Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Eye of the Needle, Part 1

I had gotten several reports that the young Ospreys at Del Mar fairgrounds had fledged.  If I was going to see them near their nest site, I better go ASAP!  It's a few days before June but the famous "June Gloom " has already arrived.  About 11:00am the marine layer has thinned and the sun is trying to break out.  I headed to the San Andres trail head at San Dieguito Lagoon  to look for the young Ospreys.  I never imagined that I would be lucky enough to get the shot of the dad Osprey that I'm calling "The Eye of the Needle".

Parking on San Andres Dr I walked west towards the Del Mar Fairgrounds to the man-made Osprey nest platforms. As soon as the nest was visible, I saw my first Osprey subject. Here is a young Osprey fledgling perched on the east nest site. The white scalloped edging on her feathers is one way of recognizing an immature bird.  Osprey, Pandion haliaetus measures 23 inches long with a wingspan of 63 inches.
The youngster is focused on something far away and ignores me as I walk past heading to the main nest site to the west.

As I check out the nest located on the west end of the trail, I spot an Osprey coming my way with something that looked like a large long branch. I started to click away with my camera thinking that the male adult Osprey was bringing nest material to the nest. As I kept shooting, I realized that the large long branch was not a branch at all but a long needle fish still very much alive and thrashing.

I am standing near the main nest site and he is heading towards it. This appears to be the adult male Osprey, the father of the three  fledglings.

Amazing looking at the prey carried by the Osprey. I have never seen a  Needlefish  before in this area. I have had them steal my bait when fishing the Sea of Cortez in Baja Mexico. They are extremely fast and the needlefish's bill is like bony armor. It's really hard to get a hook in its bill.

How in the world did this beautiful Osprey catch this slick, extremely fast and dangerous fish?
He is approaching and I get a good look at the prey.

Wow, the fish is firmly held by the Osprey.

Look at the sharp needle-like bill on the fish. It has tiny razor sharp teeth.

A close-up of the needlefish. This amazing Osprey's talon is in the "Eye of the Needle" !

Dad Osprey flies past the nest and heads for a small telephone pole located about 150 ft. north of the nest.

A few more close-ups as he flies by.

The needlefish is known to be dangerous when excited. There are incidents of humans being killed by leaping needlefish piercing a human's chest or eyes.

The Osprey passes the nest and heads for the small telephone pole.

He lands with his talons still secured around the needlefish's head.

The fish thrashes and fights as the Osprey uses his wings for balance and gets a good grip to manage the active fish.
I walk closer for a better view. The Osprey immediately rips into the gills. The fish soon settles to a lifeless lump on the top of the pole.

Now the Osprey tears at the meat around the fish's bill.

Begins to use his powerful beak to destroy the dangerous needlefish's bills.
He rips both bills off the fish and discards it off the side of the pole.

As I walk back to the main nest, a second fledgling flies into it.

She spots dad with the fish and calls excitedly.

The fledgling is doing well maneuvering and controlling his landing.

Look at those beautiful talons.

Dad is done preparing the fish for delivery to his youngsters. He has killed it by ripping the gills out and torn off the needlefish's bill.

Dad Osprey flying up to the nest of waiting youngsters.

Excellent pre-landing maneuvering by the adult Osprey with his prey. He unhooks his right talons as he prepares to land.

The fish still appears to wiggle. The osprey keeps a good grasp with his left talons. He has his right talons completely unlocked off the prey.

Dad Osprey lands and both youngsters on the nest grab for it and there is a standoff on who has the fish. Now there is a tug of war for possession of the fish. Dad ignores all the commotion and lets the youngsters work it out. This is all life lessons on survival. They must learn to be aggressive about acquiring their food. It is the survival of the quickest, smartest, and fittest.

The youngster calls out to let everyone know it is his. Dad keeps his eye on the sky for any intruders but no attention is given to the youngsters' squabble. .

The youngster hidden by his sibling on the left appears to have possession of the prey. Youngster on the right is not happy and calls out.  Dad on the right shows no emotion.

All the activity on the main nest alerts the third fledgling to fly in. Wow, what a beauty.

She comes in vocalizing.

Beautiful fly in.

Look at the concentration on her landing.

Beautiful wings.

The youngster floats down towards the nest. Dad looks a little concerned. Now all three of the fledglings are on the nest.

As she starts to land, her talons are extended. Dad Osprey decides it's time for him to leave. The fledgling with the fish goes into a full mantle in the back of the nest to protect his prize.

The youngster hovers a second longer as dad lifts his wings for a take off.

A beautiful youngster showing off her landing skills,  she floats and hovers with her amazing talons reaching out.

Wow, I believe this youngster is probably a female. Look at the size of her wings, they are longer and wider than Dad's!
Youngster shows her aggressiveness towards her dad with open talons. Telling dad to "go get more fish, I'm hungry too"!  Dad takes off.
Chasing a parent off the nest is normal behavior at this stage of the fledglings' development. All they want is fish and dad and mom are supposed to be fishing. Not loafing around on the nest!

The youngster on the left side of this photo has the fish. The one on the right is contemplating stealing it. The new arrival is pictured at the center back of the nest. All looking wonderful and healthy!
Oh yes, LOL, just look at that look, "the scheming look"!  How is she going to steal her brother's meal, hmmmm.
Seeing her nest mate with a mouthful of delicious fish is just too much. She inches closer as she waits for the right moment to steal his lunch.
 Now or never... She goes for the steal!

Talons tangle and the wings come up. There are a few moments of tug of war but the youngster with the fish keeps possession and pulls away.

And the look of defeat for his sister on the left. Her brother appears to have kept his prize and is scrambling across the nest heading for the right edge.

Off he goes. Taking his prey with him.

If he goes to another area, he will not have to worry about losing his meal.
Off he goes with the prey in his grip. Part of survival is defending your prey!
These youngsters are smart and strong. They are healthy and doing so very well. It is wonderful to see such a successful Osprey family thriving.

Look at his right leg maneuvering to get ready to grab the prey too.

He grabs for the prey. What a beautiful bird.
Got his talons out and ready to grab.

Appears to be going by feel. His talons grasp for the prey.

Got it!

Look at this great carry. It doesn't matter if the fish is facing backwards, he is doing a terrific job of carrying it like a real grown-up Osprey!

He flies off to the same telephone pole that dad Osprey used to kill the needlefish.
Beautiful landing by this youngster with prey.

Now he can eat his lunch in peace.

The two fledglings left back at the nest are very disappointed. They stare at their nest mate on the pole eating his fill. Soon the two start their begging for food, calling to their parents. They are hungry and they let the world know it. I wait and wait for another hour to see if a parent will answer their demand. 

It's been a fantastic morning so far as I watch the youngsters learn many life lessons and see a delivery of a very unusual fish. Check back soon for Part 2 of "The eye of the needle"!
Have a great week everyone!