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Outer Banks Guide > Outer Banks Blogs > Eve Turek's Natural Outer Banks Blog

Monday, July 20, 2020
The Rest of the Story
How many of you remember the radio broadcaster Paul Harvey and his, The Rest of the Story? Well, here is the rest of the Osprey story – at least up until yesterday!

We left the nest on the July 4th weekend at the end of my last blog. At that point, it was hot, the three babies were huge and still fully dependent on both parents for their food and protection. None of the three had fledged. As the babies grow, the parents spend more time away from the nest. While they may seem out of sight, they are never too far to intervene if they sense any danger. As several Laughing Gulls flew in and began to position themselves on pilings closer and closer to the nest, without any warning, any call, the Mother Osprey suddenly dove down from above the inn, scattering the gulls. When another gull flew too close, she immediately gave chase. Being a mother of any species is hard work! As of this writing, she is looking very ragged from repeated dives.

Since Osprey lay eggs several days apart, by this stage in the juveniles’ development there is a clear, visible difference in size between the older, middle, and younger birds. The youngest bird is also much darker around its head than either of its siblings. The youngest misses out on the earliest meals of the day as the older two always muscle their way in to eat first. I have been grateful to witness both parents making sure that the youngest of their brood does get fed, even if that occurs after the first two have had their fill.

A couple of times now I have watched the youngest wait its turn and then in a blink of an eye (and a click of my shutter), reach down and snatch the remains of the fish right out from under its sibling’s bill! I always seem to cheer for the underdog and I have been glad to see the youngest getting stronger. All three birds will need all their strength, nurture and instinct in order to survive, first, when their parents leave in migration and second, to make the long migration themselves. Juveniles stick around, sometimes for several weeks after both parents leave. It is hard to believe, writing this blog on July 20th, that within about six weeks or so, the parents will be gone. What a lot of learning has to happen in this next month!

The first lesson, of course, is flight. Actual take-off was proceeded by several days of flapping and hopping around the nest. July 9th, I received a text from the Colington Creek Inn’s owner letting me know we had lift-off! Happily, I was home and could go right over. Shortly after I got in place, we had a sudden downpour, and the middle baby had the extra challenge of getting its wings in the rain. I noticed clear differences between the older two birds – one would flap and flap and flap, barely hopping. Then it would fold its wings down and repeat the behavior. This could go on for a long time before it finally, slowly, “got air” – to use a skateboarding term. The other would make its way to the edge and without any fanfare, simply launch itself off the edge, like a fearless youngster jumping off the high dive.

Another week would pass before the youngest took off, and interestingly enough, it is more of a go-ahead-and-jumper than a flapper! Once the babies achieve flight, their challenges immediately shift. Getting loft is one thing; learning to navigate, land on a variety of surfaces, and control your wings in the wind are all key lessons that early flights teach. Once the young had more confidence in the air, I could see (and hear) them soaring higher, joining either a sibling or a parent in high circles over their home territory. The young keep up a steady cheep-cheep-cheep call in flight, just as they do in the nest when they are hungry. The next lesson follows immediately. In order to survive, the young have to learn how to catch fish for themselves. So they began to practice shallow, belly-flop dives into the water, and then figure out how to flap themselves back up into the air again. The parents drag their feet after bringing fish to the nest, presumably to wash their talons, and I watched the young mimic this behavior. Recently, while its siblings were eating, the middle baby suddenly dove down from the nest and snagged…a bit of seagrass! It flew off with its prize and I cheered! Today, seagrass…maybe tomorrow, its first fish.

I hope you don’t get tired of my asking you the same questions again and again. Please know I am asking myself these questions all the time too. What nurtures you? What feeds you, body and soul? What gives you giddy joy? We are living in hard times, emotionally, financially, as a country and world and as individuals. We miss our usual patterns of interaction with family, with friends. In all my own missing, I am so glad that I have had the opportunity to immerse this season with these Osprey. Nature’s rhythms nurture me, especially when I cannot be nurtured by close contact with loved ones. Then I need nature’s gifts more than ever. I hope these Osprey stories nurture you too.

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Early flight--in a rainstorm! Yes, I got wet too.

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3 baby Osprey at dawn, waiting for Mom or Dad to bring breakfast.

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While we wait, might as well practice take-off and go-around and landing.

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Mother Osprey driving gulls away from the nest.

