Super-storm Sandy didn't only destroy or degrade the homes of many people who live along the Jersey Shore and at the water's edge in New York City. The extreme combination of hurricane force winds with severe prolong flooding also did great damage to many homes for wildlife. This is particularly true for Ospreys, frequently called by long-time coastal residents a "fish hawk," because 99 percent of its diet is fresh fish.
An Osprey's house or nesting platform is often located near water or in wetlands. During Super-storm Sandy, many were either washed away or damaged so badly they seemed unlikely to be used for nesting ever again.
Near the shores of Sandy Hook Bay, two Osprey platforms were damaged in Middletown Township, a large municipality located in northern Monmouth County, NJ, an area hard-hit by Super-storm Sandy. One platform was located near Comptons Creek in the Belford section, and the other near Pews Creek in the Port Monmouth section. Both platforms were originally installed in March 2007, by volunteers with the Middletown Township Environmental Commission and the Bayshore Regional Watershed Council, an all-volunteer environmental group dedicated to cleaning up the waters of Raritan Bay & Sandy Hook Bay.
On Sunday, March 17, at 8am, while lots of people were either getting ready to celebrate St. Patrick's Day or still sleeping off celebrations the night before, about ten volunteers with the Middletown Township Environmental Commission and the Bayshore Regional Watershed Council (including three people who were present when the platforms were originally put in place over 6 years ago) were at it once again to make a home for newly arriving Ospreys.
Installing the platforms had to be done quickly. Soon after St. Patrick's Day, the first Ospreys return from their winter home in South America or the Caribbean to begin the nesting season in New York Harbor, including Monmouth County. Already a few eager Ospreys had recently been seen flying over the Navesink River.
Ospreys usually mate for life, and return to the same nest site year after year. At Pews Creek, a pair of Ospreys had been using the same nesting platform since its establishment. Local residents in Port Monmouth would often be seen with binoculars in hand watching adult Ospreys feeding their young bits of fish. At Comptons Creek, a juvenile Osprey was observed last year making a series of practice nests inside the platform with hopes of using the site in the future to raise a family.
It's not easy, though, to install a man-made nesting platform. The structure is big, heavy, and people often have to walk far into wetlands to set it up. Volunteers regularly have to walk through knee high mud, narrow waterways, and endure tall reeds poking them in the eyes and face to get to the exact nesting site. Yet, it's all worth it to set up a safe and secure platform where Ospreys can build a nest and once again call a place home.
The two platforms in Middletown Township were fastened to tall poles rising 20 feet off the ground, and standing in the center of grassy spartina fields overlooking the marshes. It was particularly important to locate the platforms away from trees, since juvenile Ospreys are preyed upon by Great-horned Owls and raccoons.
Before people started to install Osprey platforms in the 1970s, the birds frequently nested on top of large dead trees along coastlines or rivers. Unfortunately, poorly planned over-development along the coast and rapid sea-level rise has destroyed many big, dead trees and the Osprey's natural nesting sites. Nesting platforms and other man-made structures, including buoys and cell phone towers, are commonly used today by Ospreys. More than ever in urban and suburban areas, Ospreys depend on man-made structures to raise a family.
Because the Osprey is located high up on a food chain, it's an important "indicator" species in Lower New York Bay. A nesting pair of Ospreys can be used to monitor local water quality, fish populations, and even the overall health of the estuary. In essence, the more Ospreys the bay can support, the healthier the ecosystem. The good news is that Osprey populations have been steadily, though slowly, increasing along Raritan Bay and Sandy Hook Bay in the last 30 years. Last year, there were over 30 active nests.
Volunteers with the Middletown Environmental Commission and the Bayshore Regional Watershed Council plan to monitor the newly installed platforms for activity this year and to track nesting success. Little by little, people are doing what they can do in an effort to repopulate indigenous fish hawks to one of the most urban-suburban regions in the world. Rebuilding the Jersey Shore and Lower New York Bay for a unique species while helping the local environment.
Much appreciation and gratitude for this activity goes to Mike Fedosh, chair of the Middletown Environmental Commission, along with Ellen and Marie of Middletown Township, Joe M. from Oceanport, Marissa Weber, Co-Chair of the Bayshore Regional Watershed Council, and her dad, both from Hazlet Township, Ron from Hazlet Township, Shannon from Tinton Falls, and Joe R. from Atlantic Highlands. Good job to all!
For more information about the Bayshore Regional Watershed Council, check out their website at: www.restoreourbay.org
For more information, pictures and year-round sightings of wildlife in or near Sandy Hook Bay, please check out my blog entitled, Nature on the Edge of New York City at http://www.natureontheedgenyc.com