photo: A recently fledged Osprey showing off its flying skill in Ladysmith. The orange eyes and fringed feathers are typical of the juvenile.
Nov. 4, 2017 - Right now I'm sitting in the hall at Beban Park in Nanaimo with about 60 other artisans. It's Christmas Craft fair time, and I'm participating in the Nanaimo Professional Craft fair for the third straight year. Sales are slow, but there is no shortage people stopping to ask a variety of bird questions and sharing stories of bird sightings and other bird experiences. It's not as much fun as being out in the field, but considering that it is blowing snow and sleet outside I have no complaints. (However, with Snow Buntings reported at Piper's Lagoon and my to-die-for Sharp-tailed Sandpiper in Courtenay, I might have second thoughts.) Besides the many visitors the fair is very well organized (kudos to Jane Willie), booth space is generous with lots of table space and lots of room inside the booth and the other vendors are very friendly.
This is the first of three fairs I am participating in this year. The next ones are Randerson Ridge at Dove Bay school on Nov. 17 & 18 and Winterfest (Qualicum Beach) on Nov. 24 - 26. I can't remember how long I've been doing the fairs, but I've enjoyed doing them and find it's an excellent way of connecting with the public.
I also had two other recent experiences connecting with the public and would be remiss in not acknowledging the organizers for inviting me - thank you Metchosin Garden Club and Comox Valley Eldercollege. The first was on October 4 at Metchosin where I did a butterfly presentation for the Metchosin Garden Club. The participants were very receptive and interested in information about butterflies on Vancouver Island and ideas on how to attract then to their gardens. The second and third opportunies were at the Comox Valley Elder College on October 20 and 27 respectively where I did presentations on birds and the butterflies. Attendance was supposed to be capped at 25 participants per session but there was so much interest that I accepted all comers and ended up with classes of 39 participants. I was happy to see so many people interested in birds and butterflies enjoyed the interaction with participants in both classes. With my superficial expertise gleaned from bird and butterfly photography I know I'm not the best person to be teaching classes, but until the lack of presenters is rectified I am happy to share what I have learned. These presentations are strictly on a volunteer basis, and I like to think that I'm doing it for the birds and butterflies which is also the reason for this website.
As you can obviously see I am still trying to catch up after my summer hiatus. It would be easier just forget what happened and work on the current material, but there are many photos I would like to share, and I'll start with my month with the Ospreys.
The Osprey is a remarkable, large-sized hawk with the unique ability of hovering then diving feet and head first to capture fish under the surface of the water. Studies have shown that it takes an Osprey an average of 12 minutes to locate its prey and is successful 70% of the time. There was a medieval belief that the Osprey was able mesmerize fish and make them surrender belly up, but exhaustive efforts by National Geographic film crews to document this phenomena have not been successful. The Osprey is also known by some as the fish hawk or sea hawk because of its preference for underwater cuisine, but when fish are scarce it will also dine on small rodents, amphibians, or reptiles. The Osprey has a world-wide distribution. During the winter in the western hemisphere it is found from the southern coast of the US almost to the southern tip of South America. When spring rolls around it heads north to its breeding areas anywhere right across Canada to as far north as Alaska. On Vancouver Island it usually arrives in late March or early April to claim its traditional nest site which may be on the top of a tree snag, hydro pole, lamp post or other man-made structure close to a shoreline or waterway. (In 2017 the first Vancouver Island was reported on March 30 by Robin Robinson in Victoria.) The nest is made of a pile of sticks up to seven feet wide and 5 feet tall. After its traditional aerial courtship ritual with its mate an average of three eggs are laid and both parents share the exhaustive six week incubation duties. When the chicks hatch the male assumes the role of the fish-winner and the female stays close to the nest to protect the chicks. If any bird including other raptors and even Great Blue Herons invade the Osprey's air spare it is subject to immediate aerial attack by the female. After seven weeks the nestlings are constantly exercising their wings and fledging usually takes place by the eighth week. Thanks to photo buddy, Pete Caljoux, I had the privilege of monitoring a lamp post nest in Ladysmith from July 18 to August 19. On July 18 the female was on the nest with the three chicks when I arrived, and shortly after she flew off and returned with a large stick which she carefully placed in the nest. Next she flew off to the east and landed on a tall tree about 200 m away while keeping an osprey eye on the chicks. All was quiet for the next half hour until the female started calling and flying to the nest. I had no idea what was happening as I watched the female land back on the nest. She was still calling when the male flew right over my head with a fish and landed on the nest with the excited female and chicks. I was completely caught off guard but managed to get a rear end shot of the male just before he landed with the fish.
