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by Stan Tekiela
© NatureSmart

August 13, 2018

Climbing a 20 foot tall, narrow metal ladder, carrying an arm full of expensive camera gear is always a nerve racking experience. Once I was perched on top, I start to organize all the camera gear and get settled in for a long wait. It took several minutes to adjust the camouflage material used to conceal myself, tripod and camera. No part of me can be seen and only the front of my camera lens was visible. I also made sure that I had a seat cushion because I’ve spent too many hours in photo blinds sitting on bare wood or metal.

Blue skies and a moderate wind out of the north made for perfect conditions to be photographing. Stretched out in front of me was a beautiful deep blue lake ringed by dark green trees. Absolutely picture perfect day.

I’ve been working on setting up this photo blind for a couple years now and finally everything was in place. I am hoping to capture some images of an Osprey (Pandion haliaetus). Sometimes called the Fish Hawk, River Hawk or Sea Hawk. All these other names are not correct and actually misleading since the Osprey is not a hawk at all. And it is not a type of eagle either. It’s the lone member of its family with no closely related relatives. It’s a kind of raptor that eats fish and migrates south for winter.  

I love the time spent waiting to photograph wildlife. It releases my mind to wonder in thought and ponder things I don’t normally have time to think about. It occurred to me that when I started in the wildlife photography and book writing business, over 30 years ago, there were no Osprey near where I lived.

In the past, Osprey nested in tall trees around the edges of lakes. But these nesting sites were lost due to development and logging. Combine that with the use of DDT, a chemical that caused thinning of eggshells, along with indiscriminate shooting, pushed Osprey out of many regions and to the edge of extinction in much of the country.

In many regions the Osprey needed to be reintroduced. From the early 1980’s to mid-1990’s young Osprey were moved from places where they still lived to places where they were killed off. Along with this, nesting platforms fixed to the top of tall utility poles were put up in suitable habitat near lakes to provide nesting opportunities. Today we have a healthy population of Osprey that is thriving and doing well in much of the nation.

The Osprey is a very unique raptor and is highly adapted with many specialized features which help it catch fish. They are found on every continent except for Antarctica and live in a wide variety of habitats as long as there is water nearby to hunt for fish. They are the second most widely distributed raptor species in the world, right after the Peregrine Falcon.

Considered a food specialist of sorts because it feeds almost exclusively on fish. They fly over a lake, river, or ocean looking for fish. If you have ever tied to look into water you know this is not easy. Osprey have eyes adapted to see into the water. Using tiny oil droplets inside their rods and cones within the eye, gives them vision that is equivalent to wearing polarized sunglasses. They can see right into the water with no problems. Try a pair of polarized sunglasses to experience this yourself.

When they spot a fish, Osprey often hover briefly, before diving down and plunging into the water feet first. Many times they hit the water so hard that they completely submerge themselves while grabbing the fish. They have built in nose plugs to keep the water out. They pop back up to the surface and shake off the water before flying off with their fish.  

Osprey are large birds weighing between 3 to 5 pounds. Which means they can’t lift more than their own body weight. So large fish over 5 pounds can’t be lifted off the water. If they do catch a fish that they can’t lift, they often “swim” to shore using their wings like boat oars. On average they take fish that are two pounds or less.

After a couple hours of waiting in my elevated photo blind, an adult Osprey with a fish appeared and I was able to capture some stunning images of this unique bird making all the preparation worth the time. Until next time…

Stan Tekiela is an author / naturalist and wildlife photographer who travels the U.S. to study and photograph wildlife. He can be followed on www.facebook.com and twitter.com. He can be contacted via his web page at www.naturesmart.com


Photo by Stan Tekiela

The nationally syndicated NatureSmart Column appears in over 25 cities spanning 7 states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania. It is a bi-weekly column circulated to over 750,000 readers.

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