Dudley Drama

I’ve written several times about Cornell University’s live bird cams that enable people all around the world to spy on the interactions of different bird species as they begin the mating season, build their nests, brood their eggs, hatch their offspring, nurture them to fledging and then helicopter them as they gradually become self-sufficient.

This year high drama has surrounded  the Hellgate Osprey Nest in Missoula Montana. But first we must recap last years drama…  Iris and Stanley continued their relationship from years before, refurbishing their nest, brooding their eggs and cam watchers delighted in seeing Stanley deliver a fresh fish to Iris, delicately ripping fish flesh pieces that he then gently fed to her as she sat brooding the eggs. They worked as a highly efficient team driven by instinct to procreate and ensure the survival of their species. Unfortunately Mother Nature dealt them a deadly blow last year in the form of a hail storm that damaged their eggs and that year’s brood was lost. Stanley and Iris eventually migrated South for the winter and when April arrived the Hellgate cameras heralded the arrival of Iris. We and Iris watched for days and days for the arrival of Stanley. He never arrived and we will never know what happened to prevent his return. Most likely he died during the winter. So Iris waited, was approached by several males attempting to mate and ultimately her next “husband” arrived and won her over with his charming character and clownish ways. Louis had secured her affections and they set about to raise a family.


The experts let us know that this was probably Louis’s first year as a Father-to-be based on his inexperienced behaviors. After multiple awkward mating attempts, Louis finally got the hang of that piece of the family making puzzle.  He had much more to learn though and Iris was more than ready to teach him. We watched as she yakked at him almost constantly, perhaps directing his nest enhancement skills or ordering a fish for lunch. As she laid her eggs and began to brood them, Louis would fly in with a huge gangly stick and in his efforts to place it correctly in the nest he many times bopped her on the head. He seemed not to realize that it was his responsibility to fish, fish, and fish some more, to bring those fish to Iris and give them over to her. She would fly off with the proffered fish and he settled in to fret about  how to gently turn the eggs and position his body over the eggs before covering them for brooding. All new skills that he was desperately trying to learn. Iris yakked and yakked and yakked.

But Louis wasn’t a quitter, he learned quickly and gradually took delight in his time brooding the eggs. When Iris returned from her brief forays, he was reluctant to relinquish his position. But ultimately he did because Iris was yakking at him. She definitely was the boss. As time passed, two of the three eggs were damaged…how we don’t know…maybe accidentally punctured by a talon claw, maybe by a beak that turned the eggs too vigorously, any of which could have been caused by Louis’s inexperience as a parent.

At last we waited and waited and waited some more for the last egg to pip. Expert bird people know exactly how long it takes for the egg to develop and as the days passed it became evident that this last egg was probably not viable. But both Iris and Louis are still being driven by instinct and continue to brood until some internal switch turns off and they accept that this year their efforts are unsuccessful. But the egg remains in the nest and although Iris is spending less and less time each day brooding the egg, Louis is still hanging in there, protecting his offspring which has become known to the world as Dudley. Dudley  the Osprey who would never be.


Iris and Louis will spend the remainder of this summer fishing, flying and just hanging out together, continuing to bond as a mated pair. Then they will depart on their migration South each going their separate way. Hopefully next Spring they will both return to the nest at Hellgate and will begin again to build a family. And perhaps next year, they will be successful.

Watching the beauty of nature as it evolves is a gift. Thank you Cornell for giving the world a “bird’s-eye view” so we can learn, enjoy and embrace these beautiful creatures.

Photos courtesy of Cornell live bird cams

Cornell Live Bird Cams Revisited

Bird Feeder on Sapsucker Pond, Ithaca New York

It’s winter. For those of us in Texas, this means almost perfect weather….nice temperatures, clear skies, many leafless trees and excellent bird watching. Not so for many parts of our country where falling snow and adverse weather conditions may limit outdoor time for many people. Enter Cornell University’s Live Bird Cams.

