Blog

Challenges of a Juvenile Osprey

Learning to fly is hard work. Especially when faced with natural and non-natural obstacles. The osprey nest I have been watching since the spring has already gone through the loss of its first clutch and the rebuilding of their nest. The second clutch has been successful with the mating pair having 1 offspring. He’s grown quickly and now it’s time for him to prepare to leave the nest and forage on his own. First things first, he must learn to fly. 

I didn’t get to the osprey nest until just after sunrise. A flock of white pelicans caught my attention while I was on my way to the nest, so I stopped to photograph them in the sunrise light. They’re so awkwardly graceful and fun to watch. 

White pelicans preening at dawn

When I arrived at my usual viewing location alongside the road, I rolled down the passenger window so I could sit on the ledge. As I rolled down the driver’s window, I glanced across the road and saw an osprey perched low on a branch. It was the juvenile. I had missed his initial, possibly ungraceful, descent from the nest. This was his first day learning to fly. 

Juvenile Osprey perched on low branch

He remained there, looking around for a while, startling at the occasional sound of an airplane taking off from the nearby airport, or just resting and closing his eyes. I guess the newfound physical exertion was exhausting. 

Juvenile Osprey resting

He finally decided to give his wings another try. He spread them wide and flapped several times but remained on the branch. After a brief rest, he tried again, and this time made a long leap off the branch and behind the shrubs.  

Juvenile Osprey trying flight again

Several more leaps brought him next to the wire fence. As I watched from my car, I quietly chanted “please don’t’ get caught on the fence” over and over. It turns out that he’s a pretty smart young bird, because he lowered his head and carefully walked between the horizontal wires. Whew. But now he was on the road side of the fence. 

He made several more attempts at flight, strengthening those fragile wings. He was now on the wide rocky shoulder of the two-lane road, which very few passenger cars traveled along, but is frequented by big ag work trucks. While he was on the side of the road, he was relatively safe. 

Juvenile Osprey

Now I already said that this young bird was “pretty smart”. Well, I retract that statement. He quickly became a not-so-smart young bird because he hopped and flapped himself right into the road. Luckily, there were no vehicles at that time. I kept willing the osprey to get off the road, but he wouldn’t go. I know he was tired, but he just didn’t understand the hazards facing him if he stayed there much longer. I wasn’t going to let him find out the hard way. 

Silly Juvenile Osprey hanging out in the middle of the road

Then came the first truck. I yelled at the bird to move, but to no avail. I had to do something quick. From the side of the road I flagged down the truck. The driver stopped and asked if the bird was injured. I said “no” and explained what was happening. He got out of his truck and we shooed the juvenile off the road. I told the driver that we couldn’t touch him and hoped that our shooing him off the road wasn’t considered harassment, especially since we were trying to protect him. 

The driver told me he would tell others he would see during the day to drive slowly through that area, per my request. Thank you, Mr. Truck Driver.  I ended up stopping five trucks that morning because the osprey decided to hop back into the road. And all of them said they would let others know and that they’d take it slow through there for the next few days while the juvenile osprey strengthened his wings.

All those efforts paid off. I returned a couple days later and saw the juvenile in the nest with a parent. Yay! He had survived flight training.

Juvenile osprey (left) in the nest with adult osprey
Juvenile osprey flying
Juvenile osprey flying back to nest

Big and Blue

Blue whales (Balaenoptera musclus) are the largest animals on earth, measuring up to 100 feet (30 m) in length. Their slow movements made them easy targets for whalers and they became dangerously close to becoming extinct. Even though the Endangered Species Act (1973) and the Marine Mammal Protect Act (1972) were established, commercial whaling wasn’t outlawed until 1986.  Whales still face threats from cargo ships. These enormous vessels typically travel at 24 knots (27miles per hour), which is quite fast on the water, and too fast to avoid any whales traveling in their path. The Vehicle Speed Reduction Initiative implemented by Santa Barbara County has been successful in getting the majority of vessels to reduce their speeds to 12 knots or less. This not only reduces whale strikes but reduces emissions which help with air quality. 

Cargo Vessel

Blue populations have slowly been increasing and today we have the opportunity to see them thriving

My daughter and I were very lucky a couple weeks ago when we were out sailing near Anacapa Island, one of the Channel Islands off the coast of Ventura, California. We met up with my friend, Matt, a former POD dive club buddy, who I’ve actually not seen since moving away from California. We got back in touch through another diving and sailing buddy, Dos Amigos. My friends rock. 

