Images and Text by Robert Strickland
I recently observed one of the greatest nature shows I had ever witnessed. I was over at a subdivision near my home, which has good-sized pond. I was there to photograph water birds and other water fowl that frequent the pond. While I was setting up and watching for subjects, I kept hearing an Osprey cry out. I soon discovered him on the top of a tree just across the pond from me.
As I was focusing my eye on him, he swiftly took off and climbed high above the pond. The osprey suddenly went into a hover, staring into the water below. Finding nothing, he started flying around in circles, and then went back into a hover, moving side to side, hovering, and then going around in circles. After a few moments, he did a free fall toward the water. I immediately swung my camera to capture the aggressive splash and watched him fly off with a fish. However, the fish he picked was much too big and he could not immediately get it out of the water. He was stranded with his wings spread, trying to stay afloat with a huge fish in his razor sharp talons. After a few moments of struggling, he was airborne and flew off with his catch. However, he only got to the edge of the pond because the fish was so big.
I immediately went over to where he flew to see if I could photograph him eating the fish. As I came closer, he took off with his heavy load struggling to get it in the air. Once he was airborne, he flew all around the pond, just as if he wanted me to take his picture. As he flew around showing off the fish, he flew right at me, just above head height. He gave me a chance to photograph him as he flew over me. He continued to fly out and around the pond and always came back by for a photo. He eventually flew to a tree to roost and eat the fish. The fish was so big that he struggled to keep it in the tree. While he was eating the fish, he almost dropped it and had to spread his wings several times to keep his balance and the keep the fish from falling.
I went home that day amazed and convinced that such a great show could never be duplicated. I was wrong! I went back to the pond a couple of days later and found him still there, working the area. He was already hovering around looking for a fish. I setup right away and started to photograph him. He soon went from the hover to a small circle, back to a hover and abruptly dove on a fish, making a huge splash. Once the water cleared, I saw that he could not get out of the water. The fish he snared was enormous and he could not get back into the air. He was flapping his wings in an effort to stay afloat. Then he used his wings as a paddle, eventually making it to shore.
I was clear across the pond from him, so I made my way over to see what he had caught. It was a huge largemouth bass. In trying to get to shore, he had soaked up lots of water so his feathers looked really wet. As he was eating the fish, he once again shook the water from his feathers, spraying it everywhere. He began eating the fish’s eyes and its head, enjoying every bite.
After a few moments, some turkey vultures joined the festivities and tried to get at the fish, but the Osprey made sure they could not get too close. Eventually, he was able to fly off to finish his dinner in a nearby tree. He went into his usual circle around the pond but this time there was another osprey lurking in the area. The second Osprey appeared out of nowhere and attempted to get the fish away from the first Osprey. The two birds were soon locked in a battle of ownership. The first osprey vowed to keep the fish is his possession and flew in a wide circle away from the pond. The second Osprey eventually knocked the fish off and into the parking lot of the local newspaper office. That was the last I saw of them as neither returned for the catch.
I went home feeling incredibly lucky to have witnessed and photographed one of the greatest nature shows I have seen in my 30 years as a photographer. Just a few minutes from my home, I was able to observe how Osprey hunt for food and to capture it with my camera. It is moments like these that keep me in the field.
Robert Strickland is a self-taught photographer. He has been in this business for over 30 years. His specialty is nature and wildlife. Robert is a member of NANPA and a graduate of the New York Institute of Photography. To see more of his work, please visit: http://www.robertstricklandphotography.com.