Tuesday, July 29, 2008


An excerpt from an article I wrote several years ago:

Although I haven't fished for years [that part is outdated], I did a lot growing up, mostly with my grandfather, and always in the company of ospreys. They are everywhere in the Chesapeake Bay country; on the bay's dozens of tributary creeks and rivers, a nest is almost always in sight. But I associate ospreys especially with the Pocomoke River on Maryland's Eastern Shore, where as a 5-year-old I caught my first fish, a middling-sized yellow perch.

The Pocomoke is a tidal river, its flow reversing daily with the pull of the moon. Its banks are forested with oak, sweetgum, and poplar, and when the trees shed and the leaves fall in, they stay in, drifting downstream and then back upstream—millions of leaves slowly decaying, staining the river a deep tannic brown, like an enormous cup of strong tea. The whole system is incredibly fertile, organic—sensuous—and the river teems with fish. Naturally, the river's bounty draws ospreys to soar overhead, occasionally pausing to hover on rapidly beating wings until they fold and plummet into the tea with outstretched talons.

Like the Nanticoke Indians who fished the river with us, and long before us, Pappy and I saw the fish hawks not as competitors but as teachers. Their example inspired, and hopefully elevated, our fishing; they made us truly appreciate each fish we landed, not just for its size but for its being. The ospreys are the undisputed masters of the river, and anyway they were there first, long before even the Nanticokes.

—from "The Presence of Greatness"

I was fortunate to grow up where I did; the Chesapeake Bay area was a refugium for ospreys in the 1960s and '70s, maintaining decent numbers even when populations elsewhere were crashing due to the effects of DDT and other organochlorine pesticides. Their numbers are even higher now, and they are easy to observe due to their fairly confiding habits. Not many raptors will nest in the open, just yards from human activity, but for years there was (there may still be) a pair of ospreys nesting on pilings immediately adjacent to a river ferry on the Eastern Shore—not tall pilings, either, but approximately eye-level to a car driving onto the ferry.

(Imagine my joy when Major League Lacrosse started up eight years ago with the Baltimore Bayhawks as one of its founding teams: My favorite sport, with my hometown team named after one of my favorite birds. Alas, as George Harrison noted, all things must pass... The Bayhawks are in Washington now, but I'm still a fan.)

Here in Nebraska, osprey sightings are more noteworthy. I usually see just one or two each spring and fall; the one I remember best was a few Septembers ago at Karl Linderholm's house. We were loading his Harris' hawk into the truck for an early-season hunt when an osprey flew low overhead carrying a fish in its talons: "packing a lunch", as the saying goes at hawkwatches.

The current issue of NEBRASKAland magazine features an osprey article by Bob Grier, which includes preliminary notes on a nest near Scottsbluff. The only fault with the online version is that the photos are rather small; the shot of the bird carrying the rainbow trout looks much more impressive on the magazine's cover.

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