AUGUSTA — One more sure sign that it’s finally spring — the osprey have returned to Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park in Freeport, according to a press release from the Department of Conservation.
One nesting pair has arrived back from their winter vacation in South America and has set up nest-keeping on the Googins Island site, according to Park Manager Andy Hutchinson. A single male arrived Tuesday at the mainland site, which means its mate should be returning by Monday, April 18, Hutchinson said.
“It’s almost like clockwork,” the park manager said. “You can expect them to return around the same time every year.”
The popular seacoast park has had two nesting pairs of osprey for some years, one large nest on Googins Island and another smaller nest on the mainland. The birds, which can be easily viewed by visitors, have been a regular favorite attraction at the park, which is owned and managed by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, under the Maine Department of Conservation.
The osprey’s continual return to the park nesting sites is as predictable as other famous U.S. bird migrations, including the swallows’ return to San Juan Capistrano, Calif., and the buzzards to Hinckley, Ohio.
The osprey’s return this year also is perfect timing for a two-day, family birding event, “Feathers over Freeport,” to be held April 30-May 1 at both Wolfe’s Neck Woods and Bradbury Mountain state parks. More information will be forthcoming about the event, which will feature not only osprey watches, but also hawk watches at Bradbury in Pownal and numerous activities for children and families and beginning and intermediate birders, Hutchinson said.
Osprey are one of the largest birds of prey in North America and eat fish almost exclusively. Once an endangered species because of pesticides, they are found on all continents except Antarctica. Osprey build nests on high trees and man-made structures. They mate for life, though if a mate dies, the remaining bird will find a second mate. Osprey can live 15 to 25 years.
Hutchinson, who is a naturalist, said the Googins Island male returned on March 28, while the female returned on April 5. The birds most likely are the same pair that lived previously on the island, but because they are not banded, observers can’t be certain.
“Chances are pretty good, given that they’re a fairly young pair, that it’s the same pair,” he said.
The birds winter separately, though in the same general area, the park manager said, and the male returns to the summer nest first. The male “usually gets a head start, fixing up the nest for mom,” Hutchinson said. The island nest “over-wintered well and is completely intact” with no damage, he said. The male always adds a few new sticks to enlarge the nest and control parasites.
The birds also have started mating and continue to mate even after chicks are born. Park visitors will likely view the activity, the park manager said.
The mainland male arrived this Tuesday, two weeks behind the island male, Hutchinson noted. “We wonder if they go further south for the winter,” he said. “We expect the female within the week, probably by April 18.”
The mainland nest, which is smaller and was rebuilt last year, also survived the winter intact, he said.
Visitors who take part in the “Feathers over Freeport” event will find the weekend to be “a nice time of year” for birding and birding-related activities, Hutchinson said. In particular, a scope will be set up to allow people to see the Googins Island osprey up close and in the nest, he said.
“They could be sitting on eggs or possibly laying eggs,” the park manager predicted. “The mother could be rotating eggs, and the dad could be feeding the mom.”
For more information about Maine state parks and historic sites check out http://www.parksandlands.com