Readers’ wildlife photos

April 4, 2021 • 8:30 am

by Greg Mayer (John Avise’s Sunday bird posts will resume in the near future.)

When I was in high school on Long Island, NY, I spent a lot of time on the Nissequogue River surveying the wildlife. At that time (early 1970s), the Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) was quite rare, and a bit of a “questing beast”. I only ever saw one, and it was later reported that an osprey had been illegally shot and killed shortly after in Ronkonkoma, several miles away from the Nissequogue– perhaps the same bird I saw.

I was thus thrilled to get a close view of one at Captree State Park on Oak Island during a visit in June, 2019. It was on the side of the road on a parkway interchange, and I began snapping pictures out of the window of my car.

Osprey

Oak Island is one of the barrier beach islands that encloses the Great South Bay on the southern shore of Long Island (Fire Island is the best known of these barrier islands), and Captree State Park encompasses its eastern end. As I watched and snapped photos, the osprey rose up.

It is carrying a modestly large, headless fish in its left talons. It may have already eaten the head, but it is also possible it snatched the fish away from some fisherman who had begun cleaning it. I continued snapping as it flew away.

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), Captree State Park, Oak Island, NY, June 16, 2019.

Up . . .

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), Captree State Park, Oak Island, NY, June 16, 2019.

. . . up . . .

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), Captree State Park, Oak Island, NY, June 16, 2019.

. . . and away!

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), Captree State Park, Oak Island, NY, June 16, 2019.

The osprey is a conservation success story. Their populations had been more than decimated by eggshell thinning due to pesticides. The NY Department of Environmental Conservation records that

Osprey numbers crashed in the early 1950s to 1970s, when pesticides poisoned the birds and thinned their eggshells. Along the coast between New York City and Boston, for example, about 90 percent of breeding pairs disappeared.

But after DDT was banned in NY in 1971, and with a widespread program of providing nest platforms, osprey populations have recovered nicely: in 1995 there were 230 nesting pairs on Long Island alone. They are no longer considered threatened, live side by side with people, and there are plenty of places to go see them.

A few minutes after taking these photos, I stopped at a Suffolk County park, Richard L. Brooks Memorial Park, also on Oak Island. (The park is named for a Babylon Town Bay Constable who was shot and killed by a drunk driver. In an eerie coincidence I did not know at the time of my visit, the constable had been a New York City policeman, like my father was; the constable’s son went to the same high school I did; and his son attended the US Naval Academy, which is where my daughter went to college. )

Richard Brooks Memorial Park, Oak Beach, Oak Island, NY, Oak Island, June 16, 2019.

There was an active osprey nest on a nesting platform at the Park, erected between the parking lot and the beach. The platform was about the height of a telephone pole (ca. 30 feet). (Indeed, I had to frame and crop the next photos to leave out the telephone wires.)

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) in nest atop a nest platform, Richard Brooks Memorial Park, Oak Beach, Oak Island, NY, June 16 , 2019.

The bird I saw minutes earlier might have been part of the pair at this nest, although I don’t think it was the same bird as in these later photos. Here’s as close as I could get with my lens. There were people tailgating in the parking lot, and sitting in folding chairs right below the platform–coexistence! Note the wickedly hooked beak– the better to tear up a fish, my dear!

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) in nest atop a nest platform, Richard Brooks Memorial Park, Oak Beach, Oak Island, NY, June 16 , 2019.

Although the ospreys I saw on Oak Island were my “closest encounter” with the recovered osprey population on Long Island, I had seen some out on Orient Point during a previous trip back to Long Island, again on nest platforms.

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) nest, Orient Point, Long island, NY, July 14, 2007.

These pictures are not Stephen Barnard or John Avise quality, but the second picture above is perhaps my best bird photo ever. (Remember, I’m a herpetologist, and used to looking down, not up!)

8 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. PIx were great! Isn’t spotting the subject at the right moment and getting a few good shots most of it? In the “beaked” one, it almost looks likes it’s wearing a coonskin cap.

  2. “the second picture above is perhaps my best bird photo ever”

    It really is a good one, and not only for a herpetologist!

    That is a heartwarming story. I remember the DDT battles incited by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Industry and agriculture fought a dirty war against its ban. But the 70s saw the blossoming of our environmental consciousness, and the rebounding Osprey and Peregrine and Bald Eagle populations are proof that Carson was exactly right and the opponents were liars.

    I fear that our more materialist culture of today would no longer get excited about an issue like that.

  3. Always glad to see the Osprey as we have one that occasionally perches on top of a power pole at the corner of our property in So Cal, backing onto a flood control channel that it presumably fishes in. No nest on our pole though. 🙁

  4. At the Great South Bay Music Festival in Patchogue several years ago, my favorite band Railroad Earth was playing when an osprey, with a big fish, flew right across the front of the stage.

  5. Much of the successful recovery of the osprey on eastern LI is due to the isolated Gardner’s Island that was privately owned and not sprayed. Thanks to them the osprey is just about our home town bird. I had one on my property on a creek off Shinnecock Bay for the last three summers but last summer due to high tides the high trees finally collapsed.It was right above where I sit at our pond birding and I was worried I would disturb it but it got used to me and bred successfully. However, there is still a nest opposite our creek that hatches young regularly and has done so for decades. The Bald Eagle is doing great now out east, with quite a few successful nests. An old decoy maker from whom we bought wonderful decoys told us that in his youth he saw Bald Eagles harassing and stealing fish from osprey on our pond! I have seen them on our shore but only in migration.

  6. Yep, I’d agree that the osprey has got the fish from a fisherman. In the first photo the fish’s belly looks wide open, indicating that it’s been gutted. Easier than catching your own!

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