Around the Island

Mashomack Musings: A bird that links continents and cultures

Summer on Long Island wouldn’t be the same without ospreys soaring and diving into clear waters.

But just 50 years ago, only a few of these magnificent birds remained due to poisoning from DDT. Once the chemical was banned, ospreys and other birds of prey such as bald eagles and peregrine falcons slowly rebounded. But the return of the osprey wasn’t always guaranteed.

Dr. Alan Poole, an ornithologist and leading osprey expert, who has traveled the world studying this iconic species, first came to Mashomack in the 1970s to survey the population.

“Their nests were mostly in trees, so they were more vulnerable to predators than nests built on artificial platforms elsewhere,” Dr. Poole said. “By and large, Mashomack ospreys did poorly reproductively, mostly because their nests were not secure. That started to change when the Conservancy came in and began to shore up some nests, and build predator-proof platforms.”

His research on Shelter Island helped make the case for protecting Mashomack Preserve and was key to the species recovery regionally.

This rich history came full circle when Dr. Poole returned to share his latest adventures at the Mashomack Manor House last summer.

“We quickly fell into a conversation about his spending more time on the Preserve and one thing led to another,” said Jeremy Samuelson, Mashomack’s Director. Dr. Poole joined the Mashomack Board of Trustees in November and is advising the Preserve’s conservation team on research.

“Forty years ago, when the Shelter Island community and The Nature Conservancy joined forces to protect Mashomack, it was always about making a difference on a global scale, protecting vital habitats for threatened species and creating links to distant lands,” Mr. Samuelson said. “It was always envisioned as a globally important research site and educational facility, a true community asset.”

“Ospreys undergo such long-distance migrations, from Shelter Island to the Amazon every year,” Dr. Poole said. “Each bird, flying alone, makes it to its own chosen spot somewhere deep in the Amazon, returning to the same bend in the same river. This is a bird that links continents and cultures.”

Looking back sometimes helps us glimpse what lies ahead.

“Our job today is to make sure there is habitat, fish and people who will all thrive on Shelter Island, and in the Amazon, and around the world for the next 40 years,” Mr. Samuelson said.