Wednesday, July 31, 2019

We Can Blame the Weather

On this day, July 31, 2011: An osprey chick takes short flights from the nest. 

Yesterday afternoon, the one osprey parent showed up at the nest and the surviving baby sat up. So as of 4:30 Tuesday, it was alive. The only thing is the parent didn't bring in a fish. She sat on the side of the nest and called.
"She's calling her mate to bring in a fish," Dwayne said.
She eventually flew off, the baby sat up for a while, then it disappeared.
I thought, This is crap. We know it's alive. We know it didn't eat yesterday. Why don't we try to save it?

"If the baby is still in the nest and there is a parent present, by law we can't interfere with the nest," a staff member at Cobequid Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in Brookfield, NS, told me. "If the baby is on the ground, then we could get involved. I know it's hard but sometimes you have to let nature take its course.
"Getting hit by a car or shot by an arrow is not nature," she added as any true and committed wildlife rehabilitator would.

She said sometimes a parent will push a baby out of the nest so we can hope this happens with this one, although prior to this crisis, the oldest and biggest baby hadn't been displaying the usual ready-to-fledge behaviour in the nest: flapping its wings, jumping from side to side to side, jumping up and down.
It was not yet ready to fly.
"We've often had the babies flying by the end of July," I told her. "This year, they weren't doing any of their wing flapping and hopping yet."

Summer 2016 - wing stretching.

"They were late because of the cold, wet spring," she answered. "There have been a lot of osprey nest fails in Ontario this year for the same reason."
They know this from the nests monitored by camera. There are no reasons, apparently, for growing chicks to suddenly die.

I couldn't find any news of this when I Googled but I did find an Associated Press article out of the States from mid-June that stated, "Any bird was in peril of nesting this year." A cold, rainy spring means wet nests, making it harder for birds to incubate their eggs.

The article is about the Midwest and looks at a monitored nest of peregrine falcons but perhaps what researchers found with this year's hatchlings could explain what happened in our nest. Joe DeBold, quoted, leads Missouri's peregine falcon conservation program, and they gathered up a nest of chicks for tagging.
"It was clear that something was wrong with the remaining chicks. They sat quietly on the table, their beaks and eyes swollen... DeBold said they appeared to be suffering from an infection, perhaps from having eaten rancid meat. Without the fully developed immune system of an adult bird, there's little they could do to fight it. And it would be folly for a human to try to rehabilitate them because only the chicks' parents can teach them to hunt for prey from the air, a skill they would need in order to survive as adults."
[article posted online by Associated Press, June 14, 2019, written by Emily Younker]

So there you have it. A possible reason for this crisis, and also a reason to not save the remaining baby. How do we teach it to fish when we are not ospreys?
In the end, we still have no babies launching into the world this summer. The second season no babies from the "Riverview nest" have made it into the world. Having seen them as chicks and celebrated them, I'm devastated, and feel like I am in mourning but it helps to have some answers, even if it's just theories and possibilities.

Summer 2016 - the first fledging takes flight while a sibling and a parent watch.

Monday, July 29, 2019


This is our osprey nest.
See anything missing?

All five birds. Gone.

Sometime between Saturday, July 20 and Sunday, July 21, one parent - who we always believe is the male - disappeared.
Yes, again. The mate disappeared. On Sunday morning, while I sat outside reading and watching the nest, the remaining parent flew off the nest three times towards the river, and came back. No one brought fish to the nest at all on Sunday.
No one in that nest - one parent and three large babies - ate fish on Sunday that I noticed. Normally, I see an osprey fly into the nest with a fish as I start out on my early morning walk but no bird flew over me. I thought nothing of that then.

Early Monday, I left for a week in Ontario and when I returned home, the worst news awaited me. No osprey parents at all. The babies were alone in the nest.

Okay, when one osprey parent disappears one spring (2018), it's mysterious and spiritual and symbolic. When one osprey parent disappears the following summer (2019), it's HUMAN INTERFERENCE.
This is no sad coincidence. You don't lose a healthy, attentive male osprey two years in a row.

The problem is we have no way of knowing exactly what is taking our ospreys. Eagle? Fishing line? A boat?
My husband's theory is that someone nearby has a trout pond and the ospreys have been fishing it. Instead of creating a habitat where the trout can hide, the pond owner is simply shooting the osprey. He actually thinks he has a right to protect his trout stock by shooting the provincial bird of Nova Scotia.

And I think the remaining osprey parent is gone too. Gone, as in killed. Because why would she abandon her chicks when the oldest is less than a month from fledging? Perhaps the youngest and smallest chick would perish if the mother couldn't bring in enough fish in a day and the two older and stronger chicks shoved the baby out of the way in order to eat. But I simply can't see why she wouldn't have started to bring fish in, to keep her half-grown chicks alive.