Each year I open each of these cams on my computer and delight in watching many different species up close and personal as they build nests, lay their eggs, incubate, feed, nourish and teach their offspring survival skills and then watch them fledge for the first time. Each of these bird events is highly anticipated by thousands of viewers all over the world. Ah, what a wonderful thing is this internet. Allowing each of us windows into different worlds that may literally be a world away. A giant thank you to Cornell University for supporting and facilitating these cameras and an equally large thank you to all the volunteers that moderate these sites teaching us about these birds, their habits and behaviors. I have learned so much and have also discovered that viewing birds on the camera has transferred to better identification skills for me in the field.

Laysan Albatross and chick. Look closely and you can find the baby.

In Hawaii I get to enjoy a Laysan Albatross as she and her mate build a simple nest of a few sticks on the ground, tend to their young for a long seven month period before that one youngster takes to its wings for the first time. Last year I felt privileged to watch the young Albatross trundle up a hill that overlooked the ocean, open her wings and launch herself into the air for the first time.  She will spend the next couple of years soaring high above the ocean. It was a magical moment filled with raw emotion….the sheer beauty of this bird instinctively thrusting herself into the Albatross life.

Drama unfolds at these cam sites. Red-tailed Hawks Ezra and Big Red have been successful for many years in raising their young on the Cornell University campus. Campus goers actually write notes in chalk to them on the sidewalk below their nest site. One of their fledglings was injured in a crazy impossible accident involving a greenhouse roof on the campus that closed on the young bird and injured his wing. The dedicated BOGs (birders on the ground) that track the fledglings movements called for help and he received the best veterinarian care in the hopes he could be returned to the wild. Unfortunately this didn’t happen so E3 is now being used for educational programs. His life is happy and he definitely will not have to worry about survival in the wild.

Dottie the Barn Owl

Dottie and Casper are two barn owls that live in Texas. I’ve watched and rooted for their offspring, one in particular. Ollie was the fourth egg to hatch and seemed to be struggling to survive since his older siblings seemed to get the lion’s share of the food Mom and Dad brought to them. But as I watched Ollie got stronger, beating the odds that he might experience the siblicide fate of so many. Today Dottie has returned to the nesting box, but so far no sighting of Casper. There has been another male owl periodically and all of us “watchers” are anxiously awaiting Casper’s arrival. Did he survive the winter? Is this new male owl (already named Dash) his replacement? Only time will tell.

Ruffed Grouse – Bird Feeder, Ontario Canada

And even when the birds have finished their nesting and young raising chores, the bird feeders on Sapsucker Pond and in Ontario Canada continue to provide great bird watching and many surprises throughout the year. It was on the Sapsucker Pond feeder that I saw my first Pileated Woodpecker. And in Ontario I saw my first ruffed grouse.

Blue Jay and Dove sharing the feeder on Sapsucker Pond

If you are wheelchair or home bound these cams are for you. If you work in a cubicle with no windows to the outside world, these cameras are for you. Or if you just wish to have a secretive look at birds in their natural environment and watch them work their many wonders, then these cams are for you. I know they have greatly enhanced my serenity, my knowledge of birds and my identification skills. So check them out. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

Happy bird searching!!!


All photos captured from Cornell Live Bird Cams via my computer. Thank you Cornell!



Iris and Stanley


Stanley & Iris -2014

Just who are Iris and Stanley? They are two beautiful Ospreys that share their lives with us on a daily basis thanks to the Cornell live bird cams. This can be a blessing or a curse for me. A blessing in that I get to observe the majesty of their bodies, their behavior and indomitable spirits. A curse because when tragedy strikes their family it saddens me to the point of tears. This is what happened this year as Iris and Stanley began to add more offspring to their large family.

Through the cam, we are able to watch as huge sticks are brought to the nest atop a platform located at the mouth of Hellgate Canyon near the Clark Fork River in Missoula, Montana. They somehow manage to build those sticks into a nice nest with a cup in the center where the eggs will be deposited. Stanley is very proficient at supplying Iris with great sticks, both large and small. Many times he weaves them into the nest and later we may see Iris doing some “redecorating” as if she wasn’t quite satisfied with his building skills.

Osprey Chick – 2014

The eggs are laid and through the cams we anxiously wait to see just how many there will be this year. One, two, then three. As she tends to her important duties, Stanley proves consistently what a great provider he is. Time and time again he dives into the river, catches huge fish, removes the head and brings the entire fish to the nest for Iris. But, he goes one step further. I have actually seen him tear small pieces of flesh from the fish and tenderly feed them to Iris. There relationship is solid and they will remain with each other until one of them dies at which time the remaining one will seek another mate for life. The drive to preserve the species is quite strong.

