Message From the Cap’n is a compilation of history, fishing advice, waterman and weather insights, Chesapeake lore, and ordinary malarkey from the folks who keep their feet wet in the Potomac and St. Mary’s rivers. This month’s highlight: The Ospreys return!
As St. Patty’s Day marks the arrival of spring in the lower Potomac, water temperature is hovering just above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The Interpretive Buoy System further reports that salinity is rising, starting the week at 12.5 parts per unit.
This is a great time of the year for rejuvenation of our feathered friends around the Chesapeake Bay. The Osprey are the first to arrive in the watershed with the first sighting at Tangier Island around March 1 and birds showing up at St George Island and St. Patrick’ s Creek on March 7 and 8.
The old fable that the Ospreys are back in the Chesapeake by St Patrick’s Day rings true again. The males generally arrive first, take a short rest-break after their journey form Columbia and Brazil, and then start nest-building while waiting for their nest mate to arrive.
The Osprey possess nest site fidelity. When each year’s brood matures and follows their elders south in the early fall, they are destined to return not their first spring but their second, nearly two years after they hatched. They return to the general vicinity of their fledging, not likely the same creek, but if they were hatched in the Chesapeake region, they’ll return to the Chesapeake.
Building nests and preparing for the new brood of chicks is an integral part of the osprey’s courtship rituals. Once established, the birds will return spring after spring to the same nest. They do not remain a pair during any other time of the year. The Osprey starts sitting on two to four eggs around the last of March or early April. It takes 35 to 40 days for the eggs to hatch. Both parents work full time during daylight hours to feed them, the more chicks the harder they work.
Ospreys share nesting duties with the male relieving the female on the nest for her to refresh and feed. Last year the pair in front of our house had the “changing of the guard” around 11:30 am. Six weeks after hatching the young birds are comical to watch as they flap their wings and prepare for the first flight. Sometimes, a puff of wind will catch them practicing and blow them off the nest. It is not uncommon to see a young bird miss their landing on a pier or pole and fall in the creek. After much squawking, flopping in the water and raising hell they mostly always make it to the shore, only to have to somehow return to the nest. They always manage to do so by flying back.
The adult birds leave the youngsters here after they can feed themselves and fly down the 77th parallel to South America in late August. The young birds will then pick up a later stream of southern migrating Ospreys to over-winter there also. The young birds will remain in their winter homes for nearly two years before beginning what will become an annual migration to their nests in the north.
The Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative has partnered with many families on St. George Island to install poles and boxes for Osprey nesting sites. Last year we had 60 some nests on St. George Island proper, which is 4 miles long and 3/4 mile wide in places.
Other Signs of Potomac Spring
Spring also has the Blue Crab starting to move in early April when the water temperature reaches 50 degrees F. When the results of the 2018 DNR crab survey are completed we will make you aware of the results here. We still ave a while to go before we can fill our crab tooth and enjoy the simple pleasures associated with that pastime.
Waterman’s lore: “When you see the Northern Gannet in an area you can bet the big rockfish are there also.”
Till next time, remember “It’s Our Bay, Let’s Pass It On”… Trash Free
Cap’n Jack firstname.lastname@example.org 240-434-1385
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Submitted by Cap’n Jack Russell and reprinted with permission from the Lex Leader