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The autumn migration continues. Birds of many species are passing through southern Arizona, including species that one usually would not find here. Which brings me to the story of “Captain Hook,” the Osprey that Louisa and I discovered one morning while driving through the farmlands of the Santa Cruz Flats.
Ospreys, sometimes colloquially known as “fish eagles,” have a range that includes much of the Northern Hemisphere. They are associated with water — lakes, ponds, rivers, and bays — including fresh, brackish and salt water. They specialize in capturing fish. They have the remarkable ability to hover above the surface of a body of water, scanning for fish swimming just submerged. An Osprey captures its prey by making a spectacular dive into the water, head first, with its feet pointing forward. It snags its prey with its talons, then bursts out of the water, flying to a safe perch while grasping its prey.
Ospreys are large birds — not as big as eagles, but larger than most hawks. An adult Osprey weighs about three and one-half pounds (about 1.6 kg). It is capable of capturing a surprisingly large fish.
The Santa Cruz Flats is not Osprey habitat. The Flats consist of many square miles of reclaimed desert. The Flats are very dry, hot, and dusty, notorious for the dust storms that occur there at certain times of the year. However, and a bit incongruously, the Flats contain many miles of man-made irrigation canals. Some of these canals contain fish. Ospreys migrating through the Flats can catch a meal or two from these canals.
The Santa Cruz Flats are, in fact, a way station for migrating Ospreys. Southern Arizona is a relatively short distance, just a few hundred miles, from the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California), a long and narrow arm of the Pacific Ocean that separates the Mexican mainland from Baja California. Thousands of Ospreys can be found there and that population undoubtedly includes wintering migrants. So, it’s quite logical for Ospreys to show up from time to time in our desert regions as they head for their wintering grounds. In fact, and on very rare occasions, an Osprey will find the Flats to its liking and spend all or part of the winter there.
Thus, Louisa and I were not entirely surprised a couple of weeks ago when we rounded a curve on a desolate farm road and saw a very large bird perching on a utility pole adjacent to an irrigation canal.
The bird had the classic appearance of an adult Osprey, with dark brown plumage on its back and outer wings, a brilliant white breast, piercing yellow eyes, a huge, hooked beak, and very long and razor sharp talons.
The Osprey saw us but showed little concern about our presence. It was relaxed, perhaps digesting a meal.
We observed it and photographed it for several minutes, then drove on.
Two hours later, we passed the same location and found the Osprey to be still sitting on its perch. It hadn’t moved (adding evidence to support the theory that it was digesting a meal). I made one more image of the bird.
I showed this last image to several friends and a couple of them immediately suggested that we name the bird “Captain Hook.” The reason for that name is self-evident.
Images made with a Canon r5, Canon RF 100-500mm f4.5-7.1 IS L zoom lens+1.4x telextender, M setting (auto ISO). First three images, ISO 800, f10 @ 1/640, +1/3 stop exposure compensation. Fourth image, ISO 800, f10 @ 1/1250.