Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The story of Rose's first flight

This is the story of the osprey chick, Rose, and her successful fledging on Saturday, August 22nd.  It is a very long story.  It began at 9:40 a.m. and it ended close to eight hours later.  It filled up two 2GB memory cards, and it ran through one fully charged battery and part of a second.  I apologize for the poor quality of the pictures.  There is only one opportunity in such situations, and I unfortunately did not come through as I had hoped I would.  I have forgiven myself, though.  The pictures do tell the tale, and I will forever be thankful for the gift of being there.

To understand Rose's flight, it helps to take a look at the big picture, which I took a couple of days later, in order to have a reference point as I went through the photos.  Take time to click on just this one.  It shows her nest on the post in the front right hand corner, a three-together-post behind that, two more pylons behind that.  There are pylons all around, forming a kind of square.  The last one at the left front corner did not make it into the picture.  You can see two small white boats at the back, with some logs in front, and though you can't really see them, there are seals in front of those logs.  There are three large boat houses at the back on the left, then, as you come around the corner four more large boat houses, and then a row of smaller ones.  There is also a huge barge behind those white boats.  There are six huge red cranes at the back, divided three and three, with a space in between.  Then, you can see a tiny little dot to their right that is Science World, then some buildings, and finally the white sails of Canada Place Convention Centre.  On the day of Rose's flight, there was a cruise ship just in front of Canada Place.  Finally, in the second picture, you can see a large barge quite a distance off to the right.  That is where the parents sat for at least part of the time, observing Rose's adventure.

There had not been a lot of action when I watched Rose on Friday, but I had a feeling about Saturday, and I wanted to be there really early.  In fact, Black Jack and I did not arrive until 9:30.  My friend, Dianne, was there, with her dog, Haley.  I was happy to see them, and relieved to see that Rose was in her nest.  I quickly took Black Jack out of the carrier that she stays for bike travel, and got the camera out of its case.
Rose was busy hopping up and down, something I had seen her do a lot of in the past week.  
But suddenly, as I looked through the camera lens, there was no Rose.  As you can see, my hand started to shake.
I think it was at that point that I passed Black Jack to Dianne (Thank you, Dianne!), and someone helped me find Rose, by now flying low over the seals.  I suspect that seal felt the brush of Rose's wings, as she flew by.
She gained a little height here, and turned right, flying past the six cranes.
Just after passing the 6th crane, she made the turn to go back.
Here, she has just retraced the flight, passing the 6 cranes again.
She flies over the barge behind the white boats.
I was really, really scared for Rose here.  She went into the area with the tall masts and large machinery, just behind the boat houses.
She made it through, and continued over the first large boat house at the back of the square.
At the 3rd boathouse, she begins a left turn.
Now over the three large boathouses on the upper left of the square, she again turns left and is heading back to my right, I hope, she is going to the nest.
Again, over the machinery and by the huge masts.
She is flailing here (and so am I) as she passes the flag.  I realize she is trying to figure out how to land.
Over the barge, still flailing.
She continues over the barge..
..flies past the cruise ship..
..passes the sails and finally makes the turn, trying to go back to the nest.  I believe she is exhausted by now.  I am glad there is no sound to go with these pictures.  I am half sobbing, and calling what I hope is encouragement to her.
The turn is made.
Past the sails again.
Past the cruise ship.
Past Science World, and past the cranes.
Past the barge.  She can see Mom sitting on the three-together-post.
This was the photographic opportunity of a lifetime, and I was too upset to take advantage of it.  She passes by the boat houses, and turns, overshooting the nest, and flying right towards the wall where I am standing.  Several other photographers are there, with tripods and cameras aimed at the nest.  I didn't know any of them well enough to ask, but I think there must have been a couple of wonderful photos of her here.  What I believe I can see in this photo, is a very tired Rose, just wanting to go back to her nest.
Another unfocused shot, with part of the wing missing.  She flies right by me.
She turns, heading to the nest.
She heads left, still aiming for the nest.
She seems to overshoot her target.
..and is now flying back towards the barge behind the white boats.
Mom is watching her, but there's nothing she can do.
Mom still watching, Rose puts her legs down.  She wants off this ride, now.
Mom flies off the post, hoping, I think, that Rose will land there.  Instead, you can see Rose's wing, having overshot the post, heading to the logs behind the seals.
I believe she has no choice now, but to land on the log.
And there, I am thankful to see, Rose makes a successful landing.  Mom, having moved to the pylon behind the post, seems perfectly calm.  We all believe she is a first-time Mom, and I am very impressed with her parenting ability.
Dad is not far off, and here, brings a fish to the nest.  Mom joins him.
Here, Rose sits (bottom right corner) while Dad and Mom confer.  
Dad flies over to the barge (the one at the far right, in the second photo) with half the fish.
Mom stays in the nest, seeming to eat.  No sense in starving.  She'll need energy to help Rose.
Dad, sitting just to the left of the two white panels.
You can barely see Mom, but she's sitting just under the number 7.
There sits Rose.  The logs move around, and I worry she'll be pinned between two of them.  She cries at times, but overall, seems quite calm as well.
This part really amazed me.  Mom leaves the barge, and brings a portion of the fish to Rose.
She tears off pieces..
..and feeds Rose for quite some time.  This is perhaps an hour after the flight.  
Rose and Mom look at each other.  I believe they are having a heart-to-heart.  Perhaps, something like:
MOM "Rose, I'll stick by you, but I can't fly for you. You're going to have to do that for yourself."
ROSE "But, Mom, it's really hard.  I can't do it."
MOM "I know, but take your time.  Now that you've had some food, you just need to rest a bit.  When you're ready, you'll fly.  I'm sure of it."    
Mom leaves.  Rose is thinking of a plan.
She knows she needs a bit more height.  She heads to the highest point she can find.
She flaps, but the effort seems half-hearted.  That was a huge flight and she is very tired.  We had all hoped her first flight might be from her nest to the first pylon.
Somewhere around this time, Ship Rock arrives, and I feel better.  Dianne had to leave, and there is comfort in filling Ship Rock in on the details.  He is encouraging, noting that while it is much harder to take off from a low point, the wind will come up to help her, and the parents are providing the very best guidance they can.  

