Osprey Maniacs: Every One Counts

Tagging Along With Ben Wurst, Official Osprey Hero Of New Jersey
Get ready to tag along with Ben Wurst, Official Osprey Hero Of New Jersey
I has the incredibly good fortune of accompanying Ben Wurst of The New Jersey Osprey Project on an Osprey banding mission in Barnegat Bay
I just had the unbelievably, incredibly good fortune of accompanying Ben Wurst of The New Jersey Osprey Project on an Osprey banding mission in Barnegat Bay. S-wwwwwweet!!!!1! You might remember our last adventure with Ben, Indiana Wurst & The Tower of Doom (movie version here). As usual, a day-in-the-life of Ben Wurst does not fail the adventure scale.
This is a day I wait for all year like a kid waiting for Christmas. But this trip was super special as Ben would be installing some of the first brightly colored, easily read, secondary bands that RFTN readers generously donated to the NJ Osprey Project last summer.
This is a day I wait for all year like a kid waiting for Christmas. But this trip would be extra-super-duper special as Ben would be installing some of the first, brightly colored, easily read, blinged-out, secondary bands that RFTN readers generously donated to the NJ Osprey Project last summer (thank you, thank you, thank you!) See? You can read that band! Awesome!
Threats From Above: It has been a difficult banding season for Ben. Hurricanes, harsh winds, and bad tides have eaten up several precious days of banding time.
Threats From Above: It has been a difficult banding season for Ben. Hurricanes, harsh winds, bad tides, and various threats-from-above have eaten up several precious days of banding time. There is only a small window when the Osprey are young, but not too young, developed, but not too developed, when the bands can be installed without Ben getting mauled by the Osprey or causing them to jump out of the nest and fly prematurely.
Barnegat Bay has been plagued by brutal Southwest Winds for several weeks, interrupted only by Hurricane Arthur
Dicey Launch & Return: Winds blow the Bay right up into the parking lot. Barnegat Bay has been plagued by brutal Southwest Winds for several weeks, interrupted only by Hurricane Arthur. While last evening was looking better than most on the forecast, we were, in reality, greeted by sheer Barnegat Bay Brutality: violently ripping South winds, huge rolling waves, and extremely dicey launch & return prospects.
Ben Wurst talks us into it: every Osprey nest that can be checked, and every chick that can be banded in New Jersey for future tracking is a huge victory for us and the Osprey.
But Ben Wurst talks me, and himself, into going for it anyway. Every Osprey nest that can be checked, and every chick that can be banded in New Jersey for future tracking is a huge victory for the Osprey, for The NJ Osprey Project, and for all of us. “Your camera gear will probably get totally destroyed by waves rolling over the bow, and your spine will get snapped in two as the boat slams in the surf… but you’ll get to hold an Osprey chick!”
"Ummmm.... O.K.!"
“duuuhhhhhhhhh….”
"OK!11!!"
“OK!11!!”
Any normal people would have gone home. But you put two guys infected with extreme Osprey enthusiasm together, and they can easily talk each other into "just checking a few nests nearby and coming right back"
Any normal people would have gone home. But you put two guys infected with Extreme Osprey Enthusiasm together, and there can be only one answer to the question “shouldn’t we just check a few nests nearby and zip right back???” In between spine-snaps and getting face-fulls & mouth-fulls of splashing bay water, I noticed we were the only boat in the entirety of Barnegat Bay crazy enough to be out there… that’s when I knew we were truly livin’ the dream.
"Goze away Ben Wurst and don't bandeded me. Iz too windy to be out here"
“Goes away Ben Wurst and don’t bandeded me. Iz too windy out here.”
Eel grass in the wind. It was Total Osprey Insanity in the crazy winds, but at every nest there was work to be done, including removing tons of trash and at this nest, a couple of flagpoles.
Eel grass in the wind. It was Total Osprey Insanity in the crazy winds, but at every nest there was work to be done, including removing tons of trash and at this nest, a couple of flagpoles.
Goofing around, but it's no laughing matter. There is no "away". The amount of trash and plastics Ben removes from each nest is staggering.
Trash Tie. Goofing around, but it’s no laughing matter. There is no “away”. The amount of trash and plastics Ben removes from each nest is staggering.
Young Osprey Nape Feathers, Blowin' In The Wind
Young Osprey Nape Feathers, Blowin’ In The Wind
Nest Check
Another Nest Check…
And More Trash....
…And More Killer Trash….
And more Banding while the parents eye Ben's neck
…And more young successfully banded while the parents eyeball Ben’s neck
Another day-in-the-life of Ben Wurst is the adventure-of-a-lifetime for the rest of us.
Managing to make it back. Another day-in-the-life of Ben Wurst is, once again, the adventure-of-a-lifetime for the rest of us.

