Opreys @ New Melones Reservoir 2011

As you head towards Sonora, California and the gold country in the foothills of the Sierra, there are several water reservoirs that capture the yearly snowmelt and provide the drinking and agriculture liquid gold that maintains this semi-arid state. Living, nesting and raising their young, raptors take advantage of these waterways and if you are patient and willing to paddle into distant coves, these magnificent creatures will reveal themselves. 2011 was a challenging year for most of the raptor population in the foothills. Besides one of the heaviest snow and rain fall years, an arctic blast came through in late April/early May just as new chicks were being hatched and most likely contributed to a higher than normal mortality rate. Nature is all about balance.

A good friend and outstanding outdoor photographer invited me to search for eagle and osprey nests along the shore of the New Melones Reservoir. John has been tracking and photographing local birds for many years and I was excited to join in as he has the pulse of the area. Our first objective was to find a bald eagle's nest, however the high water was going to be a challenge and he was not sure if the pair had returned to an established sight. So we headed off to the other side of the reservoir in search of Ospreys. A warm and calm May day had us gliding on the waters of New Melones and we eventually made it to a cove and 2 soaring Ospreys.

While we found the parents, there was no obvious chick activity so we decided to give it another try in June and hope for a late or second hatch. This time we hiked in and set up in a perfect blind under the shade of a Black Oak. To our amazement, two chicks were poking their heads up and we knew there was potential for a good photo day. The big male was on patrol and feeding the family, while the female was guarding the nest and repelling any fool hardy bird that even flew close. When we zoomed in on the pair, you could really see that the female was ragged, presumably from the harsh spring weather and the toils of feeding and defending her precious offspring. However, when you looked in her eyes you could instantly sense the determination and admire her bravery. I never get tired of watching Opreys and have been hooked ever since I saw them along the Columbia river with Gerry Lamarre in June of 2002.

May our paths and errands meet...