Tag Archives: Boy Scouts

An island rises from the Bay

Today we are hearing from Peter McGowan, environmental contaminants biologist at Chesapeake Bay Field Office.

In the 1600s Poplar Island measured about 2,000 acres. In 1874, roughly 1,140 acres remained. When I visited in 1994, less than 10 acres had lasted.

1847 map of Poplar Island (right) that was used as the design footprint for the restoration’s project construction outline.

Poplar Island was a rapidly eroding island complex in Chesapeake Bay, a few miles south of Annapolis, Maryland. The island lost substantial land (13 feet/year) due to erosion, subsidence, and sea level rise over the past 400 years. This is a common theme for Bay islands to this day. I found myself on one of the few remnants of the island as part of a team with USFWS, U.S. Geological Survey, and The University of Maryland working to identify possible stations to monitor the upcoming Poplar Island restoration project – still years away from starting.

The Poplar islets were free from human disturbances and provided excellent nesting habitat for waterbirds, including snowy and cattle egrets, little blue heron, and American black duck. It was also my first encounter with an osprey nest located on the ground, indicating a lack of mammalian predators. Little did I know that ospreys would later become a focus of my career from 2000 to present…

Ospreys, AKA ‘fish hawks’ are an iconic Chesapeake Bay species.

Ospreys are an iconic Chesapeake Bay species that were once in trouble along with other fish eating bird species. Their populations were severely impacted by the pesticide DDT and its resulting harmful effects on reproductive success. Banning of the chemical and conservation efforts have brought these birds back to the Bay. An estimated 10,000 pairs of ospreys currently nest in Chesapeake Bay, a far cry from the 1,450 pairs in the 1970s.

Poplar Island is now an international model for island restoration. Over 1,140 acres of remote island habitat have been restored, thanks to a dredged material project funded by the U.S Army Corps of Engineers and Maryland Port Administration. The island will feature more than 1,700 acres of tidal wetland and uplands, benefitting fish and wildlife with an emphasis on nesting waterbirds when completed in 2043.

Comparison of Poplar Island before restoration construction vs. construction stage in 2011

I am the lead wildlife biologist for the Poplar Island project and my team is responsible for the all wildlife management activities on the island, including installing and repairing osprey nest platforms before the spring arrival of the first ospreys.

To date we have installed more than 24 osprey platforms on the island, a number of which enlisted the help of volunteers including the Boy Scouts of America. In fact, during the past 5 years, two Eagle Scout projects involved osprey platform construction for Poplar Island.  This February our team installed seven new platforms on Poplar Island and are anticipating when the “fish hawks” will first arrive, which will mark the beginning of our 2017 monitoring season. Stay tuned for updates including a webcam link overlooking an active nest!



Lost No More – Boy Scout Eagle Scout Service Project Leads the Way

Today we’re hearing from Visitor Services Manager, Rosalind Wu, from Potomac River National Wildlife Refuge Complex about Noah Ventura’s ambitious Eagle Scout Project!

When considering possibilities for his Eagle Scout Project, Noah Ventura’s thoughts had turned to Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge, where his family frequented. For two years, this project had sat on the Refuge’s Eagle Scout potential projects list, waiting for the right scout with the proper combination of leadership, ambition, and drive to tackle the challenge. Many scouts would hear about the logistical difficulties associated with the project, and immediately ask to hear about the next project.

Not Noah. When Noah heard about how both staff and visitors were getting lost on the approximately six miles of trails at Wood Marsh, he immediately began setting his mind on how he would pull off this project.


After getting approval from the Eagle Project Review Board, Noah spent over 300 hours across 10 months on the project. He cut boards down to size, sanded, drilled, embossed letters, and painted posts. He then had to navigate an additional process: The refuge archeological process.

Noah’s project was located in an area considered to be archaeologically significant. The Mason Neck peninsula had traditionally been used in the past by the Native American Dogue tribe, as well as colonialists like George Washington and George Mason, author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights. Amy Wood, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Region 5 archeologist came out on site the day of the project installation to demonstrate and supervise the scouts in a series of archeological surveys at each of the proposed installation locations.



Braving the threat of an incoming storm, Noah and 12 other scouts installed 19 new signs in 6 different locations. “It’s a really cool project,” says Ventura.  “The Woodmarsh Trail is all about connecting the community with nature, and the signs let you know where you are, so the people who use the trail know where they are trying to go.”

The project was a team effort. “I could not have done this without the help of my friends,” says Ventura.  Youth volunteers from other Boys Scout Troops, Girl Scout Troops, Carl Sandburg Middle School, and Fort Hunt Elementary School helped with the project. Visitor Services Manager, Rosalind Wu, was on hand to offer assistance and lend a hand as well.