residence, at 6:00 p.m. that very day, our dear Audrey returned to the secret location. By the time Audrey was back, our swans were on their way north for the nesting season.
In order to protect Audrey, COM worked into the darkness to get Roger on duty. He was deployed at 8:32 p.m. on that dark, cold, windy night! Thanks, COM, your moniker is well-deserved!
With the return of Audrey, the Tom watch was officially underway. There was a brief osprey stop-over on March 23/24, with much discussion as to the identity and gender of the visitor. Audrey had also disappeared, as the weather was not welcoming to our newly arrived bird. At our nest, it is not unusual for Tom and Audrey to take a leave of absence during very cold, windy weather. They take cover out of the wind, and probably hang out in more protected trees around the neighborhood and in near-by woods. We checked all the usual hang-outs, but Audrey was not to be found. On March 25, she returned to the platform without offering a clue as to her former whereabouts. Maybe she had a feeling that Tom was in the area, for later that night, he arrived back at the platform after dark. His identity was confirmed the next day during daylight.
Now that our happy couple was back together, there were many questions posed by our newer viewers inquiring how to tell Tom and Audrey apart. Sometimes this is not easy. Our first Tom and Audrey pair, who started out with us in 1995, looked completely differently from each other, and there was never any question about who was who. Our current Tom and Audrey are a different story. Audrey is a little bigger than Tom, and has a Phoenix-shaped black patch on the back of her head. Tom has a buff patch on the back of his head, and has mottled-looking feathers. When he first arrived at the secret location in 2015, the mottling was more pronounced. He was nicknamed “Calico Tom” by Dr. Spitzer, and that name has stuck. Over the years he has been with us, the mottling has lessened, but you can still observe his mottled feathers when he is dry. When wet, the mottling is harder to notice. Don’t feel badly if you have trouble telling Tom and Audrey apart, even the Crazy Osprey Family isn’t sure sometimes!
Over the next few days, there was much discussion about the lack of nest building and many questions about the removal of the existing nests from year to year. We have always removed the nest at the end of the season based on input from our resident osprey experts. There are two reasons for the removal of the old nest every year. One is to prevent parasites from wintering over and infecting our birds in the spring. The other reason is that the nest, if allowed to grow and grow, would get way too big and heavy for our little pole. The pole is twenty one feet long, and is sunk six feet into the sand, making it fifteen feet off the bottom with an average of thirteen feet above the surface of the water.
I guess the owner of the above dock doesn’t get to use his boat lift very often!
Here are the remains of our nest after COM took it down last fall. To remove the nest, he simply pushes it into the drink.
After much angst and gnashing of teeth about the lack of nest building, a few days after Tom arrived BAM!, the nest building began in earnest. It was a sight to behold! We hope you all enjoyed watching the nest take shape with warp speed. Yet another advantage to removing the nest every year, I will add it to the list. But next year you have to give Tom and Audrey a little break. After all, they just flew thousands of miles and needed a little R & R before commencing the build! This year, COM put a few sticks on the platform when he put the camera up to give you something to look at, but I don’t think he will do it again next year. Now you know not to worry about the old nest being taken down, as Tom and Audrey (all of our Tom and Audreys) have built a spectacular new nest every year since we have had our pole starting in 1995.
Before the nest was started, you may have noticed a piece of aluminum angle iron on the platform. There was some concern expressed about the safety of our ospreys with that piece of metal being exposed. COM installed it to keep the platform from deforming under the weight of the camera. There were no sharp edges, and there was no chance that any birds could have been injured by the aluminum. As soon as nest building began happening, the aluminum strip was quickly covered. Rest assured, we love our ospreys and would never do anything to cause them any harm!
The day after Tom returned, I happened to be home on another cold, wet afternoon and noticed him with a humongous fish. It was so big, he had trouble carrying it and landed in the yard next door.
Tom was a little camera shy, and decided maybe he could carry the fish after all.
For those of you who are new to our camera, you will quickly learn that if Mrs. COM has a camera in her hand, she becomes a stalker extraordinaire. Just a few steps closer……..
Tom relocated to the dock two houses to the north of us.
Off he went again, so I decided to let him eat his fish in peace. This gigantic fish was identified as an American shad. We usually see our ospreys eat shad early in the season before they migrate further north. The majority of the fish caught and eaten by our ospreys during the season are menhaden, or alewife. In the Chesapeake Bay, they are usually referred to as menhaden. We will discuss fish later in the season.
Last Thursday, April 6, 2017, we had a ferocious storm blow through at the secret location. There were tornadoes confirmed in Washington, D.C. and even closer to us. We always worry about our feathered friends in such dangerous weather. Our usually calm bay was whipped up into a frenzy. Audrey hunkered down to ride out the storm. Tom was nowhere to be found, probably hiding in the woods like a weenie.
The storm was fierce, but the nest held. There was some damage, but it was mostly intact. Windage on the camera caused it to rotate 180 degrees from its usual position.
The most damage from the storm was inflicted on poor Roger. Here he is after the storm.
COM retrieved brave Roger, and has taken him to the garage to be rehabilitated.
If you have been watching the camera even a little bit, I am sure you can’t help but notice that Tom and Audrey have been doing their best to make sure we have some fertilized eggs. For the voyeurs in our midst, here is what their interludes look like from shore.
This photo gives you a perspective of the pole in relation to the water surrounding it. It was taken just after the storm before COM was able to rotate the pole back into place.
There has been discussion about perches at our nest. I will discuss this in the next blog, as this one is getting way too long. In the meantime, here are Tom and Audrey in the nest just after the storm. You can see the damage on the right side of the nest. Tom loves to perch on this nest anchor.
We had a very low tide a couple of days ago, and COM went out in the water and rotated the pole back into its original position.
Well, this blog has gotten long enough. I still have lots of good information to pass on to you about various inquiries, and will continue answering some of your questions in the next few blogs. I’ll cover such topics as where Tom and Audrey hang out when they are not in residence, perches, history of the nest and other fun facts that inquiring minds want to know.
A parting shot for now…………
Here’s hoping for a nest full of eggs for the next blog!
Don’t forget about the Chesapeake Conservancy’s 4th annual Welcome Back Osprey Party, to be held on Tuesday, April 25 from 12:00-1:30 p.m. in Annapolis, Maryland. It will feature ornithologist and filmmaker Jacob Steinberg, who will talk about a documentary he wrote, directed and produced called “Osprey”. For further information, please visit http://www.chesapeakeconservancy.org.
Until next time, we remain,
COM, Mrs. COM 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!