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Cape Cod has its own March Madness

“Celebratory copulation” of Ospreys
Mark Faherty
“Celebratory copulation” of Ospreys

While the Osprey versus eagles saga continued last week at Cedar Pond in Orleans, we finally had a resolution to this high-profile local property dispute. I visited the nest last Monday to find the female Osprey had finally joined her long-suffering mate, as both were sitting in the nest. I later learned she had returned back on the 18th, which is also the last day anyone saw the eagles there. As I watched on that day, the pair engaged in what I can only interpret as celebratory copulation. It seemed clear the eagles may have finally decided to take their talons elsewhere. The Osprey had won this one, but I didn’t know what was next for the eagles. Until this week.

It turns out the eagles were quietly taking over another Osprey nest on the Outer Cape, one not so high profile. As with the Orleans nest, the Osprey returned this week and immediately took to driving away the squatting eagles, repeatedly flying at them with their oddly shaped feet and deadly talons straight out. I saw some photographers chronicling this battle online, but something seemed different than with the Cedar Pond dispute – both eagles were on the nest during the fights, with one sitting suspiciously low. It turns out the eagles have eggs in this nest, and so far, they seem to be fending off the Osprey owners. Don’t be mad at me, but active eagle nests are not publicized at the request of Mass Wildlife, so I won’t give specifics on the location.

Meanwhile, the rest of nature Marches on, as it were. An oddball and uniquely Cape Cod menagerie of small amphibians, great leviathans, and various birds assemble in March to herald the slow dawning of the spring. In addition to more and more Ospreys and Piping Plovers returning by the day, Tree Swallows, Snowy Egrets, and Laughing Gulls are starting to make their first appearances. Spotted Salamanders and Wood Frogs have been wiggling and hopping, respectively, toward their breeding pools, and massive right whales are assembled in the bay, lounging at the surface like a living archipelago. Even when the weather doesn’t feel so springy, all of these saviors of the shoulder season are helping us to mentally turn the corner from late winter into spring.

Seabird aficionados have especially been feasting their eyes the last couple of weeks on a scrumptious combination of rare winter seabirds and cooperative North Atlantic right whales at Race Point in Provincetown. Along with less predictable rarities like Northern Fulmars and murres, Pacific Loons have been around at Race Point, where they are oddly regular. If you’re a real bird sleuth, you may have deduced from the name that this species doesn’t belong in these parts. Race Point is the only place on the entire east coast where Pacific Loons are regular and expected – sometimes you can find as many as three there. Look for a loon with a gracefully curved neck and proportions halfway between our more expected Common and Red-throated Loons, and also a thin black “chin strap” line on the throat, a field mark mainly visible to those with optics costing more than my first car.

So if you’re looking for a weekend field activity, and want to pack all of this early spring goodness into one day, here’s what you do. Head to the Outer Cape, stopping first at the famous nest in Orleans to check on the victorious Osprey pair and wonder where that eagle nest might be. Then proceed all the way out to the ends of the earth at Race Point for seabirds and right whales. Get some dinner somewhere and make sure to stick around until dark to check out some of the frenetic, rain-induced Spotted Salamander breeding activity at a vernal pool. All of this is the real “March Madness,” and the best thing is that it doesn’t require randomly filling out one of those brackets full of colleges you’ve never heard of.

Mark Faherty writes the Weekly Bird Report.