Poplar Island’s Restoration Project “For The Birds” – Part I

Located two-thirds up the Chesapeake Bay in Talbot County, Maryland, is Poplar Island, an environmental island restoration project in the making, literally for the birds.


Wait-listed since early this year, I was fortunate to be called last minute with an opening for an August 5th and then again September 20th birding tour on Poplar Island.  I said yes both times without hesitation!



First a brief history of Poplar Island…..


In 1637, Poplar Island was the site of an Indian massacre.


During the War of 1812, it was a base camp for the invading British fleet.


In 1847, Poplar Island had boasted more than 1,100 acres.


In the early 1900s, the island supported a thriving community of about 100 residents, several farms, a school, a church, a post office, and a sawmill.


By the 1920s, Poplar Island’s landmass had fallen victim to extensive erosion, destroying the community’s life and forcing residents to leave the island.


In the 1930’s, after Poplar Island had separated into three islands, it created Jefferson Island on which a private hunting retreat was built, bringing vacationers that included Presidents FDRoosevelt and Truman and other prominent politicians.  The retreat burned down in 1946.


By the 1990s, all that remained of the original island were about four acres of small clusters of islets, rising just above the surface of the water.  Poplar Island’s disappearance was imminent.


With the ban on dredged-material dumping in the Atlantic Ocean and after subsequent extensive studies, a Chesapeake Bay Ecosystem Management Agreement was signed in 1994, committing to use clean dredged material from Baltimore’s shipping channels to restore Poplar Island back to its approximate 1847 footprint of 1,140 acres.


This would create a year-round Chesapeake Bay paradise for the birds as well as an important stop-over for the Atlantic Flyway.


Shortly after the first dredged material was placed in Spring 2001 on Poplar Island, egrets, terns, herons, eagles, terrapins, and other wildlife began immediately using the beginnings of the newly restored island home.


Poplar Island “Under Construction” (some photos from my visits, others taken from our boat this summer)


In 2007, Congress authorized an expansion of 575 acres, to a new total of 1,715 acres of remote island habitat that would now consist of 776 acres of tidal wetlands (including low marsh & high marsh habitat, bird nesting islands, and open water ponds) as well as an upland portion of 829 acres.


Drone Imagery of Poplar Island                                  Poplar Island “habitat cells” being created
(photos courtesy of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)


Poplar Island – July 2019
(photos courtesy Moffatt & Nichols, project engineering firm)


Poplar island 03 July 2019

Latest construction imagery of proposed new habitat
(photo courtesy http://www.poplarislandrestoration.com)


The Army Corps of Engineers says with the proper funding, the project at Poplar Island will be completed in 2044.


It is estimated the final project will contain about 68 million cubic yards of clean dredged material.


That’s equivalent to filling over 14 Mercedes-Benz Superdomes with material.


As of 2019, construction of almost 300 acres of wetland habitat has been completed, providing a home to a wide variety of birds and other wildlife.   Many other acres are ongoing and thriving.


Scenes from my two visits to Poplar Island


Poplar Island wildlife highlights to date:

19 species of amphibians, including a thriving Diamondback Terrapin population with as many as 1,600 terrapins hatched onsite in a single year.


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Diamondback Terrapin – two weeks old


In 1996, there were 10 documented bird species.
In 2012, there were over 170 documented bird species.
This year to date there are now 246 documented bird species.


Since 2005, recycled Christmas trees are delivered each year during February/March to provide additional valuable habitat, especially for the island’s targeted American Black Duck.


In 2018, 307 Common Tern and 330 Least Tern pairs were counted.  A total of 607 tern chicks were banded.


This year there were 34 nesting species such as Osprey, American Oystercatcher, Glossy Ibis, Snowy Egret, Least Tern, Common Tern.


This year there were 20 Osprey nests, yielding 54 chicks.


Last winter’s bird census reported over 15,000 birds in one day.





Milkweed species were planted to assist the Monarch butterfly’s fall migration flyway path.  In 2016, the island became registered as a Monarch Waystation.  In 2018, the island became registered with the Monarch Watch tagging program, and captured/tagged 408 Monarchs on site.  They are in the process now of tagging this year’s migrants.



Don’t you just love this restoration project?  It is a successful win/win for the State of Maryland and the birds and other wildlife of the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Flyway!


If you’d like to read into this restoration project more extensively, the link is www.poplarislandrestoration.com.


And now on with some of the birds.  Between the two visits, I photographed 10 new ‘lifers’.  I actually saw several other new birds but missed capturing them with an identifiable photo, so no count for me.  And that’s okay, they’ll be out there for me for a future day.  🙂


With these next bird photos, I’ll include five of my new ‘lifers’ and save the other five ‘lifers’ for a Part 2 post along with the rest of the birds.


As my beginning photos showed, we were escorted in a white air-conditioned bus and taken to different “habitat cells” that appeared to be “bird active” in the previous days by workers and researchers.  As we bumped along our “sediment” road, at times someone would holler “stop”; and we’d halt to view and photograph birds through the windows.  So you’ll notice some of my photos have a hazy/foggy/glare look, being shot through the bus window.


Juvenile Bald Eagle with a meal


Bus comes up on same juvenile Eagle (shot through bus window)




Bank Swallow (shot through bus window and new lifer #1)


Seaside Sparrow (new lifer #2)


Short-billed Dowitchers (shot through bus window and new lifer #3)



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Turkey Vulture (shot through bus window)


American Avocets


Black-necked Stilts (new lifer #4)


Semipalmated Sandpipers (new lifer #5)


Whew!  Thank you for hanging in there with this long post!  I hope you enjoyed reading about this outstanding, ongoing environmental restoration project of Poplar Island.

Stay tuned in couple days for Part 2 with my other five “lifers” and some other birds captured.



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