March 26, 2020
Osprey with trout, January 26, 2020, 9:30 am
Osprey with trout, January 26, 2020, 9:30 am
Like most of us, you probably remember exactly where you were and what you were doing when ---------------------------- (fill in your own personal event blank) occurred.  And if you’re a birder, the friends you were with and the birds you saw may trigger that memory or be triggered by it.

Partly because my involvement in athletics has been lifelong and predates my becoming a birder by a couple decades, none of the four memorable inflection points in my life prior to this year involved birds.  JFK, the Miracle on Ice, Magic’s HIV announcement, and 9/11.  Those were my four, and I was either in school or at work when each of these events went down.

That all changed on January 26 of this year.  I was out birding, camera in hand, when the fifth occurred.  As is often the case with life altering events, the day was both dramatic and eerie.  It began with a memorable bird sighting and ended with a first for me in my so-called career as a bird photographer.

For years I had envisioned being in the right place at the right time to photograph an Osprey flying by, fish in talons, close enough to photograph well.  Though I have seen enough such images that it has become a photo cliché and now people capture it with their cell phones, it was not until a couple years ago that I managed to witness my first successful Osprey strike with camera in hand.

Only the birding gods know the lengths to which I’d gone to make this happen—a boat trip through the coastal waters of Florida, calls to various park departments to get stocking schedules at local fishing ponds, numerous day-long stake-outs at those ponds.  Nothing.  And part of the fascination, of course, is the Osprey’s evolutionary intuition to transfer the fish, for transport after capture, to a head forward position in its talons so the flapping fish tail creates less drag in the wind.

January 26 dawned crisp and clear.  I was at my local patch at sunup, camera in hand, looking for whatever might happen in front of the lens, but I had Osprey on my mind.  I had seen three at one time the previous day, all patrolling the three fishing ponds but leaving without a strike.  Though I had never witnessed an actual strike at the middle pond, I was hanging out there thinking it more efficient than being stuck at the top or bottom pond if Ospreys flew in.

The first Osprey came from the direction of the river.  I glanced at my watch, force of habit, 9:15.  It circled the lower pond for fifteen minutes, passed over me to the upper pond, then drifted back to the first one where I had seen several strikes over the years.  Finally, apparently spotting something, it dove behind intervening trees.  Muttering to myself, I decided to stay put and hope if successful the bird would gain altitude into the east wind bringing it past my position.

It came up empty, inexplicably flew straight over to my pond, took one look, and dove right in front of a family illegally throwing stale bread to the ducks.  Right across from my position!  Totally submerged, thrashing, wings flailing , throwing water everywhere, it struggled up and got airborne with a large trout, shrug preened, and passed before me, directly intersecting the line from sun to camera to bird, as in my dreams, while I machine gunned the shutter, 9:30.  Across from me the awestruck family was yelling and pointing.  I was smiling inside and out.

I lingered around for an hour or so, but no more Ospreys came.  Knowing lightning never strikes twice, I headed around the arm of the pond toward my car, heard my phone ring, couldn’t dig it out of my pocket before it went silent, then stopped in the shade to glance at its message, 10:30.  A Sikorsky helicopter had gone down in fog in southern California, Kobe and Gianna aboard.

Stunned, as we all were because famous people, whether or not we’re emotionally invested in their lives, never die so young and tragically, I clicked around seeking more news of the crash, my back to the last narrow inlet next to the parking lot.  Suddenly I heard a loud splash so close I jumped and nearly dropped the camera and phone.  Whirling around I saw an Osprey, not ten yards from me, emerging with a fish.

Lightning had struck, not twice, but three times as it were!  I’ll never forget the day, the time, where I was, what I was doing and, as a lifelong athlete, the gamut of emotions coursing through my body.
Osprey with trout, January 26, 2020, 10:30 am
Osprey with trout, January 26, 2020, 10:30 am