Wednesday, July 1, 2020

The Osprey Have Hatched!

This is a follow up to my earlier blog posts on an osprey nest.  This nest has given us many hours of contentment since we first watched them setting up housekeeping in mid April.  Since we started we have come to the nest on 21 days between April 12 and June 27, most since they hatched. (See my blog posts “Half a Fish is Better than One: Part I and II) for the early days.
            We watched them several days when they were getting ready to nest, knew that incubation would probably be as dull for us as it is for the them, and now is the time to pay attention again.  Our many hours of watching has verified what I’ve read about osprey, i.e. that both will incubate and that after hatching the male brings in the fish, but it is the female who feeds the chicks.  I also read Osprey eat a variety of fish.  We’ve seen the male bring in bass, trout, chub, bullhead, and shad.
            Here are some highlights.

May 29:
            It is hazy -- gentle, very gentle breeze. A very energetic rooster crows off in the distance.  A rancher is loading big rounds of hay and hauling them off.  Muggy.  Warm.  One feather lies on the ground near me.  I decide to paint it while I wait. 
            The female sits on top of a nearby telephone pole and picks apart a fish for at least twenty minutes, then preens, waits, watches.  Still no sign of a bird on the nest.    Fifty minutes after our arrival the osprey on the nest stands, then flies off without calling.  It’s the male.  The female immediately flies to the nest and settles.  I’m pretty sure the eggs haven’t hatched yet.
June 14:
            9:43 AM: Adult hunkers on nest with back to the sun.  No sign of chicks.  Quiet up there.
            I welcome the morning sun on my back.  The osprey has a backdrop of cotton ball clouds and blue sky.  A collared dove beats out his mantra, “Who, hoooo, hoo! Over and over.  Behind the peach orchard, a rooster crows. 
            I’m hoping to see an osprey chick today, but how long do I have to wait?  I amuse myself by drawing the tangle of wires underneath her nest.  An electrician would probably think a sixth grader was trying to build a time machine.  Such a tangle of wires!  And another set of cross-arms below this one. 
            10:41 AM:  I see a head!  One little head pops up, panting in the warm sun  Are there more up there?  I wish I could see into the nest. 
            …. And about an hour later I see two little heads pop up. Two chicks!

            12:45 PM:  Suddenly the hen erupts off the nest screaming.  She circles high above the nest.  Is she trying to call her mate in?  I see no sign of him.
            Overhead I see her cause for concern.  An immature bald eagle soars by.  No fuss.  The eagle continues on and the hen osprey returns to her nest.  I think she rose high so that, if she needed to, she could stoop on the invader. 

            June 19, 2020:  We see a lot of sitting here.  One field has been mowed and its hay stored in long plastic tubes.  Interesting to see one machine make the cylinders of hay, each about 6 feet long and 6 feet high; another carries them to the ‘wrapper’; and the wrapper wraps white plastic around the bales, connecting them in the process.  Finally there is a long tube filled with hay the length of the short end of the field.  It looks like a bloated grub that goes on and on.  Since then the hayfield has been plowed. 
            We see two peach orchards:  the smaller trees look healthy but very few peaches this year – too cold when the blossom should have been pollinated.  The older orchard was badly damaged by ‘snowmaggedon, Feb. 2019.  Ten rows have been cut to the stumps, one after another, since we started osprey watching in April.  No cutting recently.  Perhaps there is more pressing work to be done.
            Most late afternoons a father and daughter drive by in their ATV.  The little girl sits tall and proud, driving the farm vehicle. Nice treat for her.  If we are here around noon, a school bus comes along.  No school because of the pandemic, but food is being delivered to kids who need it. 
            While sitting here I think back to the last nest we spent considerable time at – the nest across the Lamar River in the Narrows (Yellowstone National Park).  That nest is built in a fabulous gnarly Douglas fir.  The Lamar rushes below; a backdrop of steep forest, and once even a bear watching us.  Here we actually have more privacy, but not quite the same ambiance.
            6:33 PM:  Three chicks!  All this watching and it’s the first time we’ve seen the third chick.  They all look about the same size. 
            June 22:  Hotter today.  88 degrees. We didn’t get here until 4 PM.  Hen sits with wings drooped and her back to the sun, shielding her chicks.  Sometimes I see a little head underneath her, in the shade of her belly.  The chicks pants.
            We’ve already noticed two differences compared to most days.  (1) for the first time the female muted (pooped) from the nest rather than a short fly around.  I assume she doesn’t want to leave the checks exposed to the hot sun … and (2) the farmyard chickens are quieter.  Hot for them too.  I’m sitting sideways, tucked tight to the car on my stool.  I’m trying to keep out of the sun too.
            Not a cloud in the sky, but breezy .. and another difference. There are fewer turkey vultures up in the air.  Often I don’t see any.  Usually I see 2-6.  I wonder where they hang out.
            The sun finally eases down, enough so that I can sit straight on my stool with my back leaning on the car.  Better.  At least I get to draw while we wait.

