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Ospreys


I see ospreys almost everyday of the year. Ospreys are everywhere in Dunedin, Florida, where I winter. When I go to the grocery story, all I have to do is look up. There’s an osprey nest in the parking lot. Ditto at the gas station.

March and April were busy months for ospreys at Honeymoon Island State Park. In March, I watched them swoop low and pull up dried seaweed to line their nests. There are 24 active nests on the island this year. Before 2005 there were 32, but the hurricane season that year knocked out half of those. They’ve slowly been building back again. Besides osprey nests, there’s also a great horned owl nest and an eagle’s nest this year. In early April, I saw a group of eight ospreys fishing in the surf. I’ve never seen a large group fishing together. They are dazzling to watch, diving into the water from dizzying heights and coming out with fish in their talons.

The first time I saw an osprey wasn’t here in Florida; it was in the Thousand Islands. I can’t remember the first time I saw an osprey. But my guess is it was in the late 1990s. Sarah Walsh from Save the River says I’m probably right. Due to DDT, ospreys had disappeared from the Thousand Islands for decades and were reintroduced to the area in the late 1980s.

I don’t think I’d ever heard of an osprey before the late 1990s. I was so excited when I saw my first one, because I thought it was an eagle. A common mistake. Ospreys are slightly smaller and have a dark stripe through their eye. But the telling detail is their white undersides. Bald eagles have dark bodies and all white heads.

The first nest I saw was the one in the Narrows. It’s still there. Osprey nests are impressive because of their size. Added to year after year, the older they are, the bigger they get. Ospreys like a 360-degree view, so their nests are easy to spot. If you see a huge mass of sticks on top of a dead tree, navigational buoy or utility pole, chances are it’s an osprey nest.

Nest building in April
Photo by L. McElfresh

 
Watch where you park!
Photo by L. McElfresh
Osprey nest in our grocery store parking lot
Photo by L. McElfresh

 

When I returned to the island last spring, I was excited to find an osprey nest on a utility

pole at the head of the island, right where the sidewalk ends and a footpath continues along the north shore. The spot must have seemed very quiet when they started building the nest in mid-April but by the time islanders began returning in May, the ospreys must have felt like their secluded haven as being invaded. Every time I walked under the nest, the pair seemed quite agitated. I imaged the female saying something like, “I told you that with cottages around there would be people.”

Sarah says that some osprey pairs seem to tolerate people and hustle bustle, but others seem to prize their solitude a little more. The pair of osprey on Grenell last spring definitely liked their solitude, they were gone by June.

The nest down the street from us here in Dunedin is right next to a parking lot for a driving range and at a busy intersection. To top this off, it is also the location of Dunedin osprey cam. This pair doesn’t seem to mind any of this hub-bub. At times it seems they pose for the camera. So as I head north I can check back on my favorite Dunedin osprey pair at www.dunedinospreycam.comI already know before I headed north that ospreys beat me back to the Thousand Islands. .

I wondered if any of the ospreys I saw every day in the winter migrated to the Thousands Islands, but park rangers at Honeymoon Island dashed that notion. They told me for the most part, Florida ospreys stay in Florida year round. There are a small percentage of Florida ospreys that migrate to Bolivia for the winter.

The ospreys from the Thousand Islands probably migrate to northern South America each year. Researchers are still studying migration paths: some ospreys follow the coast, some follow the Appalachian chain. Some fly via the Caribbean route through Cuba and maybe Hispaniola before they continue on to South American. Some fly through the panhandle of Florida and then south over the Gulf of Mexico.

So even though I’m not sure where the ospreys that summer in the Thousand Islands spend the winter, I know they usually arrive back in the islands about a month before us. They need to arrive early. They have lots to do! They have to repair nests, lay and incubate eggs, feed hatchlings, teach fledglings to fish and then bulk up before they head south for the winter.

