Osprey at the Overlook – Imaginations Soar in South Chatham

Reflections by Naturalist & Walk Leader Andrea Higgins
Photos courtesy of Halley Steinmetz

What a spectacular morning at the Forest Beach Overlook in South Chatham for a Preschool Explorer adventure, sponsored by Harwich Conservation Trust and Chatham Conservation Foundation. This 74-acre conservation area (formerly a field of transmission towers associated with WCC Chatham) has sweeping views of Nantucket Sound, Forest Beach, a salt marsh, Mill Creek, and Monomoy Island. Upon arrival, we were greeted with high pitched peeps from no less than six ospreys.

We started our adventure with an observation circle, tuning into our senses to admire the natural world around us. Preschoolers announced that they could hear birds and the breeze, they could see the ocean, grasses, and trees, and could smell butterflies and flowers.

Snuggled together on the bench overlooking the glistening sea, I read Raptor World: Osprey by Jenna Lee Glesiner. Wandering to another bench with equally stunning views, we scanned the horizon and spotted two occupied osprey nests!

The trail sloped down a hill ahead of us, sure to be filled with nature discoveries. I handed each child a magnifying lens so they could investigate any findings. To everyone’s delight, we quickly came upon a patch of eastern prickly pears – New England’s only native cactus! The prickly pear has beautiful showy flowers that bloom between June and August, and they grow delicious edible purple fruits that are ready for harvest in mid-fall. Near the cacti, we also discovered earth stars (a type of fungi) and cottontail rabbit scat.

Rounding the bend, we came upon a very small bird’s nest that was almost hidden, tucked under lichen and leaves. It was fun to compare this tiny nest to the osprey’s giant one sitting high on the poles in the marsh.

Using two measuring tapes to display the diameter of an osprey nest (3-6 feet, or 1-2 meters in diameter) we marked the distances and got to work building our own osprey nest. In the wild, both osprey adults help with construction. Explorers, caregivers, and I found large sticks to build our bird home alongside the trail with the marsh, creeks, and Nantucket Sound in view. It was large enough for the whole group to fit inside!

We climbed out of the nest and continued with our exploration. Pinecones, rocks, pine needles, and lichen were admired and a mat of moss was a perfect place to settle in for a brief rest.

Returning to the field where we began, I distributed sitting mats for Explorers to settle in for an art project: designing their own pair of wearable osprey wings. Markers, crayons and creativity transformed recycled shopping bags into beautiful wings. While an osprey’s wingspan is about 5.5 ft, preschooler wingspans were more in the range of 1 ft. Youngsters each chose a set of bright colored shoestrings and laced them through holes in the wings to create loops to slip their arms through and wear the wings!

Once the transformation into ospreys was complete, little chicks took flight one-by-one and pretended to fly over the marsh and the shining sea. I distributed candy fish in the field so young birds could practice searching for and catching food with their talons. They delivered their captured prey back to me so we could play again and again.

To close our morning’s adventure, I shared the pictures from Jenna Lee Glesiner’s book once again and we discussed all the osprey information and facts we had learned today at the overlook.

Another amazing morning of fun, discovery, learning, and wonder. I love Tuesday mornings and I adore all of you! I am already looking forward to our next adventure!

Happy Exploring!


Ms. Andrea