I returned to the nest every 3 or 4 days trying to document the events leading up to fledging time. On August 3 I arrived at 6 pm and Pete was already there with his friend Dave. Pete was grinning from ear to ear as he showed me the photos of the first-fledged juvenile that had briefly left the nest and returned shortly afterwards. We kept an eye on the nest hoping to see more fledging activity but their was no action for the next hour. We were all quite bored until Dave asked, "What's that?" as he pointed a log near the forest to the east. I peered through my lens and exclaimed, "It's a juvie!" We all grabbed our gear and stalked the young bird that cooperated for a few fledgling shots.
My final visit was on August 19. The nest was totally deserted when I arrived, and there were no Ospreys in sight. I carefully did a 360 scan of the area with no success. Being patient by nature I decided to wait for at least a half hour. That paid off. After 27 minutes and 12 seconds an Osprey flew in from the direction of Ladysmith harbour. Instead of coming to the nest it headed straight for the forest to the east. I watched it land on a large branch and as the branch dipped I spotted two juvenile birds that had been obscured by the branch. I think they were trying to on the branch but were having difficulty. Finally, one of the juveniles flew to the nest, and shortly after the adult followed and deposited the fish.
With the chores piling up at home it was difficult to justify another 4 or 5 hours with the Ospreys. I rationalized that they would be too difficult to find anyway and probably packing their bags to head south to Mexico or Brazil for the winter. On the other hand, it's always a challenge (obsession?) trying for a better shot, and the lingering thought of one more chance is always in the back of my mind ... I can't say I got caught up with all my chores, but I was reasonably satisfied with a number of decent Osprey images I was able to capture. Yes, there's always room for improvement - perhaps, next year? But photos aside, the pleasure of observing and experiencing the Ospreys in action around the nest was priceless.
"Speak softly and carry a big stick. (Teddy Roosevelt)" I was perplexed at why the female Osprey. Did the nest need some repair? Did the young ones need some disciplining? Did she need a weapon for protection? Was she just bored? Or was she just sending a message to me to keep my distance?
A short time later sensing that I wasn't a danger for her chicks, the female flew east to her favorite perching snag about 100 m away. From there she had a clear view of the nest and any intruder that dared to intrude in her airspace. Of course, the obvious question is why didn't she just stay at the nest? Was it too crowded or did she just need a break from the almost full-grown nestlings? She was content to sit there for almost an hour before she suddenly started calling and heading for the nest. I glanced around to see if there was a predator in the area. I didn't see anything, but I didn't look behind me.
Since it was my first visit to the nest I had no idea where I should position myself. Obviously, I was in the wrong spot as the male flew in from behind me with the dinner catch. I was lucky to get a rear end shot just before he landed on the nest. The fish looked like a perch to me, but I'll have to contact Graham Gillespie for confirmation.
The division of labour was clear. The male brings the fish and the female feeds the chicks. I could never figure out if there was a pecking order among the chicks. One chick always seemed to be at the front of the line and hogging all the food. Meanwhile there was no pushing or shoving as the other chicks waited patiently for their turns.
July 20 - Two days later I was back on the scene watching and waiting. This time I had a better idea of where to position myself. True to form the female had flown to her favorite snag where she was watching the nest and waiting for the male. This time when she started calling and flying to the nest I knew where to be. I had two objectives. One was to get some decent shots of the female flying and landing, and then decent shots of the male approaching the nest with the fish.
I focussed on the female as she left the snag a 100 m away until she filled half of my frame the I shot and tracked as she got closer.
As she approached I was blocked out by the nest so I pointed my lens above the nest and waited. It was as if I knew what I was doing when she appeared above the nest with her wings raised ready to flap down for the soft landing.
With her wings stretched out she landed gently on the nest like a feather wafting in the breeze.
As expected the male was winging in from the north with dinner firmly clutched in its claws. Just as expected the fish was being carried in the traditional Osprey fashion with the fish pointing ahead and the tail pointing back. Apparently, Ospreys are uniquely equipped with reversible outer toes that allow them to carry the fish longitudinally for streamlined flying.
Once again I am not sure of the identification of the dinner entree, but I will hazard a guess that it was a salmon.
I Thought the Osprey was going to land on the nest with the dinner, but it took off again like a plane aborting its landing.
It circled around twice before finally stopping and delivering the meal. I have no explanation for this, but it did provide several excellent opportunities for more photos. Maybe it was just teasing the nestlings.
I'm sure the nestlings were happy to see their dinner finally in the nest. As usual the female immediately began feeding the youngsters while the male flew off to his favorite roosting tree.
