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OspreyTrax 3 March 2014

Osprey News

Has migration begun?
Bad year for juveniles
World Osprey Week
Tagging Plans
Mystery bird


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Ospreys on the move?

And then there were three. All winter we have been watching five GSM (cell-tower transmitter) birds, who remarkably settled down near cell towers in South America--some in very remote areas. In the past two weeks, two birds (Icarius and Tango) have dropped off the maps, leaving Woody (Upper Chesapeake Bay), Nick (Tangiers Island) and DJ (Martha's Vineyard) on their established winter ranges. Had this happened in January, I would have been worried and assumed that the birds had died. However, the "disappearances" coincided with the beginning of the migration period, so I am fairly optimistic that both birds are simply on their way home and haven't passed by a cell tower since they left their winter waters.

We are also waiting with talons crossed for Edwin (Fishers Island) and Quin (Tangiers Island) to show up again. We last heard from both in the fall. Quin last checked in from Florida. Edwin made it across the Caribbean and was last heard from south of Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela. In 2012, the first year we deployed GSM transmitters, both tagged birds "disappeared" in the fall in Virginia. We heard from one (Bridger) a month or so later way down in Colombia, again about 10 days later from Bolivia, and then didn't get a signal from him until the middle of March. His neighbor on the Westport River up in southeastern Massachusetts, Rammie, was "dark" all winter. We first heard from him in mid March as he passed through Colombia. When both birds checked in, we got most of the data that their transmitters had been recording, and so found out where they had spent the winter and the route Rammie took to get there (Rammies's fall data from VA to S.A. were missing).

Satellite Birds

In marked contrast to the juveniles, our adults PTT birds had a great fall and winter, with 100% survival! So we should be following six birds north starting any day now. Keep checking the Movebank interactive maps on the website to follow the action. (Remember, we only get data once every three days, so if one of the birds' dots goes missing, we're probably just waiting for the next download.)

None of the satellite birds is moving yet. Sr. Bones' transmitter is officially off the air (the only "fatality" of the year). We've had enough sporadic messages from him to trust that he's OK. He and his classmate from the 2010 season, North Fork Bob, usually head north late in March. Bob's transmitter is fine, so we should be able to follow him on a record-breaking fourth trip north. We'll just have to keep our eyes on Bones' nest in early April to see whether he gets back. And then we'll try--again!-- to recapture him and get the monkey--I mean transmitter--off his back.

This is the first time we've tracked the adults tagged last spring, Rodney and Ron from DC and Donovan from NH, so we don't know when to expect them to start moving. I get emails from lots of hawk migration counting sites and have been keeping my eyes open for the first birds to be spotted heading north. Yesterday (the 2nd) was the first time I saw an Osprey logged on one of the sites (it was in Virginia). Mid March is usually when the first birds start showing up in southern New England. We'd expect the DC birds earlier than that, so they should be moving soon. Iain MacLeod up in New Hampshire reports that Donovan should take his time--everything is frozen as solid up there as the state's eponymous granite.

Our two remaining adults, Snowy and Belle, were both tagged as juveniles on Martha's Vineyard (in 2011 and 2010, respectively). This will be Snowy's second trip north. This time, rather than starting in Venezuela, he'll just be on a short commuter flight from Cuba, having skipped the Caribbean crossing last fall on his second southbound migration. He got a very early start for a juvenile on his first trip north last spring, leaving Venezuela on 23 March. I suspect he'll start moving even earlier this year. This is the first year he should be trying to set up a nest. We'll look for him back on Martha's Vineyard or Cape Cod sometime in late March. 

Belle will be coming home for the third time. On her first trip home in 2012, she left the Madeira River at the southern edge of the Amazon on 13 Apr. Last year, she left on the 25th of March. I guess she'll start back even earlier this year. We hope she'll find a mate and nest this year. We're taking bets on whether she'll settle down on Cape Cod around Long Pond, or over on the Vineyard at Deep Bottom.

A dismal year for our juveniles.

And then there was one. We started the year with eight tags on juveniles from Long Island to New Hampshire. We're now down to one, after we lost Bergen, a New Hampshire young and brother to Artoo, our lone survivor. The only silver lining to this dark cloud is that we got Whit's transmitter back an amazing 10 days or so after we realized he had been killed in a collision with a vehicle of some sort in northern Venezuela (see the last update for details).

