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Tracked by satellite

Ospreys ready for long trip south

Special to the Union Leader

August 25. 2013 9:06PM
Dr. Richard “Rob” Bierregaard, a distinguished visiting research professor at the Department of Biology at the University of North Carolina, releases a young male osprey, Artoo, with a satellite transmitter. (Courtesy)

HOLDERNESS — Two young male ospreys from a nest in Bridgewater, both equipped with satellite tracking devices as part of the Osprey Track Project will be monitored as they migrate to South America for the winter.

One of the ospreys, named Artoo, is wearing the same transmitter that his father, Art, wore during his 5,000-mile journey from his winter home in Brazil to his nest along the Pemigewasset River in Bridgewater, according to Osprey Track Project Leader Iain MacLeod, Executive Director of Squam Lakes Natural Science Center.

The second young male osprey, named Bergen, was outfitted with a new tracking device. Artoo has already started his journey and is now near Pennsylvania; Bergen was last tracked near the Bridgewater nest.

The satellite tracking device on Art’s back allowed researchers and the public to take a virtual journey with Art. Two other juveniles, a female named Jill and a male named Chip, are believed to have perished on their maiden migration.

Art was tagged in May 2012 by a team led by McLeod and Dr. Richard “Rob” Bierregaard, a distinguished visiting research professor at the Department of Biology at the University of North Carolina. Chris Martin, Raptor Biologist with New Hampshire Audubon, also helped with the capture and tagging, which is carried out under strict guidelines and requires both state and federal permits.

After his return to Bridgewater in April, Art reunited with his mate with which he bred and raised three healthy chicks in their huge stick nest high atop a 40-foot unused utility pole.

Last week, MacLeod and Bierregaard recaptured Art and removed his transmitter. At the same time, they caught two of Art’s chicks — Artoo and Bergen — and affixed the transmitters.

“Art had given us all the data we could wish for and there was no scientific reason for him to carry the transmitter south for another migration,” said MacLeod. “Everything worked out perfectly and we caught Art and his two sons within half an hour of installing the trap,” added MacLeod.

Art had carried the one ounce transmitter for more than 14,000 miles. Now he has passed the scientific baton to his sons. MacLeod will be able to recognize Art in the future by the unique metal leg band that was placed there when his transmitter was fitted.

“I’ll know next spring if he returns,” said Macleod.

“It turns out that we caught them just in time, as within three days of tagging, Artoo decided it was time to head south,” said MacLeod.

Artoo left the Lakes Region on Aug. 16 and spent his first night near Keene. By the end of the next day he was on the Hudson River, near Albany, N.Y., and on Aug. 18 continued on to western New York and almost into Pennsylvania.

Art and Bergen join three other New Hampshire ospreys that are being tracked by MacLeod. In May, the team trapped and tagged two adult males at nests in Tilton and Stratford. Those two ospreys, named Donovan and Mackenzie, both reared families this summer and revealed much to researches, according to McLeod. Donovan’s nest is near the J.Jill distribution center in Tilton, but he regularly travels more than 11 miles each way to fish on the Merrimack River from Franklin down to Penacook.

Mackenzie would regularly travel further than that from his nest on the Connecticut River north of Groveton all the way over to the York Pond Fish Hatchery in Berlin. Right now, Mackenzie is spending most of his time on the Androscoggin River in Berlin.

In early August, the team tagged a newly fledged chick at a nest in the salt marsh of Hampton Harbor on the Seacoast. That chick — a female named Weber — is sticking close to home and has not yet started her migration.

McLeod said all five birds will attempt to migrate to South America but that the juveniles have a one-in-five chance of making it.

“The mortality rate for first year ospreys is very high, more than 70 percent,” said MacLeod. “They have to make the migration all by themselves and face many hazards along the way, including crossing the Caribbean in hurricane season. Once in South America they have to find a safe winter territory where they can spend the next 18 months before returning north in their third calendar year.”

The adults have a better chance. They have made the journey several times and know what lies ahead of them and where they are going. The annual mortality rate for adults is less than 10 percent.

Squam Lakes Natural Science Center launched the Osprey Track Project in 2011 with financial and logistical support from Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH).

The project was conceived and led by MacLeod, who has studied ospreys for more than 30 years and has monitored the growing nesting population in the Lakes Region since 1997 in collaboration with New Hampshire Audubon and New Hampshire Fish and Game.

In addition to PSNH support, MacLeod also gained project funding from the Jane B. Cook 1983 Charitable Trust and the Science Center’s own Innovative Project Fund.

You can follow the journeys of Artoo, Bergen, Weber, Donovan and Mackenzie from your computer. MacLeod authors a blog that provides regular updates and maps showing where each bird is and what lies in store. The blog is at

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