Two years ago a pair of Eastern Osprey built a nest on the Georges River in southern Sydney (see Osprey Nesting Attempt, March 13, 2015). The nest, a huge rambling collection of sticks, was wedged into the fork of a tree. The pair sat for a month, finally abandoning the nest shortly before it was swept it out of the tree in a fierce storm.
Young pairs of osprey often make a couple of breeding attempts before getting their act together and generally take a break for a year after each attempt. Sure enough there was no sign of nesting last year, although both birds were spotted at regular intervals in the same section of river.
I first received reports that the birds were gathering nesting materials a month ago. Last Saturday morning calm winds made for an easy paddle to the osprey’s territory. I arrived to find that they had abandoned their earlier nesting site. Instead of a tree overhanging the water, the nest was hanging off the side of a channel marker about in the middle of the river. Closer inspection revealed that the nest was attached to a small platform protruding from the side of the marker. The result was that the nest looked more ‘steam punk’ than ‘wildlife in the wilderness’.
The larger osprey, the female, was sitting low in the nest, eyes closed as she basked in the morning sun. I landed on a sandbar about fifty metres away from the nest. Soon afterwards a group of competitive rowers swept past, the boats passing within a few metres of the channel marker. The osprey lifted her head to watch, but made no move to leave her nest.
My sand bar was also occupied by several Pied Oystercatchers and Caspian Terns.
After half an hour of photographing them, a low flying shape caught my eye. It was the smaller osprey, the male, flying towards the nest with a large mullet clasped in his claws.
The male landed on the edge of the nest and soon after the female flew off with the fish. She landed a couple of hundred metres away on a vertical pole at the edge of mangroves. The male fussed around at the nest, shifting sticks before settling down.
I jumped into the kayak and made my way between shallow sandbars towards the female. I watched her pull the mullet apart, starting at the head and methodically working towards the tail. As she wrenched away at the fish, scales and fragments of flesh cascaded to the mudflat below. This attracted a flock of Silver Gulls and an Australian Raven. The raven wasn’t much smaller than the osprey and she watched it intently, only continuing with her feeding when it departed.
The nesting site is right at the southern limit of the Eastern Osprey’s current distribution in NSW. A successful breeding would emphatically mark their return to this part of their former range. The incubation period for Eastern Osprey is around 40 days and if chicks hatch it will be months before they could leave the nest. Although the odds are undoubtedly stacked against the pair, I feel nothing but excitement at the prospect of watching their efforts over the coming weeks.
Odds and sods