Back to Nature (Published on - Feb. 1, 2007)
Wildlife at the Shore
Drawing by Karen Mitchell Tremmel
The full moon shone in a clear, starred sky as the moonlight fell on waves, boiling and rolling one over the other, topped in silver, like mercury spilling onto slabs of marble, then into thin sheets of smooth, curving, mirrors reflecting the sky.

Sandpipers in silhouette ran huddled together in groups back and forth along the shore skipping over fluorescent sea foam. White, powder sand appeared rippled in steel gray shadows, blurring and blending with a rising mist moving inland.

A midnight moon-shadow followed behind me mysteriously with each of my steps, as white ghost-crabs scuttled in front of me, left and right, pretending to be invisible. Further up the coast a family of raccoons chortled to one another while searching through overflowing garbage containers.

An osprey swooped, dived and plunged, feet first, into the deep sea retrieving a prize fish that seemed too large for him to carry. A weathered, smoothed trunk, leafless tree, provided a perfect perch for the loud, raucous bird.

After discarding the head and tail of the fish, he held the body with one claw. Equipped with sharp talons the osprey pulled at the bright red meat with his hooked bill. Boat-tailed grackles hid in the bushes waiting for the fallen leftovers. The family of raccoons was not far behind.

The osprey, commonly known as the fish hawk, is a large (4- to 6-foot wing spread) brown bird, with bright golden eyes. Ospreys have white heads, which sometimes causes them to be mistaken for the bald eagle, but the osprey has a black stripe that extends to the back of his head, across the eye ending in a large black patch upon its cheek. The eagle’s head is all white. Osprey males are white below, but females are darkly streaked on the upper breast. “National Geographic Field Guide to Birds of North America” (1987).

In flight the ospreys glide overhead revealing dark wrist patches on their wings. You may observe ospreys in a variety of habitats since they have made a comeback from their serious decline due to pesticides such as DDT.

These adaptable creatures, preferring dead trees near open fresh or salt water, also make their nests on top of human built platforms along highways and lamp posts. I’ve often found them atop high school, sports lighting facilities, where once again humans have accommodated them with wooden platforms.

This is a clear example of why it is the osprey that should be given credit for its determination to live with humanity rather than in spite of us.

With our ceaseless need to consume and alter our planet, the osprey has adapted to many of these alterations. In very cleaver ways the osprey has managed to keep itself from becoming threatened or worse: extinct.

Humankind could afford to take a lesson or two from this clever bird. We also must adjust and accept our changing times. Like the osprey, our adaptability may be the very set of skills we will need to call upon to save our own species as well, our planet … back to nature.

Karen can be reached at

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