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Nest Location Description:
There are 20 active nests in Gulf Islands National Seashore Park - Fort Pickens in Florida. I visited today and all the pairs are extremely active with nest building. Three of the nests are on platforms and the others are in dead trees.
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I have been visiting the nests at least once a week at Fort Pickens to check for changes. All but one of the nests seems to be doing fine. In all but 2 nests I still cannot see the chicks. I caught a glimpse of several fuzzy white heads at one of the nests at Battery Cooper. One of the most established nests at Battery Worth now has 3 fledgling chicks that all appear to be healthy. I have uploaded an image of that nest. They were all calling for their other parent to bring them some more food! (image). One of the nests at Battery Worth has been abandoned. It was a sturdy and large nest, but the Osprey pair probably was driven off because they built it directly along one of the busiest pathways from the Battery parking lot to the sound side beaches. I am sure they were not happy with the amount of gawkers they accumulated. Yesterday I noted that several Osprey came and landed on that nest and tree, but did not stay or tend the nest for any length of time. The Ospreys that had been attempting to take over the Great Blue Heron’s nest near the youth camp area finally drove the herons off. The heron nest was small enough that if they had any chicks they would have been visible and I was there often enough to have noticed them. I saw an adult heron in a tree not far from the former nest almost curled up and bleating as if in sorrow. Obviously I can’t make that correlation, but it still seemed so sad. (Image). The supply of food is abundant both in the sound and in the Gulf. My photo goal this summer is to catch one of the Osprey grabbing a fish from the water. The difficulty is trying to predict where they will go to hunt – they have miles of coastline to choose from. The crows in the park try to raid all of the nests in the park including the Ospreys. One of the pair of Osprey is almost always either on the nest, or very close by. Yesterday the Mockingbirds were making a real effort to pummel the invading crows. I caught a shot of one chasing a crow into a tree where an Osprey was perched nearby it’s nest. (Image). It is becoming very hot in the panhandle quite early which may prove a difficulty for the birds since their chicks are still quite young. A number of the adult Ospreys were perched in trees with their wings slightly spread to cool and some seemed to be panting. This was early in the morning as well so hunting will take a lot of energy in the heat.
I just got back from the Florida Birding and Photo Festival in St Augustine, but had to go and check out the island. Someone should put up the No Vacancy sign! I did my rounds and was still stymied as to an actual nest count. I have posted a few shots as to my dilemma. The dead trees are prolific and the trails between the main road and the sound are bisected by RV campgrounds and bike trails. I have yet to find a really good topical map of the island so I can establish where some of the off trail nests exactly are. That said, all the nests seem to be doing fine. The Great Blue Herons are still on their nests, but I would have expected to see some youngsters by now since they were some of the first to nest. Perhaps they have laid another set of eggs? I think I caught one of the most mature Osprey nests with a chick ( that seems a bit mature) in Battery Worth in a dead tree. (Photo). Now mind you , I closely watch the entire drive into and out of Fort Pickens. Today, after being gone over a week, I found a new nest that I KNOW was not there before, and is so far from the pack of other nestors that I almost drove off the road! (photo). I have no idea what they have lined their nest with and the area is off limits because of Tern nesting. I couldn't stop and wait to see the Osprey coming and going because it can only be viewed from the main road to the park where there is no stopping or parking. If that nest had been there before I left, there would be NO way I would have missed it! I heard an interesting story from a ranger at Fort Pickens. The infamous beach ball water tower at Casino Beach on the island is currently being repainted. While one of the painters was atop the ball he kept encountering Osprey that wanted to make a nest there. He had to keep them from trying since they had only completed their primer coat but was amazed one day when they finally showed up with someone's hoodie sweatshirt as part of their building material. Maybe these two are the one that have lined that new nest with what looks like plastic! The Osprey pair that worked so hard to reinforce their nest now has a mass of dead pine boughs that cover and line their digs. These birds are so clever and resourceful. They also simply love to soar. When nest duty doesn't call I watch them as many of them go high and simply catch thermals and soar around. They are amazing birds.
I visited Fort Pickens Park again early this morning. (4/21/12). The weather threatened rain and finally chased me away before I could do my full rounds of the nests, however I found 2 more new nests in progress!! Holy Smokes - according to my verifiable count, that makes 19!!! My latest images are of just the two new nests. One is in Battery Worth park and is right on the walking path from the parking lot to the sound. The second is almost roadside in the Battery Cooper area. I saw the Ospreys coming and going from this nest, but it began raining before I could get back to it and capture images. All the rest of the established nests now have one parent on the nest at all times. I observed chick feeding behavior at the mature platform nest at Battery Worth. My lonely bachelor Great Blue Heron that the Ospreys keep picking on has found himself a mate!! Not sure if there will be room for them to find a nest though. When all these birds and their young start flying they are going to need Pensacola NAS air traffic controllers!
