Allan Bell’s Birch Bark Nature Notes Revisited
RHINELANDER – There will be a full moon at 6:42 a.m. Feb. 16. Some call it the Snow Moon. Why? Because February is usually the snowiest month. The moon will be closer to earth (221,650 miles) than it will be again until Dec. 20, 1986. This information is just in case you’re planning a trip. You can save almost 20,000 miles. Then again, that’s less than an hour via Apollo.
Mars and Saturn are less than 1° apart in the southern sky just before dawn on Feb. 14 and 15. Mars is the lower planet and may appear reddish. Venus and Jupiter are still spectacular in the southeastern sky at dawn. Take a peek.
In his book, “The Saga of Spirit Valley II,” Carl Rhody mentions that years ago the crows began showing up the first part of February. Now a few seem to tough it out around here, although I haven’t seen any all winter. Ravens are all over, croaking their way through the skies. Carl interprets the spring call of the chickadee as “Pay-Day, Pay-Day.” I like that. Usually we hear “Fee-Bee, Fee-Bee,” which tends to make some people think they are hearing a phoebe. I wouldn’t mind hearing that call any time.
Ron Eckstein, wildlife manager with the DNR in Rhinelander, gave an interesting slide presentation about the osprey to the Northwoods Audubon Society at Nicolet last week.
The osprey is classed as an endangered species in Wisconsin, which means that without “man’s help” it will disappear.
Ospreys are large brown and white fish-eating birds, smaller than eagles. Their food consists of small fish – suckers, bullheads, panfish, northerns and minnows – which can be found in shallow water. The osprey plunges into the water, grasping its prey with sharp talons, struggles to get airborne again, turns the fish head first and heads for an eating perch.
With no food available here in the winter ospreys migrate to Central or South America for the winter. Shortly after the ice goes out of the lakes around here, they are back.
One, two or three eggs are laid in May, with the young birds hatching some 25 days later. This is about a month later than eagles. The young remain in the nest for eight weeks, looking almost identical to their parents. They fly well the first time, unlike eagles who sometimes crash.
Oneida County has the most nests in the state, with Vilas County next. Water and wilderness mean food and safety. Ospreys prefer to nest on dead snags or at the very top of trees, the tallest they can find. On or near a flowage is ideal. Ospreys have nested on power poles (they look like snags), windmills and even fire towers.
The nests are built of sticks and, being high, are vulnerable to high winds as well as lightning. Raccoons, great horned owls (which do not build nests but usurp whatever is available) and man are other nesting problems.
To assist the osprey, the DNR has been erecting nesting platforms where old nests have been destroyed or where more are needed. The results have been rewarding, with the birds readily accepting the imitations.
DDT, which built up in the fatty tissue of fish, resulted in thin-shelled eggs, easily broken, and few young were hatched in the 1950s and 1960s. Since the ban on DDT in this country, more young hatched and the numbers of birds show much improvement.
After migrating, the young birds remain in Central and South America for the first and second years of their lives, returning north upon reaching breeding age. None of those countries has a ban on DDT, another cause for concern.
It is estimated there were 190 pairs of ospreys in Northern Wisconsin in 1983. Compare that number with even bluebirds and you can see why they need help. If they have wild land, clean water with fish (acid rain could change that) and we leave them alone, they can continue to thrill us with their flight and dives after fish.
Late nature writer Allan Bell originally wrote this Birch Bark Nature Notes column for the Tomahawk Leader back on Feb. 8, 1984. In revisiting some of his insightful columns of the beauty that surrounds us on a daily basis, we can be thankful for the many pairs of osprey that today call the Tomahawk area home and the added joys they bring to our lives. From the nest on Highway 8 to the ones on the Jersey Flowage and the couple that chose a power pole for a nest instead of the nearby nest pole located at Pride Dam, the osprey is certainly a recovery effort that we are all fortunate to benefit from.