2007-04-05 / Front Page

Osprey return to Great Creek Marsh

By Sam Bari

Comet in his nest last Fall Photo by Deb Seger-Pini Comet in his nest last Fall Photo by Deb Seger-Pini The male and female osprey residing at Great Creek Marsh have finished their spring migration and returned to the North Main Road nest, Chris Powell, scientist at the Wildlife and Fisheries Division of the state Department of Environmental Management, reported.

The male arrived on Sunday, March 25, and the female followed several days later, arriving Wednesday, March 28, he said. The two can be seen online 24- hours a day at www.conanicutraptors. com/webcam. The camera has been moved closer to the nest for a better view of the birds, Powell reported.

Powell, who co-chairs the Conanicut Island Raptor Project (CIRP), also said that the two osprey poles donated by the Petrie and O'Farrell families in the Beavertail area are up and ready for guests. Bill Munger erected the pole and platform on the O'Farrell property, while Archie Clarke donated the use of his backhoe and put up the pole on the Petrie property. Both families donated $1,000 apiece to the CIRP to have the poles and platforms installed on their land. The money will be applied to transmitter time for the birds that have been fitted with transmitters for tracking purposes. Transmitter time costs about $1,000 per month, Powell said.

"Poles and nests are in quite a few places throughout the island," Powell added. He listed the George Neal farm as having a new pole, and South Pond, Melrose school, the Fox Hill Farm at Dutch Harbor, and the old communications towers at Beavertail as having poles and platforms occupied by birds last year.

Dr. Rob Bierregaard, the biology professor from the University of North Carolina Charlotte, who fitted Conanicus and Comet, the male siblings from Jamestown, with transmitters, said that Conanicus will be returning to the area in about a month. Conanicus spent two years in the Zapata Swamp in Cuba after leaving the nest at Great Creek in 2005.

He also said that Conanicus' younger brother, Comet, hatched in 2006, migrated south and stopped in Cuba where Conanicus had settled. Comet then moved on to South America where his last transmission was in October of last year. This means that the transmitter could have malfunctioned, fallen off, or not received enough sun to recharge and transmit. There is also a chance that the bird has perished. Unfortunately, the mortality rate for fledgling ospreys is in the neighborhood of 80 percent, he added. "We're lucky to have done so well with Conanicus," Bierregaard said. "He's survived for two years and has a good chance of returning to the area."

When asked if Conanicus would mate, Bierregaard said that he wouldn't mate this year, but would scout the area to see what nesting facilities were available. He went on to say that raptors often pick a mate in their third year, but don't produce young until their fourth year. Then they'll produce an average of two fledglings per season until they get older and slow down. He mentioned that they live for about 14 or 15 years, and sometimes a few more.

"During their third year, if they pick a mate, they'll set up housekeeping and develop their instincts," Bierregaard said. "They kind of play house and learn how to live together and figure out how to mate," he added. "Generally, they take their time. I expect Conanicus to return to Cuba in the fall. When birds find a place they like, they traditionally migrate to the same spot for the rest of their lives. They're creatures of habit." He also said that Conanicus wouldn't find a mate until he returned to the area where he was hatched. "Raptors don't mate when they're away from home," he mentioned.

Betsy Gooding, who co-chairs CIRP with Powell, said that Conanicus' parents are a successful breeding pair, having produced Conanicus in 2005 and Comet in 2006 as well as other siblings. Conanicus and Comet were the only two selected to be fitted for transmitters, she said. Then she mentioned that the transmitters were made possible through a CIRP partnership with the Rhode Island Audubon Society. "They purchased the devices while CIRP paid for the download time," she said. She went on to say that CIRP is sponsored by the Jamestown Education Foundation. "Anyone wishing to donate to the project can earmark their donations to the JEF for the raptor project and the money will go directly to the CIRP," she said.

Powell is scheduled to give a talk on raptors and the CIRP on April 19 at the library. He said that he would include information on the history of birds and migrations, crediting the meticulous and comprehensive records kept by Mabel Davenport, known as the island bird lady when she was alive.

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