OCEAN CITY — There were 32 boots on the ground at low tide Friday morning when 16 volunteers with Boy Scout Troop 32 assisted in the installation of two osprey nest platforms in the marsh off a south-end neighborhood on this barrier island.
The undertaking, led by Tanner Mitzel, 14, as his Eagle Scout community project, was completed with the help of seven scouts and several dads, along with Ben Wurst, habitat program manager for Conserve Wildlife Foundation.
“It’s easier for them to have a nest that’s already built,” Tanner said of his interest in helping the birds continue to recover from depleted numbers. CWF reports that 75 percent of the current osprey population uses the man-made structures that have been specifically designed for them.
Ospreys were declared endangered by the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife in 1974 when the number of nests plummeted to 50 from a high of 500 in 1950. The birds were elevated to threatened status in 1984 when the number of nests had more than doubled to 108. By 1990 there were 170 nests, and by 1993, 200. Today, there are more than 475 nesting pairs of ospreys. Wurst estimates he has participated in nearly 150 nesting platform projects in the past 10 years in the southern coastal New Jersey region.
The platforms installed by Mitzel’s group, 3 feet by 3 feet wide atop 16-foot-tall cedar poles driven four feet deep into the mucky marsh, are designed to encourage nesting and provide protection from predators on the ground. Each of the poles installed by the scouts had a wide strip of aluminum affixed to it as a deterrent to raccoons, which Wurst said are active in the marsh. The scratch marks the opportunistic carnivores had left behind on older, all-wooden poles bore evidence of the animals’ climbing prowess.
Due to the dense development of the barrier island, only a half-dozen osprey nests exist in Ocean City, said Wurst, who frequently works with Eagle Scouts on volunteer projects such as the one that took place Friday morning. While the goal remains the same, to promote breeding of the raptors, Wurst said his approach has changed.
“I’ve shifted focus from installing new ones to existing ones in poor condition,” he said of how he chooses project locations. “I work with Eagle Scouts or volunteers or interested people to replace those platforms that are broken.”
Mitzel’s group removed an old pole that lacked a nesting platform and replaced it with a new pole topped by a platform supported by the V-shape construction the CWF recommends. The group installed an identical pole and platform about 200 feet away from the first in the same marsh, and removed an aging pole with a too-small platform.
Joining Mitzel in the marsh on the project were Dylan Kampf, 11; Henry Adair, 14; Andrew Leonetti, 13; Caleb Schmaucher, 12; Chad Callahan, 11; and Liam, 12, and Dan Millar, 13, all of Ocean City.
“It’s nice, Eagles Scouts doing little things that make the community better,” said Mark Kampf, Dylan’s dad.
The new nests will be vacant until about March, when the ospreys return from their wintering grounds in northern South America. Their nesting season is in April and their chicks hatch in late May to early June.
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