Monthly Archives: September 2015

The Grand Ole Osprey

Birds are like those castles in the air that Thoreau said we must now put foundations under. This is how birdwatching, which grows out of books but can never be satisfied with books, creates environmentalists.  If we don’t shore up the earth, the sky will be empty.    Jonathan Rosen, The Life of the Skies

The summer has passed quickly.  Every summer has its own flavor and its own surprises.   Without a doubt a highlight of this summer has been an Osprey nest in Lynn.  Videographer Ernie Sarro informed me of the nest and in early July I followed Ernie there and we sat and watched the Ospreys for hours.  I can’t imagine better access to this species than this nest.  It’s in a field and the Saugus River winds around the nest close by giving the Ospreys an ample fishing area.

45OSPREYNESTLYNNXXXXSATAUG2520151563 350Osprey Nest, Lynn, MA.  Photo by John Harrison.  

We quickly discovered that there were three chicks in the nest and we would sit and watch as the mother would tend to the chicks and feed them when the father flew in with fish.  Often the pair would fly around the nest in circles allowing us sensational opportunities to photograph them as they flew right over our heads, looking down at us as they soared.  At times the male Osprey would fly in with a fish and land immediately.  Other times it would fly toward the nest with a fish and then fly around with the fish in its talons for a while and then land at the nest.  These were all sublime photo ops for us.  Every time we visited the nest, which was a couple of times a week, the Ospreys put on shows like that for us.  And as we visited, the chicks got bigger and bigger until we knew that they were ready to fledge.


Osprey in flight with fish, Lynn nest.  Photo by John Harrison.


Osprey in flight, Lynn nest.  Photo by John Harrison.

