Welcome to Commodore Park, Seattle … home of the 18th weir and today’s main event.
In the red corner, weighing 4.4 pounds, with a wingspan of 70 inches, coming straight off a 1200-mile migration …
And in the blue corner, the opponent, weighing 1.2 pounds … undefeated with 172 professional, aerial wins …
I photographed this series in the days after our second Osprey landed at Commodore Park … returning two weeks after his mate arrived at the platform. The female worried us in her solitude. Her guy usually joins her within a few days, but this year he was taking his sweet Osprey time.
The female arranged twigs in the nest as she waited. She added –I saw sticking out from the nest — a piece of PVC tubing to the decor.
She caught an occasional starry flounder in Elliott Bay. She sunned herself on the railroad bridge. She watched Bald Eagles drift upward without flapping, catching thermals overhead — and she fended off neighboring Ospreys who showed too much interest in her platform real estate.
I wondered if she knew. Could she hear or understand that somehow he was on his way? The two migrate separately, after all, and they still find themselves at the same spot, on nearly the same day, year after year. Is it really inconceivable that she might know his whereabouts, even without a GPS tracker?
He did arrive, finally. I got an email from an Osprey watcher with a spotting scope pointed at the nest: “He’s home,” she wrote. And, just minutes after that, the resident crow sentries homed in on the new interloper as well.
The crows are incessant in their mobbing when the Ospreys first arrive. It’s a behavior that tapers off over the weeks as the Ospreys settle into nesting. The crows then direct their squadron maneuvers at Bald Eagles and Cooper’s Hawks. This strategy has the side benefit of protecting the local Great Blue Heron rookery at the same time.
John Marzluff and Tony Angell describe crow mobbing behavior this way:
“Hawks, owls, eagles, raccoons, cats, foxes, coyotes and even people are often the subjects of mob aggression by hysterical crows. To crows these are all predators, having at one time or another been caught by a crow in the act of preying on nestlings or older family members. While calling loudly, members of the mob orchestrate strafing runs at the potential predator, often striking it. Blows so delivered can cut people, knock small predators from their perches, and may even kill some predators. . . .
The ability of mobs to move predators out of high-use areas is especially important for securing nightly roost sites. This is why owls detected during the day are vigorously mobbed — they are often forced to move so that when they begin hunting after the sun sets, they are likely to be far from vulnerable, sleeping crows.” ~ In the Company of Crows and Ravens (p. 176-177)
On the platform, the Ospreys note the crow approach. My camera settings rendered the crow a figment against overcast skies, and figments seem better served by black and white.
After many close passes, both Ospreys decide to dip down from the nest.
They ditch the crows and circle the area, calling out to each other before returning to their digs. But, a crow is right on top of that plan as well …
… with no particular concern for intimate, Osprey relationship bonding.
One Osprey takes off to go fishing. The crow stays behind to visit.
The Osprey returns later with a piece fish in the left talon. The crow does a flyby to check out that development, too. (lower left).
The Osprey flies the fish meal to the top of the train bridge, where the crow summons reinforcements — for possible fish scraps (Osprey circled in red).
The train bridge is a fixture in Osprey life at Commodore Park, where one or both birds often perch while eating their fish.
The crows do eventually go back to their business of foraging in the mussel beds along the adjacent Ballard Locks spillway.
And the Ospreys get some shut eye, shaking off the miles from Seattle to California and beyond … wherever our two friends journey in the winter before reconnecting with each other and with their Seattle corvid entourage.