An ex-library book, Soaring with Fidel. An Osprey Odyssey from Cape Cod to Cuba and Beyond arrived in the post on Friday. I hadn’t intended to have it occupy most of Friday night and all Saturday and this morning but, David Gessner’s writing style pulled me in. It was as infectious as Gessner’s obsession with Ospreys that simply screams through the paragraphs. It is clear that he has a love for these large fish-eating birds, almost the size of an eagle, with their dark brown masks, and nearly 2 metre wingspans. His language is so descriptive that I felt that I was on the journey with him following the Ospreys throughout their migration. He got me excited.
The story begins on 4 September 2004, seventeen years and one day ago. The BBC were making a film about the Odyssey of the Osprey following several birds fitted with satellite trackers. Gessner was going to follow the ospreys the old fashioned way. At one time Gessner had hoped to work with the BBC but, it became a competition of sorts. It is simply the back story to one of the best books on Osprey migration that I know. The book keeps you interested – it is not clad in scientific jargon but, don’t get me wrong, it is faithful to the facts and there are many discoveries made about our beloved birds.
Gessner’s surprise comes when he discovers that Ospreys travel in flocks. It was believed that they were lone fliers. Witnessing hundreds of Ospreys flying together over the very top of the La Gran Piedra in the mountains outside of Santiago, Cuba with his soon to be friend, Freddy Santana, mesmerizes our author.
The La Gran Piedra is actually a 70,000 lb boulder at the summit of the Sierra Maestra mountain range.
It is here that Santana showed Gessner the ‘flocks’ of Ospreys flying together on their migration from the northeast United States and Canada. Can you imagine what it would feel like to see this spectacle. I get teary eyed just seeing juveniles hover!
I don’t want to give away all of the story but since it is Osprey migration right now, I want to recommend this fantastic book to you. Get your library to bring it in for you or find a good used bookstore. My ex-library edition arrived in mint condition!
I looked to see if anyone had posted videos of the birds flying over the mountains in Cuba. I could not find anything. What I did find was a short video showing the routes that the birds from Cape Cod take to South America. It does show the route over Cuba.
If you get the ‘itch’ to see the Ospreys travel over the mountains but do not feel quite physically up to it climbing it- you are covered. There are 4 x 4 jeeps available with a guide. In addition, the Cuba Travel Network has guides and information on all of the birds that are indigenous to Cuba or others that travel through on their way to South America. They look like a good resource but I have not checked them out – yet.
I also found another very interesting web site just for birders. It is BirdingPal. A Watching Club for World Travellers. Cuba. The interests of the members vary. This is the link to their website:
If you live in a country where you are free to travel to Cuba, it is important to note that you will require a guide (unless that law has recently changed) if you wish to go out into the country birding. The fees are very reasonable. The price I was quoted was 146 USD for the guide and the 4×4 jeep to the top of the mountains to see the Osprey.
One of the things that the pandemic has taught many of us that we are finding joy in things we never imagined. It also taught me that your life can be taken away in a blink. So live it.
Next year, I will keep on top of what is happening at my local nest since it was not included in the world listing of Osprey nests in Osprey Watch. I will, indeed, take images at every stage of the nest to help the data collectors. But, instead of travelling to Poole Harbour in the UK to see the migrating Ospreys stopping over for a rest and some fish before heading on to Africa in late August, I want to see the Ospreys fly over the Gran Piedra in September. I have a date with an Osprey.
Thanks so much for joining me. I also highly recommend Belle’s Journey if you have children or are a teacher. It is a fantastic book with great images that explain the challenges of Osprey migration. If you have an Osprey nest near to where you live, I urge you to check out Osprey Watch run by the Centre for Conservation Biology. It is also a great resource on Osprey. See if your local nest is on the list! Mine wasn’t – it is now. Take care everyone. See you soon.
The featured image is Iris. Iris is the oldest Osprey in the world. Her breeding area is in Missoula, Montana. Iris is unringed. It is not known where she spends her winters.