Delaware News

A walk in the park

Osprey chicks' progress enthralls

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There is a video that has been running in the nature center at Hogback Ridge Preserve for a couple of months. You'd think that with my office located in that park, I would have watched the entire thing, rather than just snippets now and again.

But no, I've been busy. It was not until one day last week, when a regular park visitor called to praise the video, that I took the 20 minutes or so necessary to watch it from start to finish. And I was enthralled, just like the caller had been.

As spring segues into summer this month, we'll be watching the osprey nests in the northernmost section of Alum Creek Reservoir with a lot of anticipation. For this year -- for the first time -- three of the four nests are active, with osprey pairs raising their young. (A pair of Canada geese raised their family on the other platform this year.)

Osprey-watchers believe some of the eggs may have hatched, although it takes 10 to 14 days after hatching before the baby ospreys' heads become visible above the edge of the large nest.

Alum Creek State Park adjoins Preservation Parks' Hogback Ridge Preserve, and the nests are visible from Hogback Road and a cliff-top parking area just off the roadway. It's fun to watch the adult ospreys swoop to the water and return to the nest with fish in their talons, ready to feed themselves and their young. Binoculars help, and spotting scopes are even better to catch the action.

But if you want a close-up look, nothing beats the video here at Hogback. Last spring, Preservation Parks volunteer Tom Domin spent hours shooting video of one of the osprey nests in Alum Creek. He edited the footage to condense 31/2 months of osprey activity into a half-hour video, which chronicles the life of one nest -- from shortly after the osprey returned from South America in mid-April until the babies started flying at the end of July.

The result is nothing short of amazing. The video starts with a variety of shots of the adult osprey pair hanging around their nest, appearing on the perch with large fish in their talons, and just living their lives above the waters of the reservoir.

After a while, I notice the birds are ducking their heads into the nest every now and then, doing ... what? Evidently, they are feeding their newly hatched young; this becomes evident when the tops of the little white baby heads start showing.

As time goes by, the chicks get more active, floundering around in the nest, lifting their heads for food and fluttering their wings. A few more minutes into the video, the babies have grown bigger, and prepare to take their first flights after a lot of wing flapping and stalling. They reminded me of my own children, when they were ready -- but not really ready -- to take that first solo bike ride down the driveway.

I actually felt proud of these young birds when they finally took off in flight, their mottled wings nearly matching the five-foot wingspan of their parents. And I could identify with the adult ospreys, standing silently -- side by side -- after their children had left the nest.

Even more poignant is the fact that these young osprey could just have easily not been born at all. From the 1950s -- when the use of DDT as an insecticide killed many birds and poaching further reduced their number -- until 2008, ospreys were an endangered species in Ohio. Reintroduction efforts that began in 1996 have been so successful that there were 105 osprey nests in Ohio in 2012, and the bird no longer is classified as a threatened species in the state.

We at Preservation Parks celebrate this success and invite you to do the same with a visit to Alum Creek Reservoir to view the nests, and a stop into Hogback Ridge Preserve, 2656 Hogback Road, to enjoy Tom Domin's amazing video.

Sue Hagan is marketing and communications manager for Preservation Parks of Delaware County.

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