I visited the park again on 4-7-12. Once again I found a new pair of Osprey that have started another new nest! This brings a confirmed total of 17 nests in the park! The new couple were so fun to watch. They seemed to perhaps still be courting because they spent a lot of time in the air circling each other and calling back and forth. The other Ospreys in nearby nests joined them in checking the new couple out. They would both grab branches and sticks and simultaneously bring them into their new nest they are creating in a dead tree. What I believe is the male Osprey has a very beautifully marked chest and is quite distinctive. All the other nests were active, but it seemed on 3 or 4 nests now one parent was constantly laying tucked down into the nest and when relieved by a partner, the other Osprey did the same. The temps were a bit cooler yesterday and there was a good wind so perhaps the eggs were getting chilled. Still no little heads popping above the nest edges. The Great Blue Herons are really taking a beating. There are so many Osprey that one heron will constantly now be down on the nest while the other flies low and tries to hunt. I witnessed to 'attacks' on what appeared to be male GBH's while I was in the park. I have uploaded some of the exceptional shots I got of the newbies. There was also some reconstruction going on in one of the Battery worth tree nests that looked like the winds were taking a toll on it. Just a gorgeous day at Fort Pickens!
On 4-1-12 I found that the Osprey pair that had been eying the Great Blue Heron nest had established a nest in the tree they had been hanging around. You can see the droopy limb in both the before (3-25) and after ( 4-1) photos. This nest along with another new nest that is on the sound side of the main trail between the Fort and Battery Worth bring my total to 13. This total is definitely an underestimate. The hunting is non-stop with flying fish going from the Gulf and the Sound to all the different nests and some being munched in nearby trees. When I was driving in I saw an Osprey carrying a mammal that looked like a rabbit to it's roadside nest. I was in traffic and couldn't take an image. It is just amazing to see the air traffic as the Ospreys soar about the island. I have not seen any babies yet but a camper related that she had. It shouldn't be long now though!
I visited Fort Pickens again on Sunday 3-25-12.There are so many Osprey in the park you can't turn around without seeing one. One of the campers related to me that a biologist camp greeter told him there are 22 Osprey pairs in the park. I can't confirm that, but it wouldn't surprise me. It appears that perhaps due to high winds a pair of Osprey has abandoned a platform nest on the sound side of the park. It was active as of my last visit, but after 20 minutes of observation I saw no birds approach the platform and the nest appears very flat as if there has been no additional building going on. There is a pair of osprey that are frequenting the top of a dead tree not to far inland from the platform. The tree doesn't seem like a good candidate for a nest. It appears they may be trying to challenge a pair of nesting Great Blue Herons for a nest they have established for several months now. I witnessed a challenge yesterday when the herons were trying to do a trade off and one of the Ospreys came and chased the flying bird off and then circled above the mate in the nest for a time. Since the herons have been there for so long, I am sure they either have eggs or perhaps youngsters. I would hate to see them run off or killed, but I guess that' life in the tall trees. The rest of the nests are doing well and even with the high winds we have had, I think the warm temps are helping the birds maintain nest temps. I wish I could see if there are eggs in in the 11 nests I am watching, but I'd need wings to figure it out! Even the cemetery nest has taken shape nicely now.
All the rest of the nests are very busy. The pair that took over the damaged cemetery nest is doing a good job of fixing it up. Not sure what the red tape stuff is hanging out of it.. I watched the platform nest at Battery Worth for some time and saw one of the pair flying in fish and dropping it into what I thought was an empty nest. I went to watch the second snag nest not to far away from the platform and that's when I noticed what I think was the female hovered down on the nest. I still think she has babies although it was too windy today to be able to hear any voices coming from the nest. I find it just a thrill to watch these wonderful birds in action. I have been trying to figure out where they are hunting fish, but they streak off the nests so quickly and are back literally in minutes with fish or nesting material I still am not sure. After spring break I am going to stake out Battery Worth beach very early and see if I can get a lucky image or two.
I have now counted 11 active nests in the park. I couldn't believe I missed a fairly large nest that is located adjacent to the Park maintenance area and shed. It is in a dead tree and is actually fairly low. Perhaps that is why I didn't see it before. The female was on the nest as I started to walk up the driveway, but about that time a Park worker came out of the barn and started up a truck which sent her off. Pop can be seen in the image with the land mover just off to the left.
There are now 9 nests at Fort Pickens (I actually think there are more, but I have counted and photoed 9). The latest is a nest the early arrivals ignored because it had suffered so much weather damage. All the rest of the nests are very active. I believe one of the platform nests located at Battery Worth has hatchlings. While I observed the nest for about 15-20 minutes the female spent nearly all her time with her tail in the air and head down in the center of the nest. I can't imagine it would take her that long to eat a fish. I also think I could hear the babies chirping. I did not see activity like this on the other nests. The weather in the panhandle has been rather wicked with strong winds and blowing rain which had made me fearful that some of the old dead trees might fall, but so far - so good. The Great Blue Herons are hanging in there as well, but they do seem to be fearful of the Ospreys. Today's weather got into the 80's which freed up some of the adults from nest duty and they seemed to enjoy the sunny warm day to soar around the park. It's spring break so the park is loaded with all kinds of people, but the Osprey seem to be taking them in stride.
Please see my other photos of the nesting birds on my Flickr account. http://www.flickr.com/photos/cathy_hennessy/sets/72157629149864280/ I have been watching Fort Pickens since last year. There is a small resident population of Ospreys in the park. The rest returned around Jan 16. They have now established paired nests and are very actively building and lining nests. There are 3 platform nests that are occupied and five dead tree nests. A number of the Osprey nests are very close to Great Blue Heron nests which may prove interesting. This is the highest number of Osprey nests I have seen in this park. There is plentiful fishing and the birds are protected. I am crossing my fingers that we will not have any hurricanes this year.