By late June or early July the osprey family is often teaching their fledglings to fish in our cove. They have a sweet call, I’ve heard described as a downward chirp. They are very vocal as they are teaching their young to fish.

My favorite nest is in the Narrows on the Murray island side.
Photo by L. McElfresh
I see osprey everyday, especially when I got through the Narrows
Photo by L. McElfresh
Before telephone poles were invented, pine tree snags where nesting favorites. This nest is at the head of Bluff Island.
Photo by L. McElfresh

I noted another new nest last year. This one was also on a utility pole located in the confines of Wellesley Island state park between the Pond Loop trail and South Bay trail. In September, I met an excited birdwatcher, who pointed the nest out to me. I’d been walking past it all season. He told me it was a juvenile pair and this was probably their first nest. He guessed they probably weren’t a breed pair, but were probably “playing house” this season, practicing for the big event next year.

I told him he was right, that the nest was new this year. I was impressed. I knew that because I walked by here every day for the last three seasons. But how did this guy know? He said he could tell from the plumage that they were juveniles. I asked if he were a biologist or a bird expert of some kind and he admitted he was just someone who loved birds.

I would love to know more about ospreys, so I was very exited to learn that Save the River was offering an Osprey Monitoring program training session this spring where volunteers will learn how to observe and collect information on nesting ospreys along the St. Lawrence River. Unfortunately, the session was in late April, before I returned to the river. Save the River will be offering an internet video session for us late-comers. To find out more about the program check the Save The River website  or call them at 315-686-2010.

Who knows? Maybe there will be another nest o Grenell this year? I plan to go through the training and maybe by the time I return to Florida in the fall, I’ll be able to identify which birds are juveniles and which are adults. Until then, I’ll enjoy watching the osprey fish in the sparkling blue waters of the St. Lawrence. 

By Lynn E. McElfresh

Lynn McElfresh is a regular contributor to TI Life.  Over the past year Lynn has taken us on nature walks around Wellesley Island.   As we go to press, the McElfresh family are planning their summer 2011 on Grenell Islands. To see all of Lynn’s island experiences, search TI Life under Lynn E. McElfresh. Lynn’s bio was profiled in August 2009.

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Comments

Bud Andress
Comment by: Bud Andress ( )
Left at: 3:04 PM Sunday, May 15, 2011
Lynn,

I enjoyed your article and am so glad someone wrote about ospreys. Some today almost find them a pest now that they are plentiful, but that was not always the case. Back in 1992 I had the priviledge to work with Dr. Peter Ewins, then a research scientist with the Canadian Wildlife Service (now with World Wildlife Fund). We surveyed the 1000 Islands and could only find two nesting pairs of ospreys - one pair and a nest on the U.S. side of the river in the old Third Brother Shoal tower, and one pair on the Canadian side whose nest we could not find just north of the 1000 Islands Parkway, east of Rockport, ON. Dr. Ewins felt there were not enough suitable nest sites such as dead tree tops near the water to encourage a more rapid recovery for the osprey in the post-DDT contamination period. In the fall of that year, with volunteer assistance and funding, we erected the first six artficial nest platforms on the Canadian side. These were later followed by platforms built to try to keep the ospreys off the navigation towers in the Canadian Middle Channel*, and of course others put up throughout the 1000 Islands privately. Today there may very well be 75 - 100 nests on each side of the river. Those original platforms were completely successful and five remain today with nesting ospreys (and one with bald eagles!)

* The Canadian Coast Guard, the Leeds County Stewardship Council, and Parks Canada worked together to erect artificial nest boxes for ospreys to lure the nesting birds away from navigation towers. NOTE: all of the nests built on navigation towers by ospreys over the years on the Canadian side were constructed on "red nav. towers". I have a theory why, perhaps the other readers do too!

Bud Andress
Vice President, Save The River

Canadian Co-chair, Raptor Working Group
of eastern Lake Ontario and the upper St. Lawrence River

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