Posts Tagged ‘Osprey’

I spent last weekend in the wonderful little town of Bolinas, CA. This special spot on the California Coast a relatively short drive north of San Francisco is a quite and quirky and very laid back. It is also right on the shore of the Pacific Ocean and Bolinas Lagoon and as such it provides access to a bunch of coastal and aquatic habitats, and I took advantage of this positioning to do a lot of birding!

Wildlife photographer captures osprey carrying shark, carrying fish in  'one-in-a-trillion photograph' | Fox News
Osprey carrying a fish. Photo Credit: Fox News

One morning, I went out to the beach to see what coastal and ocean birds I might spot and to do a bit of beach combing while I was at it. The sky was gray over the ocean, but not foggy. The tide was low and it was fun to spend a little time looking at washed up kelp, finding Sand Crabs as the waves broke on the shore, and looking out to sea at the rolling ocean. I was also enjoying watching the Western Grebes and Clark’s Grebes fishing off shore, the Double-crested Cormorants flying back and forth, and the Brown Pelicans cruising above the waves when I heard a bit of a commotion overhead. I looked up to see three birds chasing each other around in a mid-air tangle. One bird was an Osprey with a fish in its talons. The second bird was an adult Western Gull trying to steal that fish. The third bird was an adult Bald Eagle also trying to rob the Osprey! All three birds were engaged in some fancy flying over the waves as they attempted to secure their breakfast as the sun rose above the tree topped hills.

Sound Library - Bald Eagle - Yellowstone National Park (U.S. National Park  Service)
Adult Bald Eagle. Photo Credit: National Park Service

The tangle of birds did not last long. The Osprey was ultimately successful at defending its catch from the two would-be thieves and flew off to enjoy its meal. The gull quickly disappeared to forage elsewhere, but the eagle stuck around for a little while. It circled out over the Pacific for a couple of minutes, and watching for so long was a real treat for me. It then turned toward shore, dropped altitude, and flew along the beach. As it spread its huge wings about 50 feet over the sand, it flew slowly over beach goers and surfers. None of whom noticed at all! The humans were all absorbed in their own activities and did not realize that an enormous, not to mention iconic, bird was cursing right over their heads. I suppose that I should not have been surprised by this lack notice, and to a certain extent I wasn’t, but it was definitely amusing.

The Bald Eagle continued flying smoothly down the beach until it followed the bending line of the sand around a bluff and out of sight, and I continued my morning of beach exploration. It was a lovely morning that I enjoyed very much, and I hope you get out for some time on the coast as well.

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My brother and I visited Hawk Hill (just about our favorite place in the world) in the Marin Headlands, just north of San Francisco, CA.  One migrant that passed us by was an Osprey, and this bird got me thinking.  The bird had very solid, dark plumage on its back which meant that it was an adult bird as hatch year birds show scalloping of white on the tips of the feathers on the dorsal surface.  On the ventral side, it had the iconic, pure white breast and belly, and this is what got me thinking.  Some Ospreys have a necklace of dark streaks that run in an arch across the breast.  I remember that there has been some confusion and debate over this necklace as to what it indicates.  Does it mean that the bird is a male or a female?  Is there overlap between the two with some males having a necklace and some females not having one?  So, I did some reading, and here is what I found.  Most females have a darker necklace than males, but there is some overlap with some males having a pretty strong necklace.  This is most dramatic in the North American Subspecies, Pandion haliaetus carolinensis.  However, I could not find any reference that said that females could have a necklace so light that it disappeared.  Only the males can show the pure white breast with no necklace at all (from what I have read so far).  So this means that this field mark has a sort of asymmetrical usefulness.  If you see an Osprey that has a necklace, this could be a female or a strongly marked male, so the field mark is not particularly useful.  However, if you see an Osprey that has no necklace, like the one my brother and I saw on Hawk Hill, this is likely to be a male bird, so the field mark may be much more useful!

References Used:

Crossley, Liguori, and Sullivan. 2013. The Crossley Guide: Raptors.

Dunne, Sibley, and Sutton. 2012. Hawks in Flight, 2nd ed.

Ferguson-Lees and Christie.  2001. Raptors of the World.

Liguori. 2011. Hawks at a Distance.

Poole, Bierregaard, and Martell. 2002. Birds on North America: Osprey.

Wheeler. 2003. Raptors of Western North America.

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