That is the beginning of a very long wait.  Six hours to be exact.  A young seagull lands on the wall just in front of where I am standing.  Normally, I would be thrilled, but all I can think of is Rose.  Still, I amuse myself trying to get a photo.
The tide has now gone out far enough that we can go down on the sandbar.  Rose is still quite some distance away.  We watch the seals and wait.
A seagull begins the daunting task of swallowing a starfish.
It takes at least ten minutes to get to this stage.  The back of its neck is stretched to the max.
Another five minutes or so, and the starfish is pretty well gone.
A sip of salt water to wash it down.
Back to the seals.  This one, hanging over the ledge, with its head in the water, does not budge from that position for at least five minutes.  Is it sleeping with its head under water, or is it looking for fish?  One photographer comments that seals are very lazy, but I'm not convinced of that.  They are very intelligent creatures, and I think they conserve energy when they can, but like the ospreys, are excellent parents and providers.  
Rose walks back and forth, flaps her wings every once in a while, and ponders her situation.  Here, she checks out two seals in the water.
Mom is nearby, on the three-together-post.  She is the last photograph before my battery dies, after six hours of hard work.  Ship Rock kindly drives me to the camera shop on Lonsdale Street.  We eat lunch at Starbucks, while the battery is being recharged.  Thank you, Ship Rock!
When we return, an hour later, the first thing we see is this huge starfish.  Then, I see the principal of my school and his wife.  They tell me that someone told them that a young osprey washed up to shore, dead.  I just about lose it!  But, after others join the conversation, we learn that although the story is true, it happened a few days ago.  I am sad to learn that one of the two juvenile ospreys in the nest near my school fledged successfully, but then had a fishing accident and died.  As sad as I am, it is a huge relief to know that Rose, is, as far as we know, okay.  We begin to look for her, and see that she is no longer on the log.  I am very worried. 
Then, we see an osprey making a beautiful landing on a pylon.  Ship Rock knows her white feather formation, and is 99% certain it is Rose.  I can't believe it.  How did she learn to fly so beautifully in that one hour we were gone?  I want to believe it, and I have a lot of confidence in Ship Rock's expertise, but...
Seconds later, Ship Rock has no doubt, and I am thrilled to realize he is right!  There goes Rose, around the pylon, as Mom watches.
She makes an expert landing in the nest, where she joins Mom and Dad.  I didn't catch the landing, but check out Ship Rock's wonderful "coming home" photos. They are the 6th to the 10th pictures on the first page.  I am so grateful to him for preserving that moment so beautifully!  You can also see some of his stunning portraits of other birds and insects.
Here, Dad moves to his own post.  Rose eats and eats and eats and eats.  She has earned it!
After congratulating Mom, Dad flies off to the barge, flicking his talons through the water, maybe to cool off, or maybe just because it feels good.  
Mom watches keenly and proudly, as her daughter eats.
Finally, Rose takes a short breather, and I catch a mother-daughter pose.
Then, Mom leaves, doing a little skip through the water as well.
The setting sun casts a golden light over her feathers.
She comes back to the nest, Bill comes to take me home, and I leave, tired but very happy for Rose and her family.
I went back on Sunday and Monday to check on Rose, and she continued to do well.  This evening, I will do a short post to show her progress over those two days.  Today, I did not go to North Vancouver, as it has taken me several hours to do this post.  There were so, so many pictures and videos to go through, and the story to piece together, as I studied Rose's flight path.  In the end, I have chosen to show only one video.  I lost Rose for the middle portion of the video.  I am really challenged to see anything on the viewing screen.  Still, I like the video.  You can see her fly at the beginning and again at the end, and you can hear the joy in my voice (with some distress during the time when I lose track of Rose) as well as in Ship Rock's and another lady (Bettina, I think, although I'm not sure of the spelling.  So sorry!) who was nearby.  Rose is not out of the woods yet.  She has to learn to hunt, and she has to leave her parents and fly south.  I'm not sure yet where ospreys in Vancouver migrate.  But, it was a happy, wonderful experience watching her fledge, and once the day comes for her to part, I believe she will go with the solid training of the very best first-time parents she could have found.