Iris and Stanley both tenderly care for their eggs keeping them warm, protecting them from the elements. I have seen her spread her wings and act as a “Mombrella” to shade her chicks from the sun or rain. This is exactly what she did one day when a freak hail storm began pummeling the nest. She and Stanley spread their wings in a futile attempt to protect their eggs. So close to pipping when disaster struck. All of the eggs sustained damage even though both parents valiantly fought to protect them. Faced with this tremendous loss, both parents instinctively knew it was too late to begin again. They must wait for next Spring. Hopefully next year they will meet with success and their offspring will fledge from the nest and begin their own journeys.

My heart was so heavy the day I watched the video and read about their loss. I shed tears and the sadness followed me for several days thereafter. The drama of watching them build, endure, suffer loss and carry on is a lesson from Mother Nature to us all. Never give up, keep trying and success will eventually be yours.

Happy bird searching!!!IMG_2786

Photos grabbed from live bird cams courtesy of Cornell University.



Red Tail Hawk Chick

A few years ago I discovered Cornell University’s live bird cams. I became obsessed with watching Big Red and Ezra as they prepared their nest, nurtured the eggs in all kinds of weather, kept their young well fed and finally helped them to fledge to continue their education free in the wild. It was so beautiful and tender and mind blowing to watch this family survive and go about their activities of daily living. There was much drama throughout the months that spanned egg laying to fledge time.

I traveled via bird cam to Hawaii where I watched a Laysan Albatross hatch and survive to spread his wings and soar for the first time out over the Pacific six months later. There was a beautiful video of Spike (my nickname for him) as he took to his wings for the first time. I learn so very much from the postings of expert birders on these cam sites. A Laysan Albatross may be hatched in January and his parents have to care for him until July before he can fly away on his own to spend a couple of years riding the thermal waves above the ocean. Doesn’t sound too difficult until we learn that the preferred food of the Albatross is squid. To get this squid food, his parents fly as far as Japan or Alaska, gorge themselves, fly back to their chick and regurgitate the rich liquid to their offspring’s begging mouth. And they do this over and over and over again.

I’ve enjoyed a backyard cam in Ontario Canada in the dead of winter and the feeders on Sapsucker Woods Pond in Ithaca, New York. Each feeder explodes with different species of birds and can be a source of great entertainment for birdwatchers particularly if they are physically handicapped and are unable to trapse around in the bushes in search of new birds.

So, here is my conundrum….Many birders keep a Life List of all the birds they have seen or identified. We work hard at adding new birds to our Life List. It is an exciting endeavor filled with much anticipation.  So, if I am watching a bird cam in some far away place and I see a species of bird that is new to me, is it politically correct for me to be able to add it to my Life List? I ask this question sometimes to different birders and have received all different kinds of replies. The staunch dyed-in-the-wool birders say “No way…cam birds aren’t legal to count. You have to go out looking for them.” The way I interpret this response is…” I have spent a lot of time and money doing this hobby the hard way and if I suffered then so should you”. This mindset is similar to the way some experienced nurses will treat new graduates…I suffered and you should also.  However, many times the response is “I’m not sure” or “I have never thought about that” but when I back my choice with justifiable reasons FOR bird cams being a legitimate means of adding to a birding Life List, often I am able to swing them to my way of thinking.

Since I am a nurse, I have spent a career dealing with many patients with impaired mobility. These people, many times through no fault of their own, can’t physically get out and about to pursue a hobby such as bird watching. I strongly believe that in this advanced age of technology, why not take advantage of the live bird cams to experience the joy of nature, observe and learn about the many different species and by doing so expand our world. Why not let it count? I will always resoundingly say “Yes”  since I don’t believe that one has to be physically present to experience the thrill of spotting your very first Pileated Woodpecker. I am forever thankful for the technology that has enabled me to see many species and their habits up close and personal when otherwise it might not have been possible.

And again I say….Why Not?IMG_3130

Happy bird searching in person or via cam. In my world it counts!!!