July 25 - I was back a few days later to observe and try for a few more images. You can never have enough pictures of any bird let alone one as unique as the Osprey and who knows when you're going to get that perfect shot. Each situation is different depending on the lighting conditions and the behavior of the birds. Once again I was able to track the male coming in with another fish.
This time his flight path dipped a bit lower introducing the forest in the background. The low angle with the forest background was different, and I liked the shot of the Osprey with its wings folded as it neared the nest.
There was no teasing the kids this time as the male obligingly landed and deposited its catch.
The usual feeding scene ensued with the female presiding over the dinner.
July 28 - There was a lot more flapping activity today as the youngsters all took turns exercising their wings. Mom sat patiently and watched proudly as the younsters continued their rapid growth and development.
However, enough was enough and Mom needed a little peace and quiet so she flew off to a hydro pole to the west.
July 31 - Today I decided to try for a few morning shots instead of late afternoon and evening. I was caught off guard as the male came in from the south instead of the north. I had to settle for a few feeding shots.
After breakfast it was time to sit, wait, and enjoy the sun.
Then there was practice time. You could tell that fledging time was near. Some of the chicks elevated right off the nest during their practivce times. This one looked like it was ready to launch.
August 1 - Smokey days - The effects of the massive forest fires in central BC were massive with smoke covering the whole province. The smoke added an amber glow to all the photos. I guess it wa slike using a smoke filter.
Besides the smoke, my main observation was the size of the fish the male was catching. They were quite small and obviously not sufficient to feed a rapidly growing family.
To solve the problem the male did not stop and rest after each catch. Instead it flew back out ot the west and returned with another fish in about 15 minutes. In the span of a half hour it brought in 3 fish.
August 3 - The smoke had abated slightly and was present only in patches. It would be a good day for photos thanks to the cooperation of the male.
It was one of those teasing days. The male landed but didn't drop the fish or stay.
Much to the disappointment of the female and nestlings the male took off with the fish. On the other hand, I was quite pleased as it gave me another opportunity for some flight shots.
I was ready as the male circled around to the east and back. For some reason I preferred the shots with the forest in the background instead of the blue sky or white clouds. Somehow it results in truer colours - at least to my eyes. This was one of my favorite shots.
The fun was over. This time the male delivered the dinner.
It was all quiet for the next hour as we waited for more activity. Pete had arrived earlier on a tip from one of the millworkers that one of the youngsters had fledged, and he had seen and photographed it on a pile of logs. We were all hoping to see another one leaving the nest, but we were out of luck until Dave spotted a white bird on a log by the forest. It was a juvenile out of the nest. We didn't see it leave so it might have been there all the time.
We were able to approach it and catch it when it lifted off to fly back to the nest. Actually, only Dave and I got the shot as it flew while Pete was checking his monitor. We wondered if that was the only nestling that had fledged as the other two were still in the nest.
August 11 - I was sure all the Ospreys had fledged but it was hard to tell. Two were still in the nest, and they were sure giving Dad a rough time.
Meanwhile, we spotted one juvenile flying around, and I set up to capture a flight shot as it returned to the nest. I was pleased to see another juvenile leave when the other one returned. At least I knew that two of them could fly.
August 19 - Last visit - When I arrived the premises were strangely quiet and the nest was empty, but I was patient. It took me a half hour to finally locate two of the fledglings camped over by the forest. Eventually one flew towards the nest and made a dive at something on the surface of the water.
Notice the position of the toes and talons with two in and two out. That allows the Osprey to grasp the prey like a vice. Anyone who plays football knows that the thumb can get in the way for catching the ball if it's in the wrong position.
It came up empty, but I marveled at the fact that it had the hunting instinct. It sat on a log by the water for a few minutes then flew up to the empty nest. Well, I should say it was empty becuse a cloud of wasps rose when it landed in the nest.
A few seconds later the male arrived with a fine looking fish. I'm sure that if I had a hearing aid I could have heard the male calling which was the signal for the juvenile to fly to the nest.
Again I'll have to ask a fisheries person about the fish, but it looks like a greenling or lingcod.
The juvenile was delighted with lunch and so were the wasps.
However, the juvenile had other ideas. It was going to share with the wasps or other juveniles.
It took off with the fish and proceeded to dine on a large fir to the west. All of that reminded me that I hadn't had breakfast so I headed home. That was my last visit with the Ospreys. I knew it wouldn't be long before they headed south and by now they should be enjoying some balmy weather around Mexico. It looked like a very successful year for the Ospreys, and I was pleased with my learning and photographic experience.
My poster is on display at: Victoria - Swan Lake Nature House. (Note: This poster has been produced in a more manageable size and is now available for $20 unlaminated and $32 laminated.)