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UCPC PROVIDES HOME FOR OSPREY

             Thanks to the efforts of the Udalls Cove Preservation Committee (UCPC), with a big assist from several other organizations, Little Neck Bay has for the past several years been home for a pair of osprey. 

 Osprey platform atop 40' utility pole 1
       These magnificent birds, relatives of eagles, have raised young here each year since 1977.  On April 30, 1997 UCPC installed an osprey nesting platform in the Alley Park portion of Little Neck Bay.  Just a few weeks after the platform went up, a pair of osprey � also known as "fish hawks" � took up housekeeping.  They successfully raised a brood during the summer of '97.  Three chicks were born, of which at least two fledged (got to the point of flying on their own).  The osprey returned early the following, and they�ve been back raising a new family each year since then.

              Osprey are native to virtually all of North America, and are widely distributed throughout the world.  They feed exclusively on fish, which they catch with sharp, curved talons.  Circling over the water or sitting on a perch at the water's edge, they use their keen eyesight to spot fish swimming near the surface.  After swooping down and seizing their prey, they return to their nest or perch to eat.

              Ospreys build large nests of coarse sticks, seaweed and other material.  Though nests may be built on the ground, they are more commonly set high up in dead trees near the edge of lakes, rivers or the seacoast.  In developed areas, however, most such nesting sites have been eliminated by human beings.  Osprey platforms are an alternative to which these relatives of the eagles have readily adapted.

                                                  Second Attempt Proves Successful

            UCPC had tried once before to attract nesting osprey to Little Neck Bay by installing a platform.  In late 1992, the Long Island Lighting Company helped UCPC install an osprey platform on the grounds of the Belgrave Water Pollution Control Facility near the head of Udalls Cove, the eastern arm of Little Neck Bay.  Although osprey have once or twice been seen perched on that platform, none have ever taken up residence there.

              In 1997, UCPC had the opportunity to try again, this time in a more favorable location.  The opportunity was presented when a 13-acre parcel of degraded wetlands in Alley Park was being restored (see below).  With the help of the Con Edison Company, the five-foot square platform was placed on top of a 40-foot high utility pole and erected in the wetlands north of the Long Island Rail Road, and east of PS-98 and the Doug-Bay community.  That area was the site of a wetlands restoration project carried out by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. 

              Con Ed donated the utility pole for the platform, as well as the workers and equipment to do the installation.  Using temporary construction roads built for the wetlands restoration project, the Con Ed crew placed the utility pole in the middle of the open marsh area, well away from houses or other human activity. 

              It has a framework of wood, with wire mesh stretched across it to support the nest.  After installation it was "seeded" with sticks to give any passing osprey a hint as to its purpose.  Obviously it worked.  In fact, we were told by the scientists working on the wetlands restoration project that more than one pair of ospreys were fighting over the "rights" to this very desirable nesting site.  (As the real estate agents say, "location, location, location!")

Osprey (from Audubon Society Field)
         
Large, powerful birds with wingspans up to six feet, ospreys have frequently been observed fishing in Little Neck Bay.  Once a pair of ospreys have selected a nesting site they tend to return to the same location year after year to raise their young.  A female will usually lay from 2 to 4 eggs.  The adults are dark brown above, and nearly pure white below.  The underparts of the young have brownish markings.


                       WETLANDS RESTORATION OFFERS IMPROVED HABITAT

            The osprey platform built by UCPC stands in the middle of 13 acres of restored salt marsh on Little Neck Bay.  The restoration work was carried out by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 1997 and 1998, and has proved to be a great success.

              The restoration project came to us thanks to the federal Clean Water Act of 1972.  Section 404 of that law prohibits the filling in of wetlands without a permit from the U.S. Army      Corps of Engineers.  When such permits are granted, they often require that the destroyed wetlands must be replaced with new or rehabilitated wetlands nearby.  This is known as "mitigation."

