On an overcast late-spring afternoon, a group of bird lovers from the Earth Conservation Corps are in a boat on Washington, D.C.’s Anacostia River, and point out an osprey circling overhead. “This is like their summer vacation spot and where they have their young,” says Bob Nixon, in the boat. “Then they spend most of their lives in the Amazon.”
It wasn’t so long ago that the ospreys – and other large birds of prey known as raptors – avoided this place. The Anacostia, often called Washington’s forgotten river, was too polluted to support wildlife. Nearly nine miles long, the river flows from Maryland into the Potomac, but became infamous in the second half of the 20th century as one of the most neglected, trash-choked waterways in the United States – a blighted river amid blighted neighborhoods.
But in recent years, the Anacostia has seen a rebirth. Thanks to the efforts of the Earth Conservation Corps — which Nixon, a filmmaker and conservationist, started 25 years ago — there are now four osprey nests on the river’s Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge. “We’ve turned this into a raptor hotel,” says Nixon.
There’s shad and bullhead catfish in the river for the ospreys to hunt. And from time to time, a bald eagle may even swoop in.
“What the eagles do, they watch the osprey hunt and once the osprey catch a fish, the eagles take it from them,” says ECC staffer Twan Woods. The eagles’ presence is due to the corps’ efforts as well: The group helped reintroduce the bird to Washington after decades of absence.