Our ship's radio came alive in The Great Dismal Swamp.
Many of us have looked skyward to see an osprey with a fish in its talons. The bird is probably looking too, but with different intentions. We may watch as our sushi is served to us, but an osprey must depend on its own keen vision to snare fresh fish.
An osprey excels at catching fish while on the wing. Its visual acuity is so keen, the bird sees six to eight times better than any humans at a distance. Osprey have evolved a set of visual skills that have allowed them to become the sole North American raptor to live on fish as their main food source.
I am sailing on the Choptank River on Chesapeake Bay. The bay the largest population of osprey in North America—about one quarter of all American osprey. In years past, the use of pesticides around the Chesapeake had a harmful effect on these birds. Fortunately, the ban on pesticides led to an increase in the number of osprey pairs. By the 1980's, there were about 2,000.
We almost caused this bird's extinction. Only a sustained conservation effort with a well-defined vision over decades saved the osprey. Fortunately, years of effort rescued these fine birds. After osprey were deemed a threatened species, dedicated groups of birders and conservationists worked to save them. As a result,osprey are thriving today. They live on every continent but Antarctica and migrate over long distances. An osprey nesting in Québec but wintering in southern Brazil may fly 120,000 miles during its 20-year lifetime. Osprey migration is a special wonder of the avian world.
While both the male and female osprey feed and care for their chicks, the female bird outweighs the male and is slightly larger. Osprey are devoted parents. Female osprey have between one and three eggs. Their eggs hatch in about a month in the order they were laid. Today we thrill to see an osprey plummet out of the sky, strike the water, fly up with a wriggling fish and then try to evade a dive-bombing eagle so it can feed young osprey on the nest.
Young osprey can leave their nest after only two months. Sometimes these juveniles return for several weeks to beg food from their parents until they can hunt on their own. In some areas, young osprey stay within their winter home grounds for an entire year, instead of going back to their breeding grounds. This might improve their chances of breeding when they finally return to the family nest area.
The osprey success story is threatened by a worrisome trend. Global wildlife populations have fallen by 58% in the last 50 years. This news is from the 2018 Living Planet assessment released by the Zoological Society of London and the World Wildlife Fund. If this trend continues, the decline will impact two-thirds of all vertebrates by the end of 2020.
To make matters worse, we are seeing the disastrous effects of our current administration’s policies, leading to costly environmental damage and species endangerment.
USA POLICIES WEAKEN PROTECTION
According to the New York Times in a July 19, 2019 article on the Endangered Species Act, "significant proposed change, which has been rumored since April when a proposal was posted to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, would alter how the Endangered Species Act deals with animals that are categorized as 'threatened,' or one level below ‘endangered.’ "
This is important because government agencies are obligated to extend the laws protecting endangered species so that the protections cover threatened species (think about the osprey population in 1983). Changing these rules could take away some of these protections.
While weakening wildlife protections, the current administration is also waging a scandalous war on wildlife. The policies that have been implemented in 2019 are leading to the destruction of North American wildlife. Protections for endangered animals are being erased.
TAKE ACTION AND GET INVOLVED CLOSE TO HOME
To get involved in conservation photography, visit
Photographers can get involved. We can work to benefit endangered species. We can learn how too many nutrients in the waters of the Chesapeake Bay are an important issue.
Let us keep our conservation vision and focus on making our work useful to birds like the osprey. By doing nature, travel and landscape photography, we can help create economic benefits to wildlife.
To become a conservation photographer, start close to home. Check Facebook for Wildlife Protection groups. Find an endangered location or animal species. Choose one you can easily photograph. If you find out it needs protecting, tell others. Visit your site or animal often and photograph everything that makes it special.
Article and Photography by Jim Austin Jimages