So, what happened? We always expect to lose about half the young tagged at some point in their first migration cycle, but we've never lost this many this early. Two birds--Peirce from NE Massachusetts and Pearl from Long Island--were probably killed by Great-horned Owls before they really got started on their migrations. We lost Cap'n Liz and Caleb (both from Martha's Vineyard) out over the open Atlantic. All four of the remaining birds made it across the Caribbean. This was the opposite of what usually happens. Typically, most young survive the much longer (sometimes in excess of 1,000 miles) crossing of the Atlantic than survive the shorter (400-500 miles) crossing of the Caribbean. This year all our birds (adults and juveniles) got across the Caribbean without running into a hurricane.

We don't know what happened to Weber (coastal NH), who ran into some sort of deadly trouble in northern Venezuela. Nor do we have any idea what happened to Bergen. He seemed to be in a safe spot. There was little or no signs of human activity around the area where he settled down.

It is rather ironic that we lost Bergen and not Artoo. Artoo has been wandering all over the Amazon, and it's this sort of behavior that increases the chances that young will be lost just because each foray they make into the unknown is one more chance for them to encounter danger--usually in the form of man. The birds that settle down and don't move are usually safe until they head north. This is the reason that adult mortality on the wintering grounds is so low compared to young.

World Osprey Week - 24-28 March 

Our colleagues at the Rutland Water Osprey project have initiated a collaborative project linking Osprey researchers and school groups along the flyways of European and North American Ospreys. They're signing up schools (the markers on the map below) to participate in a website that links kids from different schools along the flyways. The three birds that they're following on our side of the Atlantic are Belle from Martha's Vineyard, North Fork Bob from Long Island, and Donovan from NH. The website offers lesson plans to use our Ospreys in classroom activities focused on the science of migration. Classes registered with the site can share their experiences with Ospreys with other classes along the migratory routes of our birds. Get details on the project and how your schools can participate

Get your kids' schools involved! 

Load the interactive map above

2014 Plans

This year will be definitely scaled back from last year's very busy 17-birds-tagged pace.
If all goes as planned....

I'll be tagging two more adult males with cell-tower transmitters (GSM) on the upper Chesapeake in late April. Then I'll move up the coast and tag two or three birds on the mouth of the Connecticut River, in the iconic colony where Roger Tory Peterson drew the world's attention to the crashing Osprey populations of the 1960s. It was here and across Long Island Sound that my partner in this new tagging project, Paul Spitzer, was able to put the pieces of a very complex puzzle together and place the blame for the collapsing population on DDT. I'll do one or two birds on Fishers Island, where Osprey reproductive success is not as high as it is on the CT River. These birds should serve as an interesting comparison to the Connecticut males.

Then it's off to New Hampshire, where we'll have three new satellite transmitters that we hope to deploy on adult males. We're aiming for nests in the northern part of the state along the other end of the Connecticut River. If we have a leftover PTT (trapping in NH can be tricky for a number of reasons), it'll go on a juvenile down along the coast.

Later in the summer, I'll be tagging a few young--perhaps the last of this study. We were finally able to get Cutch's transmitter back from Colombia. Cutch was the poor bird who impaled himself on a submerged snag in the fall of 2012. His transmitter is now in the shop, where it has been opened up to see if we can refurbish it. If we can, we'll put that on another Long Island youngster. Finally, we have Whit's PTT to redeploy and are working on funding for two new transmitters for young to be tagged on the Massachusetts' North Shore, in or around Essex.

Who is that mystery bird? 

Two years ago, Luanne Johnson was out doing surveys for one of the many species she monitors and spotted an Osprey with a transmitter on its back. We checked on the whereabouts of all our birds that day, and it was none of our actively transmitting birds. This meant it had to be one of our old birds that we thought had died. There were no further sightings of the bird that summer. Then, late last summer, Dick Jennings got a call that someone had spotted a bird with an antenna along the south shore, not far from where Luanne had reported her sighting the year before. We had a lot of birds flying around with active transmitters, so we had to check carefully, but when we did, we knew that this was not one of our birds that were "on the air."

The bird is in a rather secluded part of Martha's Vineyard where we spend little time. We suspect it may be a male from one of several nests in the area that we've just not seen. When Dick does his nest checks, he often doesn't spend much time at the nest--just long enough to confirm that the female is incubating on the early visits, and then long enough to count heads as the young grow. It's not unlikely that this bird is a male who just hasn't been near the nest when Dick was checking. 

We're excited to see if the mystery bird comes back. If it does, and if it's the male at one of our known nests, we'll do our best to trap it to retrieve the transmitter--and find out who it is! The two candidate birds are Jaws, one of the first juveniles we tagged way back in 2004, or Conomo, tagged as a youngster on the Vineyard in 2007.

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