Take a bird's eye view of the Hampton-Seabrook Estuary

Ospreys, plovers and others protected in Important Bird Area (IBA)

Ken and Judy Palm

The day was perfect on the marshes on the Seabrook side of Hampton Harbor. Winds were mild at 5 MPH with occasional gusts of 10 MPH and the temperature in the 80’s. Sue Foote of the Seabrook Conservation Committee took a skiff into the harbor  to photograph a family of osprey that have nested there. Residents can’t remember any osprey in the Seabrook salt marshes since before World War II.

Photo burst sequence of female and male osprey encouraging chick to fledge. Photos by Sue Foote

Foote photographed the ospreys and witnessed possibly the first sustained flight of an osprey chick. "The female stationed herself beside the nest giving instructions while primping her chest with wings extended," Foote reported. "One of the birds was vocalizing short chirps. The male was flying back and forth on the western side of the marshes scanning the area making sure all was safe."

A baby chick stood on the side of the nest preparing for its first flight, while its sibling stayed in the bowl of the nest contentedly eating fish. The first chick flapped its wings about a dozen times, took a deep breath and hesitantly lifted off, desperately looking for an air current to help it along. It headed in the direction of the male. As the chick navigated the area, it appeared to gain confidence and expertise, while the parents kept watchful eyes on its progress.

After about five minutes the second chick took its turn. It went through the same procedures, but not with the same success. The female took off and circled the nest, encouraging the remaining chick. The chick extended but did not flap its wings. It almost had lift, but remained on the nest. The male, female and first chick flew around the harbor chirping with delight and returned to the nest for a well-deserved meal, although the landing of the chick was not graceful. It nearly overshot the runway.

Back home settling in for a snack. Photo by Sue Foote

This family of osprey have set up their home in an abandoned duck hunter’s blind. They arrived in early March, and the chicks hatched in mid-June. They fledged in early August. The marsh site is knee deep in water and free of predators and human encroachment. How ironic that what was once used to shoot fowl is now a haven for some birds.

Across Route 1A on the dunes at Hampton State Beach, Atlantic piping plovers nest. The piping plovers breed on East Coast beaches during warm weather, causing much of the shoreline to be off-limits.

These brown and white birds breed in dents of sand at the high-water mark. They are especially vulnerable to storms, predators and people. A northeaster can wreack havoc and wash away their nests. Unsupervised dogs pose a threat, and ants can destroy their eggs. People leaving trash behind attract larger predators like coyotes, which can devastate nesting areas.

Two plovers taking a stroll away from their roped-off area. Photo by Linda Gebhart

According to Linda Gebhart of the Hampton Beach Beautification Committee, plovers annually migrate to Hampton Beach State Park. NH Fish and Game protects the plovers which are considered endangered in New Hampshire and threatened nationally.

The plovers begin to arrive in late April. When the birds lay four eggs, it's considered a “clutch nest”. Usually only about one of the four hatches. Once identified, the nesting area is roped off, and volunteers monitor the plovers and their nests.

Other wildlife in the area

The snowy owl is occasionally seen at the Hampton Beach State Park.

On the ocean side of the bridge a sanctuary for butterflies is being created to provide them with a habitat for living and reproduction. For more on this project click 'Rye Reflections' Previous Issues and go to August 2007. Refer to the article “Creating Gardens out of Concrete”.

In 2003 the Hampton-Seabrook Estuary was nominated by Gayle Sweeney of Hampton, N.H. and named an Important Bird Area (IBA) by the Audubon Society of New Hampshire. Sweeney explained to us the significance of the IBA and how it relates to the seacoast. She does not consider herself an expert on marshes, as she mainly collects information for the beach. A well-respected environmentalist, Sweeney has her own pamphlet file at the Lane Memorial Library titled “Hampton Birds”. A member of the Poetry Society of New Hampshire, she has published in area newspapers. (See her poem “Waterlilies” in this edition of Rye Reflections.)

Sweeney submitted to us the following paragraphs on Important Bird Areas for this story:

"The IBA is officially called "Hampton/Seabrook Harbor, Marshes and Mud Flats”. Estuaries are rare and critical habitat for wildlife. The IBA program is an international program currently in place in over 100 countries and in 45 states. The Important Bird Area encompasses Hampton Beach State Park including the dunes and the dunes in Seabrook. The purpose of the program is to identify areas that are most important to birds, including threatened and endangered species. IBA status is an effort to bring about conservation measures that can enhance chosen areas. Also considered for IBA status are unique habitats and areas where large numbers of birds congregate."

"The Hampton Harbor and marshlands are important stopover habitat for thousands of migrating sandpipers which include up to 20 species. The curlew sandpiper, a European shore bird which has been recorded only a handful of times in the state, has been spotted in the harbor. The only record of a sandwich tern in the state was at the harbor. Other birds that forage at the harbor are terns from the Isles of Shoals, several species of gulls and waterfowl, including cormorants."

Spring Marsh in early evening. Photo by Judy Palm

"The Spring Marsh, too, is part of the IBA program for the Hampton/Seabrook Estuary system. The Spring Marsh is located east of Route 101 and south of Winnacunnet Road at Hampton Beach. It is possibly the best place in the state for salt marsh nesting birds according to Pam Hunt, IBA coordinator at NH Audubon. The largest mainland tern colony in the state is located at the Spring Marsh, a small pretty marsh where the sunsets are beautiful."

"An Estuary faces many threats including development, water quality problems, human disturbance, and wild and domestic predators. IBA sites work to identify and implement conservation strategies to minimize habitat loss. A well-protected ecosystem is a benefit to all."

Plover getting ready for bath in puddles at low tide. Photo by Linda Gebhart

Chirping pre-flight instructions before take off. Male with fish in mouth encourages chick to come and get it. Photo by Sue Foote

Marsh North of Rt 101. Photo by Judy Palm

September, 2007