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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Tails of Entanglement

Last Sunday just before 8 a.m., Chester returned to the nest with food.

The young osprey were immediately attentive. I wonder if the association of father and food caused their mouth's to water.

Chester's work is never done, especially with three hungry young. He immediately returns to the skies. From the air he searches the bay for fish, while also watching for intruders approaching the nest. Lacey immediately put her head down and began parsing out the food.

Within five minutes the fish was virtually gone - except for the tail - which Lacey attempted to swallow.

Somehow the fishtail got jammed in the back of her mouth.

She offered the tail to one of her young.

The young normally remove fragments of food from the tip of her beak, so they had no clue what to do with the tail sticking out sideways - from the back of her mouth.

Lacey began hacking and coughing and flapping her wings. I wondered if the flapping was an instinctual reaction. It was almost like she was trying to back away from the problem.

It did not help. The fishtail did not budge.

The young lost interest. 

Note: The black spot in this photo is actually a meat-eating wasp attracted to the fragrance of fresh fish.

The flapping continued.

Those of us watching were getting seriously concerned. 

With the tail stuck in her mouth, she could not eat, feed the young and or focus on defending the nest.

I tried not to think about what would happen if Lacey did not survive. 

Later in the week, I would hear from Ray Holden about a current osprey nest in Olympia, where one of the parents died. All of their young disappeared, except one. With a lone parent doing everything - hunting, feeding and defending the nest - even a single survivor seems like a success story.

Lacey begins flying from one side of the nest to the other - obviously frustrated.

It is hard to appreciate the beauty of her wings under the circumstances, but it is amazing how something so large can be folded up so small. It makes me wonder if origami was inspired by wings. 

Lacey tries again with one of the young.

She even twists her head sideways.

She tries using her claw to pry the fishtail out.

At this point 35 minutes have passed since the tail first became lodged in her throat.

The young watch her carefully and lean away from her antics.

If you look back at the earlier post, Something to Celebrate, you can see a black cloth-like material on the right side of the nest. I mentioned to David Zuckerman, Manager of Horticulture at the UW Botanical Gardens, that scraps of manmade materials often entangle birds and can lead to their demise. Mr. Zuckerman spoke with the contractor at the Union Bay Natural Area, and for the last two weeks the site has been wonderfully tidy. Thank you to Mr. Zuckerman and the contractor - Matia-Jenson.

It would certainly be sadly ironic if we avoided the human refuse only to have a natural part of Lacey's diet end her life.

On a related note, last weekend Elaine Chuang sent in an email with a number of photos of this pied-billed grebe. 

Elaine's email stated:

"I just know you can help me. The other day I was on Foster Island but sadly wasn't able to linger long enough to discover what was actually going on here. Can you opine what is under this little PBGR? There seem to be at least four incredibly orange 'sticks' sticking out. In one or two shots, it looks as if these could be crustacean legs. Thanks! Elaine"

Off the top of my head, I could not come up with any immediate, obvious or logical explanation, however, I was lucky enough to meet with Martin Muller on Monday. Martin has spent a tremendous amount of time studying pied-billed grebes. If anyone on the planet would know what was going with this little grebe, it would be Martin.

Martin pointed out, "...They typically only haul out (other than on a nest) when they are stressed/diseased/impaired..." Otherwise a grebe is normally in the water, not up on a log like a duck. I decided to spend a little time looking for the grebe and the mysterious orange sticks. Neither Elaine nor I were able to spot the little bird again. 

I did find something with a similar shade of orange. In the middle of Foster Island an inexpensive, orange fencing material is being used to keep visitors out of the 520 construction area. Along the path I found a half a dozen "free-floating" scraps of the plastic fencing. The little scraps appear functionally equivalent to the plastic rings which are used to hold a six-pack of beer. I fear that this may have been what entangled the little grebe.

There is currently a lot of construction going on around Union Bay. There is all the work to replace the 520 Freeway, there is the new Loop Trail in the Arboretum and the 520 mitigation in the Union Bay Natural Area. If you find yourself visiting any of these sites, please keep your eyes pealed for any scraps of material that are "free-floating" in the environment. They should be immediately apprehended, any loops cut and the remainder safely disposed. You may also want to send an email to the folks at the Washington State Department of Transportation asking them to make sure this thin, cheap fencing material is being carefully policed. 

Their email address is:  SR520Bridge@wsdot.wa.gov

Happily, after 45 minutes of hacking, scratching, flapping and stress, Lacey finally freed herself from the fishtail.

The young were as hungry and attentive as always.

Chester returned with fish and everything else returned to normal. Although, I suspect that Lacey may have had a bit of a sore throat for a day or two. It is wonderful for our lives to be intertwined with nature, but we must take care not to entangle nature in the scraps of our modern society.

Have a great day on Union Bay...where nature shares our city!

Larry












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