L.R. 09
Mr. Hannah

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Migration 2009

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[Deactivated while we sort out some permission issues: View the first TV spot for our environmental education project in the Dominican Republic. (Email me to discuss supporting this effort.)]

View slide shows of this year's trapping and the recovery of Hix's transmitter on Picasaweb .

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This was a very busy spring and summer trapping new birds and it is now really busy in "Map Central" as our small flock of Ospreys have proven as interesting as ever in their post-breeding dispersal and southbound migrations. We banded 4 adult males (3 on the Westport River in continental Massachusetts and one on Nantucket) in April and 7 juveniles in July and August. The juveniles were from SC, RI, and MA.

Scroll down for links to maps, updates on old birds, and bios for this year's class.

This year's cohort of adults and juveniles presents a perfect synopsis of all our research. Adults take the safest routes, minimizing over-water trips, while juveniles do crazy things, like crossing 1,300 miles of open Atlantic in one non-stop flight, disperse in all sorts of strange directions before migrating, and miss the shortcut from Hispaniola to South America.

Use these Quick Map Links to go straight to a bird's maps:

New Adults: Hudson -- Mr. Hannah --  Ozzie -- Rafael  --
New ('09) Young: Bea -- Buck -- Caley -- Hix -- Isabel -- Katy -- Moffet
Previously tagged young:
Claws 09 -- Conomo 09 -- L.R. -- Penelope 09
                         Go to the 2010 maps

Click here (or scroll down) for updates on birds tagged in '05, '06, '07, and '08: OLD BIRDS
NEW BIRDS: Links to "Bios" and maps for birds tagged in 2009. Dates are the most recent update.

Hix Juvenile - Westport River/MA Bio - Map - Died in Maine - Final map
Katy Juvenile - Narragansett Bay/Jamestown, RI Bio - Map - Died in Delaware - Final map
Isabel Juvenile - Lake Tashmoo/Martha's Vineyard Bio - Map - Shot in Venezuela - Final update -11 Jan.
Caley Juvenile - Katama Bay/Martha's Vineyard Bio - Map - Lost in Guyana - Final update -11 Jan.
Moffett Juvenile - Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary/Martha's Vineyard Bio - Map - Lost in Cuba - Final update -11 Jan.
Bea Juvenile - Cape Pogue Bay/Martha's Vineyard Bio - Map - Shot in Venezuela - Final update 11 Jan.
Buck Juvenile - Great Falls/SC Bio - Map - Map '10 - 6 Jun '10. Doing fine in Venezuela
Rafael Allen's Pond/MA Bio - Map - Transmitter lost - Final update 19 Nov.
Hudson West branch Westport River/MA Bio - Map - Map '10 - 6 Jun /10. Transmitter removed Apr. '10
Ozzie East branch Westport River/MA Bio - Map - Final update 18 May. Lost in Cuba
Mr. Hannah Nantucket Island/MA Bio - Map - Map '10 - 6 Jun '10. Safely returned to Nantucket

Old Birds

     As 2009 began, we were down to only four surviving birds--Claws, Conomo, L. R., and Penelope. Of the six birds in the "class of '08," only Homer's sister Penelope (MVY) and Little Ricky (DE) made it through the year. Penelope saw in the new year in a very remote corner of French Guiana and should be safe at least from humans. L.R. had settled down in North Miami Beach and was doing fine until he decided to move south a bit in early May. He left north Miami and was last heard from over the northernmost of the Florida Keys (Virginia Key). We lost the signal from one hour to the next, which suggests a catastrophic collision (with a car, perhaps) that destroyed the transmitter, or that the bird went down in the water.
     Claws started migrating north and was only 1 day's flight from Florida when we lost him at a farm pond in northern Cuba.
     Conomo made it home to Martha's Vineyard and started commuting between the Vineyard and northeastern Connecticut. He either died or lost his transmitter up in CT.
      As of 11 Jan 2010, only Penelope and Buck now remain from all the previously tagged young birds. She should migrate north in April or May of 2010.

Who's Who - Bios of the Class of '09

Bea - Our fourth and last young Osprey of the year was trapped on 5 Aug on Chappaquiddick's Cape Pogue Bay. When we arrived an adult and young were in the nest. Both left with fish in their talons--the adult with the tail end of a fish and the young with a whole scup. We had the noose carpet set by 06:40 and had this great big female fledgling in hand an hour later.
     After about an hour of very comfortable waiting (inside the Murphy's house, watching the nest through a plate-glass window, enjoying fresh-baked coffee cake--wildlife biology at its finest!), with nothing happening around the nest, I decided it was time to go out and stir up the pot. There's not much certain about Osprey trapping, but one thing that is certain is that if all the birds are just sitting on perches somewhere, you're not going to catch anybody. So, when nothing's going on, we'll go out and bounce birds off their perches, hoping they're fly over the nest and spot the fish we left for them.

