The boom in remodeling and rebuilding homes isn't limited to those occupied by the two-legged denizens of Westport. On Oct. 14, the Massachusetts Audubon Society hatched a plan to rehabilitate 13 of the 88 osprey nests in Westport.
Photo: Jim Dorsey, Paul Doran, and Ray Bosse rebuild a nest as navigator George Yeomans looks on.
If location is the most desirable feature of a home, the ospreys have the best places in town to raise their families. All 88 of the osprey nests are located on the marshes and islands that dot the east and west branches of the Westport River.
Some of the nests' platforms were originally constructed in the 1970s. Westport residents Gil and Josephine Fernandez realized that after years of ingesting pesticides like DDT (banned in 1972), ospreys produced eggshells so thin that even the weight of the incubating bird would crack the eggs. Their solution was to gather healthy osprey eggs from the Chesapeake Bay, place them under local ospreys and even build platforms on which the birds could raise their offspring.
Their labors took flight. From 10 successful nesting pairs in the 1970s, there were about 70 nests that produced eggs this year.
Over the years, the platforms have been repaired on an ad hoc basis but the Audubon Society decided it was time to inventory the whole community of osprey nests.
"One day in September, my husband Vic and I visited all 88 platforms," Audubon osprey monitor Lora Fasolino said. "We took photographs of each one to determine what repairs were needed, how many boats we'd need to do the job in one day, how many people needed in each boat and what materials each boat would need. We determined that 13 nests needed work - either complete replacement or strengthening the bracing or the platforms."
The undertaking was no helter-skelter operation that typifies some volunteer efforts. "My husband Vic and I have taken part in Habitat for Humanity "Building Blitz" events in which professional home builders join together and build decent, affordable homes in five days. We modeled the osprey nest program on the Blitz," Ms. Fasolino said.
When 17 volunteers in seven boats showed up at the state boat ramp south of the Fontaine Bridge to help at 10 a.m., Ms. Fasolino was waiting with her truck full of work packets for the blitz. Each work team was given a laminated 8 x10 color-coded map of the rivers identifying the locations of every nest, and a 5x7 laminated color photograph of the nest they'd work on. On the reverse side of the photo was a list of materials needed, tools needed, and complete description of work to be done.
Ms. Fasolino handed each crew a work packet containing nails, screws and every piece of wood, necessary to complete the job. Many of the pieces had been precut by Ms. Fasolino and her husband. Volunteers were advised in advance what tools to bring for the job. If a platform needed a new pole, the pole was pre-cut to the right length and marked so the work crew could see how deep to plant the pole.
"Nothing was left to chance," said Westport Fishermen's Association board member George Yeomans, who navigated for the Fasolinos when they took their inventory of the empty nests in September.
Some volunteer rebuilders came from the ranks of Allen's Pond Sanctuary supporters who currently sponsor osprey nests on the river. "I keep in touch with the 52 sponsors, send them emails every two weeks or so giving updates about the platforms. In July, after the fledglings had left the nests, we told them we'd be doing a maintenance weekend in October and asked them if they wanted to help rebuild nests that needed repairs," Ms. Fasolino said.
One workboat crew included Ray Bosse, Paul Doran, and Jim Dorsey. Mr. Bosse lives about a mile and a half from Allen's Pond. "My wife Denise read an appeal in local newspapers to sponsor an osprey nest. We talked with Gina Purtell and began sponsoring a nest last year," Mr. Bosse said. Mr. Bosse has also participated in bird mortality studies with SEANET (Seabird Ecological Assessment Network),
"I've been around the river forever," Paul Doran said as he packed his bag of Bosch battery-operated tools into the workboat. "My neighbor Jim Dorsey called me about this. I've always supported the WRWA. My daughter wrote a paper about Gil Fernandez when she was in school and my wife has invited him to speak to her first graders at the Paul Cuffe School in Providence," he said.
Jim Dorsey and his wife sponsor two nests a short kayak paddle from their home on the East Branch. "My wife Wendy learned about the osprey's migration flights all the way to South America, and attends MA Audubon meetings," Mr. Dorsey said. "Westport is one of the few places in the Northeast where so many of these wonderful birds have a habitat. They are majestic fliers, their sheer presence in Westport makes it a special place to live."
The Massachusetts Waterfowl Corporation solicited donations for the project and contributed money for what wasn't donated. "We've been in business for about seven years," Chairman Bob Rebello said. "We've been raising money for wetland protection and this is the first year of helping directly with osprey protection." The corporation provided a hearty supply of sandwiches and beverages for the volunteers at midday.
By mid afternoon, each workboat had returned to the boat ramp bearing volunteers with soggy boots and big smiles. Every targeted nest had its makeover.
"This was a wonderful hands on effort that galvanized residents up and down the river. The level of preparation was the key to success," Allen'sPond Audubon Sanctuary Director Gina Purtell said.
"It was a fantastic team-building experience. I think everyone not only had fun, but also walked away with a sense of accomplishment and pride from marking their own little stamp on the osprey habitat here," Ms. Fasolino said.
The ospreys returning from their winter sojourn in South America are in for a pleasant surprise when they glide back to their Westport nests next March.
Example of building blitz work packet
Materials needed: new pole, new platform, upper bracing pak, 3 lower braces with 3 cedar stakes, 40 screw pak
Tools needed: hammers, catspaws, screw gun, small sledge hammer, battery operated or hand saw, digging tools
Description of work:
1. Remove old platform, breakup into organic pieces, remove nails
2. Attach new platform to new pole using upper bracing pak
3. Plant the new pole at least 24" into the soil
4. Add lower bracing in three directions using cedar stakes
5. Add some branches to platform to "put out the welcome sign!"