I set out this morning for an ordinary wildlife photo shoot in Eleven Mile Canyon. As I entered the area I spotted both bald eagles on the nest but opted to continue on up the canyon in hopes of something new. There was no obvious action at the osprey nest as I cruised by, so I continued upstream in hopes of spotting an eagle or a great blue heron fishing along the headwaters of the South Platte River.
Unfortunately I made it all the way to the big dam at Eleven Mile Reservoir without seeing a thing, took a short break and headed back downstream. As I neared the twin tunnels I thought I spotted a large bird on top of a tree high on the opposite bank. This is a very narrow and high stretch of the dirt road so it was difficult to locate a spot wide enough to stop… but I finally found a place next to a clearing in the tall pines. Sure enough, a bird on a tree… closer inspection through the big lens showed it to be an osprey. Great, I thought! I have discovered where the osprey like to hang out and fish! Something I’ve been searching for without success for some time!
I aimed my camera out the window and took a couple of still shots and then waited for the flight. Unfortunately, the flight came but I failed to properly focus and the shots were a bust. I watched the raptor fly downstream and I thought I spotted where he found a new tree. As I arrived at the new location I was surprised to observe a second osprey flying in. The first osprey upon spotting the second puffed out his chest and flapped his wings. My guess was this must be some kind of greeting or a show of happiness to alert the other one to his location.
I was surprised to see the second one because I am fairly convinced that the mother osprey is sitting on eggs and it would be highly unlikely for her to leave them unless there was already a failure to produce results. After a bit they both flew off and I continued my journey downstream. I saw one of them high on a tree on top of the opposite ridge but I didn’t stop as he was way out of range of my 400mm lens.
Eventually I was back at the nest where there was no obvious action. I decided to climb to my vantage point anyway, hoping to see mother osprey still sitting on eggs. As I observed the nest I thought I could see a couple of black feathers sticking above the rim of the nest but I couldn’t be sure if they were moving or if the wind was just blowing them. Eventually I was happy to see the white head of the female moving around between the loose sticks on the top of the nest.
Then I heard a familiar screech… Father osprey was sitting on a dead tree about 50 yards downstream. Hmmm… I didn’t see any of the osprey flying downstream, could there be four osprey in the canyon? As I look over the pictures I’m inclined to think so, the ones that I photographed upstream have a young look about them. I know that yearlings aren’t supposed to return from down south for a couple more years, but could it be that last year’s pair have returned to the canyon? Or perhaps these two have raised chicks in other years that are finally ready to return. Perhaps they are a migrating pair looking for a suitable place to nest. Anyway, it is quite an exciting event to have more than one pair of osprey in the area!
I was lucky to snap a couple of images of the male osprey flying up to check on his mate before he took up his normal post high above the nest where he can watch for predators. I would have stayed longer but there is another winter storm moving into Colorado and in the shade on that cold rock in the canyon I was starting to get pretty chilled so I decided to move downstream to check on the bald eagles.
Along the way I heard quite a chirping commotion from the rocks along the river so of course I had to pull over and investigate. Standing proudly on a boulder out in the middle of the stream was a cute little grey bird known to us in these parts as an American Dipper. They are amazing little birds that sit on the rocks or along the shore looking for small fish. Occasionally you will see them submerge in
the water and come up with a prize. I’ve seen them swim underwater for several feet while chasing their prey. They are quite fun to photograph and one of these days when they are particularly active I am going to capture some video footage so everyone can see these sturdy little birds in action !
Both eagles were on the nest when I pulled in but while I was getting my camera ready the father eagle flew off. Then to my consternation the mother was nowhere to be found either. I observed the nest for a bit as one of the little ones was stretching his stubby wings… flight is already on his mind 🙂 Soon I spotted the second chick and then… there he was, a third eaglet. We have three growing eagle chicks in one nest! The turkey vultures overhead began to worry me a bit and then all of a sudden mama eagle flew in out of the trees. She was never far off after all and soon the vultures were circling the mountains from a much more comfortable distance. This was the best photograph I could get of the three little birds, catching them at all at a distance of probably 100 yards is a surprise to me! I watched for a while until I began to worry that one was going to get shoved out of the nest. I know it is unlikely that all three will survive to flight but I didn’t want to be the one to witness the inevitable unfortunate event 😦
So it was a stunning morning indeed. We may have another osprey nesting pair and hopefully three new eagles will be catching some air in about 10 weeks!
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