     So I went out to feed the very hungry local mosquitoes and get some Ospreys in the air. I headed off to the north, bumped one young off a piling, and then walked south along the shore of Cape Pogue Bay, out of sight of the rest of the crew. South of the nest, I found two birds loafing on power poles, so I gave them a nudge and walked back towards the nest. As I got a hundred yards or so from the nest, an adult landed with a bit of fish. This is just what we like to see, as even if the young have seen the noose carpet and are nervous about it, they really can't resist when Mom or Dad lands in the nest with chow.
     Shortly after the adult landed, true to form a young landed by the adult. At this point I had to wait to let the young bird walk around a bit and get caught. I couldn't get back to the house where the rest of the crew was watching, worried that I was off somewhere north of the nest, unaware of the two birds on the nest. The only way back to the house was under the nest, and I couldn't get there without bumping the birds off the nest.

Kate Tremain gets ready to release Bea, who is letting Kate know what she thinks about this trapping stuff.

      So I waited a few minutes until I saw that the young was noosed. Then I headed to the nest to bump the adult, who wasn't yet caught, and get back up the pole to take the fledgling out of the carpet. At this point the crew at the house still didn't know where I was and getting about as stressed as the young Osprey in the nest.
     Reunited with the team, we put the ladder back up the pole and I went up to extract our bird. With veteran Osprey wrangler Liz Baldwin helping out, the tagging went smoothly.
     Bea was the biggest female youngster we've ever caught, tipping the scales at 4 lbs (1.820 kg)

     Bea is named after Bea Self, who enjoyed watching many a young Osprey fledge from this nest over the years.
     Bea made it to Venezuela where she was shot. Her transmitter is in the hands of a Venezuelan in Ciudad Bolivar. For some reason we can't motivate this guy to send the transmitter back.



Moffet - Trapped at Mass Audubon's Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary on Tuesday the 4th, this young male was named for George Moffett, who donated the land for the sanctuary.
     This trapping day was a long one! The pole is a 40-footer, so ladder and climbing spikes were required. We were set up by 06:40. One young (two were fledged) and an adult were on the nest when we arrived. For about 6 hours we watched the birds make an occasional fly by and even hover a couple of times, but no one wanted to land on the nest. The young was begging for food all morning, but the parents didn't seem particularly impressed. We would periodically wander around and stir them up, but to no avail.
     We had a lunch date that we couldn't miss at 12:30. At about 11:45 I was looking at the two adults and a youngster riding a thermal up until they were specks in the sky. This didn't look good. I called and pushed lunch back to 1:00, but then, as the birds continued up on soar, I realized that, for the first time ever, we were going to have to pull the plug on the trapping effort. So, back up the pole to remove the carpet and fish and off to lunch.
     We were back at 15:30 and quickly had the fish and noose carpet back in place. This time there were two young in the air, so one of them had been off exploring in the morning. As I came down there was lots of action around the nest, prompting Dick Jennings to predict a capture in five minutes. I thought that was a bit optimistic and was right--it was 12 minutes! 20 minutes total after resetting the noose carpet would be a record, except there was that 6-hour wait in the morning.
     Moffet is a good-sized male, weighing 3.1 lbs (1.41 kg).
     Moffet settled down in eastern Cuba in an area that seemed quite remote and sparsely populated. We had our last transmission from him on Dec. 5. What happened will remain a frustrating mystery.

Dick Jennings, my main sidekick on all Vineyard trapping missions and field general for the annual nest censuses, holds Moffet while I adjust the straps to his harness. We've only got the right side of the harness ready, which explains why the transmitter is not sitting squarely on Moffet's back. 



Caley - We caught this female and her mother on the Katama Bay side of Chappaquiddick Island.
     We set up at 06:30. At 06:37 an adult landed on the nest with a fish it had been carrying around but didn’t stay long. At 0700 the female and one young were in the nest. She was shortly caught by both feet. Nonetheless, she started feeding the young from the fish under the noose carpet. Every once in a while she would pick up a foot and shake it. Then, back to feeding. Then she shook the other foot. The young wasn’t moving around much, so we couldn’t confirm that it was caught, even though one of the observers was sure that it was. Finally, at 07:50 all agreed that the young was caught, so I went up the ladder for the double extraction.

