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Osprey Heaven

The recent spell of warm weather we are in right now confirms that Spring is most definitely here after an all too dry and mild winter; last week I even saw my first summer migrant of the year in the form of a sand martin that stopped in for a drink at one of the pools in Telford as I was working there on another photographic project.

Among the many migrants that keen birdwatchers will be looking out for passing through the county in the coming weeks, probably on their way to Scotland unless they are one of the now high profile over in Wales, is that magnificent fishing predator the Osprey.

I’ve yet to be fortunate enough to see one here on passage, but have been able to spend a decent amount of time working with them photographically both in Scotland and also Scandinavia, and on both occasions the waiting for the action was at times quite considerable and the adrenalin when they arrived enormous and the whole experience one that was genuinely rewarding, particularly as a schoolboy tales of Ospreys were almost as if they were mythical birds that were never seen!

I have however now been to Osprey heaven, and it is in a small lake to be found in central Florida which I was lucky enough to take a group to last month when running a trip there for Natures Images.  This lake has over 200 pairs of Ospreys and they all nest in ridiculous proximity to each other – it’s almost like a township of them all around the north-western corner of the lake and the reason is simple – the Cypress trees.

These dramatic trees stand like sentinels in this corner of the lake completely surrounded by water, with generally flat open tops or side branches and this, along with the fact that the lake and surrounding area offers plenty of fish, means that they are absolutely perfect locations for Ospreys to nest as there will be no opportunity for predators to get anywhere near them.  The result is that these normally very isolated birds in terms of a breeding pair that is, literally live next door to one another on tree after tree.

You’ll see on this tree that many of them are also covered in the atmospheric air plant known as Spanish Moss (ironic as it’s neither moss nor of Spanish origin) and this is also used by the birds as lining for their nests, although it can require quite an effort to pull some off the trees for this at times.

I had arranged for the group to head out onto the lake for sunrise on a small and quiet boat which would give us the best possible opportunity to drift quietly up to several of these multitude of nests.  It didn’t look to promising as there was a heavy fog which I was convinced was thick cloud and that the promised weather front had arrived ahead of schedule, but I needn’t have worried as an hour after dawn the Florida sun got to work and broke through giving us the chance and enjoy the constant calling of Ospreys all around and some dramatic take-off and landing photography too.

The birds here were just like those that will be arriving in Britain shortly – just earlier in their schedule.  They over-winter in South America (mostly in Brazil) and then head north to Florida to breed.  They were just at the beginning of re-uniting with their other halves from whom they separate for the winter and this particular pair were clearly very glad to have met up once again!

Everywhere we looked there were Ospreys and although I enjoy the drama of the action photography I also like to capture more classic portraits of them as well which I think this final selection hopefully shows – if only I could add a sound recording to the last of these too!

I know of a fellow photographer who has always believed that somewhere in the world there is an opportunity to easily photograph just about every species that there is – it’s just a question of knowing where precisely: this is undoubtedly it for Ospreys.  As I keep an eye on the skies over Shropshire in the coming weeks, particularly in the north of the county round the Meres then I can only hope to hear the shrill call that will remind me of another day I was lucky enough to spend here in Osprey heaven.