Dave Ziolkowski, a 17-year-old Joppatowne High School student, has seen pictures of osprey in class. But last Friday he glimpsed one flying above him as he cruised down the Gunpowder River.
"It had a really big fish in its talons, and it flew right over our heads, which is a rare sight to see," he said.
Ziolkowski, who aspires to a career in wildlife management, was one of 20 Joppatowne students who saw the bird during the canoe trip Friday, organized as part of a popular environmental education initiative at the school.
With the help of two guides from the ChesapeakeBay Foundation, Hillyer organized Friday's field trip, which consisted mostly of students from the nature club and environmental studies classes.
Students who participated collected wildlife specimens tostudy and then returned them to the water unharmed.
The bird, with its telltale wing span of about 54 inches, used to be a common sight along the river until the pesticide DDT quickly reduced their population many years ago, say scientists.
The decrease in trees for nesting also cut the number of osprey in the area.
In an attempt to draw the birds back to the Gunpowder, students on the daylong canoe trip made a perch in the marsh for the birds to build a nest on.
Students said they'd learned in school that the bird is an important part of the food chain along the river. Osprey feed on larger fish, andits disappearence could trigger a population disruption among the water's wildlife.
Steve Hillyer, a science teacher at Joppatowne High, orchestrated the trip that started at 9 a.m. and finished at 3 p.m. when students returned to the school.
Their work wasn't done: before heading home for the day they planted about 200 trees.
Hillyer teaches environmental science and is also involved in many related programs at school, including the nature club and a trash recycling drive.
He said environmental interest is increasing among Joppatowne High School students and believes Harford public schools are in the"forefront" in the state for environmental education programs. And Joppatowne, contends Hillyer, is in the forefront countywide.
When the environmental science course was first offered four years ago at Joppatowne High, 40 students took the class, he said. For next year, 114 have enrolled.
Another example of the interest in protecting and learning about the environment at the school, says Hillyer, is thesuccess of the school's trash recycling program.
During a school system recycling drive this past winter, Joppatowne High collected about two tons of aluminum cans. The drive was sponsored by the Susquehannock Environmental Center in Bel Air, which will provide an environmental scholarship to the school, which turns in the most recyclables. To date, Joppatowne has earned $1,300 from the recycling drives.
The countywide scholarship will be awarded to one student May 22.
Joppatowne students say they enjoy all of the environmental programsoffered, but the canoe trips are by far the most fun.
"The canoe trips are always a lot of fun because they're unpredictable. You never know what you might see," said Ziolkowski.
Osprey weren't the only wildlife students got a first-hand glimpse of on the trip.
A bald eagle was spotted guarding its nest.
"The nest," explained Ziolkowski, "was so big and strong that you could stand on it. We got within 60 or 70 feet of it, and he just kept a weary eye on us."
MikeKing, 17, who'd like to study marine biology in college, said he enjoyed investigating the marsh areas. Hillyer explained to the studentsthose areas are important to the river because they act as a drainage and filtration system for the river.
But it wasn't all serious study on the trip. While observing the marshes, a mud battle broke out.
After about 15 minutes, when just about everyone was covered from head to toe, Hillyer tried to call a truce.
"It took about two days to get it all out of my hair," he said.
Despite the mud battle, Hillyer called the outing a success.
"All the kids that were there wanted to be there," he said.
Said Scott Fitzgerald, 17, "It was good just to get out of school."