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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.

This past week, the South River Federation, held its first annual South River Days Celebration.  The week included a "What can YOU do for the river" meeting, an oyster flotilla, cook-out, kayak trip, and wade-in with Senator Fowler. 

It was a week dedicated to celebrating the South River and becoming more connected to the river. 

Please enjoy the following slideshow which highlights the many activities that happened throughout the week!

April 26, 2011

I'm 99% sure that over the weekend Margaret laid eggs.  Since I can't see into their nest, I can't be 100% sure, but she hasn't left her nest all day.  It seems to me, she is keeping those eggs warm.  We shall see what happens in 5 to six weeks.

April 27, 2011

Today was a frustrating day for the osprey.

First, I saw Frank and Margaret flying around their nest very agitated.  Then, I saw why they were agitated—there were two men removing the eggs from their nest. The two osprey eggs were physically removed from the nest this morning at the marina’s request by the US Fish and Wildlife. 

 

The two men from US Fish and Wildlife had been asked to remove the eggs from the nest so the marina could move the boat.  The osprey had made a nest in the high bridge.  I was glad to see the marina take the appropriate steps to have the eggs removed, but it was still very frustrating to watch them take the eggs away.  It was especially hard to watch Margaret sit in her now empty nest.  

After meeting the guys at the pier, Jennifer and I had the opportunity to go out on the DNR boat and watch them place the eggs into two other osprey nests in the South River.   I try to think of the silver lining in this situation, the eggs will survive and Frank and Margaret will survive.  However, I won’t be able to watch the eggs hatch or see the chicks grow. 

This whole experience got me thinking an osprey doesn’t need to be on the endangered species list in order for us to protect it.  Under the Federal Migratory Bird Act, ospreys are federally protected birds.  They are not endangered birds, but they are still protected.  Why is it then important to protect them even if they are not endangered?  Well that’s just it, if we didn’t protect them, then they would become endangered.  During the 50s and 60s, the osprey population was close to extinction due to the use of DDT.  DDT made eggshells thin and weak and when the females were sitting their eggs, the eggs would crack and the young would die.  It wasn’t until the 1970s that DDT was banned and the osprey population started to make a comeback.  DDT had a huge impact on the osprey population in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. 

To bring the subject home to the South River Watershed, DNR says, there are 30 pairs of osprey nesting in our watershed.  That is a total of 60 birds.  Today, someone said, “I see lots of osprey, why do we even need to protect them.”  The DNR representative had a great answer to this question.  When you are seeing ospreys, you are seeing the entire population.  They are not like other birds, who can live near the water, in the woods, or in the fields.  Osprey have a very specific living area.  So again, when you see osprey on the water, you are seeing their ENTIRE population.  In the case of the South River, we have 60,000 people in our watershed and we have 60 osprey.  That is a ratio of 1:1,000.  We have one osprey per one-thousand people. 

Doesn’t seem like a lot of osprey when you come down to it.  It is important to protect these creatures and help them thrive.  They are an integral part of the watershed ecosystem and we need them to have a healthy South River. 

April 13, 2011

After the first blog, I realized these osprey needed names—they have a lot of personality!  After watching them, the names Frank and Margaret popped into my head.  I looked outside again and watched her meticulously place a stick in the nest, while he sat perched high on the boat; on full alert for any predators.  So, it is with great pleasure that I introduce you to Frank & Margaret!

Frank and Margaret have been very busy with nest building.  Their nest has grown significantly over the weekend and this week.  After doing some research, I found that average nests are 1 to 2 feet deep, and can range from 3 to 6 feet in diameter!  From my window, it looks like they have built two nests—one on top of each other.  Ospreys are known to build more than one nest in their territory, but this seems a little close.  I’m thinking Frank has given Margaret a selection of twigs to choose from for building their nest.  During the nesting season, they will continuously repair the nest with these extra twigs and branches.

Since Frank and Margaret have taken up residence in the flying bridge of one of the boats, I was curious to know more about the rules & regulations of osprey nest building.  Can you remove a nest?  What happens to the property after the nest becomes “active”, meaning eggs are present in the nest.  After a slight mishap with human interference with the ospreys, I was even more curious to know the rules.    

I talked to Diana, South RIVERKEEPER®, who talked to Peter, our local osprey connection, and this is what they had to say about nest rules & regulations.   

Ospreys, as with most birds found in the United States, are protected by both state and federal laws. The arrival of spring in the Chesapeake Bay also means the arrival of ospreys, who are seeking suitable nesting sites for the remainder of spring and summer. Once almost an extirpated species in the Chesapeake Bay region, ospreys are now a commonly observed species, with approximately 3,600 nesting pairs in the region. Unfortunately, ospreys that nest in the Chesapeake Bay region nest mostly on man-made structures such as duck blinds, power poles, navigational markers, nest platforms, and, in this case, a flying bridge of a boat. 

Such nesting sites can be frustrating to property owners. Under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), osprey are a protected species. Protection includes their nests, eggs, and young. Under federal law, osprey nests can be removed from private property before any eggs or young are present in the nest, however, once eggs or young are present in the nest (early April through July/August), the nest can no longer be removed or disturbed. If a property owner has an osprey nesting on their property, and the nest contains eggs or young, then the property owner must apply for a federal MBTA permit to remove the nest.  They can do this by contacting the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service's Office of Migratory Birds at 413-253-8577.  If someone sees human disturbance to an active osprey nest they should report activities to the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Enforcement Coalition Hotline (CBEEC) at 1-800-377-5879, a 24 hour manned hotline.  CBEEC is a coalition of state and federal law enforcement agencies responsible for enforcing environmental regulations in the Chesapeake Bay region.

I enjoy watching Frank and Margaret build their nest piece by piece.  I never realized the intricate process they take in building their home.  I look forward to seeing what happens next in “As the World Turns—Osprey Style.”