Saturday, February 18, 2012


Pandion haliaetus carolinensis
(click on images for enlarged view)

Note eagle-like wingspan
Viewing the Osprey was a small consolation for missing out on the Bald Eagle. Sometimes mistaken for eagles, they arguably share the majestic and beautiful attributes with other large birds of prey. We spotted six or seven my first time out on the lake, but only saw two during this outing. Again, the colder and windier conditions probably kept them from perching for as long a period. This species is well adapted to aquatic habitats, perching and nesting in areas where land predators cannot reach (see photo below). 

Fossil records of extinct species (Pandion homoleption) were found in California suggesting that this subspecies is native to this area. This subspecies, carolinensis, is found in North America and has a larger, darker body with a paler breast. All Ospreys are large: about 2 feet long with a wingspan of 50 to 60 inches. They have a distinctive yellow iris that can just barely be made out in the photo below. Females are generally weightier with slightly larger wingspans. 

This one seemed to be displaying his catch to us. One unique thing about Ospreys is their                                  rounded talons with reversible outer toes                                                   
allowing them to hold on to slippery fish as 
seen above. The Osprey also has excellent vision,               HD recommended                                                                                                  
relatively long legs, and nasal valves that make it
an excellent angler. 

Perched on buoy with a meal in its talon
This large raptor can be found all over the world near large bodies of water. It has a large range and occurs in very high numbers. North American populations migrate from Canada and the United States to South America, but some (like those we saw at the lake) stay in Southern California or Florida during the winders. Research from the 1960’s indicates that population decline did occur in the early 20th Century largely attributed to the pesticide DDT. Of course, the Osprey along with many other predatory birds has made significant recoveries since the banning of DDT. Conversely, the Osprey makes use of manmade structures by building nests on channel markers and telephone poles, as seen above.

Predators include eagles and owls, although they usually attack the nests and not full-grown adults. Terrestrial predators include raccoons and snakes. Nests built by Ospreys may be used by other large birds such as bald eagles (not today, of course), horned owls, red-tailed hawks, and common ravens on subsequent years. Ospreys are also considered indicator species for the long-term health of estuaries and bays. Their tolerance for short-term disturbances from researchers makes them ideal for studying. 

Multi-resident nests

These three species were not the only ones seen on this day. Also observed were peregrine falcons, double-crested cormorants, red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures, a type of wobbler, gulls, ducks, and numerous type of fish. There are many other species to be observed, including that elusive bald eagle. Regardless of what types of wildlife were seen, the pristine beauty of the lake and surrounding environment is serene enough to quell even the worst of hangovers. Even on a balmy, chilly day the spray of the water is fun and tests the endurance of the intrepid lake-goers. Just knowing that a place like this exists only 45 minutes away is comforting. Such knowledge, however, has eluded many of my peers, most  of whom have lived in the Santa Barbara area for over 2 years. I suspect that many permanent residents are also unaware of the beauty that exists in their own backyards. While marine species are more familiar, there are many other important species and corresponding habitats worth seeing and protecting. Observing these elements of nature firsthand is critical to piquing interest in conservation. 

Looking SSE at Santa Ynez Mountains

Looking SW at Santa Ynez Mountains

Ames, Peter. “DDT Residues in the Eggs of the Osprey in the North-Eastern United States and their Relation to Nesting Success.” Journal of Applied Ecology , Vol. 3, Supplement: Pesticides in the Environment and Their Effects on Wildlife. (Jun., 1966), pp. 87-97.

"Osprey." Animals. Nat Geo Wild. National Geographic Society, 2012. Web. 22 Feb 2012.

Watkins, Patricia. "Pandion haliaetus." Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan Zoology, 2000. Web. 22 Feb 2012.

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