Issue: May 2006
Grand Ol' Osprey

There’s not much happening this morning on the “osprey cam” at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on the Eastern Shore. Same goes for the nest down at Discovery Village in Shady Side, Md. The osprey couple there made a brief appearance when I first tuned in a few hours ago, but I haven’t seen them since. Up in Brookhaven, N.Y., on the other hand, it’s been a very interesting morning.

Betty was the first to show up. She’s the female star of that particular osprey reality show—a live-video webcam on a nest near Long Island’s south shore. Then came Dennis, her mate, and . . . well, they mated. Then, after Dennis sulked on the edge of the nest for a few minutes, lowering his head and nearly covering it with his folded wings, he came back for more. Then he sulked again (mantling, they call it; apparently it’s normal behavior for the male) before mounting her again. And again. And once more.

Melanie Lynch, CBM’s internet and website coordinator—and, more to the point, our resident osprey expert—tells me that this is all par for the course, even if Dennis is a bit flakier than usual today. When the osprey pair reunites at its home nest in March, after separate winter vacations somewhere equatorial, they’ll mate as many as fifty times. If all goes according to biological plan, Melanie says, Betty will lay three or four eggs over the course of a week or so in early April. The first chick will hatch about five weeks later and then leave the nest for the first time in mid-July. She knows this because she’s seen it all before, because she is, in her own words, an “irredeemable featherhead.” We learn as much in the opening lines of “The Osprey Fix,” Melanie’s delightful article in this issue [see page 64] describing her osprey-banding adventure last summer.

After developing a serious osprey-cam habit a few years ago and finding her life inextricably and happily intertwined with that of Dennis and Betty, among others, Melanie progressed inevitably to what she calls a Stage II addiction—characterized, she says, by a compulsion to “visit ospreys in person, to see them face to face, and, if possible, weigh them and put metal bands on their ankles.”

That’s precisely what she found herself doing last June, along with a dozen other volunteers, at the Jug Bay Natural Area on the Patuxent River. “It was one of those surreal slow-motion moments,” Melanie writes, describing the feeling of holding an osprey chick for the first time. And the term “chick,” she says, hardly describes the three-and-a-half pound, fierce-eyed bird she held in her hand. “It may have been a chick in the strictest sense . . . but it was bigger than an adult seagull and it had a sharp downturned beak and four needle-sharp, curved, two-inch talons on each foot.” It’s a marvelous story, complete with stunning close-up photos of the young birds, also from the talented hand of Ms. Lynch. I must warn you, though: four out of five doctors say that osprey-watching can be habit-forming.

Speaking of which . . . are we done here? I need to make my webcam rounds.