Sunday, April 12, 2015

Osprey Turf Battle

On Saturday my wife and I visited the Eagle/Osprey nest along the south shore.  Once we arrived, my wife quickly spotted the adult BE very far way with her Nikon Binoculars.  Based on measurements on Google Earth, the adult was about 1,500 feet away and basically invisible to the naked eye.  The perch it chose was an uprooted tree that had drifted its way to the marsh over winter - a nice place to hangout during the day and avoid the punishing winds whipping out from the west.  We hung around for about an hour watching and waiting... waiting and watching but all the while the Eagle stayed put, far far away.  A couple boats passed by (including a SC Police Boat) but the bird didn't put up (or flinch).  Some crows and even a close pass by an Osprey failed to get the Eagle to move.  It seems as though the Bald Eagle is quite secure in his territory and superior size and is not overly concerned with defending anything other than its nest (or free food).

While the Eagles were overall rather "boring" (especially when you consider my first visit which saw several Osprey chases and a parental care switch), the Osprey made up for it.  Even with a scope and binoculars (and an assistant) I had a very difficult time keeping track of who was who and what was what.  The female osprey on the nest at the mouth of the creek was very loud - posturing the whole time.  I had seen and heard this before (coupled with the mate flying around with a fish, going very high at times) but it didn't really click that maybe it had to do with mating and courtship.  When I reviewed the photos and did a bit of googling, it became apparent that what we observed (and what I photographed) was the aerial courtship display known as a "sky-dance" which culminated with the male bringing a fresh fish to his life partner.  (You can read more about it here - since it's easier to read than a re-hashed version provided by me:  Osprey Information).


It wasn't until I saw the photos at home that I realized the osprey had brought a whole fish to the nest. When I was observing the various Osprey (including one particularly fun chase) the bird was carrying a half-eaten fish (a very common sight) and I assumed this is what the bird had brought back - but to my surprise it was a nice whole in-tact fish (species unknown).  What interests me is that the Bald Eagle seemed to have no interest in bothering this Osprey (that had the fresh fish) or the other osprey with the half eaten fish.  Perhaps it was too windy to bother, or the Osprey were too far away, or the Eagle just didn't "notice" but it was interesting to see the male Osprey bring a whole fish to the nest with the Bald eagle in view (albeit nearly a 1/4 mile away).

Another fun observation was multiple chases between Osprey.  One would land on the marsh and hangout for a bit - out of the brunt of the wind - until another bird came in and would goad it into a chase.  I believe I counted six (6) different Osprey in the hour that I was there - including one who was making passes at the female on the nest.  I'm aware of at least one nest on the south side of the Eagle nest - but not sure of others but clearly they are around.  What's really amazing is that even when I moved back to NY (12 years ago) Osprey were not terribly common.  Sure there were plenty of occupied nesting platforms - but the thought of so many Osprey fighting for territory with multiple nests in view?  That's something new.  I can only hope we reach that point with Bald Eagles in the not-so-distant future.

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