Garth Brooks has friends in low places, but he has reason to prefer his low-placed pals — singing about them has pulled in a ton of money! But he is really missing out. I have soooo many friends in high places!
Most numerous of these are probably the osprey. Last year I counted 19 osprey nests on and around the stretch of Rt. 89 that brings me to the Montezuma Wildlife Refuge, and that’s not counting the 6 that are perched atop the utility towers near the entrance on Rts 5&20. This year I counted 3 more, 2 at West Shore Trail and another right on the Erie Canal in Tyre.
Osprey look like small eagles; it’s their size and the brown eyestripe that give them away. Ospreys chirp pleasantly, almost like a songbird, but if they are stressed they string them together in a woeful, whiny series. It’s enough to drive other osprey (and pesky photographers) far away!
Osprey like to nest upon platforms, which is why utility towers located near a marsh, pond, or stream soon become prime osprey real estate. The nests are used and reused year after year, maybe or maybe not by the same osprey family but certainly by other osprey, who repair and improve them to their own liking. The nests can become pretty big real fast.
Osprey eat fish, fish, and only fish. Which is why they are also called fish hawks.
Great blue herons also number among my high-placed friends. No platform nests for them; the great blues prefer to build in the V formed by intersecting tree trunks and branches.
Like ospreys’, herons’ nests are permanent structures, unless they blow down in a windstorm or if the host tree falls.
Great blues may lay claim to an existing nest or may start up a new one all their own; in any event, nest building (and rebuilding) is part of the great blue heron courtship ritual. It’s so beautiful, I could watch for hours as male herons search for suitable twigs and branches — some from a nearby forest and others from a nearby nest! — to impress his lady.
I’ve written something about this in another essay on this blog after observing one enterprising young fellow surreptitiously de-construct another heron’s nest in order to build his own. Amusing for sure. . .as long as you were not the other heron.
Great blues are numerous up here. I’ve found rookeries in some of the strangest places, including one at the edge of a suburban housing development in Penfield and another off the side of the busy New York State Thruway. Just about any marshy area with a cluster of trees, dead or alive, might support anywhere from 3 to 15 heron nests.
I am counting more and more eagles among my friends in high places. This year I’ve come across 6 nests, 3 more than last year. I’m sure there are many more, but they are hard to find and difficult to access. When the DEC discovers them they construct (or have the landowner construct) barriers around them at 330′, and if the eagle activity can be easily seen, the barrier must be double that.
S’OK, though, eagles are pretty smart. They choose to nest in areas that are essentially self-secluded, either by impassible land, bodies of water, or both. Two of the nests I am following are visible from the roadside but require a long lens to view — they are about 1000′ away, protected by a swampy area that itself is protected by a large ring of perennial mud. And here’s another, squatting in an osprey nest!
The eagle population was nearly decimated in the U.S. in the 1970s, primarily by the overuse of the pesticide DDT. The story of Montezuma and its pivotal role in restoring this population has been told many times but is summed up quite nicely by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (https://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/9380.html).
That program increased the eagle population from a single known nesting pair in 1976 to 10 pairs in 1989, when the program ended. A real and ongoing success, which is confirmed by more recent numbers. Ten years ago (2010) the DEC counted 220 bald eagle nesting pairs; no doubt there are even more today.
Eagles, too, will use and reuse older nests — even if the older nests aren’t exactly eagle nests. Last year I saw an eagle family squatting in an osprey nest, and this year another eagle family has settled into a heron nest. I guess they don’t encounter much opposition, since eagles begin nesting weeks before osprey and herons return to their western NY homes, and by the time they do arrive it’s way too late to kick out the squatters.
Owls do the same thing. Why bother with nest-building when you can use someone else’s? I was intrigued to see a great horned owl tending a nest at the heron rookery at Sterling this year, although the resident expert, Jim the Wandering Naturist, tells me this has happened regularly in years past.
It was fun following the progress of the three little babes, who rather quickly grew into three big babes — all of whom enjoyed a feast of goose before fledging the nest and heading off into the nearby woods.
I have lots of other friends who utilize high places even if they don’t live there. You may consider utility poles and wires a bothersome intrusion in the wetland environment, but I don’t. They make great rest stops and observation towers for gulls, hawks, eagles, and even songbirds.
I don’t think Garth Brooks will bother reading this blog, but if he does I have a message for him: Look up! That is where you will find friends in high places!
More friends in high places: