Monday, April 8, 2013

Brooklyn Salt Marsh: Part 2 - Osprey in Love

A female osprey pulls in her talons as she takes off from her nest.
     I love birds of prey, they all have some amazing adaptations. There is something about that keen vision, those huge sharp talons, and the power in their wings that makes them absolutely mesmerizing. Even a red tail hawk will capture my attention, every.single.time. The Marine Park Nature Center had a trail open that loops on the preserve's Eastern side. The trail is just a loop and the last time I visited it was closed, so it was exciting to take a walk down this way. The area the trail covers, borders the Marine Park golf course to its East. There are two platforms set up for osprey to nest on. The one closest to the nature center looked very unoccupied, but further down the trail, the other platform was built up with sticks, debris, and other things collected to build a nest. 
     At first I didn't see any osprey, but then I noticed two dark lumps sitting amongst the tall grasses, on some posts, and it was a pair of Osprey. While I was there I saw them fly to the nest and the male even mounted the female (I guess eggs will be on the way?) and attempted to mate with her. Bird mating is kind of comical because the male, essentially stands on the female's back - he actually flew and landed on her - and does his thing (by the way, most male birds do not have, err, "equipment," so it is a matter of matching up their rear ends - for the sake of not getting too nitty gritty here....) and it's just the most ridiculous looking thing. They attempted to mate twice while I was there, not too sure how successful they were, I'm sure the wind made things challenging. 
     Seeing Osprey around and breeding is such a great thing. Osprey, in their ecosystem, are top predators, nothing really eats them. Being a top predator comes with some baggage though. These birds were one of many animals effected by the use of DDT, a chemical used to eliminate pest insects. Well birds and fish ate the insects, bigger fish and bigger birds ate those, and top predators, like osprey ate them. This results in a phenomenon called, bioaccumulation. Where the concentration of chemicals becomes more and more as you move up the food chain, leaving top predators full of the chemical and leading to various types of problems. For osprey, and many other birds of prey, like bald eagles and peregrine falcons, DDT made their eggs brittle, which resulted in parents literally cracking their own eggs under their weight. When DDT usage ceased, these birds all bounced back without issue, it's amazing how even the littlest thing - some pesticide - effected the greater ecosystem in a huge way.
     The osprey gave me some amazing photos as they were quite active while I watched them. I honestly don't know how long I sat and watched, they were just too cool, and really hard to walk away from. 
The male carries in some nesting material. He had a VERY hard time going the 150 yards or so, the wind was so strong, it even pushed him backwards further than where he started. JFK is not too far from here, so I love that there just happens to be a man made bird in the background of the real thing.
They totally see me spying on them. The female is on the left, the male on the right. I also love raptors because the female birds are not screwing around. They are big, powerful, and she literally watched the male carry that material and arrange it just so in the nest. Good for you, girl! Female raptors tend to be larger than males.
The male, on the right, really shows his exhaustion from carrying that clump of material. His wings were drooped to his side, the wind was really not in his favor.
The male took off and now the female goes out for a flight around the water. Landing gear is being pulled in. Osprey talons are very large for grabbing slippery fish, their feet are also very rough, so they can get a strong grip and not lose their catch. 
This herring gull has some serious nerve to tussle with the female osprey...

Like, honestly dude, were you really going to mess with that??
Yeah, I didn't think so.
Easiest way to identify the osprey in the air, they tend to hold their wings in an open "M" shape, as opposed to bald eagles , which hold their wings straight.
Another cool shot - this time the female has the air plane jet stream in the sky above her
Male and female in flight together
The female lands first...
...Then the male. Gosh, I hope he minds his talons.
Cue the Barry White...
This was the second of the two attempted copulations... Is it weird that I find myself cheering them on when I watch? 
And the Male is back in the air.
Female osprey
I didn't see where the male went, this is where I left the female. 
     So, it was pretty exciting watching this osprey pair and now I look forward to coming back and hopeful to see a new generation!