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Volume xviii, Issue 14 ~ Apri 8 to April 14, 2010

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The Osprey Saga

by M.C. Koblos

Week 2

The nest is just about complete. Olivia, as I call her, is hauling clawfuls of wet seaweed she gathers at low tide to line her nest of twigs to make it nice and comfy for her and for her chicks when they hatch. Meanwhile, Oliver is off hanging with the guys; he helps with the heavy work, but not with the finishing touches. When she’s ready, she’ll sit in her nest demurely and Ollie will come back and mate with her a few times to fertilize the eggs. Then he’s off duty again till the chicks are born and need food.

I’ve been watching osprey for 30-some years, finding them remarkable and entertaining. The other evening I was sitting on the bench on my pier and Olivia was on her nest, about 20 feet away, having a fish for dinner. When she sent me a whistle message, I’d send the same one back to her. She finally tired of this nonsense and took her fish to a neighbor’s piling where she continued to eat in silence, with her back turned to me. I laughed and gave up. When I got to the house and looked back, she was on the nest again, finishing off her fish.

Yeah, I talk to birds … and squirrels … and trees … and to my house. Even to myself. Old guys who live alone are weird that way.

Week 3

Oliver has been dutifully fertilizing. It’s apparent that a year has gone by since the last time. He seems kind of klutzy; has to try two or three times before he gets it right. But, of course, when you consider that his mate is hunkered down on a pile of sticks, on a small platform 10 feet above the water and isn’t so stable herself, well, getting on top of her and grabbing on to some neck feathers to steady himself is not the easiest thing to do, let alone trying to do something with something back there beneath the tail feathers of both of them. Actually, it’s remarkable that they succeed at all.

They are so very human-like. Sometimes they both sit in the nest, facing away from each other. I can well imagine that kind of circumstance. Then sometimes Oliver sits on a nearby piling, slowly chewing on a fish, or preening his feathers, as Olivia waits on the nest for his attentions. It’s like The Honeymooners. I should have named them Alice and Ralph.

By midweek, they’re spending a lot of time together in the nest, side by side. Olivia, droopy winged, like the demure beloved, and Ollie, the uncomfortable but compliant lover, attending his lady. Isn’t it amazing how accommodating males can be with receptive females?

Week 4

I guess I’ll never understand women. They are never satisfied with the way things are and can never leave well enough alone. Whatever it was that got into Olivia this week, it was awesome to watch. She went to work and completely rearranged the nest, working on it for days. She pulled on this twig and jumped up and down on another. Some she threw overboard and let the tide take away. She flew in and grabbed a couple of replacements from my yard, even broke a few off Big Willie, the 70-foot willow oak that shades my yard.

That’s a neat trick that ospreys have. They know which branches are dead, and they fly in and grab near the end of a twig, fold their wings, and, as they fall, the twig breaks. Then they spread their wings and carry it away. Once Oliver was standing in the nest when Olivia pulled a twig right out from under him and poked it into the other side of the nest. As best I can tell, she made the nest wider in diameter and flatter. Do you suppose she did it to help Ollie with the courting?

But there was domestic trouble in the osprey world. Oliver took off in a huff and disappeared for a couple of days. Olivia waited patiently on her newly re-decorated nest, occasionally whistling for him to come home, but to no avail.

The wandering mate finally returned and took up again the arduous duties he had abandoned.

Will all be well? We’ll just have to wait and see.

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