2016-04-28 / Nature

Platform Protects Osprey From Predators and Public

By Jack Kelly

A 20-foot tall platform has attracted a nesting pair of osprey. The peat island where the platform was installed is on private property and is considered unstable. Birdwatchers and photographers are advised to stay clear of the area. (Photo by Jack Kelly) A 20-foot tall platform has attracted a nesting pair of osprey. The peat island where the platform was installed is on private property and is considered unstable. Birdwatchers and photographers are advised to stay clear of the area. (Photo by Jack Kelly) After a long winter’s nap, the Gooseneck Cove salt marshes have begun to awaken with the sounds of nature and the promise of new life.

For the past eight years, Gooseneck Cove has been the subject of an extensive and painstaking restoration project conducted by federal and state environmental agencies, as well as local conservation groups. The area had previously been neglected and became an illegal dumping ground for trash.

Limited tidal flow to the wetlands, caused by a non-functioning dam, led to an increase in noxious algae blooms and the destruction of important marsh grasses, plants, and mudflats. Invasive phragmites choked the shorelines, keeping out the vital plants needed by wildlife and contributing to the degradation of the region.

Save The Bay identified Gooseneck Cove as a restoration project because of its importance to our coastal region. A major construction program begun in late 2008 removed the dam and added two new culvert systems, highly increasing the flow of ocean tidal waters to the marsh system. Water quality greatly improved, and in time the wetlands became a vibrant habitat for wildlife of all types.

In the spring of 2010, volunteers from the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, which holds the eastern 14 acres of Gooseneck Cove in trust, erected a tripod osprey nesting platform on a peat island in the marsh. ASRI assumed the Osprey Recovery Monitoring Program from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management that year, and with a system of volunteer monitors and biologists continues to monitor the species recovery from the devastating effects of DDT.

In 1978, only 13 pairs of ospreys were present in the state during nesting season, with only 15 fledglings at season’s end. The breed was on the brink of extinction worldwide. But with the assistance of numerous conservation organizations, the osprey population has slowly rebounded and is showing great promise for the future. The last nesting season presented monitors with 98 active nests and 178 fledglings.

For the first time since its installation, an osprey pair has laid claim to the nesting platform in Gooseneck Cove. In the past weeks, the raptors have been observed adding new sticks, mud and nesting material to their summer home. Local birders and wildlife enthusiasts have reported the pair’s courting and mating activities, as well as their fishing expeditions to nearby Lily Pond and coastal waters.

While the vast majority of observers have watched the ospreys from the adjacent roadway, there have been reports of overzealous photographers and persons with cell phones crossing out to the peat island at low tide in attempts to get closer photographs. Be aware that these actions jeopardize the future of the pair.

According to Jon Scoones, ASRI’s director of volunteer services, “This site was chosen because it offers ospreys a nesting area protected from predators, but allows the general public a chance to see these magnificent birds fairly close up. We appreciate the interest in this special species; however, folks need to understand that this is an important time for the pair and disturbances from humans getting too close is an impediment to their natural progress.”

Scott Ruhren, ASRI’s senior director of conservation, commented, “The peat island is private property, as is the entire eastern section, and folks are trespassing when they venture into this area. It is detrimental to wildlife and marine life … to be disturbed like this.”

With the marsh restoration an ongoing activity, actions by irresponsible persons places an added onus on the recovery process. Wenley Ferguson, Save The Bay’s restoration specialist, explained, “The peat islands are still very unstable and fragile. Any activity, other than restoration work, is highly damaging to islands. Foot traffic at this time of year destroys the Spartina, or vital marsh grasses, that are starting to appear. It prevents the grasses from colonizing and stabilizing the peat. Mudflats, which have taken seven years to build with the tidal flow, are also damaged by unnecessary intrusions. Please stay off the peat islands.”

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