2005-11-24 / Front Page

Conanicus – First adventure, the journey south to Cuba

By Sam Bari

Conanicus – First adventure, the journey south to Cuba

A six-month-old Jamestown osprey recently made his first southern migration. This is the story of his journey.

Between April 22 and 24 of this year, three eggs were laid in the osprey nest at Marsh Meadows in the Great Creek estuary on North Main Road here in Jamestown. The first egg hatched during the first week of June, and three osprey chicks were observed in the nest on the ninth of that month. Only two of the three survived to fledge.

Less than three months later, one of the two remaining osprey juveniles was fitted with a satellite transmitter worth $4,000 to be used to track his whereabouts when he left the nest, and to ultimately follow his fall migration. The young bird was called Conanicus, after the legendary Narragansett Indian chief for whom Conanicut Island was named. The capture and “fitting” of the transmitter took place on Sunday, Aug. 1, and was handled by Rob Bierregaard, a biology professor from the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.

On Aug. 16, Conanicus began exploring the U.S. mainland. He was tracked to two locations west of Jamestown along the Pettaqaumscutt River.

The Pettaquamscutt, also known as the Narrow River, is a small estuary in southern Rhode Island. With headwaters fed by the Gilbert Stuart Stream, the river empties into Rhode Island Sound.

On Aug. 24, Conanicus flew to New Bedford, Mass., a coastal community at the top of Narragansett Bay, before returning to Jamestown. He stayed in the Jamestown area for several weeks, building his strength for the journey ahead.

Conanicus finally cut the apron strings to begin his southern migration when he was barely three months old. Around noon on Sept. 17, he flew 78 miles west to Bridgeport, Conn. On Sept. 18, he picked up speed and was tracked 156 miles to the south at a point just west of Atlantic City, N.J., where he spent the night. Unfortunately, he did this when his transmitter was not transmitting. To save downloading costs, the transmitters are on for 10 hours and off for 24.

The osprey-meter now read 234 miles. At this point, he probably finished less than 10 percent of his migration.

Conanicus continued to push south. Under the cover of radio silence, he made another move on Sept. 19, and traveled 129 miles. Although the exact timing of his trip is not known, he surely passed over Cape May, and crossed Delaware Bay sometime during the day.

The first fix for him on Sept. 20 was a roosting site near Macedonia in the Virginia portion of the Delmarva Peninsula, where he is believed to have spent the night. Bordered by the Chesapeake Bay on the west, and the Delaware River, Delaware Bay, and Atlantic Ocean on the east, the Delmarva Peninsula’s northern isthmus is cut by the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. Around midday, Conanicus continued moving south. The osprey-meter now read 384 miles.

Conanicus was doing well. Exactly when he flew across the Chesapeake Bay is not clear. However, the next fix found him in North Carolina, just south of Currituck, around midday on Sept. 21. He then crossed Albemarle Sound, and three hours later was fast approaching Pamlico Sound.

He settled down for the night near Swanquarter, N.C., on the shores of Pamlico Sound. This inlet on the Atlantic Ocean lies between the eastern coast of North Carolina and a row of low sandy barrier islands where fish, oysters, and wildlife abound. Young Conanicus had now flown 538 miles.

On Sept. 22, he winged his way down the coast for 107 miles to roost about midway between Baldhead Island and Cape Lookout, a perfect place for a migrating osprey. Bald Head Island’s spectacular range of environments include 14 miles of ocean beach, 10,000 acres of protected salt marsh and tidal creeks, and a vast maritime forest preserve.

Point Lookout State Park is on a peninsula at the southern tip of Maryland in St. Mary’s County. It displays a beautiful water view where the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River meet.

Most birds cut the corner from Baldhead as they fly down the coast. Then they continue to Florida over the Atlantic. Although he seemed to be in a hurry, Conanicus did not take the over-water route from North Carolina to Florida, but hugged the coast. He had now flown 663 miles.

On Sept. 23, he moved another 164 miles and spent the night a bit south of Lake Moultrie, S.C., a wildlife sanctuary and bird hatchery fed by the Congaree and Wateree rivers. The lake narrows into a riverlike waterway lined by small coves fed by creeks and springs as it winds its way into the Atlantic Ocean — luxurious accommodations for a traveling osprey.

Just after 9 a.m., Conanicus was still near this roost site. By 2:40 p.m., he was tracked moving southwest down the coast, just across the border into Georgia. This was the last fix for the day, so where he spent the night is not known. But on Sept. 25, around 2 p.m., he was in Florida, a bit west of the St. Johns River. This is a favorite stop for migrating ospreys. He settled down near Ocala, west of Lake George. He had now flown 1,112 miles in nine days.

Conanicus then pushed south over Florida, crossed the warm waters of the Florida Straits and on to Cuba. He was first located over Cuba on Sept. 29. He flew south until he reached the Cienaga Zapata (Zapata Swamp), where he settled down. The swamp is an immense wetland that is apparently a prime osprey habitat.

Conanicus seems to have found the Zapata swamps in Cuba much to his liking, for he has been in the area for well over a month. A Cuban ornithologist, Freddy Santana, and his students have been monitoring the osprey migration for years in this area of southeastern Cuba, near Santiago, where Conanicus is wintering. Their record count for one day was 606 ospreys. Young Conanicus can make many new friends during his stay.

Where he will go next is difficult to say. He will not return to the Jamestown nest for two seasons. It is possible that he will winter in Cuba and head to Central or South America in the spring. However, this is not a certainty. Wherever he goes, it will be a great adventure. And when he returns to Jamestown and the home nest, he will have an exciting story to tell.

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