A couple of years ago, I found a family of bald eagles in a remote section of the Chattahoochee River above Lake Lanier while exploring with some clients in my jet boat. Since that discovery, I have had the extreme pleasure of seeing them and sharing their breath-taking presence with my guide clients on many occasions.
Ospreys are also relative newcomers to the area around Lake Lanier. These gorgeous birds of prey have become more prevalent in this part of Georgia since the stocking rates of striped bass were increased. Because ospreys are normally larger than hawks or falcons and have a white head, they are often mistaken for the bald eagle. Upon closer inspection, however, one can easily see that the osprey has a dark band across its face and a smaller, less colorful beak than his more well-known relative, and even more obvious is the osprey’s white breast feathers. Bald eagles are quite dark underneath.
Probably the most unique part of an osprey is the rough textured feet that are perfect for grasping slippery prey. Also, the osprey is the only bird of prey that is able to grasp with two toes in front and two in back rather than the usual three and one toe arrangement. Ospreys often grab fish that are too big to carry, and they may not be able to let them go, which usually causes these birds to die prematurely. Some experts believe that the excitement of the catch stimulates a locking mechanism in the feet, while others surmise that the claws simply sink into bone and become stuck. Regardless of the reason, occasionally, fishermen catch large fish with osprey feet still attached. Nevertheless, the ospreys that survive are magnificent birds that are fascinating to watch as they go about their daily task of catching and eating fish. So, if you are lucky enough to see one of these fabulous creatures floating on the wind currents above Lake Lanier this fall, watch for a few minutes. You might be in for a great show!
As the nights begin to feel cool each fall, my seasonal love affair with a beautiful and mysterious visitor from the North begins again. Though I’ve certainly known more than my share of unique ladies in my time, this one can fly, dive, swim like a fish and has a haunting song that penetrates the morning fog on Lake Lanier like the beam of a powerful searchlight. I’m referring to one of the most fascinating birds in the world…….the common loon!
Just a few years ago, loons suddenly appeared for the first time on Lanier’s blue-green waters. Loons are divers that are normally twenty-four to forty inches in length and have an elongated body and sharp, pointed bill. They are strong swimmers that propel themselves when diving by using their radically webbed feet. Their legs are attached far back on their bodies…a characteristic that permits ease of movement when swimming, but causes great difficulty when attempting to walk on land. Loons are unique among living birds because their legs are encased within the body all the way to the ankle. They can actually out swim most fish. Loons are also good fliers but become airborne only after an extensive run along the top of the water. In keeping with their uniqueness, loons rarely live or feed in areas that have been polluted by the extravagances of man. These gorgeous creatures are also very family-oriented, and always mate for life. Often, we at Lanier are privileged to observe parts of their courtship, but they fly back to their homes in Canada, Alaska, or extremely northern areas of our country before actually laying eggs.
As a guide on Lake Lanier, bird watchers have often hired my services to locate, study, and photograph our transient loon population. In fact, I have often explained these mysterious birds to people at Lake Lanier.
When most of the jet skis and mass humanity of summer have gone, and the cooler weather brings a quietness to the lake, it becomes an entirely different environment. Soon the sounds of loons, eagles, ospreys and other birds and waterfowl will fill the fall air with a symphony of sound and natural beauty that again brings sanity to the beautiful waters of Lake Lanier!