We were only able to get to a few nests before the brutality drove us home, but not with our tails between our legs. We were able to check five nests, band six healthy young Osprey, and remove piles of human plastic garbage & debris from each & every nest we visited. At one nest we sadly discovered what appeared to be a single-parent home. The father was attempting the impossible task of raising three young alone. Sadly, one of the young did not make it and was decomposing badly in the nest, mixed in with the surviving siblings. But the other chicks were soldiering onward admidst the remains of their fallen sibling, and appear close to fledging. Every Osprey counts.

Witnessing Ben’s maniacal dedication, I learned that when you’re dealing with recovering species, each and every nest really matters! The fact that Ben & the NJ Osprey Project are willing to go to such extremes to fight for every single one of our individual Osprey is rooted in the true understanding of just how important each & every Osprey really is in the fight to help repair & restore the ecosystem of the shore we love so much.

You & I didn’t mean to poison the Bay & Osprey (and ourselves!) to near-extinction with the DDT pesticide. And you & I  don’t mean to choke the ecosystem of the shore and kill the Osprey with our cheap plastics and trash. But we did it, and we do it. Ben is on the front lines and sees this everyday. Tagging along, I’ve now seen it too and I feel super guilty!

I normally feel pretty proud of myself for my own little recycling efforts… but the truth is, you’d have to be a complete moron to not be in favor of recycling in this day and age. And sadly, I’d bet that a large percentage of the Osprey-killing recyclable trash I saw out there blew straight into the Bay out of my recycling bin, the truck that hauls it away, and the mysterious facility that processes it! Sure, much of that trash is bio-degradable, but it is out there killing Osprey and others long before it has a chance to do its much-ballyhooed biodegradation.

Recycling is a comforting attempt at a solution, but it’s clearly not enough. I’m feeling compelled to reduce. And I’m more motivated to clean it up when I see it. I struggle with this because it sure is annoying to be on a beautiful walk or photo shoot on the beach and stumble upon a big, nasty, dirty pile of Mylar Balloons reading “Happy Graduation!” You then have to gunk up you hands, and haul it around with you, and find some trash receptacle for it when you could be otherwise enjoying your vacation.

But I see that it does matter. Everything matters, and everything counts. Just like the Osprey showed us the folly of pouring poison all over the planet to grow a little more food more quickly decades ago, they are now showing us the folly of the convenience of disposable plastics and how we are going to ultimately choke on our our own waste. Yikes!

I don’t have any real answers here. But I am taking an important first step by refusing to allow my lazy brain to self-soothe and tell me it is O.K., that it doesn’t matter… that I can leave that piece of trash for the next guy to pick up, or take the plastic bag when I could easily carry my WaWa treats to the car in my hands. The next guy to pick it up will probably be an Osprey.

In the meantime,  while I try to get my act together and stop being an unintentional Bay-Destroyer and Osprey-Killer, join me in supporting Ben Wurst & The NJ Osprey Project by making a donation to the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ. Just like each and every Osprey, and each and every piece of trash, every donation counts! Please help these guys keep the beach a little nicer, and a little more wild, for the rest of us to enjoy.