Editor's Notes
Visionaries: An eye toward the future

New version of ESIP monitoring map available

Gulf Voices
A day on Great Bay: In search of the osprey

Science Insights
Dam removal

Profile: Dale Joachim of MIT’s Project Owl

Visionaries: Protecting the future of the Gulf of Maine

Book Review
Soaring with Fidel

Inside the Gulf of Maine Closure Area

Shipping lanes shifted to protect whales

Visionaries in the Gulf of Maine

Ocean Tracking Network to shed light on undersea life

Ambassador for his species: If a whale could speak

On the trail of invasive species

In the News
- Outside the Gulf
- Sappi Paper to remove dam on Presumpscot River
- MIT builds robotic fin for submersible vehicles
- New Brunswick to restore Petitcodiac River
- New Brunswick, Nova Scotia to jointly study Fundy tides

Book Review
Soaring with Fidel

By Lee Bumsted
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“I felt lucky to have stumbled on this particular bird as my obsession,” writes David Gessner in Soaring with Fidel: An Osprey Odyssey from Cape Cod to Cuba and Beyond. This obsession leads him to follow the osprey’s lengthy migratory path one autumn. His journey turns out to be as much about getting to know osprey people as it is about studying the birds themselves.

Gessner had observed nesting pairs of ospreys near his home on Cape Cod and written Return of the Osprey: A Season of Flight and Wonder a few years before. This time, he decides he’ll visit prime viewing spots on the osprey migration route along the eastern seaboard of the United States. He also gets in touch with a Cuban scientist, Freddy Santana, who has discovered that ospreys migrate in flocks along the mountain ridges of southeastern Cuba. The chance to see them soaring in groups is irresistible, so he jumps at Santana’s invitation to visit, despite the difficulties of traveling between Cuba and the United States.

Coincidentally, a few ospreys are nesting on Cape Cod and nearby Martha’s Vineyard with radio transmitters the same season the author undertakes his personal migration, and their locations are posted on a Web site. Gessner nicknames one of the radio-tagged birds Fidel. He hopes to be present if Fidel flies over La Gran Piedra near Santiago, Cuba. Freddy Santana makes Gessner welcome on this mountaintop observation point. While he doesn’t approach Santana’s record of spotting 607 ospreys in one day, he nevertheless becomes absorbed in his visual hunt.

Despite a certain lack of planning, or perhaps because of it, Gessner falls in with all kinds of ornithologists and amateur observers. Serendipity and the kindness of strangers are key to his adventures. Santana is just one of the many members of the osprey “tribe” who invite Gessner to meals, set him up in cabins overlooking salt marshes, take him to productive watch sites and generously share their knowledge and contacts. Gessner spends an afternoon on Long Island with a couple of dozen virtual birders who have been glued to Web cam coverage of an active osprey nest. Young interns at the Cape May Bird Observatory in New Jersey offer him a pasta dinner and a couch to sleep on before an early morning counting birds. He is clearly fascinated by these people whose lives are intertwined with those of ospreys.

Gessner is also quite taken with the birds themselves. “Dives are what osprey watchers live for, and this one was something, a brilliant ballet move,” he writes. “Backlit by the sun, its feathers ruffled and wet from an earlier dive, the bird looked enormous. It hovered in front of us, readying, the wings beating fast, 50 feet above the surf. Then the plunge down...gaining speed and then kicking its legs back right before striking the water, popping a wheelie, hitting hard, splashing the surface. It came up empty once, twice, shaking itself like a dog. But on the third try it rose clutching a fish in its talons, spraying down a silver-lit waterfall.”

While Soaring with Fidel is primarily an eloquent appreciation of ospreys and the people who watch them, Gessner does provide insight into osprey migration practices. He quizzes Keith Bildstein, the director of conservation science at Pennsylvania’s Hawk Mountain, during his visit there. Bildstein explains that migration is driven by the availability of fish near the surface of the water, not the weather per se. Ospreys soar using thermal and mountain updrafts to efficiently cover the thousands of miles between their nesting and wintering grounds, which can be as far away as South America. As Bildstein tells Gessner: “They are predisposed to migration because their manner of transportation is one of the most effective ways of moving, not only over long distances but over long distances in short periods of time. So they can move from one good place to another good place and they can do it fast.”

Although he has moved south himself to take a position teaching creative writing at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Gessner brings his “osprey odyssey” full circle by traveling back to Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard the following spring. He hopes to catch sight of Fidel and watch the nesting season, and another migratory cycle, begin again.

Lee Bumsted writes on conservation and outdoor recreation topics from South Portland, Maine.

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