The beach here in Florida that I walk daily tends to be pretty quiet, birdwise.
The coastline here is smooth and clear, with unfettered lines and shallow shores. It’s a big city beach, where the A1A coastal highway runs right alongside the ocean. The backshore dunes are shallow here, and there are few patches of wilderness to speak of. These quiet beaches support an unseen wildlife including worms, bivalves and crustaceans, attracting seabirds that depend on these sandy beaches for foraging.
Our regular birdlife revolves around the usual suspects – busy sanderlings and polite seagulls patrol the sands, while pelicans keep a close watch on the waters. But without doubt the atmosphere changes with the presence of the Osprey, the coolest bird on the planet!
The osprey is strong and smart, and deceptively fast. When you see them patrolling their hunting grounds they seem to be making hard work of it all. Pelicans just glide along majestically, while gulls swoop and dive, and even the big ol’ Turkey buzzards fly effortlessly in the thermals. The osprey by contrast flaps steadily into the wind, yet in a moment, after hovering high she will suddenly fold her wings and streak to the ocean’s surface with talons ready.
Inevitably the catch is made, and witnessing a successful catch is a breathtaking thing. The bird emerges triumphant and gives a little shudder-shake as she takes off again.
The catch is frequently quite alive, glistening in the sunshine as the osprey makes for a favorite spot – freuquently atop one of the older weatherbeaten utility poles – to make the most of the freshly caught meal.
The osprey is deceptively large too. White and brown, with a wingspan up to 6 feet. They can be found all over the globe, and are not especially endangered. They like to nest in the same place year on year, so it’s safe to say that the ospreys that I see along Fort Lauderdale North Beach are resident here, with the inland waters of Bonnet House and Taylor Birch State Park most likely providing the peace that they need to nest and breed.
Fort Lauderdale does have some good nesting spots, as patches of unspoilt mangrove swamps are mostly safe from re-development. With its network of canals, Fort Lauderdale’s osprey can sometimes swoop down dramatically into local backwaters should a decent catch be spied.
British birding writer Simon Barnes points out that even in the most hospitable worlds birds of prey are the most vulnerable of creatures, being prey to humans, who kill them, as well as being sensitive to the poisons in our eco-system. As Barnes puts it, “If humans chop down half the wood, there will still be caterpillars and blue tits: but the wood is no longer big enough to support enough blue tits to feed a single family of sparrowhawks”.
Barnes argues that the biggest single change in conservation came when certain pesticides were outlawed in the 1960s. The real victims of the pesticides were birds of prey: as the poisons built up in the ecosystem, our best species were driven to the edge of extinction.
With this in mind the presence of our ospreys is a sign that our local eco-system is doing OK. To sustain our birds of prey we need all the element lower down the food chain to be healthy too, on land and in the ocean.
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