The bird was sitting so still and located so high up in the branches on the opposite shore that it was hard to spot. With Zen-like concentration the young Osprey was patiently fishing the River Raisin. It took me quite a while to spot it because I was directing my Zen at the rippling water, a nearby Fox Squirrel, and a cluster of tiny flitting warblers in the willows. While the sight of an Osprey isn’t unusual, the sight of one so late in the season is notable.
These elegant fish eagles are migrants and most of the population would normally be well on their way south by this time. When I say south, by the way, I mean SOUTH as in South America. They over-winter in the rain forests of Venezuela, Columbia and the Amazon – actually spending more time in the tropics than they do stateside. Since this destination is nearly 3,000 miles, and nearly a month, away from the Sycamores of the Raisin, it is not advisable to delay departure. This sighting prompted me to look into the migration records and see just how “out of season” this bird really was. The ultimate answer in this case borders on the fine line between fashionably and significantly late.
Fortunately, there are a lot of folks out there banding and tagging Ospreys. The answer to a question regarding Osprey promptness is only a computer key click away. With the current transmitter technology at play, it is possible to remotely track an individual on a daily basis and there are numerous sites which display these results (check out www.ospreytrax.com for one fine example). This also means that I can just sit at my computer in my “jams” and benefit from the hard work of others in order to share the following facts. Based on my extensive cyber-searching, I can state that a majority of the eastern Ospreys are booking to Brazil by late September and the first week in October.
One individual from the Ohio Valley was headed south by Sept. 20 and smoking cigars in Cuba by the 27th. It crossed into Columbia by Oct. 5 and arrived at the Amazon River basin in Brazil on October 14. Another bird left Martha’s Vinyard on Sept. 20 and settled in for a long stay in Venezuela by Oct. 15. Among the later records, an Oct. 4 departure (again from the Martha’s Vinyard) resulted in a flyover of Cuba by the 15th.
Closer to home, the hawk watchers at the Detroit River migration site at Lake Erie Metropark typically see a few southward bound Osprey crossing over from Canada through mid-October with a few stragglers extending into end of the month. To date, they have recorded only 8 birds for this season with half of those peaking around Oct. 10. Last year only 18 birds crossed over and most were through by Oct. 12. It is notable that two birds came over on the last week of October. See, I told you this fact and figure stuff can be infectious.
It has just been reported that a transmitter banded bird, “Monroe Spark” raised on a nest in Northern Monroe County, was already texting that it arrived in Cuba as of Oct. 18, 2013 and was Haiti bound (the same day I spotted my Osprey on the Raisin). My bird, therefore, was a late bird by even Monroe, Michigan standards. It is tempting to use the phrase “young and dumb” to describe such a late leaving lagger however that would ignore the fact that “Spark” is also a young bird.
Before closing, I probably should explain how I can state that my un-named bird was a young Osprey. Let’s name him “Late” just for the heck of it. Without banding evidence, it is impossible to judge age beyond a few years (they can live 20 + years and travel over 100,000 miles in a lifetime). Immature birds – aka young of the year -have dark orange eyes, breast speckling, and significant white scaling on the dark back feathers. Adults have intense yellow eyes and solid brown backs (females can retain some spotting/buffiness around the upper chest). Most of the young birds like “Late” stay down in the tropics a few years before returning to breed.
Finally, there is the issue of the fishing line dangling near “Late’s” perch. I didn’t notice this until looking at the images after the fact. From the angle of view it looked as if the line might have been entangled around the bird’s foot. As fisher birds, this is an all too frequent problem for Ospreys. Such a situation might be the cause of “Late’s” lateness, I thought.
I returned to the place by the river later in the day. The Osprey was gone and the fishing line was still hanging in place. It was probably dislodged from an earlier fish catch and was not entangled on the bird’s foot. Did “Late” finally leave for good? I can only hope that I should be receiving a post card from Brazil sometime on the week before Thanksgiving. It will read ”Acaba de llegar. Disfrutando el sushi aquí. Firmado Tardío (Late).”*
*Just arrived. Enjoying the sushi here. Signed Late.