Editor's Notes
Visionaries: An eye toward the future

New version of ESIP monitoring map available

Gulf Voices
A day on Great Bay: In search of the osprey

Science Insights
Dam removal

Profile: Dale Joachim of MIT’s Project Owl

Visionaries: Protecting the future of the Gulf of Maine

Book Review
Soaring with Fidel

Inside the Gulf of Maine Closure Area

Shipping lanes shifted to protect whales

Visionaries in the Gulf of Maine

Ocean Tracking Network to shed light on undersea life

Ambassador for his species: If a whale could speak

On the trail of invasive species

In the News
- Outside the Gulf
- Sappi Paper to remove dam on Presumpscot River
- MIT builds robotic fin for submersible vehicles
- New Brunswick to restore Petitcodiac River
- New Brunswick, Nova Scotia to jointly study Fundy tides

Gulf Voices
A day on Great Bay: In search of the osprey

By Karen Finogle
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It could be a signal for Batman, but it’s day not night, and we’re not in Gotham. Still, the form spiraling overhead has the right symmetry. The small head tucked between two boomerang wings set against a deep blue sky. The sleek, geometric angles you could set a ruler against. With a wingspan of five feet or more, it quickly dips down from the sky and crosses the water not far from my kayak. I let the boat dance in the slow current as I train my binoculars on the bird. It hovers over a wooden post, like a plane turned stealth helicopter, twitching its body and swooshing its wings in rapid fire before landing.

Such a sighting was once rare in Great Bay, an estuary in southeastern New Hampshire. The osprey was nearly wiped out in the 1950s and 1960s from DDT poisoning in fish, the only food the raptors eat. There were less fish too. Water pollution from sewage and industrialization dating back to colonial times had soiled the nine square miles (23 square kilometers) of the bay.

Now, at least a dozen pairs of ospreys return to Great Bay each spring to hunt and raise a family. It’s still a state-listed threatened species, but the osprey has taken roost, and together we share water and habitat now more pristine than any other estuary along the East Coast.

New Hampshire’s 18-mile (29-kilometer) coastline is the shortest in the United States, a mere afterthought as you head from Massachusetts to Maine. But include the land that stretches back 10 miles (16 kilometers) up the Piscataqua River and outlines Great Bay, and you have about 150 miles (241 kilometers) of tidal shoreline that frames one of the largest estuaries on the Atlantic Coast — an ecological jewel that’s home to 162 bird, fish and plant species and set in one of the fastest growing areas of the state.

I cap the binoculars and pick up the paddle to push forward. My oars cut easily through the placid water; the rumble of motorcycles, SUVs and cars on the road near our put-in becomes muffled, then disappears. Framed by five towns, Great Bay is a refuge from the normal hum of life. Ahead, my partner Pete disrupts a gaggle of cormorants and gulls gossiping and preening on the salt marsh banks, the only crowds we’ll encounter today.

We had plunked our kayaks in at the Squamscott River to paddle up the western shoreline of Great Bay proper. There’s little wind, and it’s easy to forget 98 percent of the water is saline, that the tides are always pulling and pushing against this flooded depression, sunken by the weight of glaciers thousands of years ago and then drowned in ice-water engorged ocean. There is no crash of waves on the shore, no sandy beaches. Meadows and woodland runs into salt marsh that dance in the shallows, disturbed by only a smattering of houses here and there.

The western shore is a quintessential New England pastoral, one that you would expect to unfold on a secluded lake. Then the oar flicks water on my face, and I lick my lips. The saltiness is unmistakable. The pull of the kayak forward, towards the sea, is celestial.

Pete and I live on the Oyster River, another tributary that flows into Little Bay, just north of Great Bay proper. I saw my first osprey from our dock. Heard the staccato-high “chirp, chirp, chirp” of one as it called to its mate. Waited so patiently, neck craned back, to see one bullet-dive for a fish and then beat its giant wings to shed the weight of water and gravity once more. I admired the freedom of their air current surfing, their sense of ownership and singularity of purpose — their wildness in an area that was tamed centuries ago. I have since haunted the bay in my boat from our dock and other put-ins. Always in search of their company, my eyes have become tuned to their aerial frequency.

Fingers tingle from the figure eight up-down, up-down of the two-hour, six-mile (9.6 kilometer) paddle to Adam’s Point. This spigot of land marks the northern terminus of Great Bay proper and is a place we frequently paddle and drive to in order to walk the trails that weave along cliffs and into meadows gone wild. I pull my kayak up onto the rocky shoreline where water funnels quickly through Furber Strait. Mud flats give way to wide rocks for seating. With cheese, bread and hummus pulled from my boat’s hull, Pete and I settle on a slab warmed by the sun to scan the skies above the 1,082-acre (138-hectare) Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge on the opposite shore.

We’ve finished lunch before we see them. First one, then two figures dot the sky above the refuge. Sailing on currents of air, they scan the waters below, waiting for the afternoon sun to puncture the surface and reveal the scales of elusive fish. I wait for the telltale signs — the sleek wings that angle down into a pencil point. The flap-flap-glide of the wing beat that distinguishes them from just another gull on steroids. Two ospreys, their black stripe over their eyes similar to a superhero’s mask, have arrived. The tide is shifting and it’s nearly time for us to launch, but I wait. I watch and wait until they shift course and drop back down behind the tall pines in the refuge. The water tugs at the stern of my boat, in an arm wrestle with the mud at the bow. We put in to chase the current back.

Karen Finogle, a free-lance writer and senior editor at AMC Outdoors, lives in Durham, New Hampshire.

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