Here she is on the Saturday before I left (July 20) with the two older chicks on either side of her. See how big they are? They are - WERE - so close to learning to fly. By the middle of August, they'd be flying. They'd be learning to fish for themselves. I honestly can't imagine a parent -- even an instinctive, survival-of-the-fittest wild bird -- abandoning its chicks.
But the alternative is no better: She was killed, too.

And thinking of a man pointing a gun at our ospreys and shooting them out of the sky because he's too lazy and too stupid to create a protective habit in his trout pond fills me with murderous rage.
Because it's not just two, probably three, adult ospreys we've lost in the last two years. It's also SIX BABIES. Three eggs were abandoned last spring, and three chicks were left alone this week.

That's what is hardest about this. To look at the nest now and know there are three osprey chicks lying dead in it. Those strong, growing, wing-stretching bodies are still, and baking in the hot sun.
This is so unbelievably cruel. This is devastating.

For ten years, our ospreys came to this nest and made it through the summer. The only threat was the eagle in the summer of 2015, but it took the babies, not the parents.
And now, nine ospreys have been taken out of the life cycle. The circle of life has stopped here.
So I hope they stop coming to this nest. Perhaps we should take down the pole. We can't keep inviting ospreys to live here knowing their lives are endangered. I don't think I can take another summer of no babies getting to grow up and fly away.

*** UPDATE - later in the day:

I was washing the dishes late in the afternoon when I heard an osprey chirping. I went and looked at the nest - there was an adult osprey standing on the side of the nest.
It stood there for the longest time, looking down into the nest.
Then it spread its wings and flew off the nest.

It had a fish in its talons.


So...she is not dead BUT:
She let her babies die. No one brought any fish to the nest since I returned home two and a half days ago. She let her babies die. How could she not have managed to bring one fish a day to them, to keep them alive until they could fly? How could she not have managed to feed herself and her babies when they live right along the river?

I can't answer any of these questions. But this is too much. She came back to the nest with a fish, and found her babies dead. Too little too late.
This is even worse than the eagle snatching the three fledgings four years ago; at least then, we knew what happened. At least then, we had the chance to try and save one.


I have no idea what's going on. All I know is I was back in my office, trying to work, when I heard chirping. Went outside and saw this:

I feel like I'm losing my mind! For ten years, these guys showed up in April, fixed the nest, laid eggs and hatched out two or three babies who learned to fly in August then everyone headed south in September. Now it's just a shit show.

Looks like one of the babies, likely the first born, oldest and strongest one, managed to survive the past two days without food. But will one fish every couple of days be enough?

I'll try to find something else to write about in a few days.

(I told Dwayne that we need to buy a cherry picker so that if/when this happens again, we can simply drive the cherry picker over and toss fresh-caught trout into the nest for them to eat! At least then, we'll feel like we're helping.)

(Another thought: Any chance we could get an osprey-sized camera to attach to one of them so we can see what is happening???)

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Funny Looking Peanut

Interesting observation: If there are only strawberries available, the squirrels eat them. But if I put out peanuts with the strawberries, the squirrels eat only the peanuts, and leave the strawberries behind.
Another interesting observation: It is unclear if the squirrels actually eat the entire strawberry. I've not seen one sit and eat the entire berry on the railing like they do with peanuts; they often run off with them. And I found a strawberry stashed behind a pot but no one ever came back for it.

One might think I have nothing better to do than sit and watch the squirrels.
One might think feeding them peanuts is expensive enough!

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Don't Count Your Chicks Before They're Hatched

There are three babies!
When I announced the official sighting of two babies two weeks ago, I did leave room for the possibility of a third. Osprey eggs are laid about a week apart and tend to hatch on that same schedule (which we know from the experts, not from our observations of what is actually going on in the nest).
Because of the disappearance of the mate last spring, we had no babies at all last summer. So not only are we delighted to have a new and very protective new pair take over the nest, we are triply delighted to have a full slate of babies born.
That's a full nest. The mama bird up on the side of the nest most of the time should have been a hint to me that there wasn't much room left in the nest for her. This also means they both will be busy bringing fish to their offspring.
Next month, the flying lessons begin, but that last to appear? Always the last to leave the nest, always the most reluctant, but in the end, by early September, everyone make the leap and follows the river away from home.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Summer Reading 2

If I hadn't been doing a long, lazy browse in the memoir section of the library in Amherst, I might never have known this book existed. I was flattened by a cold last week and this was the perfect book for reading during a sick spell in early July.

