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September 2023 Newsletter


Update on The Ospreys of Loomis Goose Creek Wetland Preserve

by Jeanne Wiebenga

It is hard to believe that our Osprey pair, who settled at this nesting pole in 2020, have already completed their fourth breeding season and have returned to their wintering grounds in South America!

Ospreys are large raptors, who have been around for millions of years and are, together with the Peregrine Falcon, the only two bird species that can be found on all continents except Antarctica. They usually mate for life and can live up to 25 years of age and are the only bird whose diet consists solely of fresh fish (from fresh, brackish or saltwater).  

After becoming nearly extinct in the 1960s, Osprey numbers began to increase in the 70s after DDT was banned in the US. The ban was largely due to the efforts of Rachel Carson and our own Roger Tory Peterson, who testified before congress about the harmful effects of this insecticide that affected the calcium metabolism of many bird species. The disruption led to defective eggshells that were easily crushed causing the premature deaths of the embryos.

In the 1970s Ospreys began to make a comeback along both coasts and the Gulf of Mexico, as well as in Alaska and the Great Lakes regions, but it wasn't until around 2010 that a few were spotted again in our area. 

To give a brief overview from how our Osprey story started: in 2015 a group of volunteers from the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy erected an osprey platform at Loomis Goose Creek Wetland Preserve, between Chautauqua Institution and Lakewood. The platform sits on top of a 30 foot utility pole on the lake side of Rt. 394. The hope was to attract Ospreys back to the area around Chautauqua Lake, where at the time there were very few of them.

It took 5 years before our couple, whom I named Femke and Hauke, meaning Young Girl and Hawk in my native Frisian language, settled on the empty platform in March 2020. We soon could see them bringing in nesting materials, sticks, grass and leaves and when we observed some mating activity we presumed there was a good chance for some eggs in late April. Those eggs would hatch 6 weeks later, resulting in a juvenile who would be ready to fledge another 2 months later. During this period we could see Hauke bring in a daily catch of fresh lake fish and Femke was brooding on the nest, while we watched from the ground beneath the pole, hopeful for a healthy hatchling and coming fledgling.

Finally early August 2020 we were excited to see an almost fully grown youngster sitting on top of the nest, receiving flying lessons from its parents. It fledged (flew off the nest) a few weeks later.

Femke, having successfully raised her chick, flew south soon afterwards, most likely to the Amazon region. Hauke stayed around another 2 weeks and when he was satisfied that the fledgling was capable of flying and fishing independently, he also took off to his wintering grounds in northern South America. The last time we spotted the youngster on the nest was late September, then guided by instinct and unknown guide stars, it also made its way south.

Hoping that our pair would return to the nest in the spring of 2021, we decided to set up a nest camera, that would allow is to observe activity from egg laying to hatching and fledging of any youngsters. Since we have no access to WiFi or electricity on site we can only use a camera that by motion activation can send still photos to an iPhone.

To our delight Hauke, followed a week later by Femke, arrived almost at the exact dates they did the previous year! This time we were able to view up-close all nesting activities which we then shared on CWC and other websites, Facebook and Instagram. We spotted one egg late April, watched Femke brood during snow, frost, wind and  hot weather, until 6 weeks later we saw a tiny golfball size hatchling, that grew up to an adult-sized juvenile in less than 2 months. We could see Hauke bring fish a few times a day, which Femke then tore into small bits to feed to her youngster while eating the left-overs.  Eventually a fledgling flew off the nest early August and about 6 weeks later it left for its wintering home, following in the direction of its parents although to a different site. It will stay there for 2 years before it will make its way back to our region. 

In 2022 Hauke and Femke returned, on the exact dates they had in the previous year, starting another breeding cycle that again proved to be successful and they reared another healthy juvenile!

In the meantime we had noticed more Ospreys around Chautauqua Lake. We could not tell if any were the offspring of our pair, but quite possibly they were!

Then in 2023 we were in for a surprise! Our couple returned again on the usual dates, Hauke in last week of March and Femke a week later. We noticed just one egg by late April but then in early June, our camera showed 3 hatchlings, of slightly varying sizes, born 2-3 days apart.

At first we were not sure if all would survive, since the smallest one seemed so scrawny and could not compete for the morsels of fish distributed by Femke to her ravenous babies, but just a week later they all seemed to be thriving and late July we could see them vigorously exercising their wings with small jumps from the nest, until in the first week of August, they fledged, one by one, flying short distances from the nest but eventually making long circles and learning to fish from their parents! The usual pattern of Femke leaving, following by Hauke 2 weeks later, was repeated again this year. However, all young Ospreys had left the nest by August 30, which is almost a month earlier than in previous years.

In the meantime, as I write this on September 19, there are still a few Ospreys from other nests that can be seen flying across the lake, and we don’t know what the early departure of our family means. The youngsters appeared fully grown and healthy! Do they know something about upcoming weather events that we humans can not predict?