Hopefully, that far-away look in Caley's eyes means she's thinking about South America and not the D.R.
      Caley is named after Caleb's Pond, a small pond that feeds into Katama Bay right under Caley's nest.
      Caley made it to Guyana, in a very remote area that seemed like it should have been safe. However, something went wrong, just at the same time we lost the signal from Moffet, Caley's PTT stopped moving. Either she died, or she lost the transmitter. Unfortunately, the former explanation is more likely.


Isabel - This young female is probably the full sister of Meadow, the first-year bird from last year that wound up on Lake Superior.
     An adult was feeding the two young in the nest when we arrived at 06:20. By 06:41 the noose carpet was set with 2 frozen fish under it.
For the next 50 minutes we heard the young begging and had a couple of fly bys, but no action on the nest.
     At 07:31 the male landed in the nest and was caught within seconds. Dick Jennings and I headed out to the pole, but the male sort of settled down and was standing in the nest. Because he wasn’t struggling, we stopped approaching in the hopes that a young would be enticed into the nest by the presence of the adult. One young did appear a few seconds later and touched down on the nest, but not on the carpet. It flew off and Dad flapped a bit, but righted himself and was standing in the middle of the nest. A young then landed next to him and was caught right away.

Tim Reed was the hands-on assistant for this trapping session.
      Isabel is named after Isabel West, Vineyard columnist and historian who lived in a house overlooking Meadow and Isabel's nest on the north shore of Lake Tashmoo. Mrs. West died this summer at the age of 97, just a few weeks after her namesake Osprey hatched.
     Isabel disappeared from our radar screens in a very unusual manner. We abruptly lost signals in mid September. Six weeks later her transmitter started sending signals about 60 mile south of where we'd last heard from her. The transmitter was out in an open pasture. A colleague made a long trip there twice in search of the transmitter, but was unable to find it. Bummer.


Katy - is a young female born near Ft. Getty, on Conanicut Island (Jamestown) in Narragansett Bay, RI. She had not flown prior to my arrival at the nest (on July 30). She made her maiden flight when she saw me appear over the edge of her nest, but wasn't too happy about it. She came back to the nest when I dropped out of sight, down a rung or two on the ladder. I was able to grab a wing and reel her in on her second return to the nest. As I pulled her close and went to grab her legs, she beat me to the punch and grabbed my hand, sinking those talons in a bit. So there we were, in a Mexican standoff. I had hold of her and she had hold of me. I couldn't let go of her to pry her talons out of my hand and she didn't seem interested in letting go, so we just had a time-out until she loosened her grip.
     She's a big girl, and feels well fed. After we gave her a band and satellite transmitter she decided that she'd just stay in the nest for a while. As of August 5th she was still enjoying the comfort of home without any of this risky flying stuff. She took her first flight after the trapping day on the 6th.
     Katy is named after a sloop that was converted into a warship during the Revolutionary War to patrol Narragansett Bay.
     We lost Katy way too soon. She was migrating south and got to a big cypress swamp in southern Delaware, where she stopped moving. She was almost certainly the victim of a Great-horned Owl. We did get her transmitter back.

Katy is the third young Osprey we have tagged in Jamestown, RI.


Hix - was trapped on the east branch of the Westport River, in southeastern MA, on July 29. His nest was just below Hix Bridge. He was trapped as he followed his father into the nest only 36 minutes after we had set the noose carpet on the nest. Both birds were caught instantly and we had a new record for trapping time.
     Also in the record-breaking department, this is the lowest nest I've ever worked in. Sure beats 25 feet of ladder and 20 feet of climbing spurs.
     The adult male was not banded, so we banded, measured, and released him. The youngster had been banded a few weeks earlier by Becky Cushing--best Osprey wrangler west of Buzzard's Bay--who was on hand to help with tagging this bird.
     We were all finished and driving away from the site about 0810, with Becky complaining that she could still get to work on time! No lolling the morning away waiting for Ospreys to be caught.
     The history behind the "Hix" name--In 1710 George Cadman conveyed to Mary Hix land on the river front which she used as a ferry landing and a home. In 1735 she sold the land and house to her son, William, who immediately started to build a bridge that was completed in 1738.
     Hix left home about 4 days after I tagged him. He flew up to Canada, briefly, and then settled down around a couple of lakes in west central Maine. He was there for a month or so before he was most likely killed by a Great-horned Owl.
     We got his transmitter back and will redeploy it in the spring of 2010.

This is the way I like 'em! Almost all my graduate students could make it up to this nest without trauma.


Buck On June 26th I tagged the first young of the '09 breeding season on the Catawba River in Great Falls, SC. This is the same nest where we tagged Duke in '08. "Buck" was the nickname of James Buchanan Duke, who founded the company that became Duke Power. Buck's nest overlooks the first hydroelectric dam built by Duke Power.

