A sympathetic breeze cut through the heavy humidity and served as a bug deterrent Sunday morning, as three bird lovers boarded a slow moving boat to venture into the swamps of the Wolf River.
Their mission was to check the activity of an osprey nesting platform located over a bayou in the Mukwa State Wildlife Area.
Pat Fisher, known locally as the “Bird Lady” and two other volunteers, Don and Sue Baumgartner from the Feather Bird Rehabilitation Center in New London, arranged for the trip.
Traditionally in this geographic region, July is banding time for these federally protected birds.
“First, we have to see if there is an active pair nesting on the platform, said Fisher. “Then we can determine if there are young birds in the nest and if they’re old enough to band yet.”
They are hoping to band a few young birds over the July Fourth weekend.
Banding studies help in tracking osprey migrations and they provide researchers with valuable information on their longevity and mortality rates. Banding studies also play an important role in helping scientists and the public understand how environmental factors like mercury, influence the species.
Fisher has been banding osprey in Waupaca County for the past 10 years.
Because the nests are often as high up as 75 feet in the air, special climbers and equipment are required in the banding project.
Once Fisher finds a professional climber to donate their time and equipment, a date is set to conduct banding, usually in early or mid July. The young birds first have to be old enough to be handled and banded. Fisher and other volunteers monitor six nesting platforms in the area every spring and summer.
At the time of banding, the young are very carefully brought down for a “check-up” and data recording. Then, before being placed back in the nest, each bird receives its own US Fish and Wildlife bird band.
Usually during the banding, the adult osprey are circling the nest and are quite vocal at the team of volunteers, but after a short time the young birds are back on the platform, and all is back to normal.
The adult wing span reaches over five feet long and their bellies are as white as snow with deep brown feathers across their backs and distinct facial markings. The North American osprey is the only raptor to feed almost exclusively on live fish. Because of this, they are commonly referred to as sea hawks.
They hunt from the sky locking their golden eyes in on prey from 50 to 180 feet above. Then, with a swift and powerful dive, they plunge feet first, often becoming submerged in the water during the heat of the catch.
Because of their incredible fishing skills and stunning acrobatics, ospreys have been the subject of many cultural depictions since early civilization.