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Ospreys and Eagles, Oh My!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

I'm still celebrating my father on April 10, 2017. You can get a lotta blogposts out of one good day in the field! I started the day at Zaleski State Forest which is situated, oddly enough, in Zaleski, Ohio. And then I moved on to the bike trail that runs from Athens to Nelsonville, Ohio, with beautiful wetlands on its north side.

As I walked along the bike trail near Chauncey, Ohio, I heard the chicklike cheeping of an angry osprey, and darted over to a clearing in time to see the fish hawk routing a bald eagle from what must have been the osprey's nesting area. Not so long ago, I would never have seen such a thing in this part of Ohio. Both osprey and eagle have been gone for so very long, and are now, with the recession of persistent hydrocarbon pesticides such as DDT, repopulating their former range.  The ospreys have had some help from the ODNR, which began releasing (hacking) osprey young into the wild at suitable sites in 1996. In fact, I did the paintings that were used on educational signs at hack sites! Here's one of them. 

This painting has had a lot of exposure, besides being used at fledgling hack sites in Ohio. It appeared on the cover of the Journal of Raptor Research not long ago, where it was pointed out to me after it was printed that I'd accidentally put 13 tail feathers on the bird. Oopsie!  You know there are supposed to be 12, but mistakes happen. And I am a feather counter, too. This may be a first.

When the Department of Defense expressed interest in having me paint an osprey with jet fighters in the background, I painted some jet fighters in. Heh. I'm easy. In the digital world, you can always scrub 'em back out. All in a day's work for an illustrator.

But I digress. By 2011, ospreys were detected in 213 blocks during the Ohio Breeding Bird Atlas research. 92 nests had been found. The presence of both osprey and bald eagle in mid-April virtually ensures that they are both breeding somewhere near. And that is a beautiful thing. Here's an active bald eagle nest I can see any time I go to Parkersburg WV. 

If you click on the photo you can see the female on the nest. Awesome!

The osprey along the Athens-Nelsonville bike trail gave that eagle all kinds of hell, driving it from the territory. Eagles for their part return the favor,  routinely pirating the osprey's catch in an act called kleptoparasitism, and even eating about-to-fledge osprey young. Ugh. We are only just seeing what a world with lots of bald eagles looks like, and how it all works. Having ugh'ed, I must say that seeing a bald eagle nest when I come off I-270 on my way back from John Glenn International Airport in Columbus is quite a thrill and welcome home! If I don't remember to look for the nest, there's usually an adult eagle soaring low over the highway cloverleaf. My, my, my how things have changed in the last decade. And it's vastly for the better, where bald eagles are concerned. ODNR surveys estimate 207 bald eagle nests in the state as of March 2016. Eagle populations appear to have stabilized. Bald eagle chick production in 2016 was estimated at 327. That's a lot of eagles!

I still find it amazing that there may be more bald eagles in Ohio than ospreys. Perhaps it's a reflection of the eagle's "moral flexibility" in its search for food. Dumps, carcasses, catching everything from rabbits to fish, it's all fair game to the bald contrast, the piscivorous osprey is a specialist.

Look out, ospreys. Stay en garde.

I saw the first bluebells on the river side of the trail, and knew it was but a taste of things to come. Bluebells like to congregate in masses. This perennial plant is such a miracle, unfurling big glaucous-green leaves and tall stalks in a matter of a few days. I think about what kind of root it must have there below the rich silty soil, to put on such a show in such a short time. 

Mertensia virginica, goin' for it.

I walked past a couple of cabins and into a fanfare of spectral blue. Running down the hill were smoky mists of blue-eyed Mary Collinsia verna, one of my favorites for its delicacy and two-toned petals. The overall effect is of a bluish white haze; the purity of its color must be appreciated at close range. You can just see the bluebells farther up the hill, especially if you click on the photo.

I found one sport that was rose-magenta, a red-eyed Mary, with the audacity to be a few inches taller than its companions as well. It reminded me of a sport of my own, a willowy prize, a few inches taller than most. By comparison to her hobbitish mother, she is a fine mutant indeed. This photo was taken in spring 2016. We'll have to get some more soon.

Coming up next: Wallering in Bluebells


A story:
When I was around 9 yrs. old my best friend & I (both already birdwatchers) joined a Little League baseball team and the first order of business was picking a name for ourselves. Several baseball-ey ones were suggested and then my buddy said “the Ospreys”— everyone looked at him like he was bonkers, and when he explained that an Osprey was a bird they were even less interested. The coach said we’d vote at the next meeting on what name to choose. For that meeting my buddy brought along the picture from Audubon’s portfolio of an Osprey in a very similar pose to yours. Team members looked, got very excited, and for the next 3 years we were the Fairview Park Ospreys.

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