My latest for The New York Times (and check out Kris Rowe’s other photos here):
THE other morning, as I sat on the porch having my coffee, an osprey came plummeting down toward me out of a smoky, overcast sky, with a fish caught in his talons. He was screeching, “See, see, seeeee!” over and over. I suppose there must have been another osprey in the neighborhood. The males can be shameless at showing off their catch, but it’s mainly for other birds, not me.
“Stick around and eat,” I cried up at him. “Plenty of room, water views. Excellent neighbors.” He went winging away instead to some other, more osprey-perfect place, leaving me muttering, “Fussy bastards,” into my coffee cup.
I am a frustrated landlord. A few years ago, local volunteers put up an osprey nesting platform — basically half a sheet of plywood atop a 10-foot-high post — in the small salt marsh behind my house. In the three breeding seasons since then, young ospreys have flirted with the platform, and even piled up sticks there, the tentative beginnings of long-term residence. One time, a male and female perched together there, sizing each other up and apparently arguing about whether this might be their dream house. But they did not spend the night. Hence I suffer from empty nest syndrome of a very literal sort.
Not all that long ago, the ambition of having ospreys nesting in the backyard would have been ridiculous. There simply weren’t any. Around the mouth of the Connecticut River, where I live, only a single nest survived in the early 1970s, producing a total of just two chicks — down from a previously stable population of 200 active osprey nests. From New York to Boston, a population of more than 800 nests tumbled down to double digits, with devastating declines also taking place elsewhere on both coasts, and on other continents.
Researchers set up a death watch in the Connecticut River estuary. But they also …