The boom in rebuilding homes along the coast isn't just for people. Volunteers with the Bayshore Regional Watershed Council have been spending time each spring for the past five years to install, rebuild, and remodel osprey platforms along Raritan Bay.
On Sunday, April 3, their work continued in Union Beach, a small bayside community on the banks of Raritan Bay in New Jersey. About a dozen volunteers spent time on a blustery, but blue-skied afternoon slogging through wetland mud and muck with a heavy wooden pole and nesting basket in their hands. The goal was to replace an old osprey platform that was badly damaged by recent winter storms.
Once the perfect spot was located for the new osprey platform, not too close to trees and far away from prying people, they quickly got to work digging a deep 3-foot hole. Then everyone took his or her places to hoist the tall pole up and lift it into the hole. The whole scene was a well-designed dance. Everyone had an important part to play from pushing the pole up to holding on to line to make sure the pole doesn’t fall over.
Although everything went as planned, it’s not always an easy job. If done incorrectly, the pole could collapse and break the nesting basket or worse injure someone.
With the pole was up and in the hole, the hardy volunteer crew quickly worked to stabilize and straightened the pole, ensuring it would not come toppling back down anytime soon. People got hands dirty by pouring mud into the hole and trampling it down to make sure it was secure and safe.
Hopefully ospreys returning on migration will find the platform an attractive place to breed. No matter what though the new nesting platform is part of an ongoing campaign by the Bayshore Watershed Council to monitor and provide home and habitat for nesting Ospreys.
Another important activity for the volunteers is to track is how many young Ospreys, or fledglings, are living in each nest every summer. So far, every nest installed by the council has been successful with at least one if not two fledglings per nest every year.
Volunteers with the watershed council primarily do this for a deep attraction and affection of the “fish hawk” and a strong connection to their local environment.
Ospreys were nearly wiped out along Raritan Bay and nearly everywhere in the last century because of DDT and other pesticides that bio-accumulated in fish. DDT in particular interfered with calcium deposition, leading to shell-thinning in the eggs. This caused shells to break during incubation, resulting in failed nests. Before DDT was banned in 1972, the osprey population was nowhere to be found in Raritan Bay or New York Harbor.
Ospreys are indicator species. They are top-level predators that feed mostly on fish, and a healthy population of top predators means the overall ecosystem is healthy to support the food chain. Successful nests indicate that DDT, though a persistent pesticide found mainly in the muck of New York Harbor, is no longer affecting eggshell production. Having successful young tells us food is plentiful and its quality high. Watching Ospreys and having an abundant population in the bay keeps our finger on the pulse of the overall health of the bay. It’s a great long-term monitoring tool.
So why do volunteers make platforms? Because of over-development along our coast and sea level rise, natural homes for ospreys, such as dead trees have greatly been reduced for a large, healthy population of birds to nest. The need grew into a concerted effort to install nesting platforms and monitoring nests, both tasks now done mostly by volunteer with the Bayshore Watershed Council.
If you wish to volunteer with the Bayshore Watershed Council and help be a good steward in the environment and the community, please sign up for a free email newsletter at their website: www.restoreraritanbay.org. Emails will provide information about local volunteer activities and events.