Matt took us sailing for the day. It was overcast, the water was calm, and there was barely enough wind to sail so we had a little motor assistance. Such a beautiful day. Captain Matt had Avery take the helm while we were leaving the harbor. She was quite nervous but handled it very well. 

Channel Islands harbor

We left the harbor and were now in open water. It didn’t take long before we had our first visitor, a common dolphin (Delphinus delphis) mama and her baby. She was getting a fun lesson in bow riding but I’m afraid we may not have been going fast enough for them because they veered off after a few minutes. Several other common dolphins joined us, some bow riding, others leaping near us. We love dolphins. They are so fun and curious. 

Common dolphin (Delphinus delphis)

As we approached Anacapa, we heard a call over the radio that there was a whale sighted nearby. We tacked starboard and headed toward the other boats we saw gathering ahead. We hung back, watching and waiting. Twenty minutes went by and no one saw anything. The other boats began to pull away from that location. We decided to continue sailing so we tacked a 180 and began heading closer to the Anacapa arch. Almost immediately, I saw a spout in the distance. “Woo-hoo! Straight ahead!” The whale was heading in our direction, so we slowed down and let it come to us. After a couple of breaths and finally getting a view of its back, I could be certain that we were in the company of a blue whale. OMG. This was my first blue whale ever. It was so incredible. 

Anacapa Island arch

It continued to surface a few times, releasing its misty exhalation, and then sounded, showing off its massive fluke. We were in quiet shock and awe and then the excitement broke out. It was so amazing. We were on a 30’ sail boat near the largest animal on the planet. We were seeing only a small portion of the whale, even though we could see its enormous blowhole, the length of its back, its itty bitty dorsal fin, and the massive fluke, which compares in width to a professional soccer goal (24 feet!).  The majority of its 150 tons was still underwater. 

30 foot exhalation from blowholes big enough for a small car to drive through

Just as we’re grasping the shear enormousness of this whale, it surfaced but we didn’t see the exhale. We did see a pectoral fin standing straight up and then realized that the whale was lunge feeding. How unbelievably cool. We could see the throat pleats as the large mouth expanded and grabbed a mouthful of krill, small shrimp-like crustaceans. 

Rolling on its side while surface feeding

We watched it feed for about an hour. Being there on a quiet sailboat allowed the blue whale to forage undisturbed. And since the other boats had left, we had this blue whale all to ourselves. When it had had its fill, it started traveling away from the island. We hollered our goodbye’s and thank you’s for letting us be there with it. Truly a remarkable experience. 

Throat pleats

Our special time with this magnificent creature had come to an end but will forever live in our hearts and memory. And in images, of course.

I’m waiting to hear from Cascadian Research about the identity of this blue whale. Each whale dorsal fin and fluke is unique and by recording shape and any markings, scratches or scars, researchers are able to identify a whale at a later time and determine its activities and locations traveled. With blue whales, they also record the light markings along the backside for identification. As soon as I get an ID, I will share that with you. 

By sharing my images along with the date, time and location the whale was seen, I’m providing the full-time researchers with additional data. This is known as Citizen Science. If you’d like to participate in Citizen Science, and have an overall amazing trip, join me in Bája for some up close and personal time with gray whales and their calves. Not only will we have several opportunities to pet the whales and be eye-to-eye, we’ll have numerous photo opps. And any fluke images can be identified and we’ll know which whales we met and get the first images of the new calves.     https://www.holbrooktravel.com/where-we-travel/americas/mexico/baja-peninsula-friends-nature-tours-diana-mcpherson-photography

Summer at the wildlife refuge

McNary Wildlife Refuge supports a diverse abundance of wildlife throughout the year.  At first glance, early summer seems to be a quiet time.  Driving past the two large ponds that lie on either side of Lake Road, only a handful of ducks could be seen.  Compare this to winter when migrating water fowl come in such large numbers, they cover the ponds edge to edge. 

In early summer, there are more songbirds and shorebirds. Once parked, I could hear the red winged black birds singing, sparrows calling, the rooster-like call of a ringed neck pheasant, the high-pitched whistles of killdeer, and the deep throaty calls of the yellow-headed blackbird.

What do they mean “area closed”?!

Osprey have returned to utilize the nest platforms throughout the refuge. It appears that only two are occupied. This pair’s nest appeared to be smaller than others I’ve seen, so this could be a newer nest for. The pair work together building their nest. The male collects small branches and the female arranges them the way she wants them. 

Osprey

I watched the male fly in with a fish. The female was not interested and remained settled in the nest on her brood.  Osprey lay their eggs mid-April to late May and have an incubation period of 36- 42 days. Not sure when these eggs were laid so they could start hatching at any time. Once they hatch, the chicks remain in the nest for 6 weeks before learning to fly and will leave the nest at 8-10 weeks of age. 