In the meantime, our plans for the future are to install a few more nesting platforms, one on University Beach at Chautauqua Institution and a second one on the Golf Course. Gifts from the Roger Tory Peterson Institute from the proceeds of an Osprey photography exhibition in 2021, the BTG, the Golf Club and private donations have made this possible. We also hope to be able to use a camera capable of streaming video in the future, since we most likely will have WiFi and electricity close to the site

Several of my statements are based on what we know from research done in other parts of the country, where ospreys have been equipped with satellite trackers. From those we learned that our birds most likely spend winters in northern parts of South America. Our birds are migratory, while the Ospreys from southern parts of the US may be year-round residents.

These past four years of observing our Loomis Osprey pair and their chicks have given us so much pleasure and joy watching the dedication of the parents to raise their families here defying all adversity, from long, hazardous journeys between wintering places south and breeding grounds up north near our beautiful lake, to cold and heat, rain and storm. It also is a story that gives us hope, and, at a time while we’re being inundated with messages about alarming decline of species in our natural world, may leave us room for optimism, that we still may be able to turn the tide of losses and restore our damaged environment with the kind of actions that were taken 50 years ago and that led to the Endangered Species Act in 1973.

- Jeanne Wiebenga, September 20, 2023

Banner photo above:

July 25, 2023. Three juveniles, almost ready to fledge & exercising their wings

All photos are by Jeanne Wiebenga, who generously shares them with the world on her Facebook page and in spectacular exhibitions (3, so far) hosted by the Roger Tory Peterson Institute, the Athenaeum Hotel and the Lakewood Library. A retired OB-GYN, Jeanne now serves on the board of the BTG, the Roger Tory Peterson Institute and the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy and donates the proceeds from her sale to various lucky organizations, including the BTG. We are revamping our website this fall and if all goes well, we will have an online store soon, in which you will find Jeanne's prints for sale. Stay tuned! 

See photo essay below of the 2023 Osprey Nesting Cycle: 

June 16, 2023. Two of the three hatchlings, about 2 weeks old, peering out from the nest, with Femke above.

July 26, 2023. Hauke (L) watching two of the three youngsters about to fledge. Note that Hauke's eye color is yellow, whereas the juveniles have orange eyes.

July 31, 2023.  Femke delivering fresh fish to her chicks.

August 14, 2023. Two fledglings perching on a snag behind the nest. Having learned to fly earlier that month, they are now making practice flights in training for the hundreds of miles they will fly by the end of the month.



2023 Season Report

Chautauqua Bird, Tree & Garden Club

Purple Martin Project

by Jack Gulvin

Martin chats: Four were given at the martin houses north of the Sports Club, at 4:15 on Thursdays June 29 and July 6, 13 and 20. The weather was good at each of the chats except July 6 when the chat was cut short by heavy rain. Attendance was estimated in the 30s for each one. Many people stopped to ask questions at routine nest checks.

Project notes: All housing was cleaned out and stored by September 4. Mites were found at several nests. The natural gourds were repainted. The cable for the Sports Club T14 was replaced and the adjacent Yew bush cut back to a stump. All housing was put up on 30 March. House sparrows were entirely absent. The first martin egg was laid on May 24, three days later than last year. Nests were checked every five days until the young fledged. To control blowfly parasites, nests have in the past been replaced on a regular schedule. Recent research suggests this may not be necessary, so again this year only a few nests were replaced. As in years past, the detailed data sheets will be sent to the Purple Martin Conservation Association for inclusion in their Project Martinwatch.

Production summary:

Occupancy rate: 55/102 = 54%

Hatch rate: 231/288 = 80%

Fledge rate: 129/231 = 56%

The occupancy rate continues to decline despite good housing well located and managed. The number of eggs laid was down by 48 from last year. The hatch rate dropped to only 80%. The fledge rate dropped from 80% last year to only 56% despite another year of good weather with little or no weather-related mortality. A Merlin was again seen capturing and eating a martin. Reduction of nest changes for parasite control did not appear to be a factor. Over the last ten years the average production was 244 fledged but this year's production of 129 is only 53% of that. Fish crows were present on the grounds but were not actually seen causing problems. A fully successful colony of martins might fledge an average of five young per compartment. By this standard, a colony eleven miles away on Lake Erie achieved 88% success, but at Chautauqua only 25%. Chautauqua’s martins are suffering a serious decline with no apparent cause.

Recommendations: Continue the chats and nest checks. The remaining two Barber houses are in bad condition and are of no benefit to martins. They should be removed. The perch on top of the Sailing Center T14 is broken and needs to be repaired using a lift. This should be done prior to houses going back up at the end of March. The similar perch on the Sports Club T14 needs adjustment and probably repair.

