The audience at the Schreiber auditorium was enthralled by Jim Jones' tales of osprey watching. Jones, Schreiber science teacher and naturalist, related how more than ten years ago he set about to bring back the osprey to our shores. Jones has written a book about his exploits, Spirits of the Harbor: A Summer of Re-Awakening on Long Island's North Shore. This magnificent raptor, once common to our shores, had virtually disappeared, poisoned by insecticides and driven away by other fallout from suburban living habits - what Jones aptly described as "our thoughtless rush to acquire, own and develop the land." Jones wrote, "There was an absence here where there had once been a bounty of natural beauty and wonder. The harbors that surround the peninsula where I live had lost a piece of its spirit, a vital piece - the osprey."
At the time, Jones was going through a transitional period in his life, "looking for something." He felt that if he could have a part in bringing back the osprey it would give him the sense of purpose that he was searching for. He wrote to "virtually every government agency that I could think of." Their replies were essentially identical: "Great idea, why don't you do it?" So he began the arduous task of attracting the osprey back to Port Washington and surrounding area. After doing some research, Jones determined that what was needed were places for the osprey to nest. They prefer nesting places that are high and near water. Starting with virtually no resources, Jones set about getting contributions. A contractor generously gave wood for the platforms; others helped with contributions of time or money. His students volunteered to help with the muddy job of erecting platforms in the marshes near Hampstead Harbor and Sands Point. "Everybody was so incredibly helpful," said Jones.
The very first year some osprey returned. "We got lucky," Jones said. Jones showed slides of his observations; in particular, an osprey couple who created a nest by Hempstead Harbor. The nest was about ten feet high and three feet across; the size, Jones believes, is to protect the nestlings from the high winds. "My patience and persistence paid off," Jones commented. As he watched, the ospreys mated and the female laid three eggs, which he was able to photograph. About 44 day later, two "large, darkly mottled" chicks hatched!
Jones had many interesting - and some funny - stories to tell about his osprey-watching adventures. He described to the fascinated audience the nesting, mating, feeding and migrating habits of this magnificent bird. He spoke of the many people who have enjoyed the return of the osprey, including those who offer to put platforms on their property, and those who challenge him if he gets too close to the nest (one of the latter was in the audience). "I love the way people look after the ospreys," he said.
Thanks to the work of Jim Jones and others, twelve years later we have been rewarded with the return of osprey to our area, including Port Washington, Sands Point, Roslyn, Manhasset Bay, and Hempstead Harbor. Jones recommended the new Hempstead Harbor trail, soon to be expanded, as a good place to observe osprey and other birds and wildlife. "This really can be a special place to experience tranquility and peace."
Throughout his talk and in his book, Jones make a heartfelt plea for us to change our ways with respect to our relationship with nature. "We must change our ways, must consider what we do before we do it. To the extent that we accomplish this, that will be the true measure of man. The osprey, and all of life, including us, will be the beneficiary."
As for Jones' quest, he said, "So many of the things that were bothering me came up. It was a tonic for me. Nature is a tonic for all our ills. While I was focusing on nature, I had time to make analogies in my own life and observe the life and death struggle." In the book, he observed, "As I opened up the window to the wonders of the harbor, I opened a window to myself.... It is the greatest lesson that I learned here, and one I would wish for all people."
Jones, who was previously a Port Washington resident, now lives in Bayside, where he is beginning to install osprey platforms. He has just begun a new book about his studies of the red-tailed hawks and great horned owls in Bethpage State Park. Jones, who grew up in Bethpage and spent many hours in the park, began studying these birds about ten years ago and has written an article about them for Conservation magazine.