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Here, the "runt of the litter" watches for the perfect moment and then snatches the remains of a fish for itself right out from under its older sibling.

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The female Osprey is looking bedraggled now. Osprey don't molt all at once; they shed their feathers and grow new ones over time so that they can always fly and hunt for their young.

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Here, a juvenile takes a big belly flop, flying low over the water before crashing below its surface.

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And we are airborne again! A few seconds later, the young bird repeated the same sequence. Practice makes perfect.

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Just a few days later and the young birds are showing more control, more finesse.

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Now comes the next challenge--controlling the speed and direction of a shallow plunge in order to retrieve something from the water--in this instance, some seagrass.

posted by eturek at 4:31 PM

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Sunday, July 5, 2020
The Love Nest
What with suddenly learning in early May that the beaches were re-opening and our galleries could re-open as well, and figuring out new protocols and guidelines so we could do so safely, I have been remiss in getting the concentrated time required to put a blog post together. Happily, I have managed to get some outdoors time, as you will see below. I really have enough material for two or three blogs, so we may have a run of posts here in the short-term to make up for my absence here earlier.

The first story I want to tell is an Osprey story. Regular readers and birders know some essential facts already: they mate for life; pairs migrate south for the winter but spend those months in separate locations and reunite at the same nest every spring; they arrive typically around the middle of March and work on rebuilding the nest and then on incubating eggs; young hatch between six and seven weeks after egg laying (eggs are laid on different days so there is always an older and one or two younger birds); both Mom and Dad Osprey share in the task of building or repairing the nest, incubating the eggs, and bringing fish to feed the young birds. The official word for the time frame the young birds stay in the nest is the “nestling phase” and it can last for 50-55 days before that all important first flight. Those are the general, generic facts. The truth also is that each nesting pair has its own personality, just as human couples do. Some dads are more attentive than others. Some moms are very particular about nest construction and “decorating.” Always the families are fascinating to watch and I always seem to learn something new every year depending on which nest I focus on (pun intended).

This year, I have had a marvelous gift—the chance to document an entire nesting season, not from the ground looking up, but from above, looking down, thanks to the generosity of Dawn and Darold Schaefer, owners of the Colington Creek Inn. When the Osprey first arrived, our area had closed to all non-residents. Since no one was staying at the Inn, Dawn and Darold graciously provided me access to photograph through an upper story window, beginning in late March, to watch as the pair reunited, rebuilt, and began the annual work of parenting.

I am always stunned each year at how fast youngsters grow! In past years I have documented Great Horned Owls, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, and foxes. In each case, I had the blessing of landowners granting me ongoing access to their private properties so that I could watch and learn over time, immersing myself in the comings and goings, the learnings and growings, of a wild family. This year, I spent much of this pandemic calming myself down by patiently (okay, sometimes impatiently) watching an Osprey family.

I say patiently because Dad can sit on his pole for hours while Mom calls to him, presumably saying some version of, “these kids and I are hungry! How about a little lunch (or breakfast, or dinner)?” Dads typically will catch a fish and eat part of it themselves before bringing the remainder to the nest, but lately I have noticed Dad carrying in a whole fish. These babies aren’t really babies anymore, as you will see below. And they are hungry! On Father’s Day, Mom called and called; Dad had flown out of sight; and she eventually flew off herself to return with a fish 8 minutes later. Four minutes after that, here came Dad with a second fish. I was mighty glad to see him, as Mom was repeatedly feeding two of the three babies, but one had not gotten any fish morsels yet when Dad showed up. By July 1, the smallest of the three was still being fed by Mom at least part of the time (backs were to me so it was a little hard to tell) while the older two fed themselves. As the young move around in the nest, particularly at feeding time, I have a hard time keeping track of who is who, particularly for the two younger birds. By July 3rd, the smallest of the three juveniles finally tore into a fish on its own. Once it wriggled its way into position and got a taste of the fish, it ate eagerly—so much so that I think it literally bit off more than it could swallow. It struggled for a while before finally spitting that large chunk out while the Mother Osprey bent close, presumably to assist if necessary. I learned that even when the babies are feeding themselves, Mom also still feeds them. The temperatures have finally caught up with the calendar, and Mom and all three babies were panting most of the afternoon. Osprey don’t drink; they get all their hydration from the fish they eat.

