October Ospreys

October Ospreys

October 28, 2016

One of the harbingers of Fall is the return of the Ospreys to our Gulf Coast. They breed in the northern states and Canada, and most go on to winter in Central and South America.  Florida and Louisiana do have a year-round populations but we aren't as lucky. Yet.

But, by October we are seeing a lot of Ospreys along the Texas coast. They feed by diving and plucking unsuspecting fish from the shallow waters. I have seen that happen at the ponds behind Bryan Beach, but the action is pretty far away. You can see a huge splash and then powerful wings pulling the bird with his fish out of the water. Some times you can see an Osprey flying overhead with his prey.

Osprey near Surfside Beach with fish

Osprey near Surfside Beach with fish

I have shown you images like this before. Osprey standing on a utility pole with a fish. This one looks wet around the head so I suppose he just caught his lunch which we have interrupted. Often they stay and eat in full view, but sometimes they fly off to a more secluded location. I did a blog Fish Hawks in October 2014 which you can check for a lot more research and information.

Recently Bill Maroldo and I had been to Surfside and swung by the Quintana Jetty to check on the Big Puddle at the parking lot. Sadly the puddle was dry, no birds at all and Bill got out to do some hand-held shots of birds flying out in the channel. I stayed in the truck and looked at shots from earlier in the day. After a while, I heard him yelling and saw him pointing to a line of utility poles along the road.

There was a Osprey very close to us, swooping around... and then I saw the second one. We have seen Ospreys perch on these poles in past years; the area is close to the shore and not far from the ponds behind Bryan Beach.

One Osprey would land on a pole and shortly after the other would fly over and take his spot. The evicted bird would fly to a new pole and wait for the other bird to chase him off. It looked like they were playing a game!

Osprey making a soft landing

Osprey making a soft landing

This one is coming in for a landing; note the flared tail controlling his descent. We were so fortunate the birds were facing into the wind... and our view. This could have been happening with the birds facing away from us just as easily.

Ospreys have a wing-spread of 59.1–70.9 in or 150–180 cm

Ospreys have a wing-spread of 59.1–70.9 in or 150–180 cm

Here is another landing shot as he settles into the perch. They were flying close enough to really appreciate how big they are. The wingspread is 5 to 6 feet!

Wings up, coming in for a landing

Wings up, coming in for a landing

And another shot as one comes in a bit from the side. They were flying over us, circling around to land again. I had braced the 500 f/4 between the open door and the body of the truck for this shot.

After this one landed, she held her wings outspread for the longest time.

After this one landed, she held her wings outspread for the longest time.

Once I realized they were not going to bolt I moved to the back, bracing my lens on a bean bag laying on the corner of the truck bed. The setup limited my mobility so I quickly set up my tripod. They were still flying around.

And calling to each other.

We were ecstatic.

Bird in flight. I was over the moon when I saw I got this one!

Bird in flight. I was over the moon when I saw I got this one!

I cannot hand-hold the big lens for bird in flight shots, and shooting in flight shots from a tripod is not easy either. But I had some real success. She was flying off the pole and almost straight toward me.

Glorious patterns on the wings

Glorious patterns on the wings

Once I got the hang of their rhythm I could focus on the pole straight in front of me and wait for the bird to land or take off.

Getting lift with those huge wings

Getting lift with those huge wings

Here is a take off ...

Full stretch and carried away by the wind

Full stretch and carried away by the wind

And airborne...

All of the images above were taken on a lovely overcast day with a slight north wind. Sony A77II with Sony 500 f/4 G at f/7.1 1/1600 to 1/2000 sec and ISO 1250. First click was at 3:01:33 pm and last at 3:06:52m.

A really tense, wonderful and exciting five minutes.

I am calling these females, based on the dark necklace of feathers on the upper chest. Adult males sometimes have a few streaks, but mostly white chests. But, I could be wrong. Maybe they are youngish birds on their first trip south. I believe they are adults as the juveniles have orange eyes, a streaky head and buffy chest and neck - but their heads are a bit streaky? You can Google images to try to determine the sexes, but the best best is during breeding/nesting season where you can compare sizes (the female is larger) and watch their behavior. Which we don't get to do since they don't breed around here. Drat. Let me know in the comments if you have more thoughts on the age/sex of these. Truthfully, getting the photos and witnessing the playful behavior was such a huge thrill I wasn't too worried about technicalities of the identification.

Some will stay the winter with us, more will go on further south. Early next spring they will make the return journey. I have read some young birds hang around the Gulf Coast and don't make the long trek to the breeding grounds. They are too young to mate yet so why waste the energy migrating?

Oh, a disclaimer after last weeks SOOC post - which was a real success judging by the comments on Facebook!  All the above photos in this post have had minimal editing, only some tweaks with Camera RAW, cropping and resizing for the Web. No composites or Photoshop tricks. Just so you know.

And I want to thank all my new subscribers! I used to have a cool counter but somehow it got lost. There are 113 loyal readers (or lookers) now and I so appreciate your support. Say hello and let me know what you would like to see.

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