(Massachusetts Audubon bander Vin Zollo cradles a four-week old Osprey as he wraps a Fisheries and Wildlife tracking band around its leg. The Osprey is one of two chicks in the Bay Road nest. See page 16 for more photos. Photo by Barbara Van Dingstee)

Under intemperate skies, officials from the Massachusetts Audubon Society and Duxbury’s Conservation Department, as well as Bay Road neighbors gathered in Nancy Bennett’s yard last Friday for the annual banding of Osprey chicks. As the group approached the nest, both parents took to flight, circling and crying at the disruption.

Passersby are familiar with the pole that rises high above the marsh area, with a bundle of sticks curved just so by attentive parents to nestle their two chicks.

It’s a perfect site for an Osprey nest. Nearby runs Island Creek, ideal for the hawks whose diet is primarily fish, and the woods are far enough away that the chicks are safe from predators, but not so far as to elude those who seek to track them.

Unlike the chicks’ natural predators, such as the Great Horned Owl and Red-tailed Hawk, the humans were there to help. By banding the chicks, Audubon officials can track the species and monitor their well-being.

“In the last 20 years, we’ve banded 240 birds, from here to Quincy,” said Joe Grady, conservation administrator, noting there are six nests in Duxbury.

As the group approached the pole, Bennett, an avid birder who observes the nest from March, when pairs arrive, until September, when the birds migrate, noted it had been there 23 years and replaced two years ago.

“The town put it up, but last year Island Creek Oysters reconstructed it,” said Bennett, noting her son is Skip Bennett, founder of Island Creek Oysters.

John Galluzzo, Massachusetts Audubon Adult Education Coordinator, nodded toward the pole as Vin Zollo, a bander with Mass Audubon climbed a ladder toward the nest. “This pole is from the old Powder Point Bridge. From before the fire.”

As he neared the nest, the crowd of about 16 neighbors and environmentalists watched in silence, occasionally swiping at marsh gnats that gathered with the clouds.  Zollo moved slowly on his approach as the parents shrieked overhead. While Ospreys have been known to dive-bomb people who near their nests, Bennett said this pair hadn’t displayed any signs of aggression. In fact, said Bennett, this was the first year this pair had nested at this site.

Though officials had a sense of the chicks’ age, they weren’t certain. For the banding to be successful, it had to occur at just the right time in the birds’ development.

“If they’re old enough, the band has to be the right size,” said Grady. “The foot needs to be big enough for it to stay on, but they need to be young enough not to fly away. The talons are the first to develop.”

Lifting a chick from the nest, Zollo carefully made his way down the ladder and showed the crowd what he estimated to be a five-week old Osprey.    “They look between four and five weeks from here,” said Galluzzo. “They’re perfect to band at this age now.”

When he was finished Zollo held up the band that would soon encircle the bird’s leg.

“Now what I’m going to do is put on a Fish and Wildlife band,” said Zollo. “It’s made of aluminum with its own number.”

The chick didn’t flinch as Zollo wrapped the metal and even laid its head against his forearm. Zollo said he wasn’t wooed by such a display. Osprey are birds of prey with sharp, curved talons and beaks intended to tear through flesh.

“The rule of thumb,” said Zollo, “when banding chicks is always hang on. Never let go.”

Weighing in at roughly five pounds, with an impressive wingspan, the bird appeared calm. Galluzzo stepped in to give a mini-lesson on the raptor. He noted the bird’s full plumage and its eyes, orange at birth but do to change to yellow as it becomes an adult. In August, the mother will migrate south to Florida or the Caribbean, and the father will remain with the chicks to teach them how to fish. Come September, they’ll all fly south.

Soon Zollo returned the chick to its nest and banded its sibling. Moving quickly to assure the upset parents, Conservation employees Tyler Genereux and Max Mello carried away the ladder and the crowd moved to the fringes of the marsh. As the clouds opened up, the mother continued to draw closer to her nest, flying in ever smaller circles. Though the father had fled to parts unknown, it was only a few minutes before the mother returned to the nest and her chicks.