Anne Barclay Priest, actor, shepherd and writer, published this memoir (as far as I can tell it's her only book) in 2006. The book opens, as prologue, with her reaction to the sudden, tragic death of a friend in Nova Scotia -- someone I would later learn was a vet and sheep farmer in Truro!
Although the book is set on the south shore of Nova Scotia, the exact opposite shore from mine, it's wonderful to read about someone who decides to move to rural Nova Scotia on a whim:
"I went up to Nova Scotia during the summer of 1971 to look at a piece of land that my friends, Ruth and Bob Cram, had told my ex-husband about."
And just like that -- she fell in love. Although she never hooks up with a Nova Scotia country boy, she often writes about how helpful her neighbours and local friends were; she learned quite quickly that Maritimers love to help.

Regardless of whether she was writing about people or animals or the weather, Priest was a simple and elegant writer, lots of description without being flowery.
I enjoyed the first half of the book much more than the second half; that's my bias towards Nova Scotia, but it also had to do with the interest and excitement of her learning to keep sheep. Once she started to write about her new sheep farm in New York state, however, (she wintered there and continued to summer in Nova Scotia), the story became very "sheepy" and more about breeding; I also wasn't much interested in her acting career. I was there for the sheep, the dogs and island life in Nova Scotia.
Plus, there's an entire, long chapter near the end devoted to her trip to Israel with "Peace Fleece" - I admit I skipped that chapter.

The real strength of this book is her summers in Nova Scotia: buying the land and a 200 year old  house to move onto the land, buying the island and putting sheep and cattle out there, then it's all the people she meets and how they teach her and help her. This is one tough cookie! Throughout the book, someone is always dying for some reason, but it is never overdone or sad; it's just a part of life.

I loved reading about a vet and sheep farmer, and his family, who lived close to where I live now (in Truro) -- and was delighted to discover the family still has its sheep farm on Isle Madame, Cape Breton, where my writing mentor and friend Marjorie Simmins lives. Marjorie says when I get the chance to visit her, she'll introduce me to the daughter, Sarah, who is keeping the farm going.

Anne Barclay Priest died in November 2010 at the age of 83.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Summer Reading 1

I certainly started my summer with two amazing novels!

Let's start with the one on the right: "Found Drowned" is written by my friend Laurie Glenn Norris and the story takes place on the River Philip in Rockley, just downriver from where I live. Laurie's novel is inspired by a ghost story she read about in a book put together by a local historical society, and she spent 25 years researching the details of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island in the late 1800's to create a life for Mary Harney after her untimely death at the age of 16.
And that's all Laurie had: a location, a name and an age. But she had a real person who needed a life.

The book on the left is also written by a Canadian author, and this story is similar to Laurie's in that there is a real story to be told, and in the case of "Bellewether", the story is told through a ghost. This book is completely fictional, though; her inspiration is not a real person.

For so many of us, fiction is all made up. The place may be familiar, the characters may be based upon people we know, the story may be inspired by something that happened in real life -- but the story is our own, from our own imaginations. When I wrote a novel sixteen years ago called "The Mushroom Picker's Dog", it was inspired by a small news item I read in the Vancouver newspaper, but everything about the story was absolutely made up.

For these two novels, the authors have used as much true historical detail, and in some case, people, as possible.
Susanna Kearsley's novel moves between the past and present (a format she does very well; I recommend all her books) and unravels a ghost story in the present that turns out to be based on false information. The main characters, past and present, are made up, but the historical circumstances are, of course, portrayed as accurately as possible. This is the pleasure of reading of reading an accomplished historical novelist.

Laurie's novel is almost the opposite. It is created around a real person as the main character who inspired a ghost story based on her death, but with few details about her, and her family, Laurie had to make up an entire life for Mary, and an explanation for her death as well. It was a fascinating read I couldn't put down. I wanted to know what really happened to Mary Harney, even though her story is utterly fictional. As with Kearsely, Laurie portrays the historical setting as accurately as possible. She researched all the actual people she knew were involved in the original "found drowned" event, and researched all the elements of that time, including how an autopsy would have been done in 1877.

One note about the Susanna Kearsely novel (and this is something she acknowledges in her end-of-book explanations about the source of her characters): her portrayal of Indigenous people is what it always should have been. Through two characters, one in the present and one in the past, they are portrayed as real people to be respected and honoured, not as savages to be wiped out or a race to be mocked and denigrated. There were several instances when I wanted to leap onto Twitter and quote her portrayal. In her final comments, she quotes the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Canada: "The arts  help to restore human dignity and identity in the face of injustice", then she goes on to say, "And that's what I've tried to do."

I, for one, noticed and appreciated it.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

The Wisdom of the Country Boy

Sun streamers over the Northumberland Strait, taken from the River Philip bridge
My Nova Scotia Country Boy is full of sayings about the weather -- sayings that predict or forecast what's going to happen. I wrote about this a bit in my book but I didn't refer to everything he says, and I wasn't diligent about collecting them in the early years of our marriage. When I realized the forecast based on his sayings were usually right, I started to pay closer attention.

