Extreme heat threatens Ospreys

Yesterday, Lady Hawk and I talked about the extreme temperatures in the Pacific Northwest and how this would impact the birds. Our conclusion was that the changing climate around the world or fears that the climate would change is now upon us. When will water scarcity or stress and a warming planet begin impacting our beautiful birds? Is it happening now, right before our eyes?

“Dry creek bed, Quivira Refuge” by USFWS Headquarters is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Several weeks ago, a very old friend, living in southern British Columbia, wrote to me to say their creeks are drying up. That friend said that people can no longer find water when they tried drilling wells. At the same time, the forestry officials were telling people that this would be a very bad summer for wildfires.

All of this reminded me of a visit to Kelowna, BC in 2017. The person I was interviewing spent a lot of time talking to me about the lack of snow on the crest of the mountains and how this was getting worse year after year.

“Dry creek bed” by jmeissen is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

We will never know the number of birds or other animals that perished in the extreme heat yesterday. Sadly, one of the first known Osprey deaths -because of the extreme heat – came at the Cowlitz PUD Nest in Longview, Washington where the temperature was 44 degrees yesterday. One has to try and imagine two things: 44 is the typical temperature of the desert in the Middle East and secondly, that it is much hotter on a high pole nest than down below near the water. The sun beat down on Electra and her chick.

In the image below, Electra is desperately trying to keep her chick cool by shading it.

Electra knew that both of them would die if she did not get fish to the nest for their hydration. Clearly her partner, Wattsworth was not going to do this. She chose to go and fish and return. Sadly, the little one died of heart stroke while she was away.

The death of the last surviving little chick of Electra really tugged at the hearts of so many people as did the more than seven hours that Electra stood frozen in mourning. She just stood at the top of the nest looking out, never touching the fish, as if in a deep trance. So many people have written to say how they feel an utter loss for Electra.

Today, there is a very long posting on the Montana Osprey FB Page about creeks drying up in Montana or the water in the creeks being hot, not cool. I want to quote that posting here in its entirety:

“The next week is going to be a scorcher here in the western US and Canada. We are going to have temperatures in the triple digits all this week. To give you an idea of some of the consequences on the rivers, fish and ospreys, here are a few things in the local news. This morning’s headline in The Missoulian, our local newspaper, is “Rivers flow low early.” The water flowing in many Montana rivers is now just a fraction of what it had been in the past. For example, the Smith River, a very famous rafting and fishing river, is drying up. Typical flows for mid-June in the Smith River are normally about 500 cubic feet per second (cfs). It is now flowing at about 80 cfs. Boaters have been having to pull their boats over rocks, and hundreds of floating permits are being cancelled. Other major Montana rivers, such as the Madison, Jefferson, Big Hole, Shields and Clark Fork, are flowing with only about 10% of what they should have. Attached are photos of two nearby rivers, the St. Regis River (photo by Denley Loge, Billings Gazette) and Lolo Creek (Matt Gray, NBC Montana), that dried up. Although both these photos are from six years ago, they are representative of the problems facing many rivers throughout the west. The water temperatures of many of these rivers is very hot. What are the consequences of the low, hot river water on fish, and thus also the osprey? Stay tuned.”

“Dry creek bed” by Oregon Department of Agriculture is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

What will happen to Iris? or the other Ospreys that live in Montana if the creeks are drying up? Will they be able to adapt by moving farther north where it is cooler and maybe there is more water? Clearly it is too hot for them to head south.

Even saying that reminds me of the human use of the Internet. Did you know that the big server farms have to be located in cold climates or they will overheat? What happens if we run out of cool places? how will the birds that we love so much adapt? or will they be able to? Perhaps the death of the Cowlitz chick will help each of us consider what we have to do to help the fish eaters – the Osprey – and, thus, help humans, too.

I could go on about the politics of water but, I won’t. For those interested in how politics and big investment impact water – which should be a right for all of us – I suggest reading Maude Barlow’s book, Blue Future. Protecting Water for People and the Planet Forever.

Thank you for joining me. This feels like a really ‘heavy on the shoulders’ blog – and I guess it really is. I will be checking on all our favourite nests today and posting on them later today. But for now, I want to think more about how I can help these beautiful birds that we love survive.

Thank you to the Cowlitz PUD for their streaming cam where I took my screen shots.

Credit for the feature image goes to “Dry creek bed” by jmeissen is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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