Friday, September 21, 2018

Belle's Journey

At the end of August, I headed out with a passionate osprey-watcher to check on a nest near Cayuga Lake. It was atop a high pole, on a platform built for ospreys who, the locals hoped, might repopulate the area.

Mother (Ophelia) and daughter were there, calling loudly for dad to bring home the fish. "I figured mom would have left already," said my osprey buddy. With the youngest able to fly and learning to hunt, there was nothing left to do - and dad ospreys are the ones who stick around until the last fledge is ready to live independently.

Osprey are hawks. Big hawks who thrive on fish. Some folks refer to them as fish hawks. They hang out in upstate NY, and in the northeast for the summer and, when fall comes, they fly to South America.

A lot of what we know about ospreys comes from researchers like Rob Bierregaard, who has been tagging young ospreys with radio transmitters and following their migratory paths. One of the cool things he discovered is that young ospreys - at least those on the east coast - tend to make their initial southbound journey over the ocean.

Five years ago Dr. B (as his students call him) was waiting for a young osprey to return to its nest so he could fit it with a backpack radio transmitter. A neighbor, seeing him there, suggested he write a book. So he did.

Belle's Journey, An Osprey Takes Flight
by Rob Bierregaard; illustrated by Kate Garchinsky
122 pages; ages 7 - 10 (and older)
Charlesbridge, 2018

The story of Belle begins with her parents, who return to their nest on Martha's Vineyard in March (brrrr!), and the two scientists who are scouting for active nests. By the middle of July, the young ospreys are nearly as big as their parents and they're stretching their wings. One day, while the birds are out hunting, Dr. B and his fellow researcher climb up and put a fish in the nest as bait. Then they cover the nest with wire mesh to trap the birds.

Success! They capture Belle, fit the backpack straps over her wings and sew the harness so the radio transmitter won't fall off in flight. The transmitter will send signals so the scientists can track her migration.

So here's the thing about a young osprey's first migratory flight: they don't have maps. Their parents have already gone, so there's no flock to join. They may run into danger, such as hurricanes, eagles,  or people who shoot at them. And the journey is long - three to four thousand miles.

What I like about this book: The story is written from Belle's point of view. We see her adventures during migration through her eyes. Chapters about the scientists are written from a different point of view. I like the back matter that gives more information about ospreys, migration, and what to do if you find injured birds. There are also lots of resources.

And I love the illustrations! Full color spreads are soft and inviting. Sepia-colored vignettes give us quick glimpses into the lives of Belle and the children following her journey. There's even a series of sketches illustrating how an osprey captures fish.

Check out this interview with Rob Bierregaard  over at the GROG blog.

You can find out more about Rob Bierregaard's research and osprey tracking here. There are links to interactive maps as well, and brief osprey bios.

Want to see what life in an osprey nest is like? Here's a birdcam from Montana, and this one in Georgia.

Today we're joining the STEM Friday roundup. Review copy from the publisher.

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