Eagle eyes around Beaufort County are spotting the return of the osprey.
We consider the dashing seahawk to be a sign of spring and rebirth in the Lowcountry.
Palmetto Electric Cooperative's osprey webcam has documented a new pair in its nest on Mathews Drive on Hilton Head Island.
A male arrived Feb. 1, followed by a female, followed by hanky panky, appropriately enough, on Valentine's Day.
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Two "bridge osprey" are hanging out on the electric tower in Mackays Creek, where motorists headed to and from Hilton Head watch the routine. They first rebuild their nest with sticks, twigs, pine cones and Spanish moss. Then they'll take turns sitting on eggs and hopefully have chicks, which they will feed and nurture for a good eight weeks before booting the freeloaders out.
In Palmetto Dunes, a new nesting platform was built last month after a diseased pine tree with an osprey nest was removed on the Fazio golf course.
Dianne Faucette got help from property owners association president Barbara McFadden and Greenwood Communities and Resorts management to get a replacement platform in a nearby tree before our special company arrives. Kiley Fusco provided platform plans, Fazio course superintendent David Hightower built it, and Patrick Wake, director of maintenance, had it installed on Jan. 28.
Dianne and John Faucette are the island's official osprey monitors for the LowCountry Institute on Spring Island.
For three years, the LowCountry Institute has coordinated countywide nest observations with about 40 volunteers from the Sea Island Fly Fishers of Beaufort, Master Naturalists, Audubon clubs and the Parris Island Natural Resources department.
These "citizen scientists" observed 137 nests last year -- 72 percent of them active. Two out of three active nests produced at least one chick during the nesting season.
"We hope through this study to establish baseline data about osprey populations to monitor the health of the Port Royal Sound system over time," the institute says in a newsletter.
If the osprey return, if they nest, and if their nests produce healthy chicks, it's good for everyone. It means they can find plenty of high-quality fish. It means there are fewer contaminants in the water.
In that way, they're more than a sign of spring. They are a sign of good health, and we welcome them home.
Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.