By Craig Griffeath
The SF Bay Ospreys nest community mourns the death of 2020 fledgling Tam, aged 76 days. Though brief, his life touched many in ways he could never know, and which his many human supporters are now left to contemplate and celebrate. He leaves behind his parents Rosie and Richmond, along with his two Osprey siblings, and thousands of human followers on sfbayospreys.org.
Tam emerged from his shell on May 11 and quickly captured the hearts of SF Bay Osprey fans. Alongside his brother Lassen and sister Shasta he was, like his mountain namesake, the smallest and youngest of three. Though plucky and capable of holding his own in confrontation (as when defending a fish from the predations of siblings), he soon learned to adopt a more patient stance, allowing the two older chicks to tire themselves out squabbling before taking his turn to dine in relative peace. Tam grew up knowing what faithful nest watchers had learned in previous years: that mother Rosie, unfailingly even-handed in support of her nestlings, would always make sure he had enough to thrive.
At other times, whatever commotion might be occurring elsewhere on the nest, Tam seemed content to gaze over the edge and observe the world beyond, his family life existing alongside a growing independent identity, an emerging “apart-ness” that would sometimes give him the air of a dreamer. Several watchers saw in him a reflection of 2017’s youngest hatchling Rivet. As a third-born child myself, I felt a particular affinity with Tam and his solitary dreaming. He had a natural underdog status that made him a favorite of webcam viewers during a year when the chemistry among the three nestlings seemed especially promising.
Longtime followers of the Whirley Crane nest know well that each season brings potential risks as well as rewards.
We thrill to watching Rosie lay her eggs, and exult to the hatching of the new chicks. We see them grow under their parents’ watchful eyes, and cheer as they learn to fly and then leave home to make their own future. The time of fledging is the most exciting, but also the most dangerous. Tam’s story parallels that of the first webcam fledgling, Whirley, who likewise suffered a mortal injury just one day after fledging in 2017. We grieved the loss of baby Gamma in 2019, and the unexplained demise of 2019 fledgling Peace-Up a few months later. Four years of watching leaves no doubt that death and life are ever-present in nature as complementary sides of the same coin, but we can’t help feeling emptiness at the loss of an individual we have come to know and identify with so intimately. Our human instincts kick in: our need to seek explanations, to ascribe meaning to life’s seeming arbitrariness.
The diligence and caring of those who attended to Tam in his days of crisis—the anonymous volunteer who located him, the dedicated and compassionate treatment he received at WildCare, the remarkable and heroic work done by surgeons and staff at International Bird Rescue—all gave us reason to hope for Tam’s eventual recovery and re-nesting. But in truth, all of us who follow these birds knew what a long shot that hope was. No one dared say it aloud, but the chances of Tam returning successfully to life in the wild were very small. All of us in the community of nest watchers registered shock and sadness at his passing, but it was not, in all honesty, a surprise.
To raise a family from helpless infancy to a life of their own—something that can take humans the emotional resources of a lifetime to achieve once—is something the Ospreys do, start to finish, each and every year. Through the webcams, we enter an accelerated annual enactment of life’s greatest joys and sorrows, and look for new ways to try and understand our own place in Nature’s grand scheme. But try as we might, the Ospreys remain wild creatures, beyond our minds’ grasp.
What if all of our supposed understanding and identification is mere projection, as we inevitably measure their lives against our own all-too-human expectations?
Rosie and Richmond will never have to worry about such concerns, they seem to always know what they must do, taking life as it comes and carrying out their responsibilities each year with full devotion. Living as one with nature, they take action unencumbered by the nagging conscience and quest for meaning with which we humans try to make sense of our world.
To close, please read this beautiful lyric poem written in memory of Tam. The poem is by Geonni Banner.
Fly free, sweet Tam. You live on in our hearts.
About Craig: Craig “craigor” Griffeath is a teacher, art historian, and jazz musician living in Marin County. He has been an avid participant at sfbayospreys.org since its inception and since 2018 has managed the site’s Fish Matrix project, whose volunteers have tracked and identified nearly 2000 fish delivered to the nest by the Ospreys. If you’d like updates on the Ospreys, you can also check out GGAS’s Facebook page by clicking here.
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