Trouble with the neighbors

I’ve been sitting on these while I get a few others things done, so the images here all came from four days ago, another trip down to Jordan Lake, in less than ideal conditions, that netted a bit of drama nonetheless. The first bit is, the ospreys have returned.

osprey Pandion haliaetus cruising overhead
While the eagles overwinter in the area, being quite well cold adapted (able to be found up near the arctic circle,) the ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) migrate south for the winter – the last photo that I actually have of one in my stock dates from September, but I think they hang around well into October at least. Last year’s first sighting was March 7th, so we’re ahead of the game by two days here, though since I don’t spend all my time down at the lake, I can’t say when exactly they arrived for either year.

This did, however, create a little friction with the bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) that have been loitering at the osprey nest.

pair of adult bald eagles Haliaeetus leucocephalus resting on limb alongside osprey nest
They still show no sign of using it as a nest, though on occasion one actually perches onto it (mostly to eat I think) rather than alongside as seen here, but it became clear that at least one of the returning osprey either considered the nest itself or the surrounding territory as its own, despite having abandoned it during the winter months. I was raised on ‘finders keepers,’ you know? Yet the osprey had other ideas.

osprey Pandion haliaetus diving on perched bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephlaus alongside osprey nest
Bear in mind, the actual distance from my shooting location was better than 450 meters – this has been cropped significantly – so the resolution is limited, not at all helped by the overcast conditions of the day. The osprey was definitely not pleased with the presence of the eagles, and while one was convinced to move to a nearby tree, the other eagle remained in place and fended off the repeated attacks.

osprey Pandion haliaetus diving on launching bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephlaus alongside osprey nest
Near as I could tell, no actual contact was made, though this may have been only because the eagle was well aware of the osprey approaching and was ready each time; here it’s actually launching itself into the air for a more spirited defense. Telephoto compression makes the distances between the birds indiscernible – it’s usually much larger than the images suggest. This is especially true tor the next frame:

osprey Pandion haliaetus diving on pair of perched bald eagles Haliaeetus leucocephlaus alongside osprey nest
This was before one of the eagles moved off a short distance, and the osprey is there, almost hidden in the foliage of the tree and significantly closer to the camera than the eagles. There were numerous dive-bombing attempts over multiple sessions, and while the osprey remained silent, the eagles did not, and could be heard clearly even over that great a distance. It made me regret not being equipped for video (which would require the tripod and gimbal head at least, but the shotgun mic would be useful too, and the external monitor.) However, it might be less impressive that the still photos, because it would be captured without cropping, and the actual view of the above image was this:

full-frame version of previous image
So you’d be seeing the action, but not really the expression or much of the details. I know that video can be cropped closer, but this reduces the resolution as well and might make for grainy footage, though this might be unnoticeable for webbernet usage. Worse still might be that all camera shake would be magnified too, and it’s already bad with the long lens – I do not have a professional video rig, but you know, there’s that donation widget on the sidebar if you’d really like to see good results…

osprey Pandion haliaetus diving on perched bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephlaus in dead tree not far from osprey nest
This is the dead tree not too far from the nest; I made an attempt two days back to plot the exact locations by triangulating, but determined that the GPS on my phone is not at all up to the task – I actually got to the base of this tree while no birds were present, yet the nest is not visible through the foliage from down at ground level. I would say they’re removed from each other by at least 30 meters, and perhaps a lot more, despite being able to align them together in many of these images.

The osprey eventually gave up and the eagle remained perched in this tree, with things getting quiet for a bit. Meanwhile, in the bay between me and the nest, the double-crested cormorants (Nannopterum auritum) were busy fishing. Only once did one appear with a capture, though.

female double-crested cormorant Nannopterum auritum rising from beneath surface with large fish capture
This is a fairly big capture for a bird the size of a cormorant, which are comparable to slender ducks though with longer necks. Like herons, cormorants swallow their food whole, and she (the coloration pegs this as a female) juggled the fish for a while to try and get it into the proper position.

female double-crested cormorant Nannopterum auritum juggling with fish capture prior to swallowing
Which was proving to be challenging – you can see from the airborne droplets that a bit of tossing around was taking place, but at least she had the help of the buoyancy of the water to help reposition the fish by dipping her head a bit.

female double-crested cormorant Nannopterum auritum dropping captured fish
And then she dropped the fish and dove, resurfacing right alongside, and I figured she was trying for a better angle.

female double-crested cormorant Nannopterum auritum swimming short distance ahead of dropped fish barely visible in water
Or she might have determined that it simply wasn’t going to go down, or – most likely – she saw what was going on, something that I missed from my field of view being limited through the viewfinder. Because she dove again, only a second before…

bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus snagging fish dropped by cormorant from water
Did you see this coming? I did not, but bear in mind that the eagle was more than twice the distance from me than the cormorant was, and so ‘in another area.’ This was being short-sighted, I know, because eagles have far better vision than humans and thus this was well within its ‘territory.’ Too bad I missed the moment of contact.

bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus climbing with stolen fish
The climb out wasn’t too shabby, but of course there’s a lot of movement going on here and the light was still dismal. These images allow you to scroll back and forth and compare the relative sizes of cormorants and eagles, though.

The thief did not return to either the dead tree or the nest, however, disappearing into the trees in that general direction, while the second one was no longer visible, so I have no idea whether this meal was shared or not – I did not hear the telltale calling at any point, which is normally heard when one brings food to another, so I’d wager this was not shared. Meanwhile, the cormorant resurfaced and ensured that the coast was clear.

female double-crested cormorant Nannopterum auritum after losing fish capture to eagle
Look at those staring eyes and the sweat – she knows she narrowly escaped a terrible fate, and the fish was a small price to pay.

Okay, you and I both know that’s nonsense, and she’d look like this regardless. It’s not even clear how much anxiety birds actually feel in such situations, because such interactions are not uncommon – she knew to get out of the way, but might never have felt directly threatened. We just can’t say.

But the eagle is a total chav…