August 9, 2010

Osprey in New York’s St. Lawrence Valley



 …Atlantic salmon are the glamorous aristocrats (of the sea, as viewed by human eyes)…From 1865 to 1910, an habitant by the name of Napoleon Comeau was employed to guard the salmon in the rather inconsequential Godbout River on the north shore of the St. Lawrence estuary…Napoleon’s task was to make sure that nobody and nothing took so much as a smolt from the waters that belonged to (his employers, a handful of Montreal businessmen and politicos who had leased exclusive salmon fishing rights on the Godbout River)…For forty-three years, he and his assistants waged war up and down the river and in the adjacent waters of the estuary against “Those base enemies of the regal salmon: white whales, porpoises, seals, bears, minks, otters, mergansers, kingfishers, ospreys, and loons.”***(bold inserted).***


Osprey Nest     “What’s that?” my husband Monte and I wondered as we saw what looked like a bird nest on top of an electric pole on our route between Black Lake in Edwardsville, New York, and Edwards, New York.

     When Monte spotted a second nest, I proclaimed “STOP!” I put my camera strap around my neck as he compliantly pulled over. Pointing my camera, I put my trigger finger to work, and capturing a large bird flying from its nest. Then I moved in to record the nest itself, also dangerously constructed atop an electric pole.

     We arrived at Sunnyside of Black Lake, a nine-room series rooms, attached behind a house, nicely located on the lake. We mentioned the nests to the business owners, Karl and Carolyn Geiger. He explained that what we saw were osprey nests.  

     My interest in ospreys began with a visit to Googins Island, Maine, an osprey refuge. I’d researched them on the Internet, and was preparing a post on them (to read, click on: Googins Island, Maine: An Osprey Sanctuary).


Photo by Karl Geiger

     Ospreys can be considered Eagles based on their size, and certainly have overlapping behavior and habitats with eagles, such as the Bald Eagle. Ospreys, specifically, are very well adapted for living near shore, and feeding on shallow-water fish…

eagles, hawks and falcons differentiate based on size, shape, color, and method of flight, but there are many minor differences in behavior, habitat and feeding that can help with the differentiation.*

     Ospreys are typically found in New York’s St. Lawrence Valley between April and September—they migrate to South America for the winter. They catch their primary food, fish, by plunging into the water feet first. With needle-sharp hooked talons, and zygodactyl feet (two toes face forward and two toes face backward), they extract their prey from the water.

     Like other fish-eating species, osprey populations declined drastically between 1940 and 1970 as a result of DDT-induced eggshell thinning. When the pesticide DDT was banned in 1972, osprey populations rebounded. Once listed as “endangered” in New York and some other states, the osprey is now more favorably listed as a species of “special concern.”**

     Osprey historically nested at natural sites, such as in white pine trees “topped” by the elements, in large dead trees near lakes and rivers, or in standing, dead timber in flooded wetlands.**

     Increasingly, however, manmade structures appeal to them. Since 2001, 60% of the osprey nests identified in northwestern New York (primarily St. Lawrence and Jefferson counties) are found on power poles, navigation cells, cellular phone towers, chimneys, and “goose tubs” (artificial nesting structures intended for use by geese).**

     “Don’t the birds create a hazard for the power companies?” I asked Karl.

    Ospreys nesting on power poles can be hazardous, both to the osprey and the electric customers. Their nests can cause short circuits resulting in a fire or explosion, creating a loss of power to customers and electrocuting/injuring the osprey.**

     The formerly endangered species were treated well by the utility company—either by running their wires under the nests or by constructing platforms adjacent to the utility pole, redirecting the osprey’s nest-building off of the electrical poles. Karl then told us the location of another nest, mentioning how he goes out and photographs the birds.    

     Osprey sometimes build their nests on the St. Lawrence River navigation cells, in locations that sometimes hinder the light’s maintenance and/or operation. This creates critical safety hazards for boats that need the lights to guide them away from shoals and through the seaway. The St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation has been very cooperative in modifying navigation cells by adding nesting platforms mounted atop a structure. This allows birds to nest safely away from the electrical equipment.**

     Following Karl’s directions, Monte and I found an osprey nest on a utility-constructed platform. As I gathered my tripod, the bird in the nest flew away. I proceeded down the road, hoping the bird would return to the nest after I set up my tripod and camera. However, it circled about the sky, occasionally coming close to the nest, but not landing. Finally, after about twenty minutes, it landed in the branches of a tall, dead, tree. I kept quiet, hoping it would give up and fly back to the nest. But I was the one who gave up, realizing the osprey would not return while I was present. Picking up the tripod, I trudged back to the car. As I started to put the equipment in the car, Monte said the bird was flying back to the nest. I quickly set the tripod on the ground, and snapped a shot of the bird in the nest.

     Suddenly, another osprey appeared. It came close to the nest and hovered for about five seconds, before entering the nest. My trigger finger worked again. Then I packed up my supplies.

     It wasn’t until I viewed the pictures on my laptop that I noticed the hovering bird held a fish in its talons. Granted, my shot wasn’t as good as Karl’s—his wildlife photographs, hanging in all the rooms and the office, are spectacular. But I am satisfied that, on my first and only photoshoot of the osprey, I came back with some decent, interesting photographs.

     It pleases me to see companies taking care of wildlife. It shows that ways can be found for mankind and nature to live harmoniously.




Sunnyside of Black Lake:

NOTE: Photo contributed by Karl Geiger, whose wildlife pictures taken around the St. Lawrence Valley in New York State decorate the rooms and office at the cabins he rents, Sunnyside of Black Lake (3298 County Rte. 6, Hammond, New York., 315-375-6742) 



Googins Island, Maine: An Osprey Sanctuary

The Donut King Restaurant in Ogdensburg, New York

Don’t let the bed bugs bite…


Battling squirrels at bird feeders I: to fight or join them

Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

What is your opinion?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: