With the twinned gasps of porpoises close by, somewhere forward of the dodger, I put my book down and bounded out of the cockpit. Now standing along the port rail, I waited for the harbor porpoises – who had been cruising the cove every day at about this time – to come up again. After a moment, the mother and calf rose up three times not more than thirty feet away before diving again. They were not close enough for me to see them under the water, but I imagined that they were chasing the mackerel that have been about in large numbers.
While the porpoises cavorted underwater beyond my view, I glanced around to see, just aft of the boat, an osprey dive at an angle from fifty feet up, its wings flayed back and bent in an acute W shape. The bird hit the water hard and almost came to a standstill as it just disappeared below the glassy surface. In an instant, the sea hawk materialized again, still moving its wings, but in a labored, slow motion. The bird – or at least its flapping wings – seemed to gain speed logarithmically. Clearing the surface, water poured off its wingtips and body while a sizable fish with the distinctive striping and narrow body of a mackerel hung in its talons.
With the osprey still struggling to gain speed and elevation, a mature herring gull dove in, harassing the raptor in a sure attempt to get him to dump his prey. The osprey held firm and had enough velocity and brute strength to faint a dive to the right. Though burdened by the weight of the fish and water, the bird was able to deke the gull for a half second, long enough for the osprey to gain a little more speed and elevation. This continued – the gull pestering the osprey when it flew straight long enough for the gull to be able to use it own quickness to catch the laden hawk – for the next few seconds, though the gull had clearly missed its best chance in its first attack. By now, the osprey was flying strong and able to swoop in a tight arc or suddenly stop in mid-air, completely loosing the gull and giving the osprey another hundred yards of distance to its nest high in a tree, nearly a half mile from where it took the fish.
As the pair neared the shore, another gull joined the fray, and it looked – for a half second, about the length of a single attack cycle – that the osprey might not be able to evade both of them. But just at the moment the osprey was being tested by both birds in tandem, the gulls turned and fled. From the other side of the cove, a bald eagle had swooped in, intent on denying the gulls their chance and just maybe getting an easy meal for itself. But as soon as the gulls broke off, the osprey bolted forward, making for the relative safety of the canopy. By the time the eagle had made it on scene, the osprey was already alighting on its nest, alongside its mate and their nestling. For its part, the eagle lazily floated down to a rock and strutted around, the gulls long since retreating to other parts of the cove.