After a long, cold winter, spring’s arrival brings a vibrancy of life to the Chesapeake Bay region: critters are awakening from hibernation, birds and fish are migrating back to the area and countless animals are starting to raise their young.
For most of us, it would be difficult to see these critters in the wild. But a growing number of wildlife cameras are allowing us to get a glimpse into the lives of animals native to the region, from bald eagles to black bears. We’ve compiled a list of just a few of the types of critters you can watch.
Also known as the fish hawk, the osprey is an unofficial sign of spring for the Bay region. The birds begin arrive to the Bay in early March and remain through the spring and summer. Since 2009, the Chesapeake Conservancy has been streaming live video of a platform on Kent Island, where “Tom” and “Audrey”—a pair of ospreys—build their nest each year.
2. Great Blue Heron
This tall, blue-gray wading bird can be found year-round throughout the Chesapeake Bay region. Herons nest and breed in colonies—called “rookeries”—high in the treetops of isolated areas. With the help of the Chesapeake Conservancy, a camera was installed near the top of a 100-foot loblolly pine tree on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Live video of the rookery shows activity from multiple nests.
3. American Black Bear
One of the most common bears in North America, the American black bear can be found throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. In 2015, the Wildlife Center of Virginia rescued seven bear cubs who were separated from their mothers and possibly orphaned. Today, the Wildlife Center runs a wildlife camera showing the bear yearlings. But get your viewing in soon! The organization expects the bears will be ready for release in mid-April 2016.
4. Bald Eagle
Many of these iconic birds can be found year-round throughout the Bay region, but the area is also an important stop for eagles migrating from other parts of North America. One pair of the raptors, “Mr. President” and “The First Lady,” can be seen raising two fledglings at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. A live stream from the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, shows another pair of eagles (nicked named “Belle” and “Shep” by fans) caring for their eaglets.
5. Peregrine Falcon
Widespread pesticide use in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s led to a drastic decline in the number of peregrine falcons: by 1975, only 324 known pairs of the raptors were nesting in North America. But a robust recovery allowed the birds to be removed from the Endangered Species List in 1999, and the Chesapeake Bay has again become an important region for nesting and migrating peregrine falcons. Watch the Chesapeake Conservancy’s falcon camera to see “Boh” and “Barb” nesting on a skyscraper in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor; tune in to the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries’ falcon webcam to watch a pair of peregrines nesting in downtown Richmond, Virginia; or check out the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s falcon cam to watch a nest in downtown Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
6. American Shad
Birds and bears aren’t the only types of critters you can watch online: the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries runs a shad cam at Bosher Dam along the James River. Beginning in late March, you can catch a glimpse of American shad and other fish as they travel upstream to spawn.
Have a favorite wildlife camera you love to watch? Let us know in the comments!
Native species are the key to any ecosystem, and the Virginia Living Museum is a paradise of plants and animals that are native to the commonwealth. The state’s wealth of biodiversity is condensed—perhaps nowhere else does a tiger salamander share a roof with a school of striped bass—and expertly organized according to the habitats of the mid-Atlantic. There are over 250 species of native animals, and exploring the galleries and the outdoor boardwalk gives you the feeling of traveling hundreds of miles as you pass through forests, coastal plains, cypress swamps and the Chesapeake Bay.
The Virginia Living Museum is in the middle of celebrating its 50th anniversary, and it has changed considerably over the years. What began as the Junior Nature Museum and Planetarium in 1966 has grown and shifted to the use of living exhibits to connect people with nature. The museum provides a sanctuary for injured or non-releasable animals—including an aviary.
In 2008, the museum was certified as a Virginia Green attraction, after a commitment to prevent pollution from the museum. It opened the Goodson “Living Green” House, an environmental education center, in 2009 to demonstrate sustainable building technologies and Bay-friendly practices like rain barrels and a green roof made of living plants. In the same vein, the Conservation Garden highlights alternatives to pesticides and fertilizer and shows how landscaping can keep stormwater runoff from polluting nearby streams and harming wildlife.
The result of a short walk through the museum’s varied campus, then, is to see the plants and animals that benefit from these sustainable practices, and to learn how to use those practices at home.
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page
Photos and text by Will Parson
Long-lasting chemical contaminants may still be persisting in the Chesapeake Bay region, but the pollutants have had no significant effect on the world’s largest breeding population of ospreys, according to a report from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
While the three-year study found some residue of pesticides and industrial chemicals in the Bay’s tidal waters, fish, osprey eggs and osprey chicks, researchers did not find a connection between the fish hawk’s exposure to the chemicals and its success in the Chesapeake region.
“Osprey populations are thriving almost everywhere in the Chesapeake,” Rebecca Lazarus, a researcher at the USGS’ Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and the lead author of the report, said in a release. “We found them nesting in some of the most highly contaminated areas in the Bay and we did not find any relationship between contaminants and their nests' productivity.”