            June 24:  We didn’t come yesterday.  Too hot!  The news says Roseburg reach 97 – a record.  It felt like it.  That hen had a hot job!
            Much nicer today.  Hazy.  Breezy.  81 degrees.
            We’ve been here an hour.  Still waiting.  I can hear the chicks today.  They move around quite a bit and one did an excellent job of backing up to the nest edge and pooping over the edge.  Out spurts a stream of liquid white, projected upwards into a nice arc.
June 27 --  Our 56th Wedding Anniversary!
            We arrive early: 2:32 PM .  The hen is feeding the chicks.  I wish we hadn’t  missed that fish coming in.  The male is perched on the snag near the farm house – just hanging out. 
            While we were there, the female brought in three sticks … it is as if she just has to get away from the kids for a brief jaunt.   If the male isn’t on the nest, we know she’ll be back within five minues. 
            By 6 PM the chicks seem content / well fed. It has been a very quiet day for us.  No new fish, just three sticks. There may be another fish before dusk, but we don’t think it will happen for a while.  Time for us to head home.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Following the Oracle's Advice

No, this isn’t going to be a blog post about finances, but most of you know who I’m talking about when I mention the “Oracle of Omaha’ – he is a rather private man, well known for his financial expertise.  When the Oracle of Omaha speaks, people pause and listen. 

Recently I read a short blip about Warren Buffet .... that he reads a lot and makes time to pause and spend some time thinking each day.  Doing that goes hand in hand with his desire to learn something new each day.  Now that makes sense to me.  

Earlier this spring I did a good job of following the Oracle’s advice.  I was doing my thinking while standing and dosing myself with a good dose of ‘Paulson’s Patented Patience Powder’ and watching a lizard on lizard time.  Lizard time involves a lot of waiting / time to think.  

Dale found the western fence lizard basking in the somewhat tepid sunshine.  His spot of choice was a low, split rail fence that circles around a pole, keeping the unwary humans from accidently bumping into the pole: 

The lizard is a dark fella, hugging the top rail of a two rail fence and sitting only about eighteen inches off the ground.  I’m reasonably sure this a male.  Wait.  Wait. Wait.

Suddenly he perks up.  There is a second lizard, just a little smaller and a little lighter.  The first takes offence to the presence of the second.  Suddenly lizard time warp speeds into a flash dance.  Off they go, zipping around the circle of spilt rails.  At the far end the little one cuts a corner by jumping off the rail and scurrying through short grass, then back up onto another rail.  I get the feeling this is a well traveled path.


At the far side of the circle of rails, the big lizard pauses.  He has done his job.  The little ones continues a few more feet and settles into basking on a lower rail.  I’m back on slow-mo lizard time.  But I’m still hoping to get a really good photograph of that big handsome fella.  These lizards are used to people walking past so I can stand reasonably close to them.  They ignore cars parking nearby and a toddler wandering by, but a motorcycle causes both to disappear until the cycle quiets.  Even a red-tailed hawk soaring overhead doesn’t bother them. 


My back aches, a couple getting ready to go hiking must wonder why I’m standing there frozen, but I stick to waiting and watching. 


