Just Feeding the Birds
Most mornings on the way into town, I travel along the Red Water as it winds through Lawrence County’s only wetlands. Lots of deer, the occasional wandering elk or antelope catches my eye and always the birds, each to their own season.
This morning I was making my way to a specific nesting platform that had been erected for Ospreys. They have the annoying habit of building their nests in power-line structures. The GFP has built them safer alternatives and one was just barely visible near the McNenny Fish Hatchery. At least that was my plan.
Just as I rounded the high curve that overlooks the hatchery grounds, up flew an osprey with a trout in its talons. It seemed too coincidental, so I pulled a U-turn and followed the bird to a lesser known platform that would require a little more hiking on my part.
Ospreys are only seasonal visitors to our area. They need more open water than we can offer and head south to Florida or South America for the winters. This lonely bird was fishing for itself, there was no mate nor chicks waiting at home.
I vividly remember the first pair that nested in the northern hills setting up shop at the end of Lee and Betty’s driveway. Their nest or eyrie was a gigantic mess up among the electrical lines there at the state line; filled with sticks, branches, and bailing twine. The mix of electricity and so much tinder had the power company nervous. They came in with an attractive, raccoon-proof platform, and the ospreys accepted their offer, continuing to nest there and spent the majority of their time fishing along Sand Creek.
They were stunning and once so rare that I pulled over any time I saw one. Now they seem to fly in profusion.
I find it difficult to age or gender identify ospreys in flight. When sitting side by side I generally assume the larger to be the female. A short hike found me below the nest, while the bird fed. It is late in the nesting season and fall is coming, perhaps this is a lonely male following a ritual assuming that his fledglings might still need a little handout from dad. While it is assumed that these great predators nest for life, they do not spend the winter break in each other’s company. The female and chicks generally migrate early leaving the males behind. They won’t meet up again till next year at the nest.
I know several men and women who might see a southern vacation as an agreeable alternative to being snowbound with a cranky spouse all winter and I have heard that absence can make the heart grow fonder. Still, I much prefer my warm and loving family in comparison to this bird’s isolation.
I checked in with workers at the hatchery and was told that the hunters take very few of their fish and make no dent in their target production. While the ospreys stop in several times a day, most of the hatchery fish are protected and undercover. Having worked several summers at the D.C. Booth Hatchery in Spearfish, I know for certainty that many more fish are lost there to human intrusion than ever get taken by ospreys.
I had at first questioned the placement of the nesting platforms so close to a state-run hatchery and seen it as competition for the local fisherman. It seemed counterintuitive to be raising fish to feed the birds. But the fish are not a limited resource and the hatchery specialists ensure me that like potato chip salesman, they can always raise more.
After a long break, it is once again hunting season with archery antelope arriving on the 19th. A hunting column without a season is for the birds.