Ospreys nesting in the Lowcountry

Volunteers monitoring osprey nesting in Beaufort County this year have found more chicks in fewer nests.

The second annual citizen survey, conducted during the April to August nesting season, watches the bird to help gauge the health of the area's watershed. More chicks means a healthy amount of fish to nourish the young hatchlings.

This season, bird watchers found 105 nests.

Of those, 80 were active, which meant an adult pair lived there. In 54 percent of those nests, there was at least one chick. Last year, 125 nests were observed of which 78 were active. In the active nests, 43 percent had at least one chick.

Volunteers for the project, a partnership between the LowCountry Institute and the Sea Island Fly Fishers, were assigned several miles of coastline along Calibogue, Port Royal and St. Helena sounds based on where they live, fish and kayak.

The spotters observed each nest in their designated area early each month to see if osprey lived in it and whether there were chicks present, said Alan Dechovitz, the Sea Island Fly Fishers' coordinator for service projects.

"Osprey are good indicators of environmental health because healthy fisheries have the resources they need," LCI environmental educator Kristen Marshall Mattson said.

More than 35 osprey spotters participated in this year's program, an increase of about 10 volunteers over last year, Dechovitz said.

The increase in spotters enabled the group to map nests not only on man-made platforms, but also in trees.

The survey was not without glitches, thought. Not all of the volunteers participated during the entire season or reported their findings. Those factors might have contributed to the lower number of nests spotted, Mattson said. Additionally, volunteers out on the water were not always able to spot chicksfrom that vantage point, she said.

Dechovitz and his wife, Joan, were assigned to a stretch of water from Battery Creek to the Beaufort River, where they watched male osprey bringing fish to the nest. The female osprey, shy at being observed and protective of her hatchling, sometimes shelter her chicks with her wings.

Ospreys pair for life. Some nest for several seasons before hatching eggs.

The goal of the volunteer survey is to create a multi-year baseline in order to give naturalists an additional tool to detect environmental changes in the sounds, according to Dechovitz.

The survey's data is turned over to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.