Good!  Big Fella is returning to the rails near me.  He basks for while ... more lizard time.


He perks up!


Now I see what has brought about the change.  A much smaller lizard peeks over the side of the rail. It isn’t the one that got chased.  That one is sill basking.  This one is much smaller and has elicited a very different response than the first did. I wonder if it is a female.


The little one seems comfortable in Big Fella’s presence.  She (?) holds still and allows him to half cover her.  Big Fella has a lot of blue on his throat.  – almost surely a male.  Am I seeing what I think I’m seeing? 


After about 30 seconds the two part.  The little one disappears and Big Fella goes back to basking. 


I sprinkle a little more patience powder.  The wait is well rewarded.  Big Fella perks up again and goes into ‘huff and puff mode’ -- suddenly he swells to nearly twice his size, he drops his dewlap of bright blue from under his usually flat throat, and does pushups! Obviously a male.   Mr. Macho.  The blue on his throat and sides is almost iridescent and set off by a bit of yellow. What a handsome dude.  I’ve seen the huff and puff mode before, but this is the first time I’ve gotten a good photo. 

After we returned home I followed a little more of the Oracle’s advice – time to read up on some lizard information.  We need more fence lizards!  I found out fence lizards have a protein in their blood that kills Lyme disease.  If the tick sucks on a fence lizard it won’t kill the tick, but it will kill the disease if the tick is carrying it. 

Friday, May 29, 2020

Half a Fish is Better Than None: Part II

April 15:  We are back sitting at the edge of the peach orchard.  Both on the nest when we arrived.  This is our fourth day in a row.  When we arrive the hen is at the nest and the male is perched in the far off snag.  Not for long.  He drops down and grabs soft organic matter, a gob in each foot – grasses?  But he is a clumsy fellow and drops one foot-full when he goes back to his snag.  Oops!  Guess he meant to come to the nest with it.  He soon arrives and drops off the part he still has. 
I think this guy is a bit of a doofus.  He heads out again and comes back with a great fistful of stuff – including a long string of black plastic.  I’ve already noticed some black plastic tucked between sticks in that nest.  A little re-arranging of sticks is in order too. …. And off he goes. 
I see him far across the nearby field, hunting over the river.  He dips behind the trees and soon returns with  a fish.  This one looks like a sucker.   He takes the fish to the snag and starts to feed …. Pauses.  Why.  The female has been begging, but quiets. 

 I look a little harder.  Ah Ha!  Off in the distance soars a mature bald eagle.  He tail and head flash white against the blue sky.  Both osprey keep an eye on the eagle until it disappears. The male goes back to feeding until it’s time to bring half a fish to his hen.  Is he eating the best part (the brains), or is he doing her a favor by bringing her the meat sans guts and head??

April 21:  Incubation has started!  This time when he brought her half a fish, he settled onto the nest while she flew off to eat it on her telephone pole.


About the time ‘my’ osprey started incubating, a friend sent me a link for a live cam on an osprey nest near Independence, Oregon.  I get a full screen, live view of the Ollie and Olga right at their nest!  ….
Here comes Olga to resume incubation duties.  Note how she balls her feet when snuggling up to her mate – very careful not to injure the eggs.
May 15.  Dark clouds cover the Willamette River and the Independence osprey nest.  I believe it is Olga on the nest.  She grabs shreds of what appears to be bark and tucks them carefully around her.  I’m impressed how alert she is.  Always on the lookout.  At night I see she seems to sleep soundly, but during the day the bird on the nest has always been alert when I’ve watched the cam.
The clouds darken and soon raindrops are pilling on the osprey’s back. 
She shakes her head frequently, tossing the raindrops off.  Such a treat to up such an up-close view of a totally relaxed bird. 

On a sad note, this nest failed close to the time when the eggs should have hatched.  Ollie disappeared.  Something must have happened to him.  Olga is dependent on his help.  Commentors on the live cam feel there is a good chance Olga will be nesting there again next year as she has for several years.  I look forward to watching little osprey grow up.