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Volume 15, Issue 38 ~ September 20 - September 26, 2007

Bay Reflections

Operation Osprey

Rescuing the bird we’ve been spying on

by Maggie Sansone

My husband and I have been observing the osprey for many years from our West River home. Our osprey build their nest on a platform 10 feet above the water and 30 feet from our property shoreline. That makes for easy viewing from the second floor rooms in our house.

Watching birds in this way is always a startling juxtaposition. The observers: humans, surveying from a safe perch. We dwell in our climate-controlled nest with a clock to tell us when to sleep and wake; a weather channel to keep us informed of heat advisories and storms; food available and ready to eat any time. Armed with morning toast and coffee and binoculars, we look out the window. The observed: magnificent birds of prey, going about their very real and difficult life dramas in the wild, day and night.

Our lives crossed their lives last year, when we came face to face with one of the osprey in our own very real nature drama.

It was toward the end of their stay; the parents had left, and one osprey remained who cried day and night. It was unsettling; but we went on with our own lives, as did the lone osprey.

Until the day we transitioned from observer to neighbor.

It was early in the morning in the midst of our wrestling with our computers, battling with the coffee machine and any number of daily struggles indoors, in our nest. When we glanced out the window, we saw the lone osprey was in trouble.

The young bird was in the water, in a flurry, flapping its wings, unable to fly. Maybe it went too deep in the water to cool off or its talons got stuck in a fish that, too heavy to pull out, instead, pulled the osprey into the river. Whatever the reason, the result was apparent — the osprey’s feathers were too wet and too full of water for the bird to gain altitude and escape the water. It flapped its huge wings in desperation, but to no avail.

Shocked, we took action. My husband handed me a pole with a net, and I ran fast to the water’s edge. By the time I reached our bulkhead, the osprey had gotten close enough for us to reach it with the pole. I very slowly put the pole underneath the water and brought it up under the bird’s feet. I had no idea how it would react.

It was an amazing moment after all these months to be face to face with my osprey. I felt the powerful talons grip the pole and hang on while the eyes affixed me with a formidable stare. Eyes of yellow with black slit pupils, unblinking and intense; it watched me, a flustered, nervous human. As we locked eyes, I gently pulled the clinging bird to the bulkhead, then up a few more feet onto our grass.

We dashed away, back to the house and grabbed the binoculars to watch from a distance. The osprey stood there for a long time surveying the territory. Then it began drying its wings, a process of fluffing and shaking that went on for hours as it used its beak to pull at wet feathers.

Finally, the osprey turned toward the water as it routinely does when on the nest. Then the bird walked along the bulkhead on the grass. I wondered if he was injured and called Wildlife Rescue, who assured me that if there was a serious injury, such as a broken wing, they would intervene.

After a few more sips of coffee, a few more emails to send and a few more hours, I looked out the window. The bird was gone. Later in the day, I saw the once waterlogged osprey high up on a safe perch eating a fish.

We offer our blessings and best wishes to this year’s young osprey, ready for its own life journey.

Maggie Sansone of Shady Side is the hammered dulcimer artist of Maggie’s Music, a Celtic trio. This is her first reflection for Bay Weekly.

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