Mission: To promote the appreciation of wildlife and increase harmony between humanity and nature.

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Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Air Dance

The Osprey are back! The female, on the left, has a brown necklace. Males usually have pure white chests.

As soon as I saw them I started to wonder, Are they Chester and Lacey, the same pair which left here last fall? Did they really fly all the way to Mexico, spend the winter at separate locations and fly all the way back without mishap? Are they here to reunite and once again raise young on Union Bay?

Comparing the patterns on the top of their heads is the only way I know to attempt to prove their identity. The patterns are supposed to be unique to each bird. Let's take a quick look.

Here is the top of Lacey's head in 2017 and...

...here is Chester's. Lacey's forehead is darker, while Chester has a clearly visible 'V' of white on his forehead. 

You can read more about their history on Union Bay in the 2017 post, Diamonds Are Optional. Plus, you can see photos of their half-grown young in last year's post, Smoke and Ash. I think young Osprey are exquisitely beautiful birds.

In 2016, the relationship between the adult's head patterns looked similar to what we see this year. Lacey, on the left, clearly had the darker head. 

I do think the dark feathers, on both of their heads, seem to have expanded a bit this year. Maybe they each had a healthy winter and were able to grow slightly more luxurious feathers. Still, overtime I think Lacey's forehead is consistently darker than Chester's. I believe these are the same two Osprey which we watched lay eggs and raise young for the last two years. 

Since Osprey have been known to live for more than two decades, Click Here and then scroll to the bottom to read about the oldest know Osprey, we can assume they may be returning for many more years to come.

On Monday I saw and heard Chester doing something I had never seen before. He was repeating a piercing cry while flying, hovering and diving above the UW Baseball Field. All the while he was clutching half a fish in his talons. Lacey sat calmly on the nesting platform. 

As I watched, Chester would dive about 75 feet and then pull up and do it again. In spite of the dives, he seemed to be gaining in height. In the process, he slowly drifted to the east. 

He ended up high above the nesting platform. It felt like he was halfway to the moon.

Hundreds of feet in the air, with the fish tail hanging below him, Chester continued to dive, hover and rise.

Meanwhile, his incessant cries continued. 

He was clearly focusing his attention on Lacey. It seemed obvious this was a mating ritual. Later, I would read in multiple sources that this behavior is called an Air Dance.

Finally, Lacey lifted off from the platform and started drifting south across Union Bay, her slow, lazy circles made it look like she was searching the water for fish. Overtime, she did appear to be slowly rising higher.

Chester followed after her and continued his labor-intensive dance of love.

 After ten minutes or so they both disappeared in the distance.

About an hour later they returned, and Chester was still carrying the fish tail

I didn't see them mate on Monday, but I don't know what happened on the south side of the bay. 

My friend Kathy Hartman caught them consummating their relationship the day before. We have to give Kathy credit, she may have been the first to photograph their baby-making in 2018.

 On Wednesday, I went back and watched as Chester began to seriously upgrade the nest.

Often he was finding sticks or stalks near the water's edge. It seemed like he was looking for soft wet material. I wondered if this was intended to finish the nest. 

While watching Chester, I noticed that there were quite a few sticks on the ground below the platform. It made me wonder if last year's young blew the sticks out of the nest when they were pumping their wings prior to fledging.

At some point, Lacey did a nest inspection with Chester, which was when I took the first two photos in this post. Ultimately, Lacey returned to her favorite snag above the pond.

When Lacey leaned forward, Chester understood the invitation. We have to give Chester credit, apparently his noisy Air Dance is a highly functional part of osprey courtship.

Clearly, Chester and Lacey are once again intent on raising young above Union Bay. In both of the last two years, I believe it was May 15th when Lacey went on-eggs. I am wondering whether this year, with more experience, she might beat the old date. The sooner she starts, the more time the young will have to gain strength before they must migrate south in the fall. It will certainly be fun to watch and see when incubation begins.

Have a great day on Union Bay...where Osprey raise young in the city!


Going Native:

Without a well-funded Environmental Protection Agency, it falls to each of us to be ever more vigilant in protecting our local environments. Native plants and trees encourage the largest diversity of lifeforms because of their long intertwined history with our local environment and native creatures. I have been told that even the microbes in the soil are native to each local landscape. My hope is that we can inspire ourselves, our neighbors and local businesses to respect native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. I have learned that our most logical approach to native trees and plants (in order of priority) should be to:

1) Learn and leave established native flora undisturbed.
2) Remove invasive species and then wait to see if native plants begin to grow without assistance. (If natives plants start on their own, then these plants or trees are likely the most appropriate flora for the habitat.)
3) Scatter seeds from nearby native plants in a similar habitat.
4) If you feel you must add a new plant then select a native plant while considering how the plant fits with the specific habitat and understanding the plant's logical place in the normal succession of native plants.

My intention in my weekly post is to include at least one photo each week and visually challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms.

What species of fern is this? Is it native to Union Bay?

Scroll down for the answer.


Lady Fern: It is native across the continental United States. One of the primary reasons I believe this is a Lady Fern is the football or shield-like shape of the fern.


The Email Challenge:

Over the years I have had many readers tell me that Google is no longer sending them email announcements regarding my posts. Even more frustrating when they go to 're-sign-up', hoping that will enable them to once again start receiving the announcements, they get a message which says 'Sorry, you are already signed up.' Google has not responded to my requests for help with this issue. 

My functional work around is to setup my own email list and each week I manually send out a new post announcement. If you are experiencing the issue and would like to be added to my personal email list please send me an email requesting to be added. Thank you for your patience!

My email address is LDHubbell@comcast.net


  1. What a thrill to see this osprey couple return again! Thank you for your patient stake-out to find them, Larry.

    1. Thank you for kind words and for following along!

  2. Aren't they kind of late to be starting a family? There's a nest in Hillsboro Oregon, and I'm pretty sure that the female has been on eggs for at least a couple of weeks.

    1. They are still on schedule with the last two years. I think the farther north they go the later they start laying eggs. It seems to me that Vancouver,WA is often 10 degrees warmer than Seattle, which kind of fits.

    2. Thanks for the reply. The nest is at the Jackson Bottom preserve. It has the added bonus of a local eagle pair, and young eagles from previous years. Sometimes you can see an eagle trying to steal a fish as one of the ospreys comes back to the nest with food. The ospreys don't seem to be that bothered, they team up on the marauder and drive it out.

      Thanks for the blog. You must put some time in to it.

    3. That sounds like a wonderful place to watch the they osprey and the eagles. I will have to check them out the next time I am in the area. Thank you!

  3. Just wondering if you track when the Ospreys come home? We live on a river outside of Spokane. We check our Osprey and for the past five years they have come home within the first 2 weeks of April. Anywhere between April 10th and April twenty.

    1. I just glanced at eBird for the last five years and it looks like the first sightings have al been between March 26th and April 9th. Also a range of about two weeks, but a bit early than what you see in Spokane. That sure sounds like a great place to live and observe the osprey.