My Western Australian Ospreys
The Osprey in Britain is classed as a very special bird and the study of them is strictly attributed to the wildlife organizations that manage the reserves. The examination of the nests are strictly supervised and the nearest an interested birdwatcher can get to the nest is by watching a web-cam picture or from a hide situated a long way from the nest, and I must agree that thanks to many dedicated people, the Osprey is flourishing, so this is certainly the best situation for the protection of the bird and its future in this country.
In Australia however things are very different and access to an Ospreys nest can be easily achieved even though it is illegal to disturb them. The size of the Country and the isolation of the nesting sites, plus the relative abundance of the bird do not lend themselves to the protection like they do in Britain.
My association with this bird was when I worked for an Oil Company that had its holding tanks on a small island off the north west coast of Western Australia. The island was called Varanus Island in the Lowendal group of islands. I started work there in April 1984 and immediately became fascinated with the Marine Turtles that nested on the beaches there and the bird life that seemed to be diverse and abundant, especially sea birds that nested on the island, and the visiting migrants who visited the coral reefs that showed out of the water at low tide. Within a couple of weeks I became involved in a volunteer way with the Department of Conservation and Land Management of Western Australia. I would place tags on the flippers of the turtles and measure their carapaces. I also kept a record of the birds I saw for the Environment Consultant. Over the eight years I worked there my observations became invaluable at that time in the understanding of the Marine Turtles in Western Australia, but thatís another story.
The Indian Ocean around the island was abundant with fish, ranging from thousands of small coral fish to the Sharks, Dolphins, Southern Right Whale, and the Dugong. The numerous pairs of Ospreys that nested on the small Islands had no trouble catching food for their young; therefore it wasnít unusual for them to raise three chicks to adulthood each year. The most Ospreys I saw flying at one time were fifteen of them drifting over the biggest bay on a thermal.
Varanus Island was approximately 2 kilometers long and 500 meters at its widest point and in the first years this small island sustained 7 Ospreys nests, but with the continuing construction of the Oil terminal, with its lights and flare tower, and above all the numerous daily flights of Helicopters over and around the island, I noticed a decline in the nesting and total of chicks surviving to adulthood. The Island was a C class nature reserve and access by the personnel was restricted to the confines of the camps perimeter. I was allowed to wander throughout the restricted areas because of my interest in the Islands environment and the need to access the remote small beaches to monitor the nesting turtles.
I always approached the Ospreys nests with caution and retreated when I saw the adult become agitated. Over a period of time the birds got used to me and my approach became closer and closer. On very rare occasions I went right up to the nest and was able to take many photographs of the eggs and young. I felt I had to do this so as to keep a record of the nests contents At all times I observed the adults, making sure they were not too distressed by my attention, and I am pleased to say not one nest became deserted through my trespass. In the seventh year of my study I was able to approach to about ten yards from a sitting adult, I think it was one of the youngsters from previous years and possibly knew me as the first human it had ever seen.