In visiting Pelican Bay, one of the greatest treasures found on the beach was not brought in by the sea.
But by air...
Situated on a platform placed upon the mangroves that border the beach...
An osprey pair were raising their young.
There had been three eggs originally but by the time we had arrived, fellow birders reported that the most frail nestling hadn't made it. Osprey eggs don't hatch all at once, with up to five days passing between hatchings. The siblings are very competitive and dominance is often established by the first born who tends to win in all the struggles for food.
The remaining two appeared quite strong...
All week long as we visited the beach, my book remained unopened in my bag.
Reading couldn't hold my attention like the drama that I saw unfolding on the beach as I watched the male hawk as he repeatedly soared over my head to fish at the water's edge.
I found myself rooting for him every time he went out.
Ospreys can only dive three feet into the water so they tend to fish in shallow waters or in deeper waters where fish school near the surface.
Every time the babies saw their papa they would squawk in earnest, urging him to bring them FOOD.
I was feeling the pressure for him as his family grew bigger and were eating more and more.
I watched him fly out time and time again, day after day...
And bring back the fish...
I started taking my camera to the beach during the magic hour, a time that happened to coincide with happy hour.
And happy hour it was! Luckily for me, I was able to photograph one of the moments when the hawk brought back a fish.
Ospreys are unusual among hawks in possessing a reversible outer toe that allows them to grasp with two toes in front and two behind. Barbed pads on the soles of the birds' feet help them grip slippery fish. When flying with prey, an Osprey lines up its catch head first for less wind resistance. (source: The Cornell Lab of Ornithology)
I watched him hold the fish and wait until it had ceased struggling.
He knew I was there and in a moment of pure cockiness...he flipped the fish out to the side to give me a clear shot of his catch...
A Florida Pompano. Its like he knew I would publishing this shot on my blog and the word of his prowess would spread out into the world.
He stayed close and allowed me to continue to record his food prep techniques, consuming the cheek and head of the fish...
Before taking off again...
To deliver the fish to his waiting family.
The female then breaks off small, bite-size pieces to feed to her young.
Like many mothers who are raising their young, I could commiserate with the female who remained on the nest for most of the day keeping watch over her brood. I could feel her muscles and feathers tire of being in the same position, stuck on the same spot. (It reminded me of my bead journal project a few years ago, Flight Delay)
Day after day she sat on the nest while the male hunted and fetched.
She would leave briefly to go to the water's edge to get a drink...
And on one particularly hot day (90 degrees or so), I observed her lifting her wings and spreading them in the wind. I wasn't sure what she was doing at first until I saw her repeat the behavior in the hottest times of the day.
She was cooling off!
This posture reminded me of my Mom when she was having hot flashes.
It was winter and I caught my Mom with her bedroom window wide open, standing in front of it with her arms outstretched in a similar way while the freezing winter air gave her some relief. She was wearing a sheer, sleeveless summer negligee while my Dad was shivering under a pile of six blankets on his side of the bed. I had seen this behavior before!
Sometimes the heat would drive her to the waters edge to catch the cooler breeze down by the sea...
But always she returned to the nest.
The birds will hang around the nest until they become adept at flying and fishing and the nest no longer seems necessary. I'm not sure if these ospreys stay here all year round but many parents will leave their young and migrate South. After all, the kids are about the same size as their parents by that point.
The kids will eventually make their way South and hang out in the tropics for a year and a half before returning North in their third year, when their eyes have typically changed from the orange of their youth, to the gold of their parents.
And now you know why this was our story for the week.
Many thanks to the Osprey family that allowed me to photograph a week in their life. I'll never forget it.
You can check out the family on this Osprey Cam that Pelican Bay has set up near their nest.
Happy Happy Monday everyone!