              In the mid-1990's the Port Authority needed a permit to fill in six acres of Flushing Bay for a runway extension at LaGuardia Airport.  The permit was issued, but mitigation was required.  The Port Authority agreed to restore 13 acres of degraded marsh located north of the Long Island Rail Road, on the east side of the Alley Creek inlet.

              The wetlands in this area had become elevated due to the placement of fill materials when the houses in the Doug-Bay area were built.  Once the elevation of the soil increased � even a little � the native Spartina grasses were quickly crowded out by tall Phragmites reeds.  Unfortunately, Phragmites does not provide much useful habitat for wildlife; wetlands covered with these reeds are far less productive and protective than a healthy marsh.

             In the restoration project, several feet of soil was removed from the entire 13 acre site.  The area was then replanted with Spartina and other native species.  By lowering the soil elevation to just the right level, the Spartina should be able to hold its own and keep the Phragmites from taking over.  (In recent years, railroad commuters and other observers might have noticed lots of little orange flags around the replanted area.  These were designed, among other things, to keep the Canada geese and other waterfowl from eating what were then the new, tender shoots of Spartina before they could take root.)

              Wetlands restoration sometimes seems to be more an art than a science.  The "cutlines" (the intended elevations after the excess soil is removed) are critical, and must be measured with great care.  This is the largest restoration site the Port Authority had worked on up to that time, and the scientists heading the project applied many lessons they had learned from smaller, and sometimes unsuccessful, earlier restoration efforts.

              The restoration project also involved the construction of several winding water channels, and a large tidal pool.  The osprey platform sits at the edge of this pool, an ideal location to watch for fish.  In addition to the osprey, herons, egrets and numerous other shore birds can be seen congregating in and around the tidal pool to catch a meal and enjoy the new vista.

ONE ROOM, SPECTACULAR WATER VIEW�
Young Osprey Couple Takes Possession of New Home on Udalls Cove

            A second pair of ospreys has taken up residence in Little Neck Bay.  This pair is living on a nesting platform installed April 17, 2004 by the Udalls Cove Preservation Committee (UCPC).  The new platform is on the Udalls Cove shoreline between Douglaston and Great Neck.   

            Osprey have been breeding in Little Neck Bay since 1997, when UCPC installed a nesting platform in the Alley Pond Park wetlands northwest of the Douglaston railroad station.  A pair established a nest there almost as soon as the platform was installed, and young have been successfully raised from that nest every year since.

             The new nesting platform is just a few yards from the high tide line, and is visible from much of the eastern shore of the Douglaston peninsula.  It is about a mile (as the osprey flies) away from the Alley Pond Park nest.  UCPC believes there is enough room and food in the Bay to support both nesting pairs.

            The nesting platform is about five feet square, and stands about 17 feet high.  UCPC�s Alley Park platform was installed on top of a tall utility pole that was donated and set in place by the Con Edison Company using its heavy equipment.  But that kind of equipment could not be used in the new Udalls Cove location, so this installation was done entirely by hand.  All the materials were carried about a quarter mile by volunteers.  The construction was assembled on-site from pre-fitted parts.  A five foot deep hole was dug using a hand-held power augur.  Then the main post with the platform at its top will be lifted into place by the volunteers.  The post will be braced on all four sides to keep it stable in the wind.

             The installation and design were approved by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC).  Like any activity in a tidal wetlands area, a permit was required for this work.  UCPC has entered into a �Stewardship Program� Agreement with the NYSDEC, under which the group will monitor the nest and report information such as the number of chicks hatched and fledged. 

            Like homesteaders of old, the young couple must build their nest before they start a family.  Made of sticks and reeds, the large, coarse nest takes several weeks to construct.  Each year additional material will be added to the nest, which will typically grow to be up to three feet high and weigh well over a hundred pounds.  The pair moved in about two weeks after the

platform was installed, and immediately started working on the nest.  By the time they are done, it may be too late for them to successfully raise chicks this year; but it is very likely that they will return again early next year and get a timely start.

