Project RedBand Is A Go: Grab Your Binoculars and Let LBI’s Great Citizen Osprey Watch Begin

Barnegat Bay's Red Banded Osprey are at the starting gate.
Barnegat Bay’s Red Banded Osprey are at the starting gate and ready to head to your beach.

Let The Games Begin

It has been over a year in the making, but today it is official: Project RedBand is a go. As you read this, Barnegat Bay’s current generation of baby Osprey are taking to the skies for their first flights and heading out into the world; specifically, to your beach, to learn how to fly, hunt, and fish, before making their long migration to South America this fall. Our beautiful Juveniles are fledging as they do each season at this time of year, but here on LBI there is something utterly unique and special: For the first time, our Osprey are sporting some flashy, easy-to-see-and-easy-to-read bling so you can identify and get to know your local Osprey.

On the right you see the traditional Federal Bands that are basically impossible to read unless you find a dead Osprey. On the left, our secondary bands which can be easily spotted with the naked eye, and read with a pair of binoculars.
On the right you see the traditional Federal Bands that are basically impossible to read unless you find a dead Osprey. On the left, our secondary red bands which can be easily spotted with the naked eye, and easily read with a pair of binoculars.

Backstory

It all started last year on a fateful Osprey Banding Adventure with Ben Wurst, the Osprey Hero. After geeking out about shared passions, Osprey & cameras, we got to discussing the why you rarely see colorful secondary bands on Osprey. When it turned out the main holdup here was cash-money-$$$$$, we turned to you, dear Readers. We knew you were growing woefully tired of all of the Osprey photos posted here with those lifeless, drab and illegible Federal Bands, and we knew you would drool at the chance to name and to know your local Osprey, so would gleefully cough up some dollars to make it happen. Sure enough, you came through in just under 24 hours. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

With money in hand we were led deep into the dark recesses of Trenton, NJ to find the Great OZ of New Jersey wildlife herself: Kathy Clark, The Director of Endangered & NonGame Species for NJ Fish & Wildlife. While Kathy rightly noted that our Osprey population has grown healthier after years of tireless conservation efforts, and that other species needed funding for projects far more critical, she was excited, gave approval, and made it it happen. Fortunately, all of the necessary paperwork and approval for using secondary bands on Osprey in Barnegat Bay was already on-the-books thanks to a previous project on the Bay that involved some secondary bands. She championed the value of understanding more about the multi-generational nesting dynamics of our Osprey families that call Barnegat Bay home. But she also saw the chance to further another long-term goal: getting citizens to be more engaged and to take more responsibility for their glorious wildlife. These bands will allow all Osprey lovers, and indeed, every beach-goer with the slightest interest, to get to know their local birds intimately. Hopefully from there, you’ll all head down the slippery slope all Osprey Lovers ultimately fall down: of caring for them and their habitat more intently.

I iz 60-C! Nise to meat u!
“I iz 60-C! Nise to meat u!” Is 60-C in your neighborhood? Look to the skies and find out!

Kathy promptly ordered the bands last summer, after hemming-and-hawing for days about what exactly her favorite color was, and we waited all year for the next generation of LBI’s Osprey to be born. Despite the 2014 season being fraught with rough weather, bad tides, malfunctioning boats, failed nests, and other various Osprey Glitches, Ben knocked it out like a Champ in 2014 and red-banded 60 Osprey in Barnegat Bay along the back of LBI. Side note: fortunately, while planning the project, Ben Wurst never considered that it would take him twice as long to band each bird with the red, secondary bands added to the mix in addition to the traditional federal bands 🙂 Sorry Ben!

The banding season has officially ended as these birds are now leaving their nests and flying. Many of them will soon be flying right over your beach chair, catching monster bluefish right next to your swimming child, then flying back to their nests right over your head, blood-spattered bluefish gripped in their deadly talons. Awesome!

Ben lovingly prepares another young Osprey to be named by you.
Ben Wurst lovingly prepares another young Osprey to be named by you.

Now’s The Time

The time has come. Let the Great Citizen Osprey Watch begin! These Juveniles will be with us for several more weeks perfecting the arts of flying, and maiming, killing, and eating fish. Then, this fall, they will head to their wintering grounds in South America where many will remain for 2 years while they grow up and prepare to return to our area to raise their own families. In a few years, sightings of Barnegat Bay’s red banded Osprey will help us understand the dynamics of the young that return to our area and those that choose other location to nest.

But starting now, everyone on LBI will have an excellent opportunity to see and identify Juvenile Osprey on LBI as they prepare for their migration during the rest of the Summer.

Won't take much effort to read 45C
Won’t take much effort to read 45C when the Osprey flies over you with bloody bluefish in hand.

