No chimping!

Isn’t that what Mama Celeste always said? Something like that, anyway. And you have to be a certain age to even have the faintest clue what I’m talking about…

I went down to Jordan lake today, for the first time in weeks, because really, it’s been too hot to do so otherwise. It was plenty hot today, but not quite “pass out after 30 minutes” hot. I didn’t stay too long, because “not quite,” plus there wasn’t a whole lot of activity, but I did get a few images anyway.

Here’s the story. Not too long after picking a vantage spot, because I’d already seen some osprey (Pandion haliaetus,) I witnessed one in the distance do a completely vertical dive, flare out at the last second, and crash into the water – my tracking, however, was off and I missed the action. Then I watched the bird attempt to climb back out again.

osprey Pandion haliaetus trying to climb out of water with large fish
This was the first attempt, but it never got fully airborne and settled back into the water after a few seconds, which gave me the distinct clue that the fish it had captured was quite heavy for the bird.

osprey Pandion haliaetus resting before second attempt to climb out with large fish
It took better than 30 seconds just sitting in the water, the longest I’d ever seen one treading water after a capture, before it made another attempt to climb out.

osprey Pandion haliaetus finally getting airborne with large fish
Which it did manage, but it took a running start, and the osprey covered at least six meters horizontally before managing to get the fish clear of the water. This image, not the clearest I’ve shot, shows why though: the fish was far too close to weighing what the osprey did (especially since birds have hollow bones and are much lighter than they appear, while fish tend to be pretty dense – no judgment though.)

But luck was with me, in that the osprey turned towards me rather than away as it circled back towards a perch.

osprey Pandion haliaetus approaching photographer with large fish
I’m more than happy with this shot, but it gets even better.

osprey Pandion haliaetus doing water-removal shimmy while approaching photographer with large fish
This was as the osprey had finally gotten enough altitude to feel safe with the maneuver, and did its typical hard shake to rid itself of excess water, which always causes a dip in height. But even this isn’t enough – we have to go in tighter on the same frame.

cropped version of previous shimmy pic
Yeah, I approve. Feel free to tell me what the fish is if you like.

And then the mistake. I watched as the osprey continued circling and eventually got high enough, with obvious effort, to take a perch with the fish, well over a hundred meters distant so my view wasn’t all that great. Here I broke my cardinal rule, which is, “No chimping,” this referring to looking at the images on the LCD of the camera. There are two main reasons: one, that the tiny little preview won’t tell you anything crucial about the image, and two, when you’re doing that you’re not watching for more subjects or further developments. I wanted to see if the photos above passed muster while things seemed quiet, and I paid the price. Because I heard the alarm calls of an osprey and looked up too late to find, right out in front of me again, an osprey and a bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) in the air rather close together, with a splash in the water underneath. Apparently the eagle, from a perch I hadn’t discovered, had popped out to steal the fish from the osprey, who took off with it out over the water before abandoning it. Osprey are faster and more maneuverable than eagles, but not while burdened so, and eagles are lazy. However, the eagle missed the fish dropping and circled around without even dipping down towards the water, at least giving me a few decent frames.

newly adult bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus with mottled plumage
The mottling visible on the head and tail, and under the wings, tells me the eagle is just four years old, molting out of its third year plumage into adult coloration. Nice enough shot for me, but I should have captured the harassment action, in addition to this, and missed it. Lesson learned, the hard way.

A little later on, I witnessed the same eagle (discerned by the coloration) and an osprey out over the water again, only the osprey had no fish – I’d been watching close enough to know that no captures were made in the area. It might have been the eagle being territorial, but we’re well past nesting season and the area was rife with ospreys, so I suspect the eagle thought the osprey might have had a fish and was giving chase, breaking it off just as I was trying to focus on both of them. But almost negligently, it turned back towards shore, then dipped quickly and snagged its own fish almost as an afterthought.

newly adult bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus heading off with fish
See! You can catch your own, you lazy sod. I’ll leave commentary on this being our national symbol to others.

Things quieted down a bit following that, and after sitting out there for a while and seeing nothing else happening, plus the sweat running down my spine, I wrapped things up for the afternoon, but not before being a little fartsy with a perched osprey and a commercial airliner climbing out high overhead. Plus those clouds made me suspect the weather might turn uglier before too much longer. Still, this is okay for returning to the lake for the first time since late July.

commercial airliner cruising out high over perched osprey Pandion haliaetus