     James Wayne, a survivor of my spring ornithology class, and I left Charlotte around 05:00 and arrived at the nest around 06:15. Bill Price, a local nature photographer and honorary godfather of this Osprey pair, met us at Duke Power's Great Falls hydroelectric station.  Bill had forgotten the key, so to get to the nest we had to jump the chain link fence again (last year we had a key--just not the right one) with the ladder and climbing gear. The nest is atop the mother of all nest poles. 25 feet of ladder gets me about halfway up the pole! Oh, how I miss those cute Westport River nests.
     The sun broke the horizon as I climbed to the nest platform. By 06:30 the trap was set and we settled in to wait for the young to return to the nest. Last year we waited until noon to get our bird. This year the wait was only 4 hours. While we waited, the local Mockingbird had his iPod on party shuffle, running through his whole repertoire of local bird songs, which includes Killdeer, Summer Tanagers, and amusingly but not surprisingly, the begging calls of hungry Osprey chicks.
     For most of the morning the young were down below the dam or perched on the station's high tension towers across the river. The parents made fairly frequent appearances, twice with fish in their talons, but didn't land on the nest. The female made several passes over the nest platform, checking out that weird thing (our noose carpet) now on her nest.
     In a rather in-your-face move, around 10:00 the two young landed on a power pole about 30' in front of us. This was the first time we'd seen them that close to the nest pole, so we were encouraged. About a half hour later they flew off across the reservoir. One came back and landed on the nest, right on the noose carpet. His sibling landed briefly next to him, but flew off without getting caught. The young who had landed began begging for his mother to come feed him from the two fish I had placed under the noose carpet. Talk about spoiled!
     In just a few minutes we saw that he was noosed. We gave him a bit more time to make sure he was really caught and then got him him down. He's a rather small male, still not muscled up much (he only started flying the day before), but he looked healthy. When I commented on how light he was, Bill reminded me that I said exactly the same thing about Duke last year. Duke went on to cross 900 miles of Caribbean open water.
     Buck now has a fancy backpack, and we're off and running. Six more transmitters to deploy this year.
     Buck is currently (May 2010) safe and sound in northern Venezuela on the shore of Lake Maracaibo.


Adult Males

     I had previously sworn off satellite tagging adult Ospreys. With over 100 tagged across North America, there was little more to be learned about their migration. The old, non-GPS transmitters were accurate enough to track birds on migration, but not accurate enough to answer questions about their feeding habits and movements across their hunting range during the nesting season. The new GPS transmitters--accurate down to tens of meters--have changed all that. We can now discover where the birds are hunting. This offers a whole new avenue of research, which I will be pursuing in the upcoming years, in collaboration with Alan Poole and the Osprey team on the Westport River and Bob Kennedy of the Maria Mitchell Association on Nantucket.

Rafael - was tagged on Allen's Pond in Dartmouth, MA, on May 11.    
     Rafael's nest is out in the marsh on a pole that might be 10' high. This is in pretty stark contrast to some of the 40' poles I have to go up to get to nests on Martha's Vineyard. Shortly before 10 AM we launched a small armada--1 canoe and 2 kayaks--into the creek and paddled the ladder and traps out to the nest. Arriving at the nest, we propped a pint-sized ladder against the nest pole and set a noose carpet on the nest and quickly backed off. The female came back to the nest in just a few minutes and was caught.

     We paddled back to the nest, and while ace Osprey wrangler Becky Cushing and I got the female out of the nooses, Alan Poole set the second carpet on the nest. We moved away to a safe distance--not so close as to make the male nervous, but not so far away so that we couldn't quickly get back to the nest once the male was captured--and processed the female while we waited for the male to land on the carpet. The female was already banded. David Cole, keeper of the banding records, reported later that she is a 12 year old bird, banded on 24 June 1997.
     With the female off the nest, the male's paternal instinct kicked in and he headed for the nest. Males will often incubate while the females eat the fish that the males deliver, so seeing the nest unattended was not unusual for him. After a couple of passes, he landed on the trap and was caught quickly. As soon as we had the male we released his mate, who was back on the nest in a flash.

