Anyone who knows me well knows that last summer I lived out of my car under an Osprey nest close to the cottage, and although changed circumstances this year don't allow me to go there as often as I'd like, I still tried to follow "my" family this summer on a limited schedule. It had been two weeks since I was last there, but I knew for sure that there were at least two babies, as seen here back in early July, if you look carefully:
The look of love from the baby:
The first time that one of the babies checks me out:
So with great excitement on Saturday, July 28th I returned to my beloved nest and was horrified to see that all that remained of this massive nest was this:
I was devastated.
Both parents were still there, though, despite the fact that the branch the nest had rested on had finally broken off as the tree was rotten. From what I could tell at the time through my tears was that the break looked somewhat weathered, and as I hadn't been to the nest in a few weeks assumed it had been a while since it happened and that no doubt both chicks had perished in the fall.
What made it worse (for me, at least) was watching both parents in the nest tree, seemingly at a loss as to what to do, given that they return to the same nest every year and their breeding season had been suddenly cut short by Mother Nature. Mom was taking advantage of not having to care for her nestlings anymore by feeding, as she grasped the remains of a fish from the lake:
Dad on the right looked a bit more forlorn, and what truly broke my heart was watching him for the next little while flying away to break off tree branches in an attempt to re-build the nest, only to have the branches drop to the ground, as there was nowhere left for the branches to rest on:
Mom was resting on the huge branch that had broken off:
I was a wreck, needless to say, and at one point as both parents were huddled together in what remained of their home, a number of other adult Ospreys did a fly by, almost as a sign of respect to the parents for their loss. Deep down I knew better to put human emotions on birds, but this was behaviour I had never, ever seen before, which just added to my grief. Dad carried on with his nest reconstruction attempts, so through my tears I tried to muster up the strength that they showed by just carrying on with their lives.
Soon enough the local dog-walkers were arriving, and it was important for me to find out when exactly the nest had come down, so imagine my shock when in speaking with one of the neighbours to discover it had only come down the day before, and in fact one of the babies had been seen on the shoulder of the road the night before!!
So for the next eight hours all hell broke loose as I began my search for the surviving baby in the thorny bushes and poison ivy right under the nest. It took me thirty minutes to find this beautiful Osprey baby six feet in front of me:
For the record, this photo of the surviving baby was taken three hours later, as initially all I had with me was a drop sheet in case I found the baby, and there it was, resting on the fallen nest that was upside down on some bushes. It appeared healthy with no apparent signs of trauma, and as it hadn't fledged yet it didn't move, but as soon as I found it, I immediately backed off and contacted Ann to get me some contact information for rescue people that could help this baby out. What happened next, quite frankly, is a blur, but suffice it to say that Sue Meech in Napanee put me in touch with the local Friends of the Osprey organization, and from there it was crazy. A huge thanks to both Alex and Andrew as well at the Toronto Wildlife Centre for giving me rescue advice on the fly!
As I waited for Simon and Rob to arrive to help me, I looked in vain for the second baby, and sadly assumed it had perished in the fall. All the while, mom Osprey was in the tree above me expressing her displeasure with my presence, while dad was oblivious to me as always, choosing to focus his efforts on bringing in sticks to the missing nest that kept falling to the ground around me!
Simon and Rob and I began building a satellite nest for the surviving baby to stay in until it fledged, and by now a lot of attention was coming our way as cars were slowing down to see what was going on. Suddenly this fellow appeared with a cardboard box (thanks, Laura!), turned out that he had picked up the other baby off the side of the road twenty four hours earlier, and was unable to get help after making several phone calls overnight, so opted to return the baby to the nest site, only to find us there! He told us it appeared to be injured when he picked it up, so I successfully used my skills of persuasion (sobbing and tears) with a local vet who agreed to examine the baby just as they were closing up for the week-end, so off I went with an Osprey in the back seat of my car, certainly the last thing I ever expected to be doing! The baby was examined and we decided its best chance for survival was to put it back in the satellite nest with its sibling, hoping that the parents would agree to feed the babies in their new digs. The finished nest was right next to the nest tree, and had aluminum sheeting wrapped around the cedars to deter predators from climbing up:
Both Ann and Anne had arrived to help out too, and both babies were carefully placed back in the nest....
...and then we all stepped away to keep a good distance between us and the babies, hoping that the parents would come in to start feeding their babies.
It was not to happen. We were always concerned that the babies had not yet fledged, when much to our shock and delight, one of the babies took flight and made a wobbly landing on a hydro pole!
We were all encouraged by this, as it meant that at least one baby had some mobility. By now, I was emotionally and physically fried, so I returned to the cottage to get cleaned up when Ann texted me to let me know the other baby was flying as well, so we were thrilled by this positive news.
Ann and I returned to the nest at dinner time and didn't see either baby, but in our absence the parents had continued their attempts at re-building the nest, that looked like this by then, it was so sad:
On Sunday I visited the nest on five separate occasions, and the nest had grown a bit overnight but was still impossible for the family to live in again as a unit:
Both parents were in the vicinity, and I ran into Bobcaygeon Anne and we searched in vain for the babies.
