I’m writing this post at a serious disadvantage. It’s 2020, and we humans are dealing with a deadly pandemic; we are quarantined. Our friends, other species, are carrying on their lives – migrating, nesting, brooding, and enjoying Spring’s delights.
Fortunately, I have many opportunities to observe birds, fox, deer, rabbits, and people as I enjoy my morning walks in Annapolis. Unfortunately, that walk no longer includes my circuit around the U.S.Naval Academy. The Academy is closed to all visitors, indefinitely.
At the beginning of our statewide quarntine, I paniced. How would I check on the arrival of my old friends, Oscar & Opal? They’re not young any more, and there’s always the chance that they won’t return to Annapolis this year, or, if they do, this may be their last clutch of nestlings. Was I going to miss observing them? (You may recall that I first enjoyed the entertaining family of Oscar & Opal in 2001.)
I began my search for a spot where I could catch a glimpse of their favorite nesting light post along the harbor side of the Academy’s football practice field. I tried a couple parking lots – they gave me a distant and obstructed view. (Yes, there are several parking lots along our lovely harbor’s shoreline.) I could see the light posts from the Eastport Bridge, but this was less than ideal. After further experimentation, I discovered I had the closest view of the 4th light post from the end from the launching area at the Eastport Yacht Club. And so, most mornings, I stop there, grab my binoculars, and have a look at my old friends.
Through my binoculars, I finally got a good look at Oscar & Opal in early May. Their nest was already quite well established. (You may remember that the Academy’s maintenance people tore out their nest from the 2019 season.) I saw both osprey – the larger, Opal, and the smaller, Oscar.
Now, I realize you may be asking yourself, “How does she know that’s the same pair building their nest? It could be any pair of osprey, surely.” There are three ways I have known each season that the osprey nesting on that light post were actually the same pair. First, the light pole itself. Since the nest has been totally dismantled several times, it would be just as easy for a new pair of osprey to build a nest on any of the dozen light posts along that shoreline. In fact, Oscar & Opal used to build on the 3rd light post until Hurricane Katrina destroyed their nest in August, 2005. That year, they rebuilt their nest but moved down one pole. At first, they rebuilt on what was the lower bar of the lights affixed to the pole. But, they seemed to want a more secure perch, and built a “second story” nest on the top of the upper light bar – a most unusual appearance for an osprey nest.
Since 2005, each year they have rebuilt both stories of their nest, a second reassurance that Opal & Oscar have built the nest. In fact, when they’ve returned to a pole swept clean of their nest, they have rebuilt from scratch, and always with TWO stories, though they only use the upper level to lay their eggs. That is exactly what they did this spring. Their nest is a brand new, two-story, waterfront bungalow.
My final observation that tells me that Oscar & Opal are in residence is the decorative feature they’ve been adding for the last three years. Into their nest, our osprey couple weaves something that flutters, sometimes diaphanous, sometimes sturdy. This year, from a distance, it appears to be white – perhaps a strip of plastic or fabric. Last year, it was yellow, polypropylene rope that had unraveled and waved handsomely in the on-shore breezes. Three years ago, you may recall, the decorative feature – perhaps plastic, almost proved fatal for one of the fledglings. She caught one of her legs in the loose material and hung, upside-down, for hours while her parents tried to coax her to fly free – which she eventually must have done. The next day there was no dead bird hanging upside-down from the nest and no carcass on the ground.
I’m watching now for the appearance of the chicks. Unfortunately, they’ll be quite mature before I can see them at this distance, heads bobbing above the nest’s rim. But, I won’t give up. Perhaps my introduction to the fledglings will be when I see Oscar & Opal giving fishing lessons to the young birds.
I’ll keep rooting for Opal & Oscar’s little family to prosper while they’re in Annapolis. So many friends have asked me about our Naval Academy Ospreys. It’s fun observing their adventures – and sharing them with you, their fan club. It will be mid-September before Opal & Oscar head south, so I hope we will have a few interesting sightings in the months ahead.