Allan Bell’s Birch Bark Nature Notes Revisited
Did you see the nature program about ospreys on Public Television? How about the way those birds plunge into the water after a fish? It’s no wonder they’ve been called fish hawks.
The osprey is the only bird of prey in the world to live exclusively on live fish. What a way to get a meal! To dive into the water many times a day to get food for itself – and maybe the whole family. It has to pick the right size too. If the fish weighs more than a pound and a half that four of five pound bird will never get it out of the water or be able to haul it away.
The osprey depends on its sight, which is six times better than ours, to locate a fish near the surface. If it’s raining, the bird just has to go hungry until the rain stops and the fish become visible again.
A few years ago, while boating on Clear Lake, just east of Woodruff, I drifted to a small island to replenish the gas supply of the outboard engine. As I was pouring the gas in, a screech or a scream or a high pitched peee sound startled me. There, almost over my head, in a nest on top of a telephone pole, an osprey was telling me to get out of there – so I did.
Another time I was golfing at Maple Birch. An osprey went sailing over the third green, heading for King’s Dam. I grabbed the binoculars out of my golf bag (always carry them for girl watching) and followed the bird’s flight.
Suddenly it did some flip-flops, side-slips and wingovers, swiftly losing altitude. It looked as if someone had shot it but I heard no report. I did not see it come up again. I’m satisfied it was just after a fish and then flew away down the river near the water. The movies of osprey fishing show actions similar to what I saw. What a bird!
Great horned, barred and screech are the most common owls found in Wisconsin. Now that it’s courtship time (Valentine’s day?), here is one
observer’s (not mine) description:
Courting often takes place on the ground, with the male strutting and hopping around the female with his feathers all ruffed up. He gradually edges closer, attempting to touch her with his beak. She may at first savagely drive him off and he may have to approach her several more times before she accepts him.
He may then present her with a prey item and if she accepts it, mating will follow. This gradual, elaborate courtship approach is common in birds that normally are aggressive.
Now, read that over again and see if it reminds you of anything. People, maybe?
It must be tough scratching for the mourning doves. I had one looking over the feeder and picking around on the ground under it. Haven’t seen it since I put out cracked corn. Do you see those white ghosts that hang around the large open fields? Snow buntings, I mean. Helen Vandervoort had a shrike at her feeder. Hairy and downy woodpeckers will soon be hanging on everything. They’ll start their courtship ritual and assert their territorial boundary. No red polls yet.
Hard to believe department. Some biologists believe birds can hear extremely low frequency sounds. It has been speculated that a bird flying down the middle of North America can hear the surf on BOTH coasts!
Late nature writer Allan Bell originally wrote this Birch Bark Nature Notes column for the Tomahawk Leader back on Feb. 15, 1984. In revisiting some of his masterful insight into this beautiful place we are all so fortunate enough to call home, the osprey has often been the focal point of a day out fishing on a Tomahawk area flowage. One of the more memorable sightings out on the Jersey City Flowage a couple years back where some eagles were taking advantage of an osprey to take care of their dirty work. Over and over the osprey would swoop down and get a fish and then out of the sky would plunge an eagle to steal the meal. This went on for sometime that day and I suspect wasn’t the first or last time it will be seen on the Jersey impound. Bucket list stuff. Check it out if you get the chance.