Sunday, April 7, 2013

Ospreys Return to Ballston Creek

 Reports were coming in that Ospreys are nesting now, so my friends Sue and Ruth and I made our way today to one of their known nesting sites, the Ballston Creek Nature Preserve near Ballston Lake.  This is another of the many wooded areas in Saratoga County protected by the land-conservation organization Saratoga PLAN, and this site offers not only a beautiful forested trail, but also views of a swamp that is home to many wetlands-loving birds.

Great Blue Herons are the birds that come most immediately to view, and how could anyone miss them?  The Ballston Creek swamp is pillared with tall dead snags, many of which hold large shaggy heron nests, each one watched over today by a single long-shanked, yellow-billed giant of a bird.

One nest stood out from all the others, not only because it was easily twice the size, but also because it had no heron standing guard on its rim.   We guessed that this might be the nest that the Ospreys had appropriated from the herons, and it didn't take long for our guess to be proved correct.  After we sighted first one and then another Osprey soaring around the swamp, eventually one approached the nest and began to circle around it.

Sue, with her excellent eyesight, was the first to spot the twig in the Osprey's talons.  One of the pair was bringing new nesting material, and it soon proceeded to install the twig in its nest.   It once again  flew away, but only a few moments later it returned with yet another twig.  It won't be long before this pair will be sitting on its eggs, which take about five weeks to hatch.  Then we can return to this site to watch the parents rear their young.

 This makes the fourth year I've been visiting this heronry at Ballston Creek, and every year the Ospreys have returned,  sometimes squabbling with the resident herons over prime nesting sites.  The nest they were using two years ago was demolished by storms last year, and the nest they are currently using was once occupied by Great Blue Herons.

This photo  below was taken at Ballston Creek by my husband Denis Donnelly about three years ago, using his own camera, which has a much better lens for distant birds than does mine.

 Although birding was our primary objective today, botanizing is always on our agenda as well.  Here, Sue and Ruth are scrutinizing the forest floor, searching for signs that our spring wildflowers might soon be preparing to bloom.  Although weather forecasts call for warming temperatures in the coming week, this morning started off really cold (note hats and gloves), with a roaring wind that made it seem even colder.  So we didn't really have our hopes up about finding any flowers.

But we sure found signs that it won't be long!  The buds of Hepatica are well defended against frosty mornings, wrapped as they are in their furry buntings.

And oh look, one of the buds was actually open!

I have never seen such multitudes of Carolina Spring Beauty as carpet the woods of the Ballston Creek Nature Preserve, and evidence was rife today that their blooming will happen soon. The leaves are green and buds are clustered on their stems.  I'm not quite sure if that pink-beaked growth is part of the Spring Beauty plant, but whatever it is, it looks as if it's about to do something wonderful, too.  Hurray for Spring!