Holding the female while we wait for the male. Note the dark breast band typical of female Ospreys.
     The female was back on the eggs 20 minutes or so after we trapped her. The maternal instinct is very strong, and Ospreys don't spend a whole lot of time worrying about the past. She has a job to do and her escape from those big scary humans was irrelevant as soon as we released her. We humans could learn something here!
     We outfitted Rafael with his new transmitter and took some measurements (he's a bit below average weight for a male, weighing in at 1,500 g--3.3 pounds).
     He left the immediate area of the nest and pouted for a while. This is pretty typical for birds after they've been tagged. He was back on the case in the morning when Alan saw the female feeding young. We were just in the nick of time on this one.
     We had a "wardrobe malfunction" with Rafael. After a month or so, we lost his signal from one hour to the next. The only explanation is that the transmitter fell off. Unfortunately, he seems to have lost the expensive transmitter over water, as we never got another signal from it. We did get some interesting data from him before we lost his signal in early July.
Hudson - Our second male was trapped in the west branch of the Westport River. We got lucky at this nest and caught the male first. The tide was going out fast, and if we'd caught the female first, we might have had a problem getting back to the island to reset the noose carpet and catch the male. Hudson was already banded. His band number traces back to a nest banded on 23 June 1996. Because we didn't catch the female, we don't know if she is banded or not.
     Hudson is one of our feel-good success stories. We got a ton of really interesting foraging data from him, followed his travels down to Venezuela and back, and then in late April 2010 recaptured him and removed the transmitter he carried for about a year.
     His transmitter was put on another adult male (Sanford) up the Westport River's west branch 1.8 miles northwest of Hudson's nest.


Ozzie - We went after our third Westport bird on the 12th, this time looking for a bird on the east branch of the Westport.

Alan Poole watches as we're about to release Ozzie
     The first nest we checked had three young already--about 5 days old. These are definitely the early birds. We didn't want to trap over newly hatched young--they're more vulnerable to chilling--so we moved on to plan B.
     Our next nest had three eggs, so we set the noose carpet and drifted back down the river to wait. The wait was typically short--about 5 minutes to get the female and not much longer than that to get the male.

A typical Westport
River Osprey pole
      As at Rafael's nest on Allen's Pond, one of the pair was banded. This time it was the male, named Ozzie by some local school kids, that was wearing a band. David looked this one up after we got back and discovered that Ozzie is coming up on his 13th "hatchday." He was banded as a nestling on 7 July 1996. It's a pretty safe bet that he has migrated over 60,000 miles back and forth between the Westport and wherever he spends his winters!
     Ozzie weighed in at a healthy 1,570g (3.5 pounds).


Mr. Hannah - After tagging Ozzie on the Westport River, I took the ferry over to Nantucket with Bob Kennedy, Director of Natural Sciences at the Maria Mitchell Association and the driving force behind a tracking prograom on Nantucket. We set out on the morning of the 13th to Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge, a Trustees of Reservations property on the northeastern corner of the island. Our target nest was on the first Osprey nest pole erected on Nantucket. Our 20' ladder was just enough to reach the nest--twice as high as most of the Westport River nest poles.
     When we arrived, the female was incubating but the male was nowhere in sight. He was either perched near the nest out of sight or out fishing. We walked the ladder and noose carpets out onto the marsh, thinking that he might show up when the female left the nest. The female left the nest to complain about our presence, and the male didn't show up. So we backed off and waited. The female quickly returned to incubation duty, and about 15 minutes later the male came in with a fish. This was our call to action.
     Once again, trapping proceeded like clockwork. We had the female trapped and in  hand in no time and the male captured quickly after we reset the noose carpet. In fact, we caught the male so quickly that we didn't have time to weigh the female. We were driving away with two birds banded and one tagged and released about an hour after we arrived at the nest. This is in pretty stark contrast to some of our trapping sessions for young birds, which often involve hours of waiting for the young to come back to the nest.
     In this photo, Nantucket's most promising young Osprey biologist, Hannah Nicolle, releases the female. This bird has a rather light breast band by female standards. This is a fairly reliable way to tell male and female Ospreys apart. Males are often completely white on their breast, while females typically have a dark "necklace." There can be some confusion, as some males have a a few darker feathers across the breast and some females have a fairly light breast, like this bird, but if you see a bird that's all white on the front, it's a male, and if you see a really dark breast band, it's a female.
     Mr. Hannah weighed only 1,490 grams (3.4 pounds), which is about the same as two of our Westport males, but he did have a full crop, having eaten part of the fish he was bringing in when we caught him. When I felt his sternum, I could tell that he was not well muscled (when birds are undernourished they lose muscle tissue). Mr. Hannah also had hunger traces in one of his tail feathers. These are indications that the bird was "nutritionally challenged" when that feather was growing in. These observations suggest that this bird's hunting abilities may not be the best, which might in turn explain why this nest has failed over the past few years.
     Mr. Hannah migrated successfully down to the Brazilian Amazon and returned in late April 2010. Our attempts to retrap him so that we could switch his transmitter to another bird were unsuccessful, so he'll carry the transmitter another year. Next spring we'll try a different trap.


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