Ode to Osprey: Mass Audubon celebration takes off

Oct 4, 2019

Dozens of volunteers, Mass Audubon members, and friends filled the Stone Barn Farm at a dinner and presentation on Thursday evening to celebrate the close of the South Coast Osprey Project’s 2019 season.

“This is my baby,” said Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary Director Gina Purtell of the project, which monitors the population of osprey in Westport and Dartmouth with a focus on breeding activity.

The project, now in its 15th year, also bands and tracks some birds with GPS to learn more about migration and feeding patterns.

In a pre-dinner presentation, Purtell gave a summary of this year’s findings, discussing less welcome news ⁠— such as the death of a bird after being struck by a plane at T. F. Green airport ⁠— as well as highlights like increasing public engagement and resurgence of osprey numbers globally.

Alan Poole, author of Ospreys: The Revival of a Global Raptor, also gave a dinnertime talk about the birds of prey, their migration and behavior, and how their numbers are bouncing back.

“While we are here dining on lasagna, they are in Cuba, and having a great time listening to really good music,” he joked.

He noted that in the 1970s, there weren’t even 100 nesting pairs on the whole coast between New York City and Boston ⁠— whereas now there are nearly 100 nesting pairs in the Westport River/Allens Pond area alone.

Poole added that their success story brings hope to bird lovers at a time when there is little good news, citing a recent study published in Science that revealed North America has lost almost one out of three birds in the last 50 years.

“The osprey is one of the great good news stories in the ornithological world,” he said. 

“It was really empowering,” said Westport resident Carissa Wills-DeMello of the evening. “It made me feel like I could do something to support the osprey.” 

She continued, “I just love nature, and love doing what I can to support the health of our local ecosystems, and I think that the osprey are a big part of that.”

Wills-DeMello said that she was thinking about volunteering for the project, as was Mass Audubon member Amy Tripp.

Like Wills-DeMello, Tripp lives on the Westport River, and said that she sees osprey all the time.

“I’ve always been interested in birds,” she said. “[The presentation was] very informative. It’s so nice to hear about it all.”

“I think I will volunteer next year,” she added. “I have a boat, so I can get out there and take photographs.”

Mass Audubon volunteer Mark Strauss noted that the project has really taken off in recent years. 

“We have more data. It’s a lot about really tracking the health of the community, and we’re tracking it much better, and we’re doing much more banding,” he said. “And there’s a higher level of engagement in the community, which is really good.”