Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Seasons of the Osprey

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, April 20, 2016, by Sara Jewell.

A year after my husband and I married, two ospreys began building a nest on the pole that twenty years earlier he’d set up on his property along the River Philip.
Since the first April the pair returned to their nest and hatched out one baby (and three every following year), we’ve been able to count on their arrival by no later than mid-April. One osprey arrives first, and within 48 hours, the second osprey is greeted with high-pitched chirping.

I’m listening to that familiar sound as I type this but for more than a week, I wondered if we’d hear it again.

Our seasons are defined now by the osprey; there is the season when they are here (spring and summer) and the season when they are not (fall and winter). Their familiar shapes in the nest on top of the pole are our lighthouse, our lodestone, our North Star. Our good mornings and our good nights rotate around their constant presence, which is marked distinctly by the sound of their near-incessant chirping.
So it was with great trepidation that we began counting the days until their arrival this spring. For the first time in eight years, we were in doubt about whether they would return because last August, when the three offspring were large enough to sit on the side of the nest but were not yet flying, a bald eagle swooped in and snatched away all three babies.
It was an abrupt, devastating end to the season. It was a heinous, heartbreaking way to acquire a collection of osprey feathers.

The osprey, Nova Scotia’s official bird, is also known as the fish hawk. According to the Audubon Society, raccoons can prey on their eggs while bald eagles and Great Horned Owls are the greatest threats to nestlings. The irony represented by this attack is that bald eagles have made such a comeback, they are now able to pose a threat.
As awful as it would be to have the nest remain empty, I began to think perhaps it would be better if our nesting pair did not return. How could we endure another annihilation?

On the evening of April 9, the cry went up: “There’s a bird in the nest!”
As the days passed, however, the second osprey failed to arrive. Three days. Five days. A week. The single osprey sat on the nest, watching and waiting. It would fly off to fish then return to the nest, move some sticks around to repair winter damage, then sit and watch.
It didn’t chirp once.
“It’s so sad,” my husband began saying, which made it worse, imagining an entire summer of watching the single osprey with no expectation of seeing tiny heads appear or first flights.
It would have been better for no osprey to return at all.

Nine evenings after the first osprey arrived, another shout, a roar, really, went up from the deck. “The second osprey! The second osprey!”
There, silhouetted against the late evening sky, were two ospreys sitting in the nest, my husband’s holler swallowed up by the noise of their raptor-ous greeting.

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