A Battle For Survival

By Libby Colterjohn

 Sturgeon Lake

 

The sail up Sturgeon Lake was wonderful. With the wind behind us, we did a steady five to six knots and reached our destination in just over an hour, without ever starting the motor. It was just one long, glorious flight to freedom with only the sounds of the sails and the swish of the water beneath us.

It was a Friday evening in late June and the Southern Ontario air was warm and gentle. After a long and stressful week for both of us, nothing was more relaxing than sleeping on board our 25-foot Bayfield, the Jeanie Warren, swaying gently at anchor off O’Connell Island. We had a weekend of family to look forward to, but, for just a few stolen hours, we were on our own. We loved them all dearly but eight grandchildren under the age of seven, and sometimes four or five large dogs, could be a challenge after a busy week!

As we anchored in the lee of the island, the sun was slowly sinking towards the horizon, with a promise of a beautiful sunset, and the breeze was dropping. Our timing was perfect. We lay back on the cushions in the cockpit, with a nightcap in hand, and listened to the birds settling for the night and the long, mournful calls of the loons. 

Suddenly, there was a great splash. About 25 feet from the boat, an osprey dived deeply into the lake. His powerful wings slowly beat the water as he surfaced and then he disappeared below again. We had seen this magnificent sight many times before, but this seemed to be different and we had never been so close. With much splashing the osprey rose little by little until we could see that he had caught a huge old carp in his claws. The fish was so big it was obvious this could be an even fight.

The struggle went on as the sun slipped down behind the trees and the sky lit up with a thousand colors. Shadows lengthened over the lake, but we were still able to watch clearly as this beautiful bird rose again and again, gripping the struggling fish. Occasionally he reached as high as ten or even 15 feet, with tremendous effort in his huge wings, but then collapsed back into the water. We knew he could not release the fish without settling onto something solid, so when he tried to skim across the surface of the lake with the fish still submerged, we realized he was attempting to reach a rock or the beach on the island. We could see that the bird was tiring, and the fish was fighting as hard as ever, twisting around and thrashing its tail.

The boat rocked gently with the ripples from the turbulence as we watched, mesmerized. Finally, they both sank below the surface of the water, still entwined in a mutual death. The turmoil continued for a few more moments and then all was still. The colors in the fiery sky faded and night closed in.

We sat there without talking, each thinking about what we had seen and mourning the loss of such a beautiful bird. Perhaps, somewhere close by, there were chicks waiting to be fed, as it was June. If only the osprey had chosen a smaller fish; if only, if only . . .

This is a true story.

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