A special place

"If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, it is a special place where I spend my afternoon."

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Osprey by the Bridge

    Last year, about this time, I was keeping my eye on two different herons, nesting on the west end of the island. Unfortunately, around the time the eggs were due to hatch, one of the nests was vandalized. But, the other one was a success, with two chicks, growing up to be healthy young herons.
   This year, I've been watching some Ospreys nesting on a pylon, by the bridge going to St. George Island. The nests are made out of sticks and usually built out in open spaces. But they're built strong enough to survived the likes of storms like Debbie, and Isaac, that came through here a couple years ago. 
They're the only large raptor with an unmarked white belly
The flowers are a nice touch!
   Ospreys, also known as sea hawks, fish eagles, and fish hawks, are in this area, all year around. And you'll always find them near the water.They're by the salt marshes, rivers, and the bay. It's common to see their nests on telephone poles, channel markers, water towers, and even man made platforms.
    The number of Osprey crashed, starting in the 1950's. For example, from the 1950's until the 1970's, between New York City and Boston, 90% of the breeding pairs, disappeared. But when many pesticides were banned, mainly DDT, they made a tremendous comeback. And although they are still rare in some places, Ospreys exist on every continent except Antarctica.
They do well in populated areas
   Fish make up 99% of the Osprey's diet. They've been known to eat 80 different species of fish, both from salt, and fresh water. And as long as they're around water, they'll never go hungry. They'll catch a fish on 1 out of every 4 dives. Sometimes even having a 70% success rate. Like a pelican, an osprey will dive for fish from 30 to 100 feet up. 
   Even though Ospreys are here all year around, they're a migrating bird. And if they live out their full life, of 15 to 20 years, they can log over 160,000 miles in a lifetime, with some of their migrating paths being from the east coast, to South America.
The "aerial sky-dance" with a needle fish 
   During the breeding season, the males are very protective, and possessive, of their nesting area. They will do what's called an "aerial sky-dance". Or,as it's sometimes called a fish-flight, where they'll dangle their legs, often clasping a fish, or nesting material, and alternates hovering, with shallow swoops, sometimes 600 ft. above the nesting sight.
   The nesting period for Ospreys is 50 to 55 days. This pair didn't have a lot of work to do, with the nest already being there. But, after the male finds the nesting sight, there's always stick repair, and remodeling to be done. 
The proud parents

   Three eggs is the average number that's laid, and this pair was no exception. The eggs don't hatch all at once, but sometimes, up to 5 days apart. And it's not uncommon for the oldest chick to keep food from the youngest, causing it to starve to death. This was also true with this pair. But, the two surviving chicks didn't live long. 
   When I thought the time was getting close for the chicks to hatch, I stopped and checked on the nest. Sure enough, the male and female were both sitting on the nest, with two chicks. The chicks were just born, so I decided not to bother them, and didn't stop for several days. Then I noticed what I thought to be the female, flying just above the nest, with several sea gulls flying close by. I decided to stop, and what I saw, made me very sad. There were two dead chicks, with a plastic bag wrapped around them. There's a good chance they were suffocated by someone that was careless with their trash. Whether it was tossed out, or blew out on it's own, doesn't really matter. And who knows where the garbage might have originated. One thing's for sure, it didn't belong in this Osprey's nest.
A sad ending
   This is not the ending I would liked to have written for this post, but, I'm hopeful it will make a difference. Maybe people will think twice about what they do with their trash. And with as many nests that were occupied this season on and around St. George Island, I feel certain we'll have plenty of young Ospreys taking to the sky very soon.

Fly So Free




Sunday, May 4, 2014


   Usually, the afternoon walk on the beach is quiet, peaceful, and uneventful. But yesterday was different. 
The fight had just begun
It took two guys to bring it in
   On the night of the "Chili CookOff" I met some hardcore shark fishermen, Ronie and Nic, that were camping out on the beach with all their shark fishing gear. They kayaked the lines out a good ways into the gulf, secured the poles, and waited. I was anxious to get back the next morning to see if they'd had any luck. Unfortunately, no hungry sharks were biting that night. But they were yesterday.
   After watching the Derby, I went to the beach, only to find my friends were back, and they'd hooked the big one. They'd been reeling it in for the pas two hours. 
This is one big shark!
   They'd, gotten to the beach about noon, (Obviously, catching a shark took precedence over watching the most exciting 2 minutes in sports!), and at 5:30, it hit. A tiger shark, almost 12 feet long! Definitely the catch of the day.  It was around 7:30 when I got to the beach, so they had already been fighting with this fish for a couple hours. I didn't want to miss the action, but figured I had enough time to throw the ball awhile, for the dogs. As it turned out, I had time to go home and eat dinner! I took a few pictures of them pulling in their catch, and went on home.
  I left my phone number with them, and told them to call me when they got the fish close enough to see it, and I'd take some pictures for them. There's a sandbar not too far from shore, and it seemed every time they got that shark to the sandbar, it would run out another 300 yards. After about a half hour, I could see this was going to take some time. But they weren't going to give up.
Pulling it in.
"Open wide"
  I finally went back to check on them around 10:30 p.m., figuring they'd forgotten to call me. But there they were, still fighting to get the shark in. So once again, I said, "call me". 
   So I waited. Finally, around midnight, I got the call. The shark was in sight. I rushed down to the beach, with my camera, just in time to see about 10 people pulling  the shark to shore. I'd never seen such a fish caught off of the beach. And it was definitely the biggest shark the "shark slayer" had ever caught.
  After they got the measurements, 11 feet, 7 inches long, and 62 inches around the girth, and pictures were taken, the shark was pulled back out to sea. Ronie was pleased that the shark survived the ordeal. He wants the thrill of catching it again. And no matter how long it takes, don't doubt the will of a serious fisherman. Or, the will of a fish that doesn't want to be caught either.
"Ouch" But not life threatening. It was returned to the Gulf, alive and well.
            I think I'll keep a closer eye on the dogs when I throw the ball into the water!