Lum: Bird-watching from an armchair
This spring I heard about two bird-watching sites; one is the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., has a camcorder rigged over a bald eagle nest, and the other is right here in Emma with 24/7 viewing of a pair of ospreys.
The bald eagles are a handsome pair named Mr. President and The First Lady, with the public suggesting names for the two babies, who hatched about a month ago and look nothing like their noble parents but are flopping blobs whose wing parts keep getting in their way.
The two ospreys just recently returned to the valley, and no eggs have been laid yet, so there’s not much going on. Sometimes both will be sitting on the nest surveying their territory, but most of the time you’re just looking at the nest, which — and the same goes for the eagles’ nest — looks about as comfortable as a pile of rocks.
On Wednesday morning, both ospreys were sitting on their house of sticks when a wings-spread bird appeared and dove right for them, flapping at one of them until it flew away. It looked like another osprey to me, but what do I know? Drama on the nest. The dislodged osprey returned, and so did the attacker, while the one I assume to be the female sat quietly by.
Were the guys fighting over the female at this late date? Don’t we already hope and assume that the lady is with child?
At my computer, I can flip from local ospreys to East Coast eagles. I may be fooling myself that distance can mean detachment, because I’m already worried about the smaller of the two eagle babies, not to mention the osprey love triangle.
The site for the eagles is Eagles.org/dceaglecam, and for the ospreys, it’s PitkinCounty.com/osprey.
When I was 13, I was thrust into a bird situation from which I haven’t totally recovered. On a spring afternoon, a blue jay attacked an oriole nest in our maple tree and dashed its three occupants to the ground while the oriole parents screamed and pecked at him to no avail.
The three babies survived the fall, but they were pitiful, naked little creatures with hardly a bit of fluff among them, and it was direly predicted that they wouldn’t last long in my mother’s sewing basket padded with shredded Kleenex.
My mother got on the phone and was soon networking with every bird expert in the area. The consensus was grim, but a diet of scraped steak was proposed as a chance in a million.
We scraped steak. We opened the sewing box, and three wide mouths screeched at us wanting more, more, more.
We named them Tom, Dick and Harry. Tom was the strongest and most handsome; Harry was bedraggled but dear. They graduated from the sewing box to a small cage to a large cage that stood with its door open in our front room that served as my father’s Bell Labs home office.
My father would sit at his card table adjusting his slide rule with a bird on his head, one on each shoulder and a saucer of cut-up worm treats at his elbow.
Maybe three months had passed since the day of the blue jay. Now the cage hung on the back porch; the orioles flew freely around the yard or wherever they went, returning to the cage at night.
Disaster struck one rainy Saturday morning when the neighbor’s Irish terrier, Duffy, chased them down and killed Dick and Harry in a matter of seconds.
We mourned the babies and mourned for Tom — what would he do now that it was getting time to fly south? We would care for him if he decided to stay (I hoped he would), but one night he didn’t come back to the outdoor cage.
But the following spring I heard a tweeting, and there was Tom wearing his blue bracelet, tweeting at me from a nearby branch. He had built a nest in his old maple tree, and that summer he’d land on our fingers and take treats. The next summer he called to us but didn’t get as close, and the summer after that, maybe it was Tom or maybe one of Tom’s sons who kept up the tradition. We always call that the oriole tree.
Su Lum is a longtime local who this time wants to watch from a distance. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The past sneaks up on us in the strangest of ways, and I don’t mean bounty hunters flashing those “Wanted: Dead or Alive” posters in our faces.