Fireworks. Strong Storms. And Little Miracles in the Salt Marsh.

The sky lit up, and loud bangs reverberated through the salt marsh. About an hour after bed time, the three Osprey chicks woke up to experience their first fireworks. Courtesy of the Sugar Sand Festival going on just north of the park, on the other side of the narrow waterway. Luckily Mama Sandy and Papa Stanley have experienced these occasional “disturbances” several times before. I’m confident they made the chicks feel safe. And explained to them the silly fascination with these loud nightly displays we humans have.

sugar sand festival fireworks Clearwater Florida
Lights come on with a bang in the middle of the night.

On Sunday afternoon the drama continued, but this time it wasn’t manmade. Papa Stanley had just left for his 2 p.m. fishing trip on the bay when the thunderstorms rolled in. The skies darkened instantly. The winds picked up, gusting up to 50 miles/hour. Dry leaves and small branches swirled through the air. Sheets of rain moved sideways like grey walls of water, followed by thunder and lightning.

storm over the bay
Storms over the bay where Papa Osprey went to get some  afternoon snacks.

Mama Osprey was tightly pressed over her chicks, her head pointed against the wind. The chicks experienced their first torrential rains and their first thunderstorms under Mama’s half-spread wings.

mama osprey protects chicks in storm Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Mama Sandy protects the kids during the thunderstorms – as seen from my terrace.

This scene was repeated, with more intensity, on Monday afternoon. Looking through my window with binoculars, I could see that both Sandy and Stanley were in the nest shielding the kids from wind and rain.

On Tuesday afternoon I could finally take a walk to check on the residents in the salt marsh. The water levels were up throughout, and I saw several feathery friends out inspecting their surroundings after the storms…or just enjoying the much nicer fishing weather.

moorhen Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Mr. Moorhen inspects his flooded neighborhood after the storms.
Great Egret fishing Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
The Great Egret goes fishing after the storms.

Arriving at the osprey nest I noticed Mama Sandy had a small injury on her tummy, a bloody patch just above her left leg. But she was in full swing feeding the chicks, and didn’t seem bothered by it. Something must have hit her there scraping away the soft feathers and skin.

male osprey sleeps while the female feeds the chicks Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
The first born chick watches Mama Sandy  feed the middle chick while Papa Stanley takes a nap. Mama’s injury is partly visible just above and left of the nest corner.

It’s been quite a week for the Osprey family. The first born chick is now about four weeks old. All three chicks have learned to walk and discovered their wings. Their curiosity is limitless. They come close to the edge to scan the skies or to peek down. Even just to say hello.

osprey chick says hello Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
The middle chick says hello to Tiny. Their eyes are almost red at birth, then turn to a lighter orange shade and finally yellow at maturity.

So what do good parents do? They go shopping for baby gates. That’s exactly what both Sandy and Stanley have done several times this week.

mama osprey brings in reenforcements to the nest with three chicks Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Mama Sandy brings in reinforcements to the nest. She left the first born (on the left) in charge.
male osprey brought nest reinforcements Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Papa Stanley brought in a heavy duty baby gate.

I’ve admired the good discipline Sandy and Stanley have established. The chicks are always fed one at the time, while the other two patiently wait for their turn. All three seem to be growing, developing their own personalities … and challenging my ability to catch them all in a family portrait 🙂

Osprey family Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
A family portrait (almost). The smallest chick is being fed by Mama Sandy, his/her head partly visible next to Mama’s leg behind the middle chick.

The regular daily routine Sandy and Stanley have established serves to keep the chicks feeling safe in the wild world of fireworks and storms. It goes something like this

  • Wake up time just around dawn at 7 a.m.
  • Breakfast 7:30 – 8:30 a.m.
  • Lunch 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
  • Afternoon snack 3:00 – 4:00 p.m.
  • Dinner 7:00 – 8:00 p.m.
  • Sleepy time just around nightfall at 8:00 p.m.

Nice, eh?  I don’t think these wise parents have googled expert recommendations on consistency in meal and nap times. They just intuitively know. And that’s quite amazing to watch. In fact, it’s a privilege.

Papa Stanley and the oldest chick scan the skies.

Now is also the time to meet other youngsters. Yesterday afternoon I spotted a young  Great Egret enjoying a refreshing bath at the shallow end of the marsh.

Juvenile Great Egret  takes a bath Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
A young Great Egret takes a cooling bath.

And watched quietly in awe when Mama Mottled Duck suddenly came out of her nest. With ten little miracles in tow.  Possibly for one of their first swims. I could only see them for a minute or so before Mama took them into safety in a narrow corridor under the mangroves. Aren’t they lovely?

female mottled duck with 10 chicks Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Mama Duck takes her ten chicks for a swim.

And of course I would spot Mister Reddish Egret successfully chasing his cousin, the Great Egret, away from the fishing spot he’d claimed. That was not a miracle, but a rather common occurrence around here 🙂

Reddish Egret chases a Great Egret Sand Key Park Clearwater Florida
Mister Reddish Egret chases away the Great Egret.

This morning it’s been raining on and off. I noticed that Mama Sandy left her kids by themselves for a little while. Probably to get more reinforcements to the nest.  Right after she left it started raining again. The three chicks moved to the middle of the nest and huddled together until she returned a few minutes later.

three osprey chicks huddling together in the rain UD3
All three chicks huddling together in the rain. Sorry for the quality as I took this picture without a tripod from my terrace more than a block away.

You will notice the youngest chick is quite a bit smaller than the other two. My guess is that the first two hatched a day apart, but the last born hatched 2-3 days after the middle chick. Sandy seems to keep him/her separate from the others, often between or right behind her legs when she’s in the nest, including at feeding time. I’m sure she does that to increase his/her chances to make it.

We all wish you a great day/evening filled with love, laughter and small miracles. Rain or shine. Your embedded reporter in the nature zone, Tiny

59 thoughts on “Fireworks. Strong Storms. And Little Miracles in the Salt Marsh.”

    1. Happy you enjoyed the escapades of this little family, H.J.! It will be interesting to watch when the little ones grow and learn to fly 🙂

  1. Marvelous captures of the ospreys and the other birds. I have often wondered what do birds, and animals in general, do when it rains or storms are raging outside. Your photos and explanations have now shed light on this.

    1. I have seen other birds take shelter, particularly from strong winds, somewhere in the bushes, but birds with open nests like this one just hunker down. Ospreys have some kind of oil that develops at the “root” of their feathers. It helps the water roll off them easier when they dive and when it rains 🙂

    1. Thanks Nancy! In a few weeks time the Moorhen families (two in the marsh) should have little ones too. They are the cutest, I hope to be lucky to capture a picture of them too.

      1. I don’t see why you couldn’t photograph them, given your exceptional patience in photographing the ospreys! Waiting them out isn’t just the name of the game, it’s the whole game.

  2. Sweet Tiny I have and am learning so much about birds and life in a marsh from our blog. I would not want to be a bird or any animal during a bad storm. What great parents the osprey are. Those babies are sure growing. All of these picture are terrific as always. You are to be commended for your great photography sweet friend. Wonderful post. Hugs

    1. It makes me very happy you enjoy the stories about these birds. I feel privileged to see them often and learn a lot about – and from – them. It’s wonderful I’m able to share their lives and adventures here with you and other friends. Nature is so awesome. Hugs!

  3. Wonderful shots. Can’t believe how fast those chicks growing.

    Recent storms knocked two eaglets from their aerie in Robinson Preserve. Humans stepped in and built a new nest, x-rayed the babies (no broken bones) and placed them into the new nest . . . and then held their breath for 2 days until the parents reunited with their chicks.

    1. Amazing story! I’m happy nothing happened to the eaglets in the fall and that the Pier 1 chair-nest was accepted by the parents. We had a barn owl fledgling rescued in this park last week.

  4. Not much they can do but hunker down during storms. I do hope Mama heals quickly. Wonderful pictures and commentary as usual my friend. 🙂

    1. I saw Mama yesterday on my “sunset” walk (when it finally had stopped raining) the wound looked little better, not bloody red anymore. Thanks Jackie 🙂

    1. Those few days were full of “firsts” for the chicks. Including the first rain (but it wasn’t windy at all) yesterday without mom in the nest. But they did well 🙂 I hope to see the ducklings again. Their mom is very good at finding ways to hide them, even on the water. Thanks Kathy.

    1. You’re right Gallivanta… these birds have so much intuition…or maybe they just listen to it better than many human parents 🙂

  5. I do love all these intimate bird stories you are sharing with us, Tiny. The osprey family story could be the basis of some YA fiction? Their story woven with a struggling (in some sense) young person who finds and starts to observe them. It could be written as a diary, interposed with what’s going on in their own life at home??? Or maybe you’ve already thought of this…:)

    1. Thanks Tish! A fleeting thought of a book has crossed my mind, but I have not thought it through at all. Thanks for a great idea 🙂

    1. I had been wishing for rain because we had many hot days last week, but I didn’t ask for severe storms. I was worried about them when the wind was gusting so hard and the nest is right there in the open. But all seems to be well with our friends :)Thank you, Sirpa!

  6. Thank you so much for the beautiful series! We get to see how the babies are growing, how parents are protect them from strong wind and heaving rain… Magnificent photos, Tiny!

  7. What a wonderful mother Mrs Osprey is, shielding her young like that in the storm. Her strength to stay in the next WHILST protecting the chicks amazes me. Little wonder she has a small “war” wound as she must have had to press down quite hard against those winds. Have a great week-end Tiny! 😉

    1. I think you’re right, Joanne, she must have pressed against something so hard in the two storms that her skin was scraped away. I’ve also noticed she has lost some weight. I haven’t seen her with full crop for weeks as there’s not much fish or time for her to eat…in average osprey moms lose 15% of their weight during nesting season (while dads lose 10%, hmm) and she’s on her way now. Have a great weekend 🙂

  8. You are indeed our intrepid and embedded reporter in the nature zone Tiny! Thank you for a great post, and some wonderful shots. The ducklings are ccuuyyyuuttte!
    …. I wonder if the reddish egret gets inspiration from the fireworks for his displays!

    1. Smiling… he is quite explosive, and colorful, so you might be right 😀 I hope I can get more shots of the ducklings over the weekend. Have a great one, Val.

  9. How positively fascinating to watch the continuing drama of the osprey family unfold! Especially to see Mama Sandy protecting her chicks during the storm! And then to see them installing the “baby gates!” 🙂 Thank you so much for documenting it for us and letting us share in their incredible journey.

    I adored the photo of the mother mottled duck and her chicks! Too cute for words!! And Mr. Reddish Egret chasing the great egret really made me smile. Once again, a fabulous report, Tiny! ❤

    1. That first storm when she was alone with the chicks, and Papa was out fishing on the bay in those winds, was quite dramatic to watch. The wind gusted so hard that I was afraid a chick would be blown out of the nest. But all was well 🙂 I hope to spot the darling ducklings again this week! Happy you enjoyed this instalment, Amy!

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