I have watched both parents fly off the nest and drag their feet in the water after feeding. I assume they are cleaning their talons.

I can tell you that baby Osprey like babies of all species spend a lot of time sleeping. The pattern seems to be nap, wake up, preen, be restless, finally eat, poop, and nap again. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

The oldest of the three is now doing a lot of flapping and seems in control of its wings now. Baby #2 moves its wings around but with much less control—I’ve seen it bash into Mom and its siblings and even lay its wing on top of Mom’s back more than once. The third baby has not yet begun exercising its wings like the other two do, at least not in my sight thus far.

The parents are not too concerned as boats come and go on the creek but Mom will fly off the nest briefly if guests walk down the dock. When another bird of any species flies too close, the Mother Osprey’s call changes pitch, and she lowers her head and fluffs herself larger, in warning. That call is especially pronounced if another Osprey flies too close. Young Osprey spend not only their first winter, but the following summer, on their wintering grounds, and don’t return to the area of their birth until they are two years old. And of course, with their marvelous homing ability, they try to literally fly home, only to discover that Mom and Dad are busy preparing to raise another family and no, they can’t move back in! The interesting aerial skirmishes we sometimes see in springtime are almost always a parent Osprey making sure their juveniles from prior years can’t come back into their birthing nest.

The Colington Creek Inn nestlings are almost ready to fledge, to make that all important first flight. From some research I learned that the babies will keep returning to the nest after their first flight for at least the first weeks as parents continue to bring them fish and teach them how to fish for themselves. When it is time to leave in the fall, the parents will leave first, while the juveniles will hang around longer, honing their skills and building their strength for the long migration journey.

First Flight can be perilous. The other day l learned of a young Osprey in Colington Harbour where I live, whose first flight landed it in a private residence’s swimming pool adjacent to the nesting platform! Lou Browning to the rescue! Lou is a licensed, certified wild bird rehabber in Hatteras. Animal Control conducted the initial rescue after being contacted by the owner; Lou got the bird from them and spent the next couple days making sure it was not injured and regained its strength, and I got to be present for the moment of its release. It flied low to the ground, eventually got airborne, and landed on a neighbor’s dock where it rested for a while before later taking to flight for real (according to that owner). All’s well that ended well—this time. I am hoping we have no similar drama at the Colington Creek Inn nest.

For Osprey that nest in a tree, the youngsters can make short hopping flights onto a branch and back into the nest before they really take wing for the first time. But for Osprey that nest on platforms over the water, the young have one chance to get it right. I plan on spending as much time as I can in the Inn’s back yard—or watching from above when rooms are vacant—hoping to catch at least one of the three in that landmark moment.

Meanwhile, meet the Colington Creek Inn Osprey!

(Oh, and I should also tell you that a couple of times, Darold and Dawn feasted me with the sumptuous breakfast that their Inn guests enjoy! All this and Osprey too! If I didn’t live here already, I’d be booking a room, stat!)

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The Couple Reunites. I call this Happy Anniversary since they come back to the same nest every year in the spring.

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Of course, there is a lot of work to do. Nor'easters and hurricanes can demolish a nest over the winter. Rebuilding or repairing is the first priority.

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The whole point--species survival. I have photographed lots of mating behavior but never seen a heart pattern on the male. And notice how he is resting on her with his talons curled under so he does not hurt her as he lands.

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As of May 27, we knew for sure we had babies! At first we saw only two. Even from above, they are hard to spot. The nest is deep and their feathers provide perfect camouflage.

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A couple weeks later and look how big the THREE babies are already. But this is nothing compared to the growth spurt that is coming.

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Both parents bring fish although the male does most of the fishing while Mom feeds and shelters the babies. This is Mom here.

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And on Father's Day, Dad still had to work. Here are five in the nest. Notice how crowded by mid-June as the babies grow. Dad never stays long.

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Meanwhile, a different nest had tragedy averted after an Osprey's first flight landed in a swimming pool! Lou Browning made sure the bird was okay before releasing it. Here, it flies free again.This nest is at least 2 weeks ahead of the Inn nest.

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Osprey get all their hydration from the fish they eat; they do not drink water. Once our typical hot July weather arrived, they panted non-stop in between meals.

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While Mom feeds a sibling, an older baby practices exercising its wings, preparing for that big First Flight Day--which has not happened yet as of this blog posting.

posted by eturek at 9:01 PM

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