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Published: Friday, 3/17/2006

Osprey starts long journey home

A male osprey, or "fish hawk," one of a pair that raised three chicks in a nest last summer in Delaware County, appears to be making its way back toward Ohio from its winter home in northwestern Brazil, some 3,500 miles to the south.

Ohio Division of Wildlife biologists, who made the announcement this week, know this because last summer they attached satellite transmitters to the osprey and its mate at their nest on Alum Creek Reservoir north of Columbus.

On March 7 the male began a northward migration from an area along the Amazon River about 50 miles northwest of Tefe, Brazil. It has been tracked northward some 700 miles so far, passing near the city of Coronadena, Venezuela, last Sunday.

So far its mate has remained at her wintering area, 19 miles east of Tabatinga, Brazil - 300 miles west of her mate's winter home. They made their southbound passages a week apart last fall.

Mark Shieldcastle, who heads the state's Crane Creek Wildlife Research Station in Ottawa County, said that it remains uncertain whether the bird will hopscotch across the Caribbean to the U.S. mainland or swing overland around the arc of Central America en route to Ohio.

When the male headed for Brazil last autumn, it traveled down the Florida peninsula and crossed to Cuba, then on to South America, Shieldcastle said. It took the osprey pair more than a month to reach their wintering grounds along the Amazon.

The state wildlife division began reintroducing ospreys in 1996, releasing 32 birds. Prior to the program, the last ospreys known to have hatched in Ohio were at a nest at Grand Lake St. Marys in Auglaize and Mercer counties in 1913. The last known nest in Ohio was at Buckeye Lake in Fairfield, Licking and Perry counties in 1941. The species generally nests along large inland bodies of water.

In 2005 a record 37 pairs of ospreys produced 62 chicks. They remain a state-endangered species.

Ospreys are a distinctive bird of prey, dark brown on top and white underneath with a distinctive, gull-like wing-form. Their wingspans are about four and a half to six feet, compared to those of the bald eagle, which stretch six to seven and a half feet.

Ospreys are superbly equipped with strong wings and long legs with special talons to pick fish off or near the surface of large bodies of water.

They annually migrate through Ohio as well. In 1995 a natural nest was confirmed in Jefferson County near the Ohio River, a year before the long-term restoration/hacking program was begun. The latter nest may have represented expansion of range from birds being reintroduced in Pennsylvania.

After the early 1900s osprey numbers declined because of habitat loss, reproductive failures linked to once widespread use of now-banned pesticides such as DDT, and persecution by humans. Attempts at nesting as late as the 1940s in central and southeast Ohio all failed.

In related bird-of-prey news, Ohio's peregrine falcons have begun their nesting season with incubation of eggs started by pairs near the village of Cleves in Hamilton County and the Terminal Tower in downtown Cleveland.

Most major urban areas in the state have at least a pair of falcons, which have adopted urban skyscrapers and other very tall structures as nest sites resembling their wild cliff-side counterparts.

State wildlife biologists report at least 17 pairs of peregrines across the state with another five unpaired birds. Pairs at Toledo and Lima are expected to begin incubation sometime next month, said Bill Roshak, a biologist at Ohio Wildlife District 2 at Findlay. Roshak added that no reports have surfaced so far about a pair of falcons that unsuccessfully nested at the BP refinery in Oregon a year ago.

Incubation of falcon eggs takes 32 or 33 days, followed by seven weeks of growth and development to fledging, or first flight, according to Dave Scott, the wildlife division's falcon project coordinator. Young falcons generally leave their parents' territory by late summer and disperse.

In 2005, 18 nesting pairs of falcons raised a record 57 young.

The ninth annual Great Backyard Bird Count, which took place across North America Feb. 17-20, tallied a record 623 species and 7.5 million individual birds from more than 60,000 checklists, said the sponsors, the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and National Audubon Society.

The flood of reports shows a comprehensive snapshot of the distribution and status of birds species across the continent. For complete tallies and maps, check the count Web site, www.birdsource.org/gbbc.

Walleye action is picking up in the Maumee River on the heels of recent rains, setting the table for a decent weekend of fishing.

Water levels in the Maumee and Sandusky rivers were high but steadily receding yesterday after recent rains, so the typical high-water fishing venues in the Maumee-Perrysburg area likely will be more productive. These sites include Orleans Park and Fort Meigs on the Perrysburg side and the foot of White Street and the banks at the foot of Ford Street on the Maumee side.

"It should be a real good weekend," said Gary Lowry at Maumee Tackle in Maumee. He said that anglers are seeing rolling walleye, usually a sign that a good run has come in. While high-water wading to the Blue Grass Island area off Side Cut Metropark will be unsafe, the Buttonwood Access on the opposite side could be wadable by Sunday, Lowry said.

The Sandusky River at Fremont was still high and muddy but receding, according to Angler Supply at downtown Fremont. Good numbers of walleye were in the river, however.

Both streams were steady at about 45 degrees, in the ideal spawning zone.

Some walleye also have been taken on western Lake Erie as well, when winds allow and as murky water is settled. Best areas so far have been around Catawba Island and near-shore from Turtle Island in Maumee Bay to near Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station.

The Dundee area chapter of Whitetails Unlimited has set its annual fund-raising dinner for Tuesday at Old Mill Banquet Hall, 245 Toledo St., Dundee, Mich. The social hour begins at 5:30 p.m. with dinner at 7 p.m., followed by auctions and raffles. For tickets call Scott Heck 734-216-5601.



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