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Monday, August 22, 2016

Over The Edge

On Sunday evening, Aug. 14th 2016, I caught one of our young Union Bay osprey flexing its wings at the edge of the nest. In the past I have found the orange eyes of the young osprey to be their most impressive feature. The orange certainly is startling - however this week I have been more infatuated by the unstained, off-white scallops tracing delicate patterns along the trailing edges of their darker feathers. The patterns make me think of icing on a cake.

Chester, having just returned with a fish. In the center of this photo, Lacey has her head down as she begins to parse out food to the young. 

It is possible to make out a similar edging on the upper portion of her wing, which is visible between Chester and the young osprey - the one with its head up. Time, exposure and wear have dramatically reduced the color contrast. At this time of year, this distinctive difference between the young and old osprey is apparent from quite a distance.

Chester avoids getting too close to the young talons and beaks.

With a little luck, one day the young birds will be as wise and productive as their parents, however I suspect their colors may never again look so vibrant and full of life. 

Earlier in the day, Peter Korch caught sight of one of the young birds up in the air. Clearly, the osprey was practicing for its first flight by rising up a foot or two above the nest and then quickly descending.

ready for takeoff


coming in for the touchdown

Thank you! Peter for catching and sharing this special moment!

 On Tuesday morning, offshore in my kayak, I found the practicing continued.

While looking through the photos I have noticed that the young bird in the air seems to have a little less discoloration on its chest when compared to its seated siblings. I am wondering if it is a male and its chest will ultimately turn pure white, like Chester's.

I would love to see them well enough and watch them long enough to be sure of their genders. It would really be wonderful to be able to identify each of the young birds as individuals. 

On Sunday morning, Aug. 21st, 2016, the sky was surprisingly gray and the wind was blowing briskly.

The wind was strong enough that some of us wondered if the young would be afraid to even lift off above the nest. It seemed possible that once in the air they might get blown away, and without much flight experience, I wondered if they would be able to fight their way back to the nest.

One of the young birds proved our fears were misplaced. It lifted off a number of times - once riding up as much as six feet above the nest. The wind actually seemed to provide extra lift, making flight easier.

Suddenly, without fanfare, it left the nest

Sometimes flapping and sometimes gliding, it traveled west towards the baseball field.

Lucky for us, it turned and headed back.

I believe it flew in a gentle figure eight. 

Coming back and turning directly over our heads before... 

...circling back to the nest.

The landing was surprisingly well controlled. As far as I know, this was its first flight.

An hour later a second flight took place.

While the young bird's control amazed me, it was obvious that its flight skills are not yet refined and well-tuned, like its parents. The cool weather reminds us that fall is on its way and soon the osprey will be migrating south.

In an earlier email, Ray Holden mentioned that after the young go south, it will be a over a year before they make their first migration north. Previously, I was confused and thought I had heard that they might stay here for a year before migrating south. Sadly for us, its the other way around.

In any case, it sounds like the young have around a month before they are on their own. Their days of sitting fat and happy in the nest are coming quickly to an end. They need to rapidly develop their flight skills and their ability to fish for themselves. I expect we may see quite a bit of splashing and thrashing in the shallow parts of Union Bay. If you are out in a canoe, kayak or waterboard, watch for hovering white birds diving headfirst into the water. (The osprey are mostly white when viewed from below and mostly dark when viewed from above.) For now at least, we can also watch for the off-white scallops among their dark feathers which will tell us whether we are seeing one of this year's young.

Have a great day on Union Bay...where young osprey fly in the city!


PS: By the way, Doug Parrot and Peter Korch both mentioned that on Saturday there were as many as eight adult osprey flying around the Union Bay nest, without any apparent conflict. It would be wonderful to get photos of this behavior and try to understand what is happening. Maybe they were osprey from farther north passing through during their winter migration. Union Bay would be a logical place to stock up before the next leg of their journey.

Lefty Updates:

On Wednesday, Steve Hauschka spotted Lefty trying to cross Montlake Blvd just north of the Montlake Bridge. You can read his comments at the end of the Union Bay Surprise post.

On Saturday, Peter Korch once again spotted Lefty back in the Union Bay Natural Area.

Peter mentioned that this was the best photo he could get because someone else was frantically waving his arms - apparently trying to scare Lefty away. 

In my experience, I have never encountered a deer that appeared in any way dangerous. If left alone, they always seem to keep their distance from humans. I would love to see Lefty continue to co-exist with us around Union Bay. I think we can help him succeed by keeping our distance and not interacting with him. Please do not feed him or approach him. The more "wild" he remains, the better for him and for us. We do not want him to be perceived as a threat. I would also suggest we drive defensively in the area. Clearly, Lefty does not fully comprehend the dangers of traffic and motor vehicles. 

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we needed "Deer Crossing" signs around Union Bay.

Latest Update:

On Sunday, 8/21/16, Bob and Debbie Duffy saw a deer crossing the Burke-Gilman Trail (west of Montlake Blvd) and heading up hill into the UW Campus. It seems likely the Lefty has left us. I am sure we all wish him well.

It really is too bad we do not have a green connection between Ravenna Creek and the Union Bay Natural Area then he would have had a natural connection all of the way to Woodland Park.


  1. Larry this is just breathtaking, to see the osprey in lift-off. Thank you for your vigils and views!

    1. You area very kind. Thanks you for following along.

  2. Awesome post Larry- Thank you! I was wondering where exactly "south" is for the osprey around here? Texas? California? I'll have to do a little research.

    1. I am under the impression that Mexico is the most likely destination for our local osprey, although some osprey, who breed in North American, winter in South America.

  3. Larry, These photos are brilliant. Thanks for sharing the exciting news. Ian

    1. Ian, You are certainly welcome! I am glad you enjoyed them.