Mom's appetite was not diminished by her family crisis, as she was seen eating her breakfast in a nearby tree:
My final stop for the week-end was in the late-afternoon around 5:30 p.m., and dad was around, but otherwise it was quiet, but at one point I thought I heard a baby crying (their voice is incredibly different when compared to the adult's, something I learned last year after spending hours at the nest). I followed the cries as best I could with no luck, and began to wonder if it was wishful thinking on my part, as by now it had been a day since anyone had seen the babies, and I was an emotional wreck.
Dad was still bringing in sticks to the nest, my heart was breaking for him:
And off he went in search of another branch:
By now I was exhausted and ready to pack it in when up the road I saw an Osprey fly in to land on the hydro wire. Much to my horror, I saw far too much white and flapping around so grabbed my binos to see that the Osprey was caught in the wires and was hanging upside down, so off I took in my car to get there quickly. I had no idea what I thought I could or would even be able to do to help it, but as soon as I got out of the car, it righted itself up and took off to get away from me. I was sure it was a baby but in fact it was an adult, so to this day I'm not even sure how it happened, but it was in keeping with my Osprey week-end-from-Hell.
I decided to give it another half hour, and finally I spotted one of the babies on the hydro wire:
My initial happiness soon turned to dismay as I realized how weak and frail this baby was, one of its wings was droopy....
...and it was exhausted, falling asleep on the wire:
Dad was in a distant tree with a fish and wasn't budging, despite the weak begging calls this poor baby was making. This poor thing was too weak and exhausted to attempt a flight across the field to dad, it was so sad to see:
I spent half an hour with him, as difficult as it was to helplessly watch, and as I was leaving for the night at sunset, some neighbours flagged me down to tell me that the second baby was in a ditch up the road by the original nest. My initial reaction was that it was already dead, but in fact it was on the ground and not overly mobile. My main concern was to get it away from the road before it was hit by a car, and fortunately it walked under the wire fence on its own:
My next concern was how to get it back up on the satellite nest on my own before getting predated overnight by raccoons or coyotes, as it just wasn't flying:
A small moment of hope for me was when it suddenly leaned forward and pooped, whoohooo, that meant it was eating!!
That was my last view of it before it took flight! Yes, granted, it was a very wobbly flight that was quite low across the shrubs, but at least I knew it could still fly, and was pleased that it had gone deeper into the field and away from the road. I left for the night, and for the week.
Sunday evening was the very last time I saw both babies. Both Rob and Anne made courageous and valiant attempts on Monday and Tuesday to take care of these babies by catching and feeding them fresh fish (!) as it became apparent that for whatever reason the parents were not feeding them. The loss of their base camp when their nest came crashing down did irreparable harm to their family unit. My feeling of helplessness worsened with each day that I was stuck in the city, and I desperately reached out to more friends in the Kawarthas and elsewhere, including TWC, and Terry, you all know who you are, so thank you for that.
Tuesday's storm proved fatal to one of the babies, after Anne found only one to take home with her to protect it from the elements for a few hours. When she returned it back to the satellite nest after the storm had moved through, the other one was found dead on the ground. Heart-breaking, after all of their efforts.
That was the last time that the baby was ever seen, to the best of our knowledge. I returned there on Friday afternoon, and by now even the parents were nowhere to be found, although Anne had seen them that morning nearby, but in speaking with some of the neighbours, the parents were now scarce, having pretty much abandoned the nest. I myself lasted only twenty minutes on Friday afternoon searching for the one surviving baby in the brutal heat and humidity, so reluctantly I have finally accepted that now both babies have perished, either by starvation, heat, or predation.
When I spoke with Terry this week, she shared with me her wealth of knowledge about Osprey, and I lovingly described to her the personalities of both parents: mom was always somewhat nervous and skittish around me, whereas dad seemed to never really mind my presence, primping, preening, feeding, and gagging up those fish bones around me, as we spent countless hours together last summer, and several again this summer. Any other Osprey would take flight if I got too close to them, whereas dad would mess with me and after half an hour of quietly observing each other, he would take flight, a headless fish clenched in his talons, aiming straight for me, he would always get a chuckle out of me when he did that (especially this year as I was watching him through the sunroof of my car!).
Yesterday morning I made another early trip to the deserted nest, and on my way back to the cottage, about two kilometers away from the fallen nest, I saw an Osprey. Male. On a hydro pole. I drove up to him slowly, thinking for sure this was another male as it was too far away from the old nest, and waited for him to fly. Nope.
I pulled up right underneath him and we looked at each other. He didn't budge.
I stood up through the sunroof. He didn't budge.
He was grasping a single stick in his talons. It was dad:
I spent the next twenty minutes with dad, and he occasionally looked down at the stick that he so tighly clenched, perhaps wondering if it was time to let go:
He did let go of that stick.
And at that moment, I let go too.
It was time to return to the cottage, but just before I started up the car, he took flight, once again he had beaten me to the punch!
I am now following the Osprey parents' lead, finding the strength to carry on just like they have, as I cherish the wonderful memories of our time well spent together at a nest that is no more.