Carroll Bird Club searches for osprey during recent trip

Cruising through the water on a pontoon boat, 12 members of the Carroll County Bird Club watched with anticipation as Patuxent River Park naturalist Greg Kearns guided the boat close to a large manmade tower. Perched atop the tower in the Jug Bay area of the park, the large nest looked like a jumble of tumbled sticks. Would there be eggs in the nest or would they find the fledgling osprey they were seeking?

Kearns said he suggested that the bird club members join him on an osprey banding trip after speaking at one of their fall 2015 meetings. That's how the trip on Thursday, June 16 came about.


The Carroll County Bird Club — a chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society — was founded in 1979, according to the group's president, Don Jewell. They meet monthly, except for the summer months, on the first Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Carroll Nonprofit Center in Westminster, with a speaker at most meetings.

Bird club member Alice Denney enthusiastically spoke of her recent experience on the osprey banding trip.

"We met at the Patuxent River Park nature center and hiked down to where the boat was. He took us out to about seven nest sites," Denney said. "One nest had two chicks that were too young to band and there was an older nest with chicks that were already banded. The two we banded were the only ones old enough. They use a metal band and [Kearns] keeps a log. He was telling us how he once tracked a bird all the way to Argentina."

Osprey are fish eating raptors that migrate into the Chesapeake Bay and Patuxent River area from South America annually to nest. The Patuxent River Park in Upper Marlboro has erected artificial nesting platforms along the river and monitors their activity throughout the season, according to the park's website.

"In the Jug Bay area we have the largest freshwater tidal marshes in the state with federal protection and support," Kearns said. "I've been doing this for 33 years, expanding the osprey nesting program by putting up more towers. Now we have 56 towers. I also monitor the entire river with other interns. As the nest towers expanded I started letting the public go to give them a chance to learn about the birds, handle them, see them up close and understand how they are important to the ecosystem. For a lot of people this is a lifetime experience."

Club member Jerry Tarbell said Kearns' knowledge on the ecosystem of Jug Bay made for a rewarding trip.

"All of us got to hold a baby osprey and he banded a couple," he said. "Only one nest was at an age that was ready to be banded."

According to Kearns, 2016 spring weather contributed to fewer osprey being ready for banding.

"This was one of the coldest, wettest springs on record. A lot of the birds, during the critical incubation time, either lost their eggs or eggs failed and had to re-lay," he said.

Bird club member Bob Ringler said club members held the chicks while Kearns banded them.

"The bands have to be clamped around the leg," Ringler said. "If the birds are too young the band will just slip right off the foot."

Ringler is known statewide for co-authoring with Marshal Iliff and Jim Stasz a field guide of Maryland Birds published by the Maryland Ornithological Society.

"It is a 53-page booklet with bar graphs that show the relative abundance and period of occurrence in Maryland of all the species of birds that had been found in the state at the time it was printed in 1996," Ringler said. "It's commonly called the Yellow Book because of the cover."

Despite banding only two osprey, bird club members found many reasons to enjoy the trip.


"We also checked on one wood duck box which had eggs in it," Denney said. "We saw wood ducks, a great blue heron, warblers, flycatchers, a kingbird, lots of red winged blackbirds, a marsh wren and indigo buntings. We also saw vireos. They are warbler size. And a prothonotary warbler that was really pretty."

Tarbell said the prothonotary warbler is one of his favorite birds.

"I prefer to call them golden swamp warblers, a name used in a book by Arthur Cleveland Bent," Tarbell said.

Tarbell said experiences like the osprey trip are part of the reason he joined the Carroll County Bird Club.

"You get to go out with birders who have been at it for a long time and know what they are doing, and you learn. That's how we started 30 years ago," Tarbell said of himself and his wife Laura.

"We joined and started going out on trips with people like Bob Ringler and Maureen and Dave Harvey [members who have traveled worldwide to study birds]," he said. "Hanging around people like that you start to pick up bird songs and ways to identify birds. You learn what kind of birds you will find in what kind of habitats. You know that you won't find a marsh hen in the woods."

The club members participate in local and out-of-area birding trips, like the recent one to Patuxent River Park.

"We go to Cape May [New Jersey] usually once a year and take a President's Day weekend trip [annually] to Ocean City. The birds are always different," Jewell said. "They may have certain expected behaviors but you are not really sure what they are going to do. We watched a tern or a gull not long ago take a stick and fly around and drop it and then catch it again and again like he was practicing. That is the kind of thing I look for and enjoy."

The club also participates in three bird counts annually, submitting results to the Maryland Ornithological Society as part of a larger report, encouraging conservation efforts.

Joining the bird club gives bird lovers an opportunity to learn more, Jewell said.

"If you like birds and want to see interesting birds you need to be with someone who knows where they are," Jewell said. "We have get-togethers. We get outside. We do some hiking. We have a large variety of trips, some longer, some shorter. We have a woodcock walk at dusk every year at Morgan Run. The woodcocks have a mating flight they do where they fly up in the sky and make noises and do a circular spiral thing as they come back down. Even if you can't see them you can hear them. This year we had 24 on the trip. I think that was the most we have ever had on that trip."

Jewell said the club welcomes new members. Annual membership is $25 per individual or $30 for a household. Junior members, up to age 17, pay $10 per year. The membership year runs from Sept. 1 to Aug. 31 and includes membership in the Maryland Ornithological Society.

Ringler said club members share a strong interest in birds.

"We are a group of like-minded people. Being a chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society, we have contact with conservation programs and the state organization does a lot of work, keeping us up to date with what is happening in conservation and giving us conservation information that specifically concerns birds in Maryland. We were recently talking about the yellow crowned night heron that has been spotted in New Windsor. It is the first time one has been found nesting in Carroll County."

Those interested in joining the Carroll County Bird Club may learn more online at or contact him at 410-259-4716 or