Spring soon will bring the ospreys home to roost


IF ROBINS appear, can ospreys be far behind?

I saw my first robins just the other day; close-up, confirmed sightings. They were frolicking along Second Street in Eastport, looking none the worse for their flight north.

The ospreys usually begin to arrive around St. Patrick's Day, wending their way up the coast from Central and South America.

You hear them first, that curious, high-pitched whistle, and then spot them soaring low over the treetops. The smaller males come first, staking claims on the same nesting sites year after year. They swoop down the shoreline, snatching up twigs that have washed up from winter storms, or sweep across the treetops, snapping off the ends of dead branches with their massive talons.

From these bits of wood, the males begin to build nests, which grow to be 6 feet in diameter. The females appear later. They are females, after all; who knows what keeps them?

Ospreys are the surest signs of spring, of the renewal of life.

They sprang back from near extinction after we realized that the herbicide DDT was filtering into the ecosystem, poisoning the fish. Osprey who ate those fish laid eggs that had such thin shells few chicks lived to hatch.

Once we banned DDT, ospreys came back in force, and now there's one for practically every navigational marker with enough horizontal space to support a nest. They mate for life, and return to the same nesting site to raise two or three chicks each season.

A few summers ago, one of the neighborhood youngsters found an immature osprey trapped on the jetty at the mouth of Back Creek across from Eastport. It had fallen in the water and with soaked feathers it was helpless. I wrapped a towel around it so I could deliver it to the wildlife rescue clinic in Bowie. It was just a baby, still learning to fly, but it was huge, standing nearly 2 feet tall. Its talons looked formidable -- big and powerful. I was in awe.

It turned out that the osprey was not injured -- it just needed to dry off before it could fly home. If I'd known that, I wouldn't have risked traumatizing the poor thing by trying to rescue it. I should have counted on the osprey's resilience.

I'll be listening for them.

Other natural wonders of the region will be discussed in a lecture series at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center that will begin, rightly enough, just as the ospreys return.

James De Lorbe, the Edgewater center's new director of development, has invited the public to learn more about the "Ecological History of the Chesapeake Bay."

The nine-part series runs monthly beginning March 17, with a talk by Dr. Brett Kent of the University of Maryland on "Biological Communities of Chesapeake Bay evident in the fossil record."

Upcoming talks by pre-eminent scholars cover such fascinating topics as pre-Colonial inhabitants, buildout around the bay, the effects of dredging, and shellfish and finfish exploitation and restoration programs.

The Mills Corp. of Arlington, Va., is a sponsor of the series as well as of a traveling exhibit the center is preparing. The exhibit will educate Anne Arundel schoolchildren on the life of one of Maryland's most beloved creatures.

"Tales of the Blue Crab" will visit schools throughout the county beginning next month, after a reception to introduce the exhibit to Maryland lawmakers in Annapolis March 8.

For information on the exhibit or the lecture series, or directions to the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, call 410-798-4424, or visit their Web site at www.serc.si.edu.

Pub Date: 2/22/99

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