~Jack Gulvin, Naturalist, September 2023

All photos above and below of the martin houses and Jack Gulvin are by Angela James. Angela is the former president of the BTG and currently wearing a number of hats on our board, including Photographer. Angela also volunteers her time and talent in in the New York Prison System, where she sets up photo shoots to photograph inmates on occasions such as their graduations and on visiting days with their families.  Angela also works as a professional photographer, largely I imagine, to support her volunteer photography habit. We are so grateful for her gift! 


2023 Season Report

by Jennifer Francois

This past summer, the CHQ Bird, Tree and Garden Club offered a total of 103 programs to 4,434 people across 9 weeks!  Phew!  At times during the season, our collective effort to provide so much programming seemed out of proportion with our gain, especially when we were met with challenges from weather and other circumstances (air quality, for example).  But now that the season is behind us and we’ve taken a moment to breathe, we can look back on it fully knowing that we accomplished the club’s mission:

To promote and preserve the beauty of the Chautauqua grounds as well as its habitats and ecosystems. We advocate the protection of birds and bats, the conservation and expansion of our tree canopy, and the maintenance of the gardens of the Chautauqua Institution. The club provides educational programs and works to preserve the environment through projects and strategic alliances

Here are some of last summer’s highlights:

  • Jonathan Townsend gave a fascinating Bat Talk to 215 people in Smith Wilkes Hall.   

  • Betsy Burgeson shared her Garden Wisdom with 543 people on her Friday Garden Walks and at her Brown Bag Lecture, Nature's Pirates.  Even on one of our hottest days of the season, 95 people took advantage of the opportunity to walk the rain gardens and learn from her.

  • A total of 1,351 people attended our Tuesday Brown Bag lectures which were given on a range of topics that included the state of Chautauqua’s Trees, tips on better Nature Photography, and Birding our National Parks, to name a few.

  • Dan Egan, author of “The Devil’s Element: Phosphorus and a World Out of Balance”, spoke to us over zoom.

  • In terms of Birds, Trees and Gardens (and the Lake!): 411 people gained a better understanding of our lake during our Monday Lake Walks, 320 people learned more about our trees during Jack Gulvin’s Wednesday Tree walks, and 502 people visited gardens with Joe McMaster on Tuesday afternoons.

  • Over the course of the summer, 505 people experienced a curated tour of the Ellen Biddle Shipman Garden at the Miller Cottage.  These tours were given by Janine Obee and Betsy Burgeson on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

  • We sold Native Plants, picked up microplastics along the lake, and gave 100 hours of weeding time, removing countless invasive/non-native plants from the grounds.

Through partnerships with other organizations and the generosity of many people’s time, we provided all of these and many more, enriching our understanding of the natural world, thus empowering us to conserve it.  

We are already looking forward to the 2024 season and hope that you will join us in offering an equally robust program next year.  If you are interested in volunteering, please email us or sign up in person at the Annual Meeting on June 25, 2024 at Smith Wilkes Hall. 

~Jennifer Francois, BTG Vice President and Program Chair


A Photo Sampler from The 2023 Season

by Angela James

Above: The season opened with our Native Plant Sale, chaired by Chris Flanders on the left and in partnership with Jonathan Townsend Royal Fern Nursery. 

Below: Looking down from the BTG Boardroom in Smith Wilkes Hall onto the "Blue Shirts" enjoying lunch on the rear patio. The BTG Hospitality Committee, chaired by Cathy Clark and Lynette Caplice, hosted a late-season lunch for Chautauqua's Garden Team, led by Betsy Burgeson.

A flower arranging class in Smith Wilkes Hall for 15 lucky Life Members led by Melinda Woolcott with Chris Flanders assisting.


The Importance of Water

by Dennis McNair, PhD

In the opening moments of the Cohen Brothers’ movie The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, we see Buster riding his horse across an arid Western landscape while playing his guitar and singing the classic Western song, “Cool Water.”  Water, according to statistics that so many of us learned early in our lives, covers over 70% of Earth’s surface, but about 97% of it is seawater and unsafe for us to drink safely.   Seawater is about 3.5% saline equivalent and our body’s fluids are only 0.85% saline, meaning seawater has slightly over 4 times the salt content as is found in our body’s blood and cells.  We can concentrate salts in our urine, but only to about twice that in our blood, or approximately 1.5%.  Our kidneys eliminate over 90% of the salts we take in with food, but we lose water along with it.  All of this means that we need to drink fresh water (<1 % saline) to stay alive.  Lakes, streams, and rivers are freshwater habitats, and most are sources of potable (“drinkable”) water.  Plants and other terrestrial living beings must also have fresh water to exist.  So fresh water is increasingly precious, especially in this time of climate change.  Buster was right.  Cool Water is in increasingly short supply.