So Saturday morning, as I zoomed down the road to the Pugwash Farmers Market, I noticed sun streamers flowing down from the clouds.
According to the Nova Scotia Country Boy, "this is the sun drawing water," which means it's going to rain.
Well, there were a lot of streamers coming through the clouds and let me tell you, about seven thirty Saturday night, it poured rain. It's been hot and humid the last few days and we knew there was a thunderstorm-preceded break in the heat coming but we didn't expect the monsoon sideways rain that blew down for twenty minutes.
"Good think you watered the planters," said the boy, straight-faced.
(I did because they needed food. So there.)

He has another phrase, "Rain by seven, fine by eleven," that is always right -- until it wasn't on Canada Day. The statement means that if the rain ends by seven, it will be fine by eleven. On July 1st, it was raining at seven, it was raining at nine, and it was still raining at eleven o'clock!

Just found my little pile of papers on which I jot down his sayings:
"When the clouds make the sun look white, it's going to snow." It's definitely a winter-only saying -- with the humidex reaching 42 degrees yesterday, that is definitely not a "snow sun" in the photo posted above!

I love it when Dwayne talks country. When we're driving along and looking at what I think are simply sunbeams and he says, "The sun is drawing water," my heart contracts than expands like a balloon, filling with love for the transformation of the image in the sky before me and with even more love for this farm-raised, sky-gazing, river-running country boy.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

The Sight and Sound of Summer

While watching the two ospreys feeding their babies early this morning, I realized I hadn't posted the news: There are two babies!
You can see their two round heads to the left of the parent.

Ospreys can hatch up to three - our old pair used to do three every year - but so far, we haven't seen three heads, only two.  In another week or so, if there are three babies in the nest, we'll have no trouble seeing them; they'll be getting big. Remember, they need to be flying and learning to fish by the end of August. That clump of nest that's in the photo, between the two baby heads, is now gone -- pushed down perhaps by the parents sitting on the edge of the nest more as they feed the kids.
The other morning, as I left for my walk, an osprey flew over with a fish dangling from its talons. That sight never gets old.

We are delighted and relieved that we still have a nesting pair of ospreys on our property. As I write, the sound of a parent chirping is floating in through my office window. I can't imagine summer in Nova Scotia without that sound.

As we have from the moment the osprey pair claimed the nest in 2008, we continue to believe we are blessed by the ospreys. Even when it is a new pair, like this year's, who doesn't interact with us like our original pair did, we know they are here for a reason, and are an integral part of our rural, and spiritual, life -- as individuals but also as a couple.
This new pair sticks very close to each other and to the nest. Dwayne felt like the loss of the longtime mate last spring was a bad omen, so after his stroke in August, we're very much like these two: sticking close to each other and to our own nest.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

The Field Comes to the Deck

There may be a special place in my heart for groundhogs, since my father had one as a pet when he was a boy,
and I may believe a groundhog took up residence in our backyard just as I was starting to rewrite the story of my father's life,

when I was nine years old, my favourite book was "Frosty: A Raccoon to Remember" by Harriet Weaver (1973) so there is a very special place in my heart for raccoons.
I know they are large rodents who make noise and mess and carry potentially dog-harming bacteria. I know they are scroungers who knock over compost containers --

Did I ever tell you that's what I was doing behind the old shed at our summer house on Pugwash Point when Dwayne phoned to ask me out on a date? I was reinforcing the compost bin, trying to keep the raccoons out of it.


look at that face
look at that nose and those whiskers
look at those fingers

Raccoons are such clever little buggers.
I loved that book about the family who adopted an orphaned raccoon baby and raised it as a pet. Was that another early non-fiction influence?

Poor Mama, she came looking for whatever peanuts and sunflower seeds the squirrels had left behind. I know she has babies, at least four, because the dog and I saw them across the road the other day.
She came early last night, before dark but after it had started to rain -- again -- but she hit the jackpot: When I pointed her out to my husband, he stood at the sliding glass door and watched her for awhile. The cats crouched around his ankles, watching too, and I kept the dog quiet.
Poor dog, she is no longer allowed to chase squirrels off the railing or bark at the raccoon on the deck.
Then he cracked the door open and I was about to object to him scaring her away -- there wasn't much for her to scrounge so she'd leave soon anyway -- when he tossed a handful of peanuts out the door.

My Nova Scotia country boy fed the raccoon.
He's gone soft, this boy has.
An old porcupine gets safe passage through the front yard at supper time.
A groundhog is allowed to live under the garage and sit at its leisure on the laundry deck.
Squirrels get fed peanuts and sunflower seeds while Dwayne tries to get them to take from his fingers.
And a raccoon gets an extra snack on the front deck.

"We're not supposed to feed the wild animals, you know," I told him.
"She'll bring the babies here soon," he replied.
Baby raccoons! I think it's time I track down a long-lost copy of that 1973 book. It might be a reality check -- but somehow I think we've moved past reality now...