OF OSPREYS
by Jim McCann, Douglaston, NY

Written in 2009 and published in the Fall, 2011 Newsletter of the Douglaston-Little Neck Historical Society.
Reprinted by permission.  [Notes in brackets by UCPC.]

             Every St. Patrick�s Day, I take two or three drive-bys on 233rd Street in Doug Bay Manor (the last road behind PS 98 that runs parallel to Little Neck Bay) looking for an old friend.  Rarely am I disappointed.   

            Like clockwork, the female osprey arrives, rain or shine, snow or sleet, back to the osprey box that she has probably inhabited since Con Edison erected it 12 years ago. [Note: this platform was built by UCPC and erected in 1997 with the assistance of Con Edison.] 

            The studies I have read report that ospreys live in excess of twenty years, are monogamous (mate for life), and return to the same area and even the same box every year.  Ornithologists are able to ascertain this data through a system of microchips implanted in a cross-section of the population of these birds.  

            Therefore, the chances are excellent that my friend is the same one I have observed for years.  If something happened to her, then the new matriarch is, no doubt, a daughter.

             The same study states that the offspring come back to their birthing area, for the most part, as well.  Based on that data, the chances are excellent that the birds we observe hatched, learned to fly, and were taught to fish right here along the shores of our bay. 

            Of course, as in our own world, things don�t always go smoothly and there can be consternation.  This seems to happen when the previous year�s daughter shows up a day before her mother.  Since I haven�t mastered their dialect yet, this is all conjecture.  However, I have observed knock-down, feather flying, mid-flight disagreements over the Doug Bay osprey box.  I can only assume that mom wins out in the end.

             My female friend produces an average of two eggs a season.  Occasionally, we get three, as happened this year.  Just when the eggs are laid, I am not sure.  If I work backward from when I first begin to observe the ugliest chicks in God�s creation, she probably lays her eggs as the weather warms during April or May. 

            Things are pretty quiet around �the house� until late June.  Then one of my most enjoyable times of observation begins.  It is time for the kids to learn to fly. 

            For the previous two months, the male bird has been diving into our bay, catching fish in his talons, arranging them fore and aft � a pretty neat trick � and bringing dinner home to the family. 

            The young ones need to learn to feed themselves very soon, but learning how to fly first helps with the process. 

            The largest of the young will start to spread and flap his or her wings.  Since the wingspan is close to five feet, this flapping in a six foot square area can really rearrange family life.  Feathers fly, twigs from the box and anything else not tied down go up in a vortex, causing the younger birds to hunker down to get away from the chaos.  When all start to fledge at the same time, home becomes frenzied for a while. 

            Once everyone is up in the air, there is more enjoyment for the observer.  Now it�s time to learn to fish! 

            The first dives for food of our just recently air-borne birds are spectacular, not very productive, but spectacular.  More often than not, I have observed several fruitless tries, and then watched as the young ones return to the box to wait for a parent to drop off dinner.  This happens for a week or two.  Eventually, they get the hang of it. 

            Now to the other side of town, Udalls Cove.  Several years ago, Walter Mugdan and his �merry men� (Walter is president of the Udalls Cove Preservation Committee) installed an osprey box across the creek from Memorial Field in Douglas Manor, a herculean task.  It lay dormant for several years. [Note from UCPC: not quite.  It was occupied soon after being erected in 2004, but no chicks hatched.  In 2005 chicks hatched, but not in 2006.  Since 2007 we�ve had chicks each year.] Then by a complete and happy chance a few years back, Walter and I happened to the same spot on Douglas Road one day and noticed the box had just been occupied.  It has remained so ever since and produced two birds a year. 

            This past August, my wife Cindy and I came in from a glorious Sunday afternoon sail on our sailboat, �Romp,� when she told me to look up.  There, circling above us a couple of hundred feet up were twelve to fourteen ospreys � a whole convention.  It made my month.

 

 

   
Last modified: 02/08/15  

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