By Beth Sullivan
As far back as I can remember visiting the shoreline, I have been intrigued by the Osprey. When we moved here in the early 80s, their population was still low after the steep decline in the 70’s due to DDT effects on their egg shells, diminishing their hatching successes.
With the banning of DDT, their numbers have rebounded and far more people look to the arrival dates of the Osprey as their official sign of Spring. Some years they have been as early as March 14th or 15th. When the winds from the south are strong and consistent for several days they have a good push to arrive early…sometimes only to be met by snow and cold.
This year we experienced the long, deep cold, north winds dominated and the osprey did not make a real dedicated push to get up here until nearer the end of March. That was probably a good thing, as the waters were cold, and fish swim deeper, making catching them more difficult.
|At Paffard Marsh, the Osprey are easily visible over the marsh. Photo by Dan Hall.|
|Excellent fish catchers, this Osprey pulled a large Catfish up from the bottom.|
Through April they establish territories. Ospreys are very site-loyal, and mated pairs return to the same nest site over consecutive years. If one of the pair dies or does not make it back north, the lone mate will stay by the site and wait for another unattached one to arrive, or for a younger bird that may be nesting for the first time.
|On a man-made platform with a predator baffle, Osprey have the best nesting success. Photo by Rick Newton.|
In years long past, Osprey made their nest in trees, large snags near marshlands, mostly near the shore but occasionally inland in freshwater wetland areas. There have been instances of birds making nests close to the ground on old bridge structures; one was at Barn Island for years until the structure collapsed. Those nests are very vulnerable to predators. Another site on Barn Island near Avalonia’s Continental Marsh property has a tree nest. While it seems wonderful and natural to see it high in a tree, there is greater problem with predation from below (raccoons) and from above (Owls) who can sneak in more easily from wooded perches. Trees are also less stable and likely to break under the weight of a large nest.
|This large nest is in an old tree snag at Henne Preserve.|
All along the shoreline, man-made nesting platforms have become a common sight, and the birds adapted to them quite easily. There are very specific design plans provided by DEEP and several other wildlife agencies. Placing them on a marsh property also requires special permits, so it is not something any one can do on their own.
|Osprey may choose utility poles for nest sites which can often be unfortunate for the birds.|
Avalonia has a number of Osprey nests on coastal properties, and they are easy to view. Some require a little hike, others can be viewed from the car. As always, please do not cause the birds distress. If you notice they are agitated, or leave the nest even as you watch from a distance, it may be that they have less tolerance for disturbance, and you should back off. It is now egg laying time. Birds need to remain on the eggs to keep them warm. Once hatching occurs at end of May/early June, the parents will be busy feeding young. It is great to watch, but from afar. Bring binoculars or a spotting scope!
|Majestic Osprey have had a come back since their steep decline in the early 70s. Photo by Rick Newton.|
Osprey Nests on Avalonia Properties
Knox Preserve Stonington has a nest that is visible from the rocky Knoll and along the railroad track trail. Another is visible looking west along the tracks.
The nest on Paffard Marsh on Rt. 1 in Stonington is easily viewed from the adjacent parking area.
Downes Marsh in Mystic/Groton side along the Mystic River has an old and successful nest.
Henne Preserve in North Stonington is the site of the large freshwater wetland with a big nest in an old tree snag.
Cottrell Marsh in Stonington has an established nest that is visible best by kayak, and volunteers just erected a new platform there that is in the center of the marsh.
|These Avalonia volunteers got a new platform way out on Cottrell Marsh. Photo by Jim Sullivan.|
Woolworth-Porter Preserve on Wamphaussuc Point has had two new nest platforms erected in the last weeks. They are hard to see from land, as access is limited except from a small walk way down a private road. Neighbors there keep an eye on them for us and have reported that a pair of osprey have already begun checking out a new platform.
Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.