An Osprey Summer

Many of you know me as a journalist and I am that, but I was also involved in some osprey rescues and stories this summer that I will always remember. First, some background on my involvement with the rescues – when my daughter was born, I took a CPR course. If she needed help, I wanted to be able to provide it. Along the same idea, came the desire to help birds of prey. In 2012, I had two barred owls move into my backyard – they and their broods have been in my yard or nearby ever since. One day, as I often do, I was watching one of my owls perched on a branch, when it looked to me like the owl fell off the branch, landed in some leaves and didn’t move. I panicked. I didn’t want to go near it because I have an unwritten rule with my owls not to invade their space. After about 20 minutes of worrying and pacing, I called Natural Resources Police (NRP) dispatch and I’m quite sure they must’ve thought I was crazy as I explained my owl fell down and needs help. While on the phone with NRP, the owl got up and took off. Later I posted this on Facebook and a friend (who has since retired from NRP) suggested the bird was probably sunning itself. It’s okay to laugh now. From that ridiculous and embarrassing experience, I decided I wanted to be better prepared if something really did go wrong with my owls. 

Barred owl sunning itself (not needing rescue).
Juvenile barred owl from a brood in 2016.

In the winter of 2018/19, I saw a notice on Facebook for a raptor rescue and rehabilitation class for the public at Tuckahoe State Park. Shortly before this notice, I reported about this class and at that point, it was only for wildlife first responders – NRP, animal welfare agencies, etc.

Now that the class was opening up for the public, I signed up. The Maryland Park Services staff and volunteers at Tuckahoe showed us the basics of saving birds of prey. If you like birds and haven’t been to Tuckahoe, they have some top notch people and an aviary full of birds of prey – it’s well worth a visit.

Me holding a red-tailed hawk in the raptor rescue and rehabilitation class at Tuckahoe State Park in January 2019.

The spring of 2019 started out with questions about an osprey nest platform that had come down, with the BGE utility pole it was on, in the fall of 2018 – when the pole came down, it was after the birds had left for their winter homes. When that happened, I was told by BGE another platform would be up for the birds by the time they returned.

As we were getting closer to that point where the ospreys were supposed to return, a friend reached out and reminded me about it – the platform had not been put up yet. What happened next was a series of emails, phone calls and site visits inquiring why the platform hadn’t gone back up. These birds had made their home at this location, the base of the South River Bridge in Edgewater, for years. BGE was trying to help, but there were some issues they couldn’t get past. I won’t go into all of that here, because it’s not necessary, but I was feeling discouraged and sad for the birds that would be arriving back to find their home gone. But then an email arrived from Richard Yost from BGE, who had been involved with this from the beginning. He wrote, ”  Hi Donna – great news! We will be installing a pole/platform right next to the old platform location.” This took a lot of work behind the scenes to make this happen and I don’t mean just by me.

As the pole and platform went up, I was there to tell the story and I still can’t believe the second the BGE crew finished, the two ospreys showed up and started setting up house. It was one of the most heartwarming moments I’ve ever witnessed. All of us there, including the BGE crew, watched the ospreys for the next 10 minutes. I’m happy to report, the ospreys had another brood over the summer and I’m fairly certain the entire family has since migrated to their winter homes. I look forward to seeing them back in March – this is the closest osprey nest to my house.

In July, a friend reached out about an osprey in Edgewater that was on the ground and not flying. I reached out to Bob Baltz, a volunteer for the Maryland State Park’s Scales & Tales program – Bob helped with the raptor rescue class at Tuckahoe. He wasn’t available, but he suggested I contact Nancy McDonald. Nancy rescued that osprey and took it to Owl Moon Raptor Center – unfortunately, the bird didn’t make it.  

Early August brought the osprey rescue on Greenbury Point at Naval Support Activity Annapolis. I’m fairly sure for all of us involved in that one, we won’t ever forget it. After trekking over a huge piece of property. we found the needle in the haystack (the osprey) and with an amazing group of people, we were able to get the bird down. The osprey had fishing line wrapped around its toes and talons, which is why it was hanging from the tree. Nancy transported the osprey to Owl Moon, where it later died. I’m certain its death at Owl Moon was more humane than dying in a tree alone and upside down. 

Towards the end of August, Nancy asked if I’d like to go on an osprey renesting with her. I jumped at the chance. After unfortunate endings with the last two rescues, it’d be nice to see a happily-ever-after story. As far as I know, this was one.

I thought, nearing the end of September, my osprey summer would be over – because they should be migrating. But on September 22, Suzanne Shoemaker from Owl Moon called me and told me she needed help with another osprey, also seen by a boater and also hanging upside down in a tree. The bird had fishing line wrapped around its toes/talons, which is, again, why this one was also hanging upside down in a tree. It also had a fish hook embedded in its back. This osprey was transferred from Owl Moon to Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research in Delaware for surgery. Last I heard (on September 24) from Lisa Smith, director of Tri-State, “the bird is on pain medication and receiving supportive care. As for release, osprey are migratory and begin migration in September, so release location is not as important now as it would be during nesting season. We will likely release the bird in the closest suitable location to minimize the stress of travel and confinement in a carrier. ” This was, again, an unforgettable experience with an amazing team of people.

If you see fishing gear out there, please pick it up and dispose of it properly.

My osprey summer was one to remember. It brought some heartbreak, but it also brought a lot of wonderful people into my life – from those who work to rehabilitate injured wildlife, to the volunteers who rescue birds, to those who train future rescuers and, of course, the firefighters who just want to save lives and work so hard to do it.  This was a summer to remember. As a journalist, I’ll continue to report on stories that involve the humans and wildlife of the Chesapeake Bay area. In my spare time, I’ll be helping, when and where I can, with bird rescues and continuing as a monitor for the Maryland Bald Eagle Nest Monitoring Program.

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