The Osprey, Tahoe's most incredible bird
While basking in the sunshine along the shore of Fontanillis Lake recently, I witnessed one of my favorite Tahoe experiences, an Osprey in action. I was first roused to it's presence by a loud splashing that I thought surely must be a person diving into the lake. I looked to see an Osprey rising out of the water, just a hundred feet from my viewpoint, failing in it's attempt to capture a fish. But it was determined, and soon returned, to dive again and again over the next half hour. Twice it captured a fish. After it's first success, it rose slowly grasping it's prize in it's talons and headed towards the nest. After the second catch, another Osprey quickly appeared right on it's tail, and a vigorous and acrobatic game of chase ensued. I wasn't sure if the chaser was protecting her territory, or just interested in extracting a free meal.
Ospreys are a type of hawk, found quite frequently in the Tahoe area. They are unique among raptors for their ability to dive deep into water to catch fish. You will see their large nests of sticks at the top of dead trees near the water along the Rubicon Trail between Emerald Bay and Bliss State Park, on the East Shore near Sand Harbor, and in the Desolation Wilderness. Ospreys are brown on the top, and white below. When sitting in a nest you will see a brown body and small white head, but when flying above, you will see their white bellies. You also may hear their high pitched, but melodious sound, especially if you are anywhere near a nest.
While they are beautiful to watch flying, what's most awesome is to catch them in the middle of a hunt. They glide gently above the water, before plunging swiftly feet first, often totally submerging themselves with a loud splash. If all goes well, they thrash around in the water for a bit, before slowly lifting and heading towards the hungry peeper in the nest who is waiting anxiously for dinner.
Next time you are out on a hike near Tahoe's lakeshore, or hiking in the Desolation Wilderness, keep your eyes peeled for the spectacular sight of an Osprey diving. It's another special part of being in the Sierra.