South Coast Osprey Project — 2018 Field Season

One of the advantages of a long-term monitoring project is we can follow the success stories from year to year. We can also witness the many alternative trajectories, and consider the measures we might take to reduce negative impacts that the human-dominated world may have on an Osprey population and the coastal environment we all share.

We welcome enthusiasts to this project to share findings, celebrate success, and lend much-needed support!

Preparing for Arrival

New Bedford Voc Tech students helping rebuild platforms

Think back to February and the freezing spells that turned even our local briny rivers into sheets of ice. Plates of ice thawed and flowed with tides, plucking nest platforms out of the marsh as they moved. 

Seen from shore, it became clear that we were going to have a lot of work to do—24 platforms down and a number of others in rough shape. Our troops gathered to ready the boats and build replacement platforms. Businesses responded to our plea for materials; Lowe’s of Dartmouth generously responded and Home Depot helped as well.

Beginning March 1, small, open skiffs took to the marsh where their crews logged more than 150 hours over the course of 5 weeks. Neither power outages nor downed trees could stop them for rebuilding each fallen platform. Local newspapers picked up their stories to share with readers who love to learn about heroes in action, especially those from within our own community.

2018 Season Data & Summary

2018 Osprey Breeding Totals for
Westport River & Allens Pond

Nests Surveyed 103
Active Breeding Pairs 95
Successful Nests 75
Total Eggs Laid 281
Total Eggs Hatched 172
Total Birds Fledged 156

Like so many markers of spring in 2018, the return of the first resident bird was about a week late last year, reported on March 20. Once the neighborhood had settled in, we had more pairs than we’ve ever recorded!

Not all found vacant platforms. The homeless attempted a variety of alternative options, including nests on the marsh that washed away with spring storms and high tides. Even those fortunate enough (or determined) to secure a platform for their nest did not all secure egg survival. More than a third of the eggs failed, likely due to bad timing of cold weather and rains near hatch. However, 90% of hatched chicks survived to fledge, and 133 of them received their US Fish & Wildlife Service bands to help us learn where they go from here.

Besides the routine collection of data, the project reveals new insights and moves in new directions. For example, interns documented that Menhaden was the primary fish species being consumed this summer. Banded bird encounters allowed us to verify that five of our breeding birds had hatched within 10 miles of their birth platform. Thanks to the tremendous skill of an IBM Fellow, we improved our digital data storing and sharing platforms. And along the way, we rescued at least two Osprey from certain death and, inexplicably, a Meadow Vole swimming in the middle of the river.

About the Program

Prepping a newly banded osprey chick © Jeffrey Colt
Prepping a newly banded chick © Jeffrey Colt

As much as this project is about Osprey, it’s also about people who want to make a difference for our iconic coastal animal. It’s about the Friends Academy wood shop students who demonstrated their advanced skills and the GNB Voc Tech Environmental Studies students who tried their hand at unfamiliar tools in order to build nest platforms. It’s about Dick Manchester’s leadership at Westport River Watershed Alliance’s River Day in June when all ages of participants assembled nest platform components to be ready for the next round of repairs. And throughout the year, so many more boat handlers, monitoring volunteers, and property owners who took on one task or many so that over 100 pairs of Osprey were provided a safe nest site.

For a few people, the stewardship experience is being woven into their future. Four new college interns this year were joined in the field by six interns of past years. Amanda, one of the latter, is now a member of the Lloyd Center’s staff and made sure the Center’s Osprey nests were included in our monitoring and banding. After being bitten by the Osprey bug last year, Katelyn volunteered nearly full-time for a month this season before reporting as a Field Technician in Illinois for a state project to bring Osprey back from local extinction.

Already this fall, two of our 2018 interns are weaving the Osprey Project into their college studies and will share what they produce with us. Field experience for our interns is a valuable outcome of the Osprey Project—both for these young professionals and the communities they join in the future.