The other day I had the privilege of watching a young osprey make a valiant attempt at catching a fish in the placid waters of the South Platte River just above the old dam at the entrance of Eleven Mile Canyon near Lake George, Colorado. I had watched these magnificent raptors grow from helpless chicks to ferocious predators over the last two months and after seeing the fishing effort I was inspired to create my newest video, “Osprey Family Grows Up“.
This journey began in June when I first discovered the nest along the river. Earlier in the spring I had also been watching a bald eaglet grow up and take flight but when that happened the activity at the nest was greatly diminished so I went up the canyon looking for additional subjects to photograph. I had heard their were raptors in the canyon but had never seen them for myself.
By the time I made this discovery the chicks were already fairly large and well developed. Their wings however weren’t fully formed and they were unable to catch air at all… all they could do was flap their stubby wings furiously and chirp for all they were worth!
At first I watched from the opposite river bank, straining my neck to see the nest, built on top of a dead pine tree at least 100 feet over the pristine river flowing below. After unsuccessfully scrambling over the rocks along the riverbank to photograph the parents in flight, my sights turned to the opposite side of the dirt road and a steep trail up the mountainside. I shouldn’t say trail, it was more of a faint path used by deer to access the wilderness on the east side of the rugged park but it was a way to scale the mountain!
I scrambled up the steep incline and found a suitable rock upon which to sit and stabilize my photography gear. Otherwise the mountainside was so steep that I would have surely fallen off the mountain in the heat of battle! I found another rock where my backpack was accessible and also safe from rolling down the hill onto the road 60 feet below. I considered bringing a tripod in on occasion but the spot was so precarious I decided against it which unfortunately means all my video footage is handheld and some of it a bit shaky. My primary goal is always of course still photography for my stock business but there were times when the chicks were chirping excitedly and a still image would have just been insufficient to take it all in.
I returned to the location at least weekly to check on the progress of the progress of the young raptors. While researching the habits of osprey I learned that the eggs can hatch up to a week apart and that became obvious as I studied the chicks. One was obviously ahead in development, he ate more food and appeared to be considerably stronger. He was also the first to catch some air, flapping his now fully developed wings and rising a foot or two off the nest while his sister looked on with great admiration.
During this time the offspring were of course unable to provide for themselves. I watched with fascination as the parents worked hard to keep the young ones fed. The father osprey would spend hours perched in a dead tree high over the nest watching for danger. The mother remained in the nest most of the time tending lovingly to her chicks She would occasionally leave the nest to retrieve sticks for nest building and sometimes to go catch a fish. The patriarch would also occasionally leave his perch for a few minutes before returning with a fish which he would just drop off before returning to his perch.
Eventually it became apparent the older sibling was about ready to fly so I returned daily hoping to witness the first adventure out of the nest. The mother osprey took on a new routine, leaving the nest to perch on a tree on the opposite bank. From there she would chirp loudly, as if she were encouraging the youngster to take the leap out of the nest. Finally the day came, the young osprey flapped his wings and rose up out of the nest. Then he just kept going and landed on top of a a massive rock slightly above the nest and about 30 feet away. There he strutted around proudly doing a happy dance which I wish I would have remembered to obtain video footage of, but I was so excited about getting pictures that I forgot all about it!
Then I began to worry that he wouldn’t be able to get back to the nest, but after about a half hour of strutting around he took a leap off the cliff, and soared high into the clear blue Colorado sky! At first he wasn’t too adept at landing, he wanted to come to rest on one of the many treetops but he kept missing them and finally found another huge rock to land on. His sister followed his success, taking flight about a week later.
Then for a while it appeared there were regular feedings, early in the morning, one around noon and one in the evening. The osprey seemed to know what time it was and one by one they would return to the nest where a fish would be brought in by mom and dad.
Now from my studies on the subject, there is no formal fishing training for the osprey. They just seem to figure it out for themselves. I noticed that the juveniles were making a lot of trips downstream so one day I decided to set up near the old dam with a good view of the placid water both upstream and downstream to see if I could figure out where they were fishing.
And then it happened, one of the young ones circled the water just above the dam and then swooped in for the kill. I was able to get some still images of the attack, including the splash down and the takeoff. While he was nearly submerged I became concerned that he would be unable to get out of the water and danger was ahead! The water in that area, although not whitewater is moving quite swiftly. If he were swept over the dam into the roiling water at the bottom he would
surely perish 🙁 I have since learned that osprey have no problem exiting the water, sometimes with great weight from a very large fish!
Unfortunately this attempt only yielded a bit of sea weed but I noticed him returning with a fish from further downstream on another day. Now I see both juveniles frequently fishing together but I have not been able to match my photographic success from the big day.
Now it is mid August and near the time when the osprey fly south to their winter location in central or South America. The adult osprey go first, leaving their offspring behind. The young ones have been known to remain for a few days gaining in strength and skill before they themselves take flight on the long journey south.
I will frequently return to the location until all the majestic birds have departed which will be a bittersweet day. I know that the time must come and it is part of the cycle of osprey life but I will miss the great birds as they have become a big part of my life this summer! I wish them luck and safety on their long odyssey and hope for their return next spring to repeat the cycle! I have learned that the adults return to the nest but the yearlings remain in the southern location for two or three years before striking out on their own to find a mate and reproduce.
I encourage you to watch the video, you will hear the chicks chirping loudly, the river roaring below, and see images not seen before. You will feel like you were there yourself to witness the whole reproduction cycle 🙂 Also, if you enjoy the footage please click the icon on the lower left to subscribe! And visit my video channel where you will find many more, including bighorn sheep, deer and the elk rut in Rocky Mountain National Park!
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