Watching Eastern osprey on the nest

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Watching Eastern osprey on the nest

Postby Robert Fuller » Thu Sep 28, 2017 8:48 am

I’ve just returned from a family holiday in Australia where I was lucky enough to visit the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef system. And although I was overwhelmed by the reef – this 1,400 mile long structure consists of 2,900 individual reefs and is so big it is even visible from space – it was the sight of an osprey that inspired an idea for a painting.
I spent a week touring the northern tip of this bright underwater world from a live-abroad boat named Aroona. Every day I dived into clear blue water to see fish, starfish, turtles, whales and sharks. I had boarded the Aroona after flying to Lizard Island, one of the northernmost islands on the inner reef. I was so excited when I arrived the first thing I did was jump into the sea. Below me was a giant clam, four feet across. Not only was it beautiful it was covered in a host of different corals. This was just the start. There were a vast array of different corals all surrounded by tropical fish darting away as I snorkelled through a kaleidoscope of colour. Rising sea water temperatures have reportedly killed off much of Australia’s beautiful coral beds and I had been worried that I might be too late to see this spectacle. But although I did see some bleached coral, most of these colourful subaquatic structures still teem with fish. I was mesmerised.
That evening the lights on the stern of the boat attracted small fish, which in turn attracted big-eyed jacks and trevely; two species of hunting fish. The water below boiled as they broke the surface in a fishing frenzy. A larger shape appeared in the water. It was a shark. Aroona’s first mate and our guide for the week, Joe Buck, identified the two-metre long tawny nurse shark for us. He explained that you could actually stroke a nurse shark like a puppy. But with trevely fish hunting and likely to nip at my fingers I decided against going in the water. Soon another tawny nurse shark joined us.
The next morning Joe pointed to a rocky pinnacle on Lizard Island with a huge stack of sticks piled onto it. We suspected it could be an osprey’s nest. Ospreys build huge nests, known as eyres, from driftwood and seaweed. They use the same ones every year, and the material can build up. This one was so large we could see it from almost a quarter of a mile away. Looking through my binoculars I could see the bird’s white head. I have watched ospreys in Scotland, and even on the farm my father managed in Givendale on the Yorkshire Wolds, so I was intrigued to see an Australian, or Eastern, osprey. These birds are marginally smaller, and paler in colour, than ones we see here. They are also much more common. It was late afternoon and Joe and I scrambled 350 feet up to the top of a ridge overlooking the nest. I took a few photographs, but the osprey was too far away. As we watched it took off, circling overhead. Ospreys have a wingspan of between five and six feet and as it circled two more joined it. They looked very impressive against the setting sun. ... 1024&ssl=1
We returned at dawn the next morning, heading to a windswept bush I had spotted the day before. It was right at the top of a ridge and although it gave me an unprecedented view of the eyre, it was so dense there was little chance of disturbing these special birds from there. As we got close the female osprey lifted off. We had to work fast. I climbed into the bush with two camera bags and set up my tripod and camera. Out here I needed to improvise. I used a pair of camouflage-design shorts and some camouflage camera covers cable-tied to branches above my head. Once I was inside, Joe topped this makeshift hide with more branches and dead grasses until I was completely concealed. I reckoned on the osprey being unable to count and so when it saw Joe leaving it would assume we had both gone. My hunch was correct. Before Joe was back at the shore, the female was back on the nest. As she landed on the sticks, I noticed something move. She had a chick in the nest. It was roughly four weeks old. I watched it wander around the nest while she stood guard.
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Robert Fuller
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Joined: Fri Mar 27, 2009 6:03 pm

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