about south river federation

Wednesday was anything but a typical day at the office. Jennifer and I were offered the unique opportunity to travel to Poplar Island with the US Fish & Wildlife (USFW) to participate in a Common and Least Tern monitoring study. Neither one of us had gone to Poplar Island, so we jumped at the chance, packed up our bags, and met the USFW at their boat bright and early on Wednesday morning.

Once home to almost 100 people, Poplar Island had a post office, general store, and a combination church/schoolhouse located on the island. It is a place that has gone through many changes over the centuries. First settled in 1632, Poplar Island was estimated to be around 1100 acres. Due to tree clearing for farming, by 1999 the island had dwindled down to 2 acres and it was quickly disappearing into the Chesapeake Bay. The State of Maryland established the Poplar Island Restoration Project in efforts to restore the island to its original land mass. The project has been very successful, with them reaching the original size of 1100 acres. The goal is to add another 500 acres to complete the project.

After landing at the dock, we checked in and all of us climbed into a van and off we went to the first Least Tern monitoring site. We had been told by both the USFW and the USGS that we would need to be extra careful where we walked because the nests are on the ground and the chicks and eggs are hard to see. As you will see in the slideshow, they were not kidding! The nests are small depressions in the ground, the eggs are the same color as the sand, and chicks are so tiny that they blend in with their surroundings. Jennifer and I were extra careful for the rest of the day where we stepped.

The day was not all butterflies and unicorns, we did experience the “circle of life” when it came to the birds. We saw nests that had been filled in with sediment from rainstorms, eggs that had been cracked open, and even three dead adult terns. The cause of death for these terns was pretty dramatic—one was decapitated, we only found the mandible of one, and the last one only the wings were left. After seeing these birds, the USFW set up cameras in the areas, but they are sure these deaths mean there are owls on the island. Altogether, we monitored four Common and Least Tern nesting sites. It was an amazing day looking at monitoring all of the nests, eggs, chicks, and getting to learn more about the history of Poplar Island. And we saw more than just terns during the day. We saw a Bald eagle, and immature Bald eagle, Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, many shorebirds, Terrapin nests, and even some very small toads.

“It was a special opportunity that I got to be a part of because I am a CCC intern and because of the great relationship the South River Federation has with the USFW” said Jennifer. And she was right, Jennifer and I had an amazing day learning about the restoration project, taking pictures of shorebirds, and of course watching where we walked.