Friday, September 06, 2019

The Secret of the Bones


Last evening, after shutting up the chicken coop for the night, I wandered over to my father's garden to check out the sunflowers I'd planted there. They finally are beginning to bloom. I pulled some weeds, read Dad's engraved stone, then started to looked up.
It's a poignant time around here because this is the time of year when the entire osprey family, parents and fledglings, leave the nest for good as they begin their migration south.
This is the time of normal leave-taking, as nature intended. This is the second year in a row we've been denied this ritual.

A little voice said to me, "Go walk in the field underneath the osprey nest."
I think I wanted to find a feather but instead I found an answer.

Only several steps in, a well-picked carcass lay abandoned in the grass. I believe it is what's left of the oldest, largest osprey baby, the one we last saw on July 29.



This discovery creates a slightly different narrative than the one we had in August.

I've assumed all three babies perished in the nest after, we believe, their father was killed by someone in the neighbourhood who has a trout pond. The mother -- perhaps injured in some way -- wasn't around much. This meant the three babies weren't getting enough food but it also meant they weren't being protected from the eagles.

I remember, on a few days after July 29, seeing the surviving osprey parent land on the edge of nest.  I can't recall if she had brought a fish with her. She seemed to be looking down in the nest, and at the time, this seemed both sad and gruesome -- she'd be gazing at the bodies of her three babies.
Now I wonder if she was looking for the offspring who'd been alive a few days earlier.

This carcass suggests that baby was picked off by the eagle. Unfortunately, as we learned in the summer of 2015, with an eagle nest right across the river (the result of 2014's Hurricane Arthur knocking down the longtime nest further upriver), our ospreys must be vigilant at keeping eagles away from their nest. One of the hallmarks of this new breeding pair was their attentiveness to the nest; there was always a parent in the nest. They were diligent about driving away the eagles when they flew nearby. But with one parent gone, our baby ospreys were alone for too long and the eagles took advantage.

It's one thing for ospreys to be deliberately and senselessly killed by humans, but another to be taken as part of the cycle of nature. As much as I don't want the osprey babies preyed on by the eagles, at least that makes sense. Nature is beautiful and brutal, and as much as it breaks my heart, at least it's based on primal survival instincts.

I collected everything I found in the area around the carcass and brought it all home (I'd hoped to find the skull but it's been taken away by the eagles or another animal). I wanted to photograph it and share this story. I wanted to show you the skin and claws still attached to one foot and leg. The one to the right I found in another spot.


This carcass has been out in the field underneath the osprey nest for over a month but I couldn't go over there until now. My grief and my anger made it impossible for me to even think of being near that space, let alone discover something like this. For weeks, I've been glancing at the nest -- involuntarily, I can't help myself, the habit it so ingrained -- and thinking of the bodies in there. Wondered if the "death nest" meant no other ospreys would ever want to take it over. And maybe that's better, if no one nests there again. If no one is tempted to fish trout of out the killer's pond.
Yet last night, that small voice told me to go into that space. I didn't find the assurance I need, but I did find a plausible answer to what happened.

What would not have happened if a human hadn't interfered with the normal cycle of nature.
Claws crossed, my friends, for a different outcome in the summer of 2020.



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