For this blog, I’m going to step out of character as the osprey mama and talk as myself.
Yesterday, sirens started to sound in the Okoboji area and visitors to the Dickinson County Nature Center congregated in the lower level to wait out tornado, severe thunderstorm and flash flood warnings.
It hit quite suddenly. We had to lock the front doors of the nature center because the power of the storm was sucking them open. The rain came down in great white waves, driving sideways in the wind. The flaps of the teepee in the nature center lawn whipped violently until the poles couldn’t hold on and the structure flattened.
The intern and I had a start, thinking about the osprey trying to hold on in the wind, and we logged on to the web camera on my computer. We could see the mama osprey hunkered down, trying to protect at least two chicks from the wind. One of the larger chicks lay next to her, its feet in the air, already unable to hold its position in the violent storm.
Another gust rushed by, and I saw that chick flipped over as the strong air current caught it, and then the camera cut out. Our hearts sank, but we hoped that the strong mom would be able to protect her babies.
That hope was short-lived.
The storm didn’t last long, really. The rain softened in only about 20 minutes, and luckily there wasn’t much damage at the nature center. However, our patio area proved just how strong the winds were, because all the tables and chairs were pushed to the north side of the porch — 35-pound chairs and 100-pound tables were shoved liked brush off to the side.
The camera came back, and that’s when we saw an empty nest. Water spots covered parts of the camera, and we hoped that we were missing something, but it was quite obvious that all the secure brush around the edge had been whipped off the osprey nest, and with it, most likely, were the chicks.
Staff members sprinted outside, through the tall prairie grass, and over to the nest, hoping that if we found the chicks on the ground we would be able to revive them. Our eyes scoured through the tall, green grass just north of the nest, where the wind most likely would have taken the babies.
That’s when I spotted some gray. One baby chick. One of the naturalists called out from a few feet away, another chick. We gingerly picked up the babies, and found the third across the trail.
All the chicks were brought into the nature center, but none had survived the 55-foot fall from the nest.
We were heart-broken. We all stared at the chicks, looking for a sign of life, but none came.
Both adult osprey have since been back to the nest, bringing fish and looking around, searching for their chicks. It’s too late in the season for them to try to nest again, and it’s horrible to watch their sorrow played out.
This storm caused a lot of damage, from downed power lines to felled trees to broken docks and boats being lifted off their hoists. We are thinking of everyone who is now dealing with the wreckage, and we’re also hurting for our poor osprey parents who are now grieving the loss of their three babies.