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The Mast-Head: Osprey on High

Thu, 05/09/2024 - 09:36

Riding around a few days ago, I noticed something that I had not seen in a very long time. A pair of osprey had built a nest on a floating dock in Coecles Harbor, not only on the dock, but on top of a bunch of mooring buoys and poles that had been left there. This was the first instance that I had seen in maybe 50 years of osprey erecting one of their formidable breeding piles at ground level.

During the 1960s, there were few fish hawks around, as most folks around here know, their population crushed by a pesticide — DDT — that, among other things, made their eggshells weak. Yet there were still a few around, most, if not all, on Gardiner’s Island where we could see their nesting mounds on the treeless sandspit at Bostwick Point from our boat.

Handing my siblings and me his old Navy binoculars, my father would point out the plastic toys and bits of shiny or colorful junk that the ospreys added to their piles. I don’t believe that these birds do that all that much anymore. Or maybe there is less junk like that to spread around. Or perhaps it is just a hassle to deal with garbage atop a nesting pole.

Osprey are now ubiquitous on Long Island. During my son’s East Hampton Middle School baseball game against Pierson-Bridgehampton last week at Mashashimuet Park in Sag Harbor, there was some discussion if a fly ball hit just right might reach a pair nesting on top of the center-field lights. A ball did eventually disrupt the flight path of one of the two birds, but, noticing the minor threat coming, it tilted and winged away.

Cold spells, baseballs, and pesky small birds notwithstanding, an osprey’s life seems a good one. Nothing much bothers them in their high places, and unsuspecting meals of fish can be plucked from the water whenever their appetite demands.

In a related matter, Christopher Gangemi, who writes about birds and birding for The Star, sought to correct me in my assumption that a bird whose call sounds to me like “trick or treat” was a tufted titmouse; an eastern towhee, he said, was more likely. I disagreed; towhees suggest, “drink your tea” in a timid vibrato. The bird I heard then, subsequently recorded at Chris’s request, had a more confident, whistle-like tone — three notes repeated endlessly from its perch in a high tree. I remain unsure about what sort of bird it was.


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