Rescue at Sea

The Exhausted Osprey

Leslie, Dave and I are in the process of performing a plant survey of 14 marshland coves, points and islands within the Chicamuxen and Mattawoman creeks and Potomac River.  We have developed an extensive plant list and classified each of the study wetlands per their natural community classification of ecological community groups.


Our work during these upcoming weeks will emphasize looking for the federally listed, sensitive joint vetch.  This vetch was last recorded on the Chicamuxen in 1951, 62 years ago.  Submerged aquatic vegetation beds are extensive, fronting our marsh study areas, and include Eurasian water-milfoil, water star-grass, hydrilla, wild celery and naiad.

We have been needing to use a push-pole to facilitate access, timing work at high tide, as well as using an elevated stand to see up and over the wild rice and narrow-leaved cattail.  The high-end Swarovski binoculars help too.  We have had a number of days, where we have walked the backsides of the tidal wetlands to compliment our boat work.


After being out all day in the sunny 90-degree weather, we headed back to Slavin’s boat launch on the Mattawoman.  Looking off in the distance, we saw an osprey flapping on the open water.

I grabbed my camera, hoping to get some photos of the premiere fishing raptor, to pull a fish out of the water and take-off.  Did the osprey have a fish so big, he could not let go, and get up and out of the water?


As we got closer, it was obvious that the bird was hung-up in fishing line.  The taught braid line was hung-up and over the branch of a tree, then some 15-feet down to the bird’s talon.  The osprey had his back leg, up and nearly backward and was just at the elevation of the water line.


We had no idea how long the bird was in this predicament, but we did know that he was absolutely exhausted.  I was able to cut the line with a knife, and literally fish the bird into the boat.


Once I was able to pull in the wings and calm the bird, we noted that he had monofilament line tangled in one leg and braid in the other.  The braid was new, but the monofilament was old, and cut into and scarring the leg.


Leslie spent a good five-minutes cutting the line out of the birds legs, and then took a photo of the end results.


We placed the freed bird back into the water, but he did not make any effort to swim to shore or take-off.  It was clear that the bird was mildly traumatized and exhausted.

We lowered the electric motor and I put on both gloves, and re-fetched the bird.


Leslie and I agreed, that if we put the bird into the open lawn area of Slavin’s boat ramp, the bird may have the opportunity to rest, recover, and fly-off.  In this photo, I think the bird was saying thank you, in his own special way.


The bird had no visible signs of debilitating injury or broken bones, so we opted to observe the bird and let him go, rather than call in a raptor rehabilitator.


In the lawn area of Slavin’s, the osprey flexed his wings, hopped around and re-gathered his state-of-mind.  We had every reason to believe that the bird would be able to fly to a tree perch, and may be fishing for dinner later this day.

This salvage reminds me of the harm that fishing line causes when discarded in the field.  It’s important to pack out any/all trash and line, so that wildlife is not compromised.

Great day in the field, and edifying to help a fellow fisherman in need.  The bird never struck out in fear, and I’d like to think, it was because he knew he was being helped, but much more likely because he was exhausted.  Leslie called me St. Francis for the rest of the afternoon.  Thank you Leslie for all of your help.