I am eager to share with you, patient reader, news of my friends the Naval Academy osprey, Oscar and Opal.
You may recall one of my early blogs, July 18, 2012, when I recounted the amazing saga of two determined osprey who have nested for at least 13 years in the light poles above the Naval Academy’s practice football field. (I have been walking their for about 14 years, and first recall seeing the pair in 2001.)
Each spring I enjoy the return of this beautiful pair of powerful birds of prey. They rebuild their nest, lay a clutch of eggs, feed one another and guard the eggs and hatchlings. Then, when the time is right, patiently the parents coax their fledglings out of the nest, over the harbor training the young to catch the fish that are their preferred diet. This couple I named Opal and Oscar.
Last year, 2013, another osprey returned with Oscar and Opal in mid-March. He lingered in nearby trees and perched on light poles near the nest. Oscar and Opal seemed to tolerate his presence, and he hung around until mid-summer, when I saw him no longer. I named this young loner Pablo, and assumed he must be a member of Opal and Oscar’s clan.
Well, the saga continues!
This spring, 2014, Opal and Oscar arrived and began repairing their nest. And, again this spring, Pablo, arrived soon after his parents. But, this spring, Pablo was not alone… at least not for long. While Oscar and Opal feathered their nests, Pablo seemed to dally about on the light posts just north of his parents, near the Academy’s soccer fields.
Pablo is not one to be ignored. He often greets walkers and joggers with his high-pitched “scree-ee” that echoes out across the Severn River. And we, unfeathered and earth-bound, are not the only ones who hear his lusty call.
Within two weeks of the osprey’s return, Pablo was joined by a lithe beauty I’ve named Pearl. She is a quiet osprey, or so she seems to me.
Today, I watched Pablo perform for her as Pearl sat, statuesque, atop a light pole. As I passed, he screeched, soared out over the river and swooped low along the surface of the water. His talons caught a fish, and effortlessly he lifted fish and self high over the water and pirouetted, fish still firmly in his grasp. He cried out again, triumphantly I’d say, and flew lazily along the line of light posts, directly past his beloved Pearl. “See what I’ve got.” She didn’t bat an eye or move a wing feather. She let him perform his hijinks, knowing, I suspect, that the fish would be hers to dine on at her leisure.
Now, you might be thinking, how does this batty birder conclude that Pablo is, in fact, an offspring of the elder osprey, Opal and Oscar?
I really have been cautious in my anthropomorphism, chary reader. First, I noted how the senior and more powerful osprey, Oscar, tolerated this young bird in such close proximity to his mate and to their nest. I noticed that Oscar particularly would allow Pablo to accompany him as they soared out over the harbor and Severn River. Together the two male osprey raced along the water’s surface and plucked fish from the waves.
And then, a few days ago I had my suspicions confirmed, my doubts dissolved, my uncertainties answered. I saw the nest Pablo is building for Pearl… and… it is two-stories!
You may recall that during Hurricane Isabel in 2003, Opal and Oscar’s nest, filled with eggs, was destroyed, blown apart. But the couple was unbowed. They rebuilt their nest. And, instead of placing the new nest directly atop the remains, they wove a nest on the upper bars of the light post, the very top. So, when the work was done, their nest looked like a two-story bungalow. (My July, 2012 blog spoke about their engineering feat.) Each year Oscar brings fresh twigs and leaves to both the lower and the upper nests, though the eggs are laid always in the second or upper story.
Well, Pablo may be old enough to take a partner – osprey usually mate when three or four years old. But osprey do not, as a rule, build two-story nests.
So, when I saw that Pablo instinctively built his nest with both a lower and an upper story, I was sure of his parentage. He mimicked his parent’s nesting habits. He is his parent’s son.
Pablo and Pearl will raise their broods high atop the Naval Academy light pole, overlooking the Severn River. They’ll probably never use that lower nest, but it will be maintained and remain a tribute to Pablo’s resilient parents.
Birder or birds, we live much of our lives in the patterns of our parents and grandparents. How would I explain the way I weed my garden or clean the kitchen? They’re rote behaviors, and I weed and clean (when I clean, which is rare) mindlessly, following the methods and manner used by my mom and dad. Like so many things we do, the rationale might be forgotten, but the behaviors continue, silent tributes to our wise and patient parents, sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles and caregivers.