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Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Osprey Files: An Attempted Nest Takeover

The news from the Maine coast: our Osprey couple has survived an apparent nest takeover this week.

A few days ago I spent a few hours watching the nest. The female, Wapatewi, still spent most of her time incubating eggs while the male, Notenwi, hung out on his favorite roosting tree on the far side of the island.  After a long stretch of no activity I decided to call it a day and head home. I started packing up my camera when Wapatewi, still on the nest, began screeching to her mate. I thought that maybe she was simply hungry - she tends to squawk to her mate when she needs food and he obligingly flies off to go catch a fish.

But this time things were different.

Notenwi flew off his roost but instead of heading off to catch a fish, he began circling higher and higher over the nest. At the same time, Wapatewi screeched more loudly and turned to look not at her mate, but westward, over the mainland. She was obviously stressed about something.

Then another female Osprey appeared, flying in from the west and attempting to "dive-bomb" Wapatewi as she guarded her eggs! I looked into the sky for Wapatewi's mate and saw him chasing off a male Osprey.

The interlopers appeared to be trying to take over the nest. The new female repeatedly flew in close to Wapatewi, almost seeming to bully her and likely trying to get her to abandon the nest. For her part, Wapatewi stood her ground without leaving the eggs, scolding the intruding female sternly the whole time.

Wapatewi scolding an intruding female Osprey

Notenwi successfully chased off the new male Osprey, then flew back to the nest to take on the new female. A couple of circuits around the island with Notenwi on her tail convinced the intruder to give up and follow her mate to another location. As soon as the second Osprey was out of sight, Notenwi settled back down on his favorite branch and Wapatewi went back to the business of quietly incubating her eggs.

As all of this was going on in the skies above us, a small crowd of people had gathered to watch the confrontation. I guess because I had a camera and some sense of understanding what was happening, folks started asking me about this behavior and if it was "normal."

What's going on is that nest sites for Ospreys are at a premium. Think of them like custom-built homes - each one takes a pair of Osprey many, many hours of effort to build. With coastal development here in New England, many of the big, old trees that used to support nests have been removed. And natural processes destroy trees and nests too - one big winter storm can badly damage or destroy many Osprey nests within the space of hours.

On the plus side, humans have been building artificial nesting platforms all over New England - and Ospreys have been using them. But still, nests are hard to come by, especially for young Osprey pairs just starting their lives together.

Ospreys tend to mate for life and many of them return to the same nest year after year. It looked to me like Notenwi and Wapatewi had been together for a while - their communication was superb and their "changing of the guard" while incubating eggs was always smooth and efficient. I'd also sensed that they'd used this nest before - perhaps for several years. They seemed really familiar with the area and were already incubating eggs - they were weeks ahead of the other birds passing through.

This last week has seen a peak in Osprey migrations through New England (Osprey that nest in the northern US and into Canada winter either in Florida, Central, or South America). This intruding pair was likely migrating through and looking for a suitable nest site. If they could scare Notenwi and Wapatewi off their nest, the new couple could move in and start their family right away, saving weeks of effort in finding or building a nest.

Instead, the new Osprey will have to look elsewhere. Notenwi and Wapatewi have too much to lose to give up their nest without a fight.

Text and photos copyright Nancy Rynes, 2012. You may link to this page but you're not allowed to copy any portion of it without my express written permission.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Osprey Files: Nesting Starts at Wolfe's Neck State Park

14 April 2012:

This past week one of my friends told me about a long-standing, natural, Osprey nest near my home - I had no idea it was there so I was really excited to find out about it. I've always wanted to spend time photographing these beautiful birds but have never had the opportunity to see them up close, on the nest, and in a location I could visit anytime I wanted.

I stopped by Wolfe's Neck State Park today to check out the nest. It's on a small island off the coastline of the state park. To view it, I had to walk through a narrow strip of woods between the parking area and the park's rocky shore. Before I even was within sight of the water I heard the screeching cries of the Osprey - one calling from above me and the other answering from somewhere ahead.

I unconsciously stepped up my pace and within a couple of minutes I was out on the rocks of the shore, staring across a narrow tidal flat to a small island. There, on top of an Eastern White Pine, was a large nest - a conglomeration of sticks, pine needles, seaweed, and who-know-what else:

One bird, presumably the female, was hunkered down in the nest, her head and back barely visible over the wall of sticks. Was she incubating eggs?

Another bird, the male I guessed, perched at the left side of the nest and was a bit restless. He soon took off to the east, then caught a thermal and flew off out of sight while the female screeched and squawked. I wish I knew what she was saying to him! My kingdom for an Osprey translator...

About 20 minutes later he returned, bringing her a fish. He tore part off for himself and flew off to a favorite branch, leaving her with the bulk of the fish for her lunch.

It looked more and more like she was incubating eggs because this was the pattern the rest of the time I watched them. The only time she was visible above the wall of the nest was when a) she seemed to want food and was calling to him or b) he returned to the nest with a fish c) he returned to the nest to help her make more babies :-)

In case you think she's starting to sound a little "bossy" - well, she is justified at this time in the season. Egg-laying is extremely energy-intensive for female birds and the larger the bird, the more energy is needed. Each egg carries inside it not only the DNA to make a new bird, but all of the food and water the developing Osprey baby needs for its 5 weeks inside of the egg. And all of that energy inside of the egg comes from the female bird, so while she is laying she needs a lot of help from her mate in getting enough food.

After watching the pair for a couple of hours I thought I would unofficially name them. They aren't pets (obviously) but it will be easier, and more fun, to refer to them by name in upcoming posts rather than a generic "male" and "female." So in the language of my Fox/Sauk ancestors, I'll refer to the female as "Wapatewi" which means "Light," and the male will be "Notenwi" which means "The Wind" (since he's been flying so much).*

How can I tell the two apart? The female, Wapatewi, has a darker "necklace" of brown feathers around her upper chest. She's also the bigger of the two, though only by a little. The male, Notenwi, has a very, very light "necklace" of darker feathers around his upper chest.

I also decided that I'd come back at least weekly while they were here and document life for this pair of Osprey this season. I'll be sharing what I see, here on this blog and on Facebook. Stay tuned for more updates...

Notenwi stretching his wings

All text and photos copyright Nancy Rynes, 2012. You may link to or share this article, but you may not copy or reproduce it without my permission.

*My apologies to the local tribes here in Maine for naming these birds in the Fox/Sauk language. This is the language of some of my ancestors so it's the one I'm most comfortable using.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Celebrating Spring in Maine

Record-warm March temperatures on the East Coast this year brought an early flush of bird migrations. Ducks, songbirds, shorebirds, and raptors starting moving through the area earlier than usual this year.

Here are a few highlights from my spring photography so far:

Female Red-Breasted Merganser at Reid State Park

Male Harlequin Duck at Dyer Point

Male Red-Breasted Merganser, Reid State Park

Black-Crowned Night Heron, Mercy Pond, Mercy Hospital (Portland)

Ring-Necked Duck, Mercy Pond, Mercy Hospital (Portland)

Red-Breasted Merganser, Reid State Park

Common Loon, Reid State Park

Song Sparrow, Florida Lake, Freeport ME