HOLDERNESS — Thousands of people followed the online journey of Art the Osprey last spring as he made his epic 5,000 mile journey from his winter home in Brazil to his nest along the Pemigewasset River in Bridgewater. The satellite tracking device on his back allowed researchers and the public to take a virtual journey with Art. His triumphant return to his nest and his waiting mate were a spectacular conclusion to his amazing story.
Art was tagged in May 2012 by a team led by Iain MacLeod, Executive Director of Squam Lakes Natural Science Center and Dr. Richard (Rob) Bierregaard, a distinguished visiting research professor at the Department of Biology at the University of North Carolina. Chris Martin, Raptor Biologist with NH Audubon also helped with the capture and tagging (which is carried out under strict guidelines and requires both state and federal permits). The team was able to watch Art as he raised a chick last year and then follow him to the Araguaia River in east-central Brazil where he spent his winter "vacation." After his return to Bridgewater in April, Art quickly got down to breeding once again and this year he and his mate raised three healthy chicks in their huge stick nest high atop a forty foot unused utility pole.
Squam Lakes Natural Science Center launched the project in 2011 with financial and logistical support from Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH). The project was conceived and led by MacLeod who has studied Ospreys for more than 30 years and has monitored the growing nesting population in the Lakes Region since 1997 in collaboration with NH Audubon and NH Fish and Game. In addition to PSNH support, MacLeod also gained project funding from the Jane B. Cook 1983 Charitable Trust and the Science Center's own Innovative Project Fund.
Last week MacLeod and Bierregaard managed to recapture Art and remove his transmitter. At the same time, they caught two of Art's chicks (both males) and redeployed Art's transmitter on one of them and fitted a new transmitter on the other.
"Art had given us all the data we could wish for and there was no scientific reason for him to carry the transmitter south for another migration," said MacLeod. "Everything worked out perfectly and we caught Art and his two sons within half an hour of installing the trap," added MacLeod. Art had carried the 30g (1oz) transmitter for more than 14,000 miles. Now he has passed the scientific baton to his sons. MacLeod will be able to recognize Art in the future by the unique metal leg band that was placed there when his transmitter was fitted. "I'll know next spring if he returns," said Macleod.
The chicks that received Art's old transmitter is now named Artoo and his brother is Bergen. "It turns out that we caught them just in time, as within three days of tagging, Artoo decided it was time to head south," said MacLeod. The third chick, which was not tagged, also apparently has left, as only Bergen has been seen at meal times at the nest since Friday.
Artoo left the Lakes Region on the August 16th and spent his first night near Keene. By the end of the next day he was on the Hudson River, near Albany, New York and on the 18th continued on to western NY and almost into PA.
Art and Bergen join three other New Hampshire Ospreys that are being tracked by MacLeod. In May, the team trapped and tagged two adult males at nests in Tilton and Stratford. Those two Ospreys, named Donovan and Mackenzie, both reared families this summer and revealed much about their forging range. Donovan's nest is near the J.Jill distribution center in Tilton, but he regularly travels more than eleven miles each way to fish on the Merrimack from Franklin down to Penacook. Mackenzie would regularly travel further even than that from his nest on the Connecticut River north of Groveton all the way over to the York Pond Fish Hatchery in Berlin. Right now Mackenzie is spending most of his time on the Androscoggin River in Berlin.
In early August, the team tagged a newly fledged chick at a nest in the saltmarsh of Hampton Harbor on the seacoast. That chick - a female named Weber - is sticking close to home and has not yet started her migration.
All five birds will attempt to migrate to South America. The juveniles have a one-in-five chance of making it.
"The mortality rate for first year Ospreys is very high, more than 70%," said MacLeod. "They have to make the migration all by themselves and face many hazards along the way, including crossing the Caribbean in hurricane season. Once in South America they have to find a safe winter territory where they can spend the next 18 months before returning north in their third calendar year," added MacLeod. The adult have a better chance. They have made the journey several times and know what lies ahead of them and where they are going. The annual mortality rate for adults is less than 10%.
People can follow the journeys of Artoo, Bergen, Weber, Donovan and Mackenzie from their computer. MacLeod authors a blog which provides regular updates and maps showing where each bird is and what lies in store. The blog is at http://www.nhnature.org/programs/project_ospreytrack/