BPW: Osprey Catching Fish

by John Briggs on May 18, 2009

in Bird Photographs, Bird Photography Weekly, Blog, Weekend Birding

Osprey with fish - Damariscotta Mills, Maine | Click photo for larger view

Osprey with fish - Damariscotta Mills, Maine | Click photo for larger view

Saturday dawned with mostly cloudy skies and threatened to ruin our plans to go to Damariscotta Mills, Maine for the annual Alewife run and the opportunity to photograph Osprey catching the fish.

I called fellow birding friend Bob Malbon at 5:15 a.m. and told him the skies did not look good for photography. As I live only 18 miles from Damariscotta Mills, I was the point man on the weather. Bob had an hour and twenty minutes traveling time. Satellite views showed the hope for brief periods of sunshine during the first few hours after sunrise. We decided to go for it.

The decision was an excellent one! Shortly after arriving, the skies cleared and the action was just beginning. The tide was falling and we could see the fish stirring on the surface of the pond that leads to the fish ladder.

We set up in the lower parking area and waited for Osprey to dive into the pond to catch Alewives. A few photographers were on the small bridge above us. Bald Eagles soared high above us, and a Great Blue Heron landed in a spruce tree along the road.

Damariscotta Mills, Maine | Click photo for larger view

Damariscotta Mills, Maine | Click photo for larger view

Each year, it is a Womerlippi tradition to visit the alewives during their run in late May at Damariscotta Mills.  Alewives, also known as river herring or sawbellies, are anadromous.  They spend their life primarily at sea but return to freshwater en masse to spawn.

The photo on the right shows the pond where the fish congregate before heading up to Damariscotta Lake via the fish ladders. I photograph the Osprey from the concrete pad on this side of my car, at the corner. The entry way to the fish ladders is just behind the building. To help make the 42 foot vertical ascent from the Great Salt Bay to Damariscotta Lake as easy as possible for the alewives, members of the Friends of the Alewives, Damariscotta Lake Watershed Association and the Damariscotta River Association joined together to restore the fish ladder. The original fish ladder was built in 1807.

I can not even begin to convey to you the exhilaration from being up close and personal with the Osprey and their fishing techniques! We were fortunate to be in a location where the Osprey would dive, catch a fish or two and head straight for us. Once the Osprey had a fish and cleared the water, the bird would seemingly pause in mid-air, shake water from its feathers and then continue on.


Photographers - Damariscotta Mill, Maine | Click photo for larger view

All in all, it was a spectacular morning! I nearly filled two 8 gigabyte CF cards. Photographers from Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts were present, with 35 in all. There were a lot of smiling faces Saturday morning!

The action will more than likely last through Memorial Day weekend. Bob and I planned to go again this morning, but the skies were very uncooperative. Tomorrow promises to be sunny and we will give it a try then.

Even if you are not a photographer, this is an event you don’t want to miss. Please  remember to obey the posted signs and only park in designated areas. If anyone needs directions, please feel free to contact me or leave a comment on this post.

There is other bird activity at Damariscotta Mills. We watched a Baltimore Oriole chase an Orchard Oriole. Barn and Tree Swallows were numerous, along with Warblers, Kingbirds, Cormorants, Herons and Egrets, Bald Eagles and common birds.

Enjoy the photos of the Osprey!

Before you view these photos: Press the f11 key to open your browser window to its fullest size. Some of the photos that were cropped long will not show full size if you do not do this. If using IE 8, click the broken page icon on the right side of  your address bar before clicking photos.

Osprey carrying fish | Click photo for larger view

Osprey carrying fish | Click photo for larger view


Osprey with fish closeup | Click photo for larger view

Osprey with fish closeup | Click photo for larger view


Osprey coming at you | Click photo for larger view

Osprey coming at you | Click photo for larger view


Osprey overhead | Click photo for larger view

Osprey overhead | Click photo for larger view


Osprey clutching two fish | Click photo for larger view

Osprey clutching two fish | Click photo for larger view

Happy birding!



Dawn Fine May 18, 2009 at 11:31 am

Awesome photos John!
How exciting that must have been..all those photographers! Great shots!
Will put that on my list of places to go…excellent.

Amy May 18, 2009 at 12:25 pm

Amazing osprey shots. And I love the shot of all the photogs! What fun!

Mick May 18, 2009 at 3:25 pm

It must be a fantastic scene to watch! Great photos.

Kallen May 18, 2009 at 6:32 pm

AMAZING photos John. Such gorgeous birds that you captured in its excellence! I am having serious lens envy here looking at all of those fancy lenses! ;o)

Andy May 18, 2009 at 6:49 pm

Award winning!

Tabib May 18, 2009 at 8:06 pm

Wow!, Great osprey in flight. Good for photographer and the bird.
Love to see all those bazookas, and one day I will get that. ;)

Yen May 18, 2009 at 8:12 pm

the photograph on Osprey clutching two fish is out standing.

Neil May 18, 2009 at 9:38 pm

Looks like the place to be for Osprey great photos.

Sharon May 18, 2009 at 9:50 pm

Double catch on the last one! Awesome! Great shots! Were you digiscoping? I can only imagine the excitement you all felt capturing this event. Do the Osprey fish all day or mostly just in the morning?

How I would love to come up there to see such a sight but with a family at home it’s just not going to happen. Maybe one day. Until then I’ll enjoy your website. I checked out your friend Bob’s website also. He has some amazing photography!

Don’t the Osprey eyes remind you of Owls?


Kelly May 19, 2009 at 12:47 am

Whoa!! These photos are incredible. I enlarged them and was blown away. Beautiful…

gwendolen May 19, 2009 at 1:14 am

Wow, what a spectacular sighting this must be. I’d love to see all the fish jumping up the fish ladder and all the birds swooping down snatching them up.

Fantastic photos John!

p.s. All those lenses are pretty impressive too *chuckle

Shelley May 19, 2009 at 7:53 am

This is incredible – you must’ve been thrilled seeing this brilliant “fisherman” at work!!

Janie of Utah May 19, 2009 at 8:58 pm

Very cool to see your shots of the osprey catching his dinner. I’ve seen an osprey dive for fish but not catch one. I’d never have had the camera out in time anyway.

Brad May 19, 2009 at 9:52 pm

I am a day late again this week, I will get this thing figured out yet. You photos are amazing, what a wonderful experience it must have been.

Louise May 20, 2009 at 2:48 pm

I love birds of prey /preying birds (I am Danish so I do not know what the right name is, but hopefully you know what I mean). The past years we have gotten more and more birds of prey here in Denmark after they have been gone or been very, very rare.


Larry Jordan May 21, 2009 at 1:35 am

Awesome, incredible, gorgeous captures John! I can see how you filled two 8GB cards on those beautiful Ospreys.

That last shot , the bird with two fish is amazing. And both fish facing the right direction for the bird to carry too! Those talons are literally fish hooks aren’t they?

I was told by a local guy of a place here on the Sacramento River where I may be able to capture Osprey fishing. Now I will have to research it further. Thanks for the great post and beautiful photography!

John Bruno March 15, 2012 at 8:11 pm


I live in Brunswick, Maine and would like directions to the spot to see the Ospreys.



Tony Tow September 25, 2013 at 6:24 am

Hi John,
Thank you for sharing your fantastic osprey fishing photos.
Please email me where to place my tripod to attempt to achieve such beatiful shots & direction to Damariscotta Mill from Long Island, NY.
Many thanks.

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