Oh! Na-tu-raal!

barnegat-bay-snag
While cruising Barnegat Bay in the Spring, fixing up Osprey platforms and picking up trash to ready the place for the summer Osprey crowds, Ben Wurst spotted a random snag in the shallows; some branches and such that had become embedded in a sandbar and somehow found a way to stand tall despite the changing tides.
natual-osprey-nest-snag
But something looked a little different about this snag, something a little… unnatural? On closer inspection it appeared some ambitious Osprey were doing a little new construction, using the snag as a piling and building a fancy new nest on top.

Ben would become obsessed with this nest over the course of the spring. Anytime we ran a mission in Barnegat Bay, we’d wind up stopping by the snag on the ride home just to take a peek. I would get bored quickly, eager to get back on land and find the nearest cup of coffee. The Osprey would never be successful here I assumed. For even if they wound up laying eggs here, I’ve been on these sandbars in the Bay during the summer. Each is a glorious oasis… an ephemeral playground… a focal point for joyriding vacationers. They are perfect places for drinking beer, playing paddle ball, and throwing balls for dogs. By June this sandbar would be surrounded by boats and overrun with people to a point that no proper Osprey could tolerate. It was a lost cause from the get-go.

But Ben would linger, inspecting it from every angle, his face showing a mix of childlike glee at the coolness of this fine work of Osprey art, and sheer horror at what an Osprey couple would face here were they to actually give it a go. He’d brainstorm and spit out ideas for how to protect it, from a simple notification to the Coast Guard, to the more logistically challenging possibilities of trying to post some signage.

I totally admired his dedication, thoughtfulness, and persistence but never-in-a-million-years thought anything would become of it.

 

osprey-siblings
“Who’s dat? Duz they haz beer? I hate it when they haz beer!”
osprey-juvenile-with-adult
Boy was I wrong.
ben-at-natural-nest
Looks like we made it?
ben-wurst-conserve-wildlife
Snaggy the Osprey protects his sister Bar-bara and wonders why Ben doesn’t have a dog, a beer, or a paddleball.

When banding young Osprey, it is fun to remember you are probably the first and last human these animals will ever interact with in their entire lives. But that’s not the case here! Somehow they managed to produce two beautiful young, and the parents managed to avoid death by exhaustion, heat stroke, or just sheer annoyance from the continual, close range, human disturbance they have dealt with here all summer.

ben-wurst-explains-osprey
Ben carefully explains the banding procedure to the young Osprey.
barnegat-bay-natural-nest
Oh! Na-tu-raal!
osprey-whisperer
Osprey Whisperer. These are some big babies, and very close to flight. While slightly younger Osprey play dead during bandings and just lie there like turds, these two are feisty juveniles very close to discovering what powerful, fish-mangling dragons they truly are. So Ben busts out his most secret tricks, hypnotizing the more aggressive Snaggy while Bar-bara lays low.

But the seemingly happy-ending to this story is only temporary. We have just entered the most precarious point of the dicey maneuver this bold Osprey couple has pulled.

Up until now, the chicks have been lying safe in the nest while mom dealt with the disturbances. But now that the chicks are approaching that critical moment when they will leap off the snag for the first time and discover they were born to fly, each disturbance to the nest increases the odds that one will leap just a little too early and wind up helpless in the water in a heavily trafficked area.

So if you travel the Bay by boat, be snag aware. If you happen to notice a sandbar with snag that looks a little too unnatural, choose another! Do not approach, and don’t land. This is a critical time and just one wrong move could send a young Osprey flying straight to its death. And since it is fledge time across the state, keep an eye out for downed Osprey floating in the water. Unlike Peregrine Falcons, Osprey were born for water and can survive if rescued in time.

osprey-rescue
Osprey Rescue: Ben rescues a bird that flew to early, or maybe exhausted itself by overdoing it.

Fingers crossed for these two. If they make it, this is an incredible story of a very special nest. Three cheers for Ben Wurst: for reminding us that every nest counts. However hopeless a situation might appear, if you keep caring, and you keep trying, you just might find you have a miracle on your hands.

osprey-juvenile
The final moments of being a baby.