McNary Wildlife Refuge is in Burbank, WA, south of Pasco off Hwy 12. From most locations within the Tri-Cities, it’s no more than 20 minutes away. 

                        ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

Female bringing in nesting material

I visited the site earlier this week to check if there were signs of chicks. Their behavior indicated to me that there were no eggs or chicks. The female flew off several times, each time returning with twigs and clumps of grasses, and then worked them into the nest. Maybe there is time for them to have another brood. I’ll keep you posted. 

Amon Creek Nature Preserve

Amon Creek Nature Preserve (ACNP) is a wild place that’s practically in my backyard. Near the end of Leslie Road in Richland, ACNP is a narrow natural wetland habitat which supports much aquatic life and is linked to the lower end of the Yakima River. Along the wetland edges are trees and shrubs that form the riparian habitat, protecting the wetland from soil erosion and providing food and shelter for the animals who live there. Beyond the riparian corridor is the native shrub-steppe habitat which supports numerous desert species.

ACNP is an active and highly diverse ecosystem. Numerous bird species use the wetlands year-round or migrate through during various seasons. 50 year-round birds have been documented and as many as 100 types of birds have visited during their migration. Last week I saw several species of ducks busy foraging. Green-winged teals are really nice to see, and the brilliant teal markings on their wings are so bold against the dormant vegetation and water.

Green-winged teal and Common goldeneye at ACNP

Even now with all of our snow and cold temperatures, red-winged blackbirds are busy singing their mating songs and will start building their nests in the tall reeds. Yellow-headed blackbirds will soon join them. Several hawks, including northern harriers and sharp-shins, are constantly soaring over the area in search of a meal. With so much wildlife in this ecosystem, they are very successful, the evidence more easily seen by the tracks left in the snow. Large families of river otters and beavers live in the preserve. While the beavers keep the riparian vegetation under control, other animals are foraging on the abundant supply of fish in the creek. They can’t be seen right now, but there are frogs and turtles in the wetlands. You might be lucky to catch a glimpse of them in the summer and the fall.

Talon marks at the end of possible scurrying rabbit tracks

Expanding out from the riparian area is the native critically listed shrub-steppe habitat. Black-tailed jackrabbits and Cottontail rabbits rely on these plants and others as the mainstay of their diets. Coyotes prowl the area and keep these rabbit populations in check. When the flowers start blooming, bees and dragonflies will be buzzing while the sagebrush lizards and bull snakes will slither under the shrubs keeping out of sight.

Amon Creek Nature Preserve is a natural, highly diverse, highly productive, critical habitat. So why is it that this area and others like it are continuously being encroached upon by the demand for development? We’re constantly hearing about large parks being under attack – Bears Ears National Monument, Canyonlands National Park, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) – unfortunately, the list is much longer than this. Amon Creek Nature Preserve isn’t as large as the national parks or monuments, but it certainly requires just as much effort and demands the support to protect it. The ACNP has been referred to as a “cool little gem” and deserves to remain as a natural diverse open wild space. It would be a huge detriment to the Tri-Cities to lose such a beautiful area.

Black-tailed jackrabbit in winter

If you’ve been to ACNP, you’re aware of the recent housing development that’s happening at the edge of the Willowbrook neighborhood. The first house that went up has already cut down the largest of the locust trees in the small but well-established locust grove which was at his backdoor. Did it block his view? Did he just not like that tree? I’m not sure. What I do know is that a red-tailed hawk had 3 young in that tree last year. Hawks return to the same nest each year. Since hers is no longer there, she’ll have to find another suitable tree and use more time and energy to build a new nest.

Red-tailed hawk in flight
Cut tree that held an established hawk nest

ACNP is under pressure again by yet another landowner and developer. This time the proposal is for a 96-unit apartment complex at the north end of the preserve, behind the homes on Piper St and across from Claybell Park. If this development is allowed, not only will there be an enormous amount of traffic (approx 230 parking spaces are planned), the noise, bright lights, and possible trash are just a few things that will drive any remaining wildlife away from the area. Where will they go?

Red-winged blackbird with insect

If you’ve not been to ACNP, please visit and see what’s at stake of being lost. Tapteal Greenway hosts a walk there on the second Saturday of every month. If that doesn’t work for you, send me a message and I’ll gladly take you through the Preserve.

If you’re interested in helping protect Amon Creek Nature Preserve, please click on my website link for more information. http://www.DiMcpPhotography.com/conservation

This sign says it all
Amon Creek Nature Preserve, south end