Sources of fresh water are replenished by evaporation into the air, powered by the sun, followed by precipitation.  This, in a nutshell, is the hydrologic cycle, which is one of the many services of Nature that we take for granted.  Of course, the hydrologic cycle has many benefits other than refreshment of the fresh water supply for us and other living things.  One often overlooked benefit is its cooling effect via plants.  Plants pick up water with their roots, transport it (a process called transpiration) through their vessels, and ultimately release it as it evaporates from their leaves, thus pulling the water up through their vessels.  The entire process is called evapotranspiration.  One summer, several years ago, my wife and I had a shed built in our backyard under an old tree.  The workers enjoyed building that shed because their work was done in the shade, but, even more importantly, the air cooled by evapotranspiration became more dense and fell toward the ground beneath the tree.  The cooling effect of a single mature deciduous tree in summer is the equivalent of having over 20 room air conditioners running 24 hours per day, according to researchers’ findings.  Planting trees along paved streets and sidewalks and judiciously placing green spaces in city landscapes can thus serve to reduce ambient temperatures by several degrees.  Trees can also protect buildings from storm damage and reduce heating requirements during winter months in cold climates. 

Most bodies of fresh water eventually empty into oceans, where evaporation concentrates dissolved salts in the water.  The diluting effects of fresh water inflow coupled with the immensity of the oceans’ basins keeps seawater at a stable 3.5%.  In most estuaries (places where rivers run into seas) the water is temporarily diluted to brackish conditions between 1.0% and 3.5%.  These waters require less elimination of excess water or salts, a major expenditure of energy, by their living inhabitants.  Because of this energy saving, estuaries are among the most productive aquatic habitats in existence.  The Chesapeake Bay is North America’s largest estuary and has been, historically, one of our nation’s greatest sources of oysters, crabs, and fish.  Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest was another high producer of seafood for the same reason.  Both of these huge estuaries became badly polluted as the country’s industries and cities developed around them, and they retained pollutants through internal recirculation to the point of becoming quite unhealthy.  Only fairly recently (within my lifetime) have we begun to realize the folly of cancelling out these multi-million-dollar natural benefits and begun restoring the bodies of water to their original healthy conditions, enabling nature to once again be our collaborator instead of our opponent.

As climate change, pollution and human use make fresh water unavailable or unusable over much of the earth, we in the Chautauqua Watershed and along the shores of Chautauqua Lake are graced with an abundance of Nature’s hydrologic replenishment.  As long as we take Nature’s services for granted, dump our wastes into our freshwater systems, contaminate them with runoff from agricultural and recreational activities, and otherwise deplete their resilience, we whittle away at vital systems.  We currently have an opportunity to reverse our course and regain those services at a cost of pennies on the dollar.  We ignore Nature’s services at our peril.  We must act quickly and decisively to revitalize the healthy functioning of natural systems, instead of squabbling over who pays the relatively small costs of remediation.  Once lost completely, they will be gone forever, and the costs to us and future generations will be unfathomable.

- Dennis McNair PhD

- Photo by Angela James


It's Lights Outs for Birds season and the Audubon Society and its local chapters are doing a great job reminding us to help migrating birds make it to where they're going by turning off our outdoor lights. One fancy educational tool is Audubon's Bird Migration Explorer. I particularly enjoyed being able search for a "connected location" from my hometown of Atlanta. Guess which place on earth I picked to connect with? You guessed it: Chautauqua! Turns out Atlanta is connected to Chautauqua through 29 tracked birds of 12 species. You can learn more about the ways they track the birds here

Another cool migration tracker is BirdCast. Here's what Birder's World Digest says about the site: The website, a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Colorado State University, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, uses a combination of machine learning, cloud-based computing, big data analytics, and data from the National Weather Service’s 160 Doppler radar stations to predict bird movements across the continent. So far the site doesn’t give predictions of which species will be arriving where, but give them time…

Below is BirdCast's migration forecast for tonight. If you're on the flight path for the 272 million birds who are migrating tonight, please do your part and flip off those outdoor lights! 

- Leslie Renjilian, BTG President


On August 21, the BTG hosted a livestream conversation with author Dan Egan, whose book The Devil's Element: Phosphorus and a World Out of Balance had just been named by the CLSC as one of their 2024 book selections. Our VP and Chair of Programming, Jennifer Francois conducted the interview in Hurlbut Church. If you missed it, you can watch the recording by clicking the green bar below. 



Thank you to Dan Mardi for sharing this photo and great spot: a juvenile loon in Chautauqua Lake on August 2–that's unusually early to spot a loon in Chautauqua! 

Thank you to Life Member Janet Posner who sold her notecards at the Art in the Park at Miller Park in August and donated her proceeds to the BTG!

Thank you to Julia Fulkerson for digitally decorating this newsletter with her own artwork and Jane Nelson's timeless drawings, which Julia magic'd into digital format and sprinkled into this newsletter.

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