April 10. 2013 10:37PM

Art the Osprey returns to NH nest, mate after 5,000-mile flight from Brazil

Special to the Union Leader

Art the osprey (on the right) with his mate at their nest in Bridgewater on Wednesday morning, shortly after he completed his migration from Brazil (LARISSA MULKERN PHOTO)

BRIDGEWATER -- Art the osprey arrived home to his mate and his pole-top nest at the Bridgewater Power Plant at 9:53 a.m. Wednesday.

Signaling his arrival with a sky dance and several calls to the female osprey, Art swooped into his nest for a well-deserved respite after his 5,000-mile, 21-day migration from his winter home in Brazil.

Art is one of three birds outfitted last year with high-tech solar-powered transmitters by osprey expert Iain MacLeod, executive director of the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center.

"I'm absolutely thrilled," said MacLeod, who had tracked Art since the bird's departure in September and predicted his April 10 return.

Art made good time on the last day of his trip, traveling 270 miles. "What's driven him here is his hormones," MacLeod said.

MacLeod and a group of reporters awaited Art's arrival Wednesday morning. Art's mate called out, and Art returned the call.

He appeared in the sky and dipped and swooped in what MacLeod called a sky dance, a movement to show off to his female and to mark his territory.

"What an arrival," MacLeod said.

The nest is in the middle of an industrial site, surrounded by truck trailers, rumbling bulldozers and piles of wood chips - an unlikely home base for members of a formerly endangered species. The birds were not fazed by the noise, but MacLeod said they would start calling out if people approached the nest.

Art's transmitter allowed researchers to track his migration routes, winter habitats and fishing patterns.

The other two New Hampshire ospreys wearing the transmitters, both juveniles, perished during their travels.

A female, Jill, made it to South America. Her signal was lost, and MacLeod said a larger predator might have killed her.

A male juvenile, Chip, somehow hitched a ride on a trawler headed toward Africa and disappeared.

The two ospreys were originally found in a nest in Tilton, near the outlet stores.

Back in the nest, Art assumed a pose that MacLeod has seen many times before - drooping the wings and turning his back to the female in a submissive posture to assure her that he is friendly and not a threat.

Within 30 minutes, the pair had mated, not in the nest, but in a nearby tree.

MacLeod said over the coming days and weeks, Art will get back into the routine of providing fish for himself, his mate, and, soon, the chicks that may hatch in a few weeks. Once the chicks are born - the female usually lays three eggs and the male will assist with incubation - Art will catch seven to eight fish per day to feed the growing family. The eggs take anywhere from 35 to 40 days to hatch, said MacLeod.

Art weighs in at just under four pounds.

Locally, MacLeod said Art seems to enjoy fishing at Sky Pond and Jackson Pond, but has flown as far as Thornton and over to Little Squam Lake. A pair of eagles who live at Big Squam Lake chased off the ospreys.

Art is named after Arthur "Art" Perron, the Bridgewater Power Plant employee who first noticed the osprey at the site several years back.

"I've been trying to catch him for years," said Perron, explaining that by "catch," he meant tracking. Perron worked with MacLeod and Project OspreyTrack partner Dr. Rob Bierregaard, a distinguished visiting research professor in biology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Art was trapped at his nest using a noose trap on May 29, 2012, and then fitted with a transmitter.

Researchers had been tracking the osprey's movements since 2007, however, and reported that he helped raise single chicks in 2008 and 2009, and two chicks in 2010.

After his mate was banded in 2011, their nest was destroyed in a freak windstorm in June, just after they hatched one chick. A new platform and nest were installed; both adults returned in 2012 and happily accepted their new nest.

MacLeod said there are no plans to equip Art's mate with a tracking device. And in light of the generally unsuccessful migration of juveniles (more than half don't make their maiden journey), MacLeod will outfit several more adult ospreys to participate in Project OspreyTrack this season.

The project is funded by Public Service of New Hampshire, the Jane B. Cook 1983 Charitable Trust and Squam Lakes Natural Science Center's Innovative Project Fund.

Another key partner is Chris Martin of New Hampshire Audubon, who coordinates statewide monitoring and conservation of ospreys and other raptors under contract with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department's Nongame Program.

For more information, photographs and maps on the OspreyTrack program, visit the science center's web site, www.psnh.com/Environment/Osprey-Online.aspx, and Dr. Bierregaard's site showing his many years of osprey satellite tracking in New England, www.bioweb.uncc.edu/bierregaard/migration1.htm.