South Coast Osprey Project — 2016 Field Season

2016 Field Season Report

One of the advantages of a long-term monitoring project is we can follow the success stories from year to year. We can also witness the many alternative trajectories, and consider the measures we might take to reduce negative impacts that the human-dominated world may have on an Osprey population and the coastal environment we all share.

We welcome enthusiasts to this project to share findings, celebrate success, and lend much-needed support!

Newly hatched osprey chicks

Season Summary

Here are a few of the stories uncovered in the past year:

  • A band fastened to a chick by Gil Fernandez in 1996 on the Westport River was found this year at W22—we guess this bird traveled between here and somewhere south of the equator more than 15 times in its lifetime.
  • A bird that was banded as a chick by Mass Audubon in 1999 on a Duxbury island became mother to 3 chicks at E5
  • A photographer in CT documented one of our birds that was color banded as an adult in 2013 by Alan Poole while nesting at E20. The photograph (above) shows the animal carrying a fish despite a critical wound on its upper leg.
  • Bands emerged from the muck beneath W28 and E40we surmise the banded chicks (one in 2014 and one in 2015) had not survived the “teen” months to migrate south.
  • Just a month or so after fledging from W18 in 2015 a chick was found on a road in Tiverton, presumably hit by a car.
  • A color-banded chick that fledged from E13 in 2015 was captured on camera flying with a fish near the Florida Keys.
  • Another fledged youngster of 2015, from AP2, was found dead in Barinas Venezuela in the spring of this year.
  • Over this 4th of July weekend, the post of platform W43 on Cigar Island of the West Branch broke at a knot in the timber, dropping 2 chicks onto the beach. We were able to place them back on the nest which had settled to a stable location for the remainder of the chick phase. Both chicks fledged.
  • We received a report of an adult osprey struck by the Fairhaven wind turbine in July. No word on an untended nest.
  • A fledged young of this year from W15 was brought to a wildlife rehabilitator in Boxford, MA in an advanced state of starvation. Within hours, the bird died and the body provided to a nearby high school for anatomy studies.
  • A Barnstable chick that tumbled from its nest was brought to Cape Wildlife Center where it was raised to full feather. We were able to release it into a Westport River nest that had recently lost a similarly-aged chick.
  • A local boater found a Westport River chick floundering in the water at high tide and was able to direct our team for a rescue so we could return it to its nest and sibling at W12.
  • And, last but—well actually least—a Least Tern chick was also found floundering in high water near an osprey nest. Upon being returned to its presumed colony at Horseneck Beach less than a mile away as the wind blows, it showed no signs of the trauma as it assertively (loudly) begged for food from the colony adults.
Nest of osprey chicks © Lani Peterson
Nest of osprey chicks © Lani Peterson

Seasonal Cycles

The platforms that were so full of life just five months ago are now standing idle on the shores and marshes, visited by a stray gull or cormorant, or for some, perhaps a Belted Kingfisher. It’s a marvel that so much Osprey life is packed into the few sweet months between the arrival of herring and the return of school kids to the classroom.

Seasoned Osprey reunite on their nest site in March, restore the condition of their nests and very quickly produce and begin incubating eggs. Five weeks later, eggs begin to hatch and downy little dinosaurs emerge with wobbly heads and gaping mouths. Every single day for the next several weeks, those chicks transform—gaining weight exponentially, changing colors with lengthening feathers, ballooning into something the size of a chicken before a moon has finished its monthly cycle.

Our last visit to them comes around their sixth week, just before they become so feisty that our skin and digits would be at risk. After that, these wild beasts beat their wings, thrust themselves aloft, and face the weather and adversity head on as it comes. With luck and good genes, they learn the techniques for snatching fish from shallow water and wander the region to fix their place in it.

And then they’re gone, following their parents who would have left a few weeks or even a month ahead of them. We may see them again in a few years—or perhaps someone else will and let us know—and we may even visit the nests they create to raise the next generation.

These are the successful ones.