Widespread use of DDT in the mid-twentieth century caused the Bay’s osprey population to fall to fewer than 1,500 pairs before the pesticide was banned in the United States in 1972. Close to 10,000 pairs of osprey are expected to nest in the Chesapeake region this year.
To hear Lazarus describe osprey life history and her research, watch our Bay 101: Ospreys video:
The study, "Chesapeake Bay fish–osprey food chain: Evaluation of contaminant exposure and genetic damage," is available online from the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.
As home to the largest estuary in North America, the Chesapeake Bay watershed is vast and complex, covering 64,000 miles and including six states and the District of Columbia. The Bay has a land to water ratio of 14 to 1, five times greater than any other, and its airshed—the area of land over which airborne pollutants travel to enter the Bay—is nine times larger than the watershed, extending south to South Carolina, west to Indiana and north to Canada. The geography of the watershed is diverse, spanning the coastal plain and Piedmont plateau, marine and freshwater, urban and rural lands—and it's home to more than 1,600 local governments, all with different responsibilities for making land use decisions that can impact pollution in the watershed.
While the federal government and state agencies go about setting goals and establishing priorities, it is local governments that implement many of the measures to help reduce pollution. They operate wastewater treatment plants, manage urban stormwater, make zoning and land use decisions and enact ordinances. The 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement acknowledged the vital role local governments play in protecting and restoring the Chesapeake ecosystem, as well as the need to support their efforts by broadening their knowledge and building capacity to act on issues related to water resources.
Local governments are on the frontlines of efforts to achieve water quality standards under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). In addition to achieving water quality goals, local governments are central to the success of our efforts to achieve many of the other goals established by the Watershed Agreement regarding fisheries, habitats, stewardship, land conservation, public access, environmental literacy and climate resiliency.
For many of our goals, we have very specific outcomes we want to accomplish, as well as indicators that give us a way to measure our progress. We’re in the process of finalizing work plans that identify actions we’ll take over the next two years toward meeting our long-term outcomes. We’ll assess that progress to make sure we stay on track by using these indicators, which serve as tools for holding ourselves accountable, and allowing the public to hold us accountable as well.
We have built a number of other tools that will assist the partnership in meeting its goals. A tool called BayFAST is being used by federal agencies with facilities located in the watershed to establish pollution reduction targets for their installations. This tool allows installations to evaluate a range of practices and estimate project costs for planning and budgetary purposes. We’re working to include monetized benefits as well, so local officials can make well-informed choices taking into account a broader set of considerations.
The partnership is acquiring high-resolution land cover data for the entire watershed, and working with local officials to acquire the most recent land use data. With updates to this information expected every three years, we’ll be able to see how the landscape in the Chesapeake Bay watershed changes over time. And when coupled with Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data, we’re able to generate imagery that can be used to verify landscape features such as riparian forest buffers, which could significantly reduce the cost of BMP verification. Local governments, many of which have used scarce public funds to secure this information, will now have access to this high-resolution land cover and LiDAR data. Having this data available and updated on a regular basis could save local governments hundreds of thousands of dollars. Similarly, the general public and conservation organizations can use this information in developing and implementing a variety of conservation projects.
We are also working with states, local elected officials and government staff, and representatives from urban, suburban and agricultural sectors to develop recommendations on how to better engage local partners in the development of state Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) and make those plans understandable at the local level. A newly formed task force is exploring whether Phase III WIPs should include local area targets and, if so, how these targets could be expressed to best inform local planning and decision-making.
Many challenges remain, however. With so many local governments throughout the watershed, how do we provide timely and useful information to local decision-makers? How do we share success stories, so local governments and communities can benefit from new approaches that have demonstrated their value? How do we spread innovation more quickly? The partnership’s Local Government Advisory Committee (LGAC), many of whom are local officials themselves, is taking on several of these issues. They are participating in municipal and county meetings to get the word out and seek input, as well as trying to get local officials who have implemented successful approaches to share that information with their peers.
Through funding provided to the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program Office, local governments have received both financial and technical assistance. For the past three years, we’ve provided $5 million to support local governments and projects such as green roof rebates, rain barrel installations, environmental education and efforts to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution. From 2008 through 2014, funds made available by EPA to the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) have supported a number of local projects, making nearly $9 million available to local governments and $18.4 million available to local organizations through four grant programs. Finally, CBPO has provided $740,000 in funding to the Environmental Finance Center to help local governments identify financing options to support urban and agricultural stormwater management.
The partnership understands the critical role local governments play in implementing many of the measures necessary to achieve our water quality goals and restore the living resources of this economically, culturally and environmentally important ecosystem.
Note: The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect U.S. EPA policy endorsement or action.