Naturalist Greg Kearns takes care in gently handling one of the nesting osprey.
Thirteen staff from the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management’s Estuarine Reserves Division (ERD) recently got hands-on experience with nesting ospreys when they accompanied naturalist Greg Kearns as he banded some of the season’s newly hatched chicks in the Jug Bay component of the Chesapeake Bay Maryland National Estuarine Research Reserve. Jug Bay is a tidal freshwater marsh in the lower Patuxent River, a major tributary of the Chesapeake Bay.
ERD staff members learned to retrieve and handle the birds, ranging in age from three to six weeks, as Kearns applied the small metal bands to their legs. Each numbered band helps scientists learn migration patterns and track populations over wide distances.
Kearns, staff naturalist for the Patuxent River Park, records data about each banded bird, including weight, gender, date, and location of banding. Birds banded by Kearns over the past 30 years have turned up in the Bahamas, Venezuela, and throughout the Caribbean.
As the group moved through the marsh, Kearns noted that many of the osprey nests had few if any chicks. Kearns believes a combination of cooler temperatures and higher-than-normal rainfall this year may be contributing to a higher rate of nesting failure than in past years.
Traveling in an open, outboard powered skiff, the ERD expedition visited about six of the platform nests Kearns has established in Jug Bay, banding chicks as the parents soared above them, keeping a close eye on the proceedings. Throughout the tour, Kearns, who has worked at Jug Bay for more than 30 years, described the environmental changes he has witnessed, including sea level rise and the decline and recovery of wild rice marsh.
Kearns was responsible for the wild rice recovery, restoring about 80 percent of the marsh lost mainly to goose overgrazing, through a combination of goose population reduction, installation of exclosure fencing and planting by dozens of volunteers over the years.
The National Estuarine Research Reserve System monitors, protects, and restores more than 1.3 million acres of coastal and estuarine habitats in 21 states and Puerto Rico. The wild rice restoration and osprey banding programs at Jug Bay are exemplary of the work being done at all 27 reserves.
Laurie McGilvray, chief of the Estuarine Reserves Division, handles an osprey.