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

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