Issue: May 2007
OFF THE CHARTS: Long Live the King, and Queen




--by Wendy Mitman Clarke

The royalty has returned. And I don't mean Queen Elizabeth, who's visiting the Bay and Jamestown this month to see what we've done with the place. I mean King and Queen, the osprey pair that makes its nest on top of a cell phone tower near Weems Creek.


Nothing means winter so much as a sky empty of ospreys, and nothing means spring--and sailing--so much as their return, nearly always by St. Patrick's Day. We wait, we watch, we believe, and one day we look up and there they are, perched on the tower or fishing over the creek. Suddenly it seems that the hard mica glint of winter has given way to a soft sparkle, and the sky is bigger and bluer with their keening whistles and soaring presence. It's as if they fly in with hope on their wings.

Growing up on the northern Bay I never saw ospreys; the pesticide DDT had almost wiped them out. My kids, on the other hand, are growing up with them on a first-name basis. They've never known a Chesapeake without them. After I pointed out the pair on the tower last spring, the kids became completely engrossed in their comings and goings. They dubbed them King and Queen, then went on to name John and Charlotte (the pair on the green "1S" daymark just downriver), Luke and Leia (on another cell tower nearby) and keeping with the Star Wars theme, Han and Leia II (on "WC," the daymark at the mouth of Weems Creek).

They were thrilled with the idea that the birds mated for life, that they traveled thousands of miles apart all winter yet always returned to the same nest at the same time each spring, that one would wait for the other. Every time we sailed or motored past the nests, they'd pull out the binoculars to catch a glimpse of chicks, and once the chicks hatched they named them too and then watched all summer as they grew from fuzzballs into fierce young raptors.  

King and Queen, though, were their favorites, and the birds seemed to know it. One evening we saw one of the birds on the tower shredding a fish. "Looks like a pike," said my son Kaeo, meaning a chain pickerel, which are all over the creek this time of year.

"Oh come on, you can't see that from this far down!" I said. He shrugged, nonchalant but certain. The next morning I walked out the front door and almost stepped on the shiny torpedo head of a chain pickerel. It looked none too happy, as one might expect, having been snatched from the water, half-eaten and evidently dropped from a couple hundred feet up. I called Kaeo to come see it, and he smiled up at the sky, vindicated by a bird.

Not long after that, while driving the kids to school, I saw something in the road near the tower and slammed on the brakes, pulled the truck over and jumped out. The kids thought I was crazy, until I returned with an enormous flight feather, its beautiful brown bands and arrow shape leaving no doubt as to its source. That afternoon as we watched a pair of birds flying low over the creek we saw one with a gap in its starboard wing, and so we identified King for the rest of the summer.

We've kept the feather; it will be hanging in our new boat once we re-christen her. We wanted a name that revealed a certain beauty in strength, that gave thought to constancy and persistence, that reflected hope and wonder. All these qualities are out over the creek right now, wingtips on the breeze. Osprey it is.