In April this year I was alerted to a pair of Eastern Osprey (Pandion cristatus) which seem to have settled in to the northern Sydney beach side suburb of Collaroy. Eastern Osprey are very rare in my home patch - the Shoalhaven Region of NSW and the only shot I had in my image library was an opportunistic fly-by taken a few years ago. So on hearing the news I was very keen to try my luck.
On Sunday 10 April, after a morning shorebird shoot, I made the two-hundred km drive, and met up with good photography friend Gerard Satherley. We located one Osprey from the top of the Long Reef headland at around 3.00 pm, the coastal vistas made even more spectacular as the Osprey bathed in a rock pool below in beautiful late afternoon light. By the time we made our descent the bird had flown to a spectacular looking algal covered boulder where it dried its ruffled white and bronze plumage. We made a slow, steady zig zag approach and picked our way between the Sydney-siders who were out to enjoy the good late Autumn weather. Cameras at the ready we observed a second Osprey fly by which unsettled our subject, next thing it was off and my heart sank as the two birds flew north along the beach. Was that it? I wondered as both birds soared away.
Resigned to my fate I began to scout the rock platform for shorebirds and thought perhaps a Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) may make an interesting consolation as the plumage on a few of the birds looked bright and colourful. Fortunately it wasn't long before one of the Osprey's returned, this time carrying a fish and the stalk was back on.
The bird was very aware and quite sensitive to human encroachment so the approach involved leopard crawling over the rock platform and fortunately both of us brought our plastic knee pads. Making use of the boulders for cover I could get within a reasonable distance and started my first sequence. Unfortunately an Australian Raven (Corvus coronoides) also had designs for the Yellow-tail Kingfish (Seriola Ialandi) prey and pestered the Osprey relentlessly until it flew off with its meal to perch further away.
Eastern Osprey harassed by Australian Raven
Osprey with Yellow-tail Kingfish, a pelagic species
This was the only opportunity we had during the afternoon session and we both felt a little disappointed at being so close and yet so far away. Later and just on dusk I saw both birds flying south along Pittwater Road in the middle of Collaroy, seemingly well-adjusted to the traffic and hustle below them.
The next morning held plenty of promise as the sun peeked over a cloudless horizon and cracked open the sky with a golden red glow. As the sun rose both Osprey's flew in from their roost site and settled on the reef before heading out for a morning fish.
A new day
This proved to be a very different day. With no other people on the reef I had the morning alone with the Ospreys and the shorebirds. However my efforts were disrupted again by avian scavengers, this time Silver Gulls (Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae) that persistently mobbed the Osprey for its fish, chasing it from its perch.
Osprey and chip-hawk
After making several slow and painful approaches (note elbow pads required) I had one of the Ospreys in full frame, with another species of fish, this time a Sea Sweep (Scorpis lineolata). By now it was 9.00 am and the sun was a little high, bordering on harsh but I was still very grateful to spend time with and photograph this skilled and efficient predator.
Osprey with Sea Sweep, a species which frequently swims near the surface
The head shake and the 'evil eye'
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Gear I used for this assignment:
Canon EOS 7D II | Canon EF 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM | Canon Extender EF 1.4x III | Nature scapes skimmer | Jobu designs gimbal head black widow junior | knee pads