My father had a wooden sailing skiff named Seahawk that he kept tied at the dock at my grandparents’ farm in McDaniel on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. In late March we’d start seeing the return of the birds the boat was named after, the only diving and live-fish-eating hawk in North America: the seahawk, a.k.a the osprey. “They have grippy pads on their feet to keep the fish from slipping!” said my aunt.
She was an amateur ornithologist waaay back in the the ’70s, which was a time when it was so not cool to be a nerd. She’d be out in the mornings with her binoculars and windbreaker encouraging us all to see a crow or the yellow-bellied sapsucker or whatnot and I’d pretend to be really into putting together my Capsela set (I was already dangerously nerdy) and avoid making eye contact. I did not want to see an osprey’s grippy pads. Gag me with a spoon! (I so wished I was a Valley Girl and not from Southwestern Pennsylvania. Was there a place possibly less hip?)
So of course my aunt said, “My, haven’t the chickens come home to roost,” when I told her, eagerly, recently, “Did you know in the spring the osprey migrate to Maryland all the way from their wintering grounds in South America? And one may travel 160,000 migration miles during its 15-to-20-year lifetime?” She was all, “Color me Sibley’s Guide to North American Birds, Elizabeth.”
These iconic Chesapeake birds build their nests of sticks on pilings, abandoned duck blinds and once — thrillingly, on an abandoned channel marker near where we sailed Seahawk out of the cove and into the Miles River. I saw osprey nestlings cower while the mother keened at us, deeply annoyed. She sounded like I now feel at Wegman’s. Get out of my aisle with your oversized grocery cart you morons, I’m trying to hunt here.