The Mast-Head: Osprey as Harbingers

Spring might have arrived, or so the calendar says, but I have yet to see an osprey. Nor have the peeper frogs in the swamp nearest to the house begun to chirp; it was cold this week, so, perhaps wisely, they remained in the mud. As for the fish hawks, they are around — if one knows where to look or has the time.

Bruce Collins phoned on Friday to say he had seen a pair on a pole nest alongside ScuttleholeRoad. Jane Bimson was able to get a photograph of one, a first-year adult, I think, on a tree limb at the edge of Fort Pond in Montauk. Tim Garneau went looking around Alewife Creek, and while he did not find any, the peepers were in full throat. 

From this limited sample, it seems the early birds go where the fish are. The still very cold bay has scarcely come to life yet, save for the shell-eaters, long-tail ducks, and other divers that can get by in the depths of  winter. Osprey looking around at freshwater places like Mill Pond in Water Mill and Fort Pond are more likely to scare up a meal.

Why fish hawks matter can be ascribed to a number of things, not the least of which is their size, soaring habit, and spectacular dives. But there is more, I believe. Arriving suddenly as they do here in mid-March, they are a harbinger of nicer days ahead. And at another level, their annual cycles tie us into something greater than ourselves, patterns that have endured over tens of thousands of years. We are reassured when they arrive once again that despite all the crises of life, the world spins on.