On Wednesday, July 29, I got to the nest early in the morning and after watching for a while could only see two of the chicks.  Suddenly an Osprey was flying toward the nest.  Its landing was somewhat ungainly and I soon realized that it was one of the chicks.  It had fledged since my last visit.  Very exciting.  The remaining two chicks were bouncing around the nest and ‘helicoptering’ (flapping their wings and hovering over the nest). These two were obviously close to fledging, too. The two adults were keeping close watch on the remaining chicks in the nest and now had to contend with one of their ‘kids’  flying around and exploring its new world. But I have learned through the years that raptors are good parents and they did everything they had to do to protect their chicks and guide them through the process.  And for us watching it was a joyous learning experience.  Here are two videos of the Osprey nest from videographer Ernie Sarro:
Realizing that the remaining two chicks were close to fledging, I returned to the nest a few days later on August 1st.  I watched the chicks do more helicoptering and look longingly as their sibling would land in the nest and take off.  This was motivation for them to find the courage for their first flight. Further motivation was that the father Osprey would land in the nest with a fish and then take off with the fish in its talons a minute later,  It would do this two or three times, probably trying to motivate the remaining two chicks to fly.  I have watched this activity from Red-tailed Hawk parents. too.  As I watched the nest intently, suddenly one of the remaining two chicks took off.  I witnessed its first flight.  It flew around in circles, never far from the nest,  and made a couple of passes at the nest wanting to land, but it would hover over the nest and was obviously not sure of itself so it would continue flying around.   It took three attempts before the fledgling felt secure enough to land back in the nest.  Once it was safely there, it rested for a few minutes and then took off on its second flight.   The remaining chick, jealous of its two flying siblings, finally mustered the courage and took off.  I had witnessed two fledge flights within a half hour.  For those of us that do what we do, witnessing the fledge flight of two Osprey chicks within a half hour of each other was a privilege.  And to capture their first flights in photographs was a bonanza.
Osprey chick, first flight.  Lynn nest.  Photo by John Harrison.
Sometimes while at the Osprey nest we would walk a little on the path along the Saugus River near the nest.  It was a great area to see shore birds.  At low tide there were always lots of Sanderlings at the bank of the river and I also saw a Greater Yellow Legs and a Semipalmated Plover.
From top,  Greater Yellowlegs, Sanderlings and, last, Semipalmated Plover.  Photos by John Harrison.
Photographer Boz Cogan took a walk while I was watching the Osprey nest and he came back a half hour later to tell me he had seen a Bobcat on the other side of the river and a coyote as well.  The Bobcat didn’t give him time for a photograph, but he managed a ‘proof of life’ shot of the coyote.
As we head toward September, we start looking for fall migrants.  In late August and throughout September and even into October migrants heading to their winter grounds pass through Mount Auburn.  They feed and rest and get stronger and then continue on their journey south.  Fall migration is never as spectacular as spring migration, and the fall birds aren’t as striking, but still they are interesting and beautiful in their own way. On Saturday, August 15th, Je Anne Strott-Branca of the Red Rock  Audubon Society in Las Vegas, Nevada was visiting.   While walking along the path around Willow Pond with Je Anne and Cheryl Amato, we had a nice look at a mink and then we saw
Mink, Willow Pond, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by John Harrison.
a small bird flitting on the sweet bay magnolia tree.  We finally got a good look at it and it
was a female fall Black & White Warbler.  A couple of minutes another small bird was in the shrubbery.  When it finally came out for us, it was a fall female American Redstart.  Our first fall migrants.  I have seen Warbling Vireos at the Mystic Lakes and at Mount Auburn Cemetery for the past few days.
Warbling Vireo, Mystic Lakes.  Photo by John Harrison.
When I witness the vireos enjoying the fruit of the sweet bay magnolias,  fall migration has officially begun for me.  From now on, every time we are at Mount Auburn  – or the Mystic Lakes, Ipswich River Audubon, Dunback Meadows, Horn Pond, Arlington Reservoir, Plum Island – and the other venues on our checklist, we will be looking for fall migrants.  This year’s spring migration was spectacular.  Though fall migration is never as busy as spring, it still holds promise. We’ll know soon enough……
After a hiatus of about six weeks, we are seeing the beavers again at Ipswich River Audubon in Topsfield.  They were off the radar as they prepared their baby beavers’ debut.  On September 1st I caught one of the beavers gliding along the water near the bridge.   It looked small to me and might have been one of the new young ones.  Here is a short video of that (baby?)  beaver:
Beaver, Ipswich River Audubon, September 1st.
On Wednesday, September 2nd, photographer Kim Nagy had a bonanzapalooza of a day at Ipswich River Audubon, photographing a mother and young beaver, a mink, three otters and a Kingfisher. Days don’t get better than that in our world.
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Mother and baby beaver, Ipswich River Audubon.  September 2nd.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
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Mink, Ipswich River Audubon.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
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Otter, Ipswich River Audubon.  September 2nd.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
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Three otters.  Ipswich River Audubon.  September 2nd.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
Kingfisher.  Ipswich River Audubon.  September 2nd.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
In the last Wildlife Watch post I mentioned that the book on Mount Auburn Cemetery, Dead In Good Company, edited by Kim Nagy and myself, was about to be released.  The official release date was Monday, August 3rd.  On the following Sunday, August 9th, we had our book launch at Bigelow Chapel at Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Even the weather cooperated on that day.  It was a sunny, late September-like day and just perfect for the event.  There were more than 125 people present for the celebration.  President and CEO of Mount Auburn Cemetery, David Barnett, began the program and then I spoke after him and Kim Nagy followed me.  Then Arlington author and professor of writing at Northeastern University,  Gary Goshgarian,  spoke, followed by well known broadcaster and once youngest General Manager of the Boston Patriots, Upton Bell.   Historical novelist William Martin spoke after Upton Bell and the program ended with Wayne Petersen of Mass Audubon.  It was a memorable afternoon.  It was catered by South Medford’s famous Italian Deli, Bob’s Food.  My first job, at 14 years of age, was at Bob’s Food.  Owner of the store, Bob Di Giorgio, has been a good friend for lo the past 55 years.  Kim and I thank Bob for the sumptuous feast he and his staff provided!!!  Kim and I also want to thank videographer Ernie Sarro for being at the event and taping the launch from beginning to end.  We will now always have a vivid record of the event thanks to Ernie.  Here is Ernie’s video of the celebration at Bigelow Chapel, Mount Auburn Cemetery, on Sunday, August 9th, 2015:
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Videographer Ernie Sarro, Bigelow Chapel.  Sunday, August 9th, 2015.
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Bigelow Chapel. Launch of Dead In Good Company.  Sunday, August 9th, 2015.  Foreground, (center), President and CEO of Mount Auburn Cemetery, David Barnett.  Photo by John Harrison
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Bigelow Chapel, Sunday, August 9th, 2015.  (L to R) Gary Goshgarian, Kim Nagy, William Martin. Photo by John Harrison
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Signing books, Bigelow Chapel, Sunday, August 9th, 2015.  Front (L to R)  Anneliese Merrigan and Elsa Lichman.  Rear, John Harrison.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
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Contributors to Dead In Good Company at Stellina Restaurant in Watertown, MA.  Front (L to R) Hank Phillippi Ryan, Elsa Lichman, Susan Moses, Wendy Drexler, Edith Maxwell, Gary Goshgarian. Rear (L to R) Sandy Selesky, Upton Bell, Eric Smith, Kim Nagy, Ray Daniel, William Martin.  Photo by John Harrison.   
Enjoy fall migration.  We have maybe 6 weeks of it to look forward to.  It’s an exciting time of the birding year……….