Our Osprey Story

This feature was prompted by a series of photographs taken by website member Nelson as he observed the birds at Stone Harbor, New Jersey, during June / July 2012.

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The Osprey Pandion haliaetus is a fish eating raptor found on all continents with the exception of the Antarctic. In the UK it breeds in Scotland but is not very common elsewhere. Birders in the UK go to the Lake District Osprey Project or to Rutland Osprey Project where there are viewing facilities. If they are feeling lazy they go on line to these links to see live camera pictures.

For many people the classic view is of the Osprey perched on an exposed branch in a very tall tree (right). This one was photographed by Robert D on the River Tarcoles during a birding trip to Costa Rica.

Ospreys catch fish in fresh or brackish water using their talons. They tend to favour coastal regions, inland lakes and reservoirs, rivers and mangrove swamps. Although they usually nest in tall trees they have been known to build nests on communication towers.

But if you go to Stone Harbor, New Jersey, USA you can see Osprey in a totally different environment. They cater for these birds in a very special way. They have erected stands and posts topped by platforms at various places in the water and on the marshland. You can see the idea in the photograph (below) - Nelson commented, the nest on the right has a female and 3 chicks in it. The male is usually found on the stand (on the left in the photograph) - unless he's " gone fishing".

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The New Jersey Osprey Project began after the Osprey was listed as an endangered species in 1973. In 1974 a survey was conducted to count the number of active Osprey nests from Toms River to Atlantic City. Only five active nests were found.

Ten years earlier there were over 50 in that same area. Prior to 1950, over 500 Osprey nests were found along the New Jersey coastline. The decline is blamed on the heavy use of DDT in the 50’s and 60’s. It is this use of DDT decimated the Osprey population by upwards of 90%.

The 1974 efforts to recover the Osprey population began when biologists built and installed nest structures in and along coastal marshes to replace trees lost to development. Today there are over 500 nesting pairs.

The view of the bird in flight (right) was taken by Nelson from his boat at Stone Harbor. It's a great way to go birding!.

In the Stone Harbor area where we live, there are 8 or 9 nesting pairs. We have been following three of these nesting pairs. Nest-1 and 2 are located behind the Wetlands Institute in the marshes adjacent to Scotch Bonnet Creek. Nest 3 is in the marshes off the Inland Waterway just south-east of South Basin.

One of Nelson's early photographs (below) showed the male above the nest in which two chicks along with the female bird can easily be seen. It looks like a pretty safe place for the chicks to be born.

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Although the chicks might be vulnerable to attack by other birds of prey I guess the Osprey parents are robust enough to drive anything else away.

Gulls have been known to predate Osprey chicks - in fact in one of Nelson's photographs (not shown here) the feet of a Gull can be seen behind an adult Osprey as it flies into the nest.

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But are there only two chicks in the nest?

A later photograph (right) showed an adult with three chicks waiting to be fed.

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The image (below) shows the male "bringing home the dinner". Unfortunately he has eaten half the fish already.

The Wetlands Institute actually have the classic shot of an Osprey which has just snatched a fish from the water - in the image they show the bird went one step further than Nelson's bird (left) and caught one fish with each foot. Click on http://wetlandsinstitute.org/education/osprey-camera.

At the moment the log of sightings refers to 2011. When the birds are present the camera provides live views of the birds on one of the nests.
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Nelson is still having a great time watching and photographing these birds - that's when he is not fishing himself of course.

This is version 1 of Our Osprey Story - it might well be revised before long.

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