Small, sweet victories

March 22, 2006

On these chilly gray days when snow that didn't come in January threatens to make a late appearance, a poignant celebration of life's capacity for renewal is under way that should warm even the coldest heart.

Soaring above the marshes of Jug Bay along the Patuxent River in Southern Maryland, osprey couples recently returned from separate winter vacations in Central or South America are reuniting for an elaborate mating ritual that will repopulate last year's empty nests.

Nature can be credited for the extraordinary behavior of these brown and white hawklike birds that form lasting bonds reinforced annually. During their courtship display, described evocatively this week by Sun reporter Julie Scharper, the male snatches a fish from the water and waves it temptingly at his lady love as he circles her in the air.

No less miraculous is that ospreys have returned to the Chesapeake Bay region at all after being nearly wiped out by the pesticide DDT. For that renewal, humans deserve some credit - not only for banning DDT three decades ago, but also for having the foresight to preserve large swaths of farmland along the Patuxent River in Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties and to manage them wisely.

If those roughly 10,000 acres of wildlife habitat had not been spared from development, the ospreys would not have a place to come back to. At a time when news of the environment is so frequently grim, it's gratifying to see that damage can be reversed if there's the political will to do it.

And ospreys aren't the only sign of a lush sanctuary reinvigorated. More than 250 species of birds have been recorded in recent years at Jug Bay, nearly half of them nesting. Fishermen lining the river banks near the Route 4 bridge linking Wayson's Corner to Upper Marlboro might hook one of 41 different varieties. Soon the frogs known as peepers will begin their yearly songs of seduction.

Given half a chance, nature responds with abundance. Spring is here, after all.

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