Tips For Spotting Red Banded Osprey

Binoculars

Every beach bag & every boat should include binoculars. Period. That’s true for so many reasons that I won’t even list them here. But if you have never experienced the joys of observing a magnified version of the Wild LBI Beach from the comfort of your beach chair, now is certainly the time. A lot of you out there are parents and grandparents that we know are absolutely impossible to buy birthday gifts for. No excuse. Get on the phone, call those gift givers, and tell them “I want binoculars for my Birthday. And I want them now!”

Don’t skimp on binoculars, as a bad pair are worthless and a good pair can be life-altering. I’ll even make it easy for you and recommend these Eagle Optics binoculars. While they are meant for kids, they are great for anyone and a real value at under $100. If you have any of your own binocular suggestions, feel free to post them in the comments.

Get ready for some Talon watching
Get ready for some serious Talon watching.

An LBI Original

Osprey are a treasure of the shore, but the Red Banded Osprey are a true treasure unique to LBI. Now that photos of  our flashy, dolled-up & blinged-out Osprey are hitting the interwebs, other communities up & down the shore are asking how they too can get such fancy birds. But with limited resources to deploy and manage these projects, it appears Project Red Band will be the only project of its kind, making LBI the envy of all its neighbors. The population of Red Banded Osprey should be spreading the love around the shore in the coming years, but for now, you’ll find these juveniles mostly clustered in the LBI area of Barnegat Bay.

Know When To Look

While you can find Osprey hunting and fishing all day long on LBI, early mornings before 9AM are great, and from 3PM to 6PM is what we call the Magic Osprey Hour. Not only will you observe more Osprey fishing, but the viewing is better thanks to the late afternoon sun. Clear skies are a plus, and West Wind seems to bring more Osprey to fish on the beach.

Know What To Look For

Osprey are easy to identify in flight, even from great distances once you know what to look for. See Osprey, Seagull, or Eagle for some practice. From the beach, you will generally observe the Osprey flying out to sea from the Bay, then back home along a similar path. At low tides, Osprey often fly right along the shallows near the tideline. You will often see them fly to deeper water, and if you watch, you will see their dramatic high speed dives to catch fish in their talons. But the greatest thrill is to watch for the incoming Osprey, flying in low over the ocean, then flying home right over your beach chair while clutching their bloody catch. This will be the best opportunity to spot the red bands as the weight of the fish causes them to fly lower and more slowly, particularly against West Winds. It is also a great opportunity to scream “Osprey! Comin’ in hot!”

Osprey often fly the same routes each day, multiple times a day. So once you find an Osprey comin’ in hot with maimed fish, that area should be a good area for repeat viewings throughout the Summer. Winds, competition, and human disturbances will cause alterations in flight patterns, but Osprey are generally very consistent in their routes and tend to appear and disappear over the same houses and easements, all day, every day.

36-C: Ready for launch.
36-C: Ready for launch.

The Paperwork

As the banding season comes to a close and the young Osprey take to the skies, the adventures of Ben Wurst the Osprey Hero are winding down, and instead, Ben will be stuck at the computer entering all the banding data from this year’s survey into the computer. Sorry Ben! But we hope to then bring this data to you with a website that will show you maps of where our Red Banded Osprey were born, and where you can submit your observations and sightings.  For now, get out there and look, and if you spot one, post your sighting here at the Readings or at the NJ Osprey Project Facebook page.

Get Out There, & Immerse Yourself

Everyone: get out there, start looking, and join the Great Citizen Osprey Watch. Like a great Easter Egg Hunt, it is fun for the whole family. It will immerse you quickly in the WWW (The Wonderful Wild World) of the Island. Osprey are a wicked-critical part of the shore’s eco-system, and, being top-level predators, are a valuable indicator for our overall Marine health. We need these creatures. They are gorgeous, whimsical, powerful, terrifying, and just plain awesome.

Making the leap from looking at our wildlife as just anonymous populations of things, to the reality that these are very real individuals living rich and complex lives among us can be a difficult thing to achieve. But once you spot your first Red Banded Juvenile Osprey, then spot it again, you’ll realize quickly that these animals are your actual neighbors, that they depend on this Island for survival, that they enrich our lives, and that they are supposed to be a part of lives.

It is tough to avoid the trappings of the grotesquely human-centered path we’re traveling as a species, but I promise you: spend a few afternoons watching the Osprey fight for each meal and you’ll instantly reconnect to the magnificent world we were born into and you’ll find deeper, more natural, more comfortable perspectives from which to live your lives. Yes. I’m saying that participating in the Great Citizen Osprey Watch will solve most of your problems and make you significantly happier. That’s a promise. Who would pass up such an opportunity?