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March 20. 2013 10:11PM

Art the osprey begins long journey home to NH


Squam Lakes Natural Science Center Executive Director Iain MacLeod, right, holds Art, a male osprey currently making his way back to New Hampshire from South America. At left is Dr. Rob Bierregaard, a Distinguished Visiting Research Professor in the Department of Biology at the University of North Carolina. (COURTESY)

HOLDERNESS - How Art thou? So far, so good for Art, the 8-year-old adult male osprey equipped with a GPS transmitter as part of the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center's OspreyTrack Program. Art departed his summer roosting area deep in Brazil on the Rio Tocantins this past Friday, and has thus far flown nearly 300 miles north.

Art, who has made the treacherous migration and return trip from South America seven times, was among three ospreys who departed from New Hampshire late in the fall. Two other transmitter-equipped juvenile ospreys, Jill and Chip from the Tilton area, are presumed to have perished. In 2011, the center lost another juvenile female, Saco, during migration.

Project leader and Squam Lakes Natural Science Center Executive Director Iain MacLeod, an internationally-recognized osprey researcher, is working with Dr. Rob Bierregaard, a Distinguished Visiting Research Professor at the Department of Biology at the University of North Carolina who has tracked nearly 40 ospreys using satellite technology.

Coincidentally, two of the ospreys that Dr. Bierregaard is tracking departed Venezuela on the same day, March 15, MacLeod said. He estimated that Art's return trip would take three weeks - less than the five-week migration south - as he may be eager to return to his nest and his mate in Bridgewater.

Art was "a little slow to get going" on his return trip, only logging about 80 miles on his first day flying north, and another 70 over the next couple days. But he appears to be picking up speed and has advanced another 150 miles since Monday, according to tracking data. The nearly 5,000-mile trip to Brazil took Art 35 days.

On Wednesday, MacLeod said this week's snowstorm should not have an impact on Art's trek home at all since the snow will likely be gone by the time Art makes it to New England in a few weeks. If not, the mature raptor will simply either stay further south for a while.

"He would slow down and find somewhere to fish," MacLeod said.

Ospreys dine solely on fish and, down south, Art had much to choose from. In a log entry with Art's tracking data, (www.nhnature.org/programs/project_ospreytrack/osprey_mapART.php), MacLeod described the region Art chose to inhabit for the winter.

"He has a couple of regular roost sites that he uses every night and then spends most of each day perched next to an area of water - always on the lookout for the next fish dinner. He has plenty of choices on the Rio Tocantins. I recently came across a paper on the fish species found in the Tocantins watershed. The researchers documented 343 species of fish - there are a total of 48 freshwater fish species in New Hampshire, so Art has a little more variety in his diet down there," he wrote.

Once Art does arrive, he is expected to return to his nest atop a utility pole in Bridgewater on the Pemigewasset River.

"They are very faithful to existing nests," said MacLeod.

Art has nested in the same spot since 2007. If another osprey has claimed the nest, Art will fight to get it back. Ever faithful, Art will reunite with the same female osprey he has mated with for several years. The female, who is tagged but not equipped with a GPS transmitter, also summers in South America. Courtship will begin with Art bringing the female a fish, to show he's a good provider, and an aerial display. MacLeod said the female lays the eggs - up to three eggs, typically - in May. Once laid, the incubation takes 35 days. The chicks are cared for through the summer, and will likely migrate in the fall.

Dr. Bierregaard, who has tracked and studies ospreys for four decades, this year tracked ospreys from Massachusetts, Delaware and New York. Five birds wearing satellite transmitters down in South America all appear ready to come home. According to Dr. Bierregaard's web site (http://www.bioweb.uncc.edu/bierregaard/migration1.htm) one osprey, named Snowy, is a 2-year-old who will be coming north for the first time.

MacLeod added that two birds tracked by his colleagues were out of contact - and out of cell tower range - for months. The scientists didn't know if they were still alive, but the good news this week was the birds are alive and on their way north, according to the latest data upload from the transmitters.

The Science Center has funding from PSNH again this year to tag four more New Hampshire ospreys and follow their migrations. MacLeod said this season the center will track four adults as the failure rate for juveniles on their maiden flight is so high. The transmitters run more than $4,000 apiece.

Schools that want to get involved in the new international osprey project should contact MacLeod at iain.macleod@nhnature.org.

lmulkern@newstote.com


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