Published on October 11, 2019

Citizen Science Wrap-Up for 2019

Summer 2019 was an incredible season for Felix Neck's Osprey, Atlantic Horseshoe Crab, breeding shorebirds, odonate, and salamander citizen science projects! Across all monitoring projects, over 40 individuals trekked through woods and across beaches to collect the data needed for the conservation and management of these iconic Vineyard species. 

Male Osprey delivering fish to nest © Kathy Kinsman
© Kathy Kinsman


First, we want to thank all of our dedicated, hard-working Osprey monitoring volunteers! It was a summer of love and the sixth most successful breeding season ever for the Island's Osprey. 

In total, 99 active nests were observed this summer. At these nests, early estimates are that 144 Osprey young successfully fledged—23 more than our previous high record! That brings the total number to 2,030 young known to have fledged since we began the census in 1998. In addition, there were at least 12 housekeepers and house hunters, which are pairs of adult birds that are beginning to build a nest but did not lay eggs.

Counting all the adults, unpaired individuals, and fledglings, there were more than 366 Osprey in the air over the Island!

The efforts to count, monitor, and record Osprey breeding success is a monumental task considering that there are 223 Osprey poles and nesting structures on the Vineyard! Many thanks to Osprey Researcher Rob Bierregaard and lead monitor Dick Jennings for managing this project.

The table below shows some of the results from the 22nd Annual Osprey Census. 

2019 Annual Osprey Census Summary

  • Active nests: 99
  • Estimated fledglings: 144
  • Housekeeper nests: 12
  • Total Osprey on island: 366
  • Monitoring Volunteers: 35
  • Volunteer Hours: 1,800 

Horseshoe Crab survey volunteers at work © Gabrielle Mannino
Horseshoe Crab volunteers © Gabrielle Mannino

Atlantic Horseshoe Crabs

On behalf of Felix Neck and the MA Department of Marine Fisheries, we'd like to extend an enormous thank you to our dedicated spawning survey volunteers!

The Vineyard's crabs had another remarkable breeding season in 2019. 

The table below shows some of the results from this year's surveys.

We're thrilled to see local horseshoe crab numbers increasing, and can't thank our volunteers enough for their hard work and help in making this happen!

Tashmoo Beach Spawning Surveys Summary

  • Number of surveys conducted: 15
  • Number of crabs observed: 410
  • Most crabs recorded in one survey: 192 (June 5)
  • Mean density: 0.685 crabs/25 sq ft
  • Mean spawn index (# females): 0.218/sq ft

Spotted Salamander closeup by Liz Dengenis (staff)


Huge thanks to Eleah Caseau for spearheading the salamander survey efforts this summer! 

While no salamanders have been found to-date this season, this still serves as important data for this indicator species.

Scientists are unsure how exactly climate change will affect salamanders, but it appears as though they may be getting smaller.

From the 1950s to 2012, salamanders from six species got smaller, while creatures from just one species got a little bit larger, the researchers found. On average, salamanders collected after 1980 were eight percent smaller than those collected before then, and each generation of salamander shrunk by one percent…[Scientists] don't yet know what biological processes caused the salamanders to shrink. Maybe bigger salamanders died or were less likely to reproduce than smaller ones were. Or the changes could have resulted from "plasticity"—an organism's ability to adjust its biological features, much like an internal thermostat, in response to changes in its environment.

– Puneet Kollipara, "Climate Change Shrinks Salamanders"

Damselfly at Felix Neck by Liz Dengenis (staff)


Summer 2019 was a great season for the Citizen Science "Odes" Project, marking the 10th consecutive year of systematically surveying dragonfly and damselflies at the Felix Neck freshwater ponds. With the addition of two new enthusiastic and committed volunteers, surveys were conducted every 2-3 weeks from June to mid-September. It takes time and dedication to learn to identify odonate species using binoculars, and all three survey volunteers have worked hard to learn the common species seen at the sanctuary.

Donna Paulnock, who joined the project at the start of the 2019 season, reflected on her experience. "Watching dragonflies moving around a small wetland on my property made me very curious about these beautiful creatures," she said. "Thanks to the [Felix Neck Citizen Science Odonates Project], and with the excellent guidance of Susie Bowman, I had a wonderful summer learning to identify specific dragonfly and damselfly species while monitoring odes during the summer months for Felix Neck."

"I look forward to continuing this fascinating project next year!" she added.

Coastal Waterbird Program

Mass Audubon's Coastal Waterbird team at Felix Neck is comprised of staff members and volunteers. During the 2019 breeding bird nesting season (March–August), they collectively monitored Piping Plovers, terns, and American Oystercatchers at 19 sites on Martha's Vineyard.

In total, 10 pairs of Piping Plovers nested on sites monitored by Felix Neck staff. Three of the pairs fledged a total of 10 chicks, nine more than last season, representing a dramatic increase in Piping Plover productivity (1.0 from 0.14).

This summer, 14 American Oystercatcher pairs were monitored and many of these pairs were observed nesting in places similar to previous years. Of these 14 pairs, eight of them fledged a total of 14 chicks.

Six sites monitored by Mass Audubon staff were utilized by breeding terns this season. A total of 89 tern pairs successfully fledged 40 chicks.

Get Involved

Interested in working with our Osprey, Horseshoe Crab, breeding shorebirds, odonates, and/or salamander citizen science projects? Just contact the coordinator for the project you're interested in! We provide all training for individuals and groups. 

For the Coastal Waterbird Program

Please contact Suzan Bellincampi by email or by calling 508-627-4850 x9400.

For all other programs

Please contact Liz Dengenis by email or by calling 508-627-4850 x9412.