For the love of Mono Lake’s OspreyMay 30th, 2016 by Mono Lake Committee Staff
This post was written by Erv Nichols, Birding Intern in 2014, 2015, & 2016.
For me, the love of Ospreys really began last year, my second year here with the Mono Lake Committee. I was as familiar with them as I was with all the other birds of Mono—being, along with my partner Sandra—half the Birding Intern team. But somewhere about mid-summer I developed a real fondness for their behavior, grace, and devotion to their young.
Soon I was spending my free hours at Old Marina or the far reaches of South Tufa to observe the interactions of male, female, and chicks on the tufa nests they prefer. These nests are huge, six to eight feet across constructed from branches flown in from the nearby woods. Sometimes they will actually fly into a dead tree and snap off a preferred branch with a loud “CRAACK!” holding on to it with their strong talons and carrying it back as far as five miles to place in just the right spot. (Honestly, I have actually seen this!)
Now, as most people know, Osprey are fish eaters and expert at catching them.
Unlike Bald Eagles, which are lazy fishers and steal no small part of their diet from the smaller Osprey in flight, my bird will fly over a lake looking through the water until it finds a fish near the surface and then, much to the anger of the patient angler on the shore, dives down with those deadly talons fully extended and locks onto the hapless creature lifting it, sometimes with great difficulty, into the air where it will turn the fish to an aerodynamic position to cut wind resistance and deliver the prize back to Mono Lake and the family.
Now notice I said back to Mono Lake, because we all know there are no fish in Mono, right? Right! But these Osprey are more special than most. They are California Osprey. They want to raise their kids in a nice safe neighborhood, away from the crowds and the predators of most lakes but, like most Californians, to do this they must commute. So they travel to June Lake, Grant Lake Reservoir, Lundy Lake and others for their groceries. And it works! Last year we had 11 active nests with chicks at Mono Lake.
But getting back to me, one day last year in late summer I was watching my special nest at Old Marina. I knew the three youngsters were near fledging age and I was hoping to get at least a photo or two before they started to fly. It was early afternoon and a light breeze was blowing out of the west. As I watched, one bird stood high on the nest edge and started a slow flapping of its wings. Nothing new, but this time something was different. It lifted again and again in the wind, higher with each flap. Suddenly it caught a gust and … it was gone. As numbers two and three watched it disappear you could feel the sense of awe. Up stepped number two and with a few grand flaps, it too left the nest. Number three was a bit more reluctant, but soon it also headed up and off and out of sight. When it finally hit me and I realized what I had witnessed, I came out of my hiding place and cheered out loud. Luckily no one was around to lock me up. I’ll never forget it.
Now, in my third year with the Mono Lake Committee I am working closer with these birds and know I will have more wonders to see and more stories to tell but I’ll never forget that warm summer breeze and those babies leaving home for the first time.