  1. This has been an amazing experience! I had my heart in my mouth as I read the words and watched the pictures! I knew she was all right because I had spoken to Bill, but I was still worried about her! Thanks for helping us all watch her progress! Now, we will wait for news of her fishing prowess. How can we find out where she will migrate? Phyllis

  2. Wow, was that ever exciting. Congratulations to Rose, may she have a long and fruitful life. Even though I knew the whole story, your narrative and pictures make it all the more vivid. Thanks for a terrific blog post.

  3. This was edge-of-the-seat, nail-biting material! I'm glad you got to see the big event. I really admire your patience and careful documentation of Rose's start in life. Thank you for taking the time to put it online!

  4. Thanks for your comments, everyone. They are much appreciated!

    Phyllis, I found an abstract and will post here just a tidbit about migration:

    During 1996-2002, 18 satellite transmitters were mounted on Ospreys breeding in British Columbia, Canada, to follow the southward migration and to locate major wintering areas in Latin America. Sixteen Ospreys were successfully tracked through their fall migration and found wintering primarily in Mexico (56 %) but also in Texas, USA (19 %), Central America (Panama, Nicaragua and Costa Rica) (19 %) and South America (Venezuela) (6 %).

  5. Wow - I just got back from a couple of days with away with no access to your blog, and what a edge-of-the-seat treat this was!!! I felt like I was right there with you (and in fact when you left to go get the camera battery I was saying "no, no, don't leave now!").
    Thank you, Carol, for taking your readers on this wonderful journey with you. When Rose's mom took the fish to her, I had tears in my eyes. What an amazing bird's eye view (pun intended) into the life of the ospreys.

  6. Thanks, Jean! Wonderful to hear from you, and so glad you have enjoyed sharing this osprey experience. As an observer and lover of nature for pretty well forever, you have added to the richness of an unforgettable adventure.

  7. Before I left comox to come here I saw a seagull eating a starfish and it looked like it was stuck in its throat. I felt sooo bad for it and wanted to help it. I guess they can actually eat them?! Hahah Now Im laughing because it seems so greedy and bizarre. I cant imagine swallowing something so uncomfortable.