One of the many problems of a long life is the loss of an increasing number of dear, memorable people. The Talbot County Bird Club is no exception. Recently we have lost Chan Robbins, Maryland’s most recognized ornithologist; Les Roslund, our Club’s finest ambassador; and Priscilla Thut, field companion extraordinaire. President Maki suggested that we try to honor comrades past by showing our appreciation for treasured colleagues who are still able to receive our appreciation in person. On the occasion of its 65th Anniversary, she recommended that the Talbot County Bird Club honor Jan Reese in this manner.
Jan grew up on Tilghman Island and remains a lifelong resident of Talbot County. Like Mutt Merrit, Terry Allen and Jeff Effinger among others, it was high school teacher Dick Kleen who introduced him to birds and turned that interest into a lifelong endeavor. Jan pursued that interest through formal study, earning master’s degrees in wildlife management and avian ecology. While work in the construction industry paid his bills, he remained active in bird research through collaborations with scientists at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Among them was Dave Bridge; along with Mutt Merrit, they maintained the Operation Recovery banding station at Kent Point.
Jan’s interest in the decline in Osprey populations was hatched in high school. By the time the 1970’s rolled around he had undertaken an extended study of local Osprey populations. With the aid of an outboard motor boat loaned by Patuxent, gas fueled by funds from the MOS and not a little help from many friends he studied first-hand the nesting success of Ospreys from egg to fledgling across some 213 square miles of Talbot County waterfront. His targets were active nests that he visited at least once every 12 days from March through August. Most of these were on offshore duck blinds, channel markers, and nesting platforms. In fact, he personally constructed a total of 285 such platforms on offshore pilings that were the remains of duck blinds destroyed by the previous winter’s storms.
These first-hand visits were not without consequences. Terry Allen relates one incident on Broad Creek in which a very protective female Osprey, talons ablaze, struck Jan from behind, propelling him, briefly unconscious, into the duck blind and leaving quite a gash on the back of his head. A far more favorable consequence was his success – after many tries over a long time – to convince the US Coast Guard to stop destroying Osprey nests on channel markers and other navigation structures. No doubt his dogged persistence (curmudgeon?) carried the day although the exact words he used in persuasion are blissfully unrecorded. The results of his research were published in the peer-reviewed literature in the 1970’s. These papers remain classics, not only in Osprey studies but also as examples of excellence in field research on natural populations.
In the 1990’s Jan operated his own consulting business, primarily conducting environmental assessments required for land development. His broad knowledge of ornithology and local botany served him well and that knowledge became a hallmark of his relationship with members of the Talbot County Bird Club. Many of us remember his bird walks in which he also identified the likes of butterflies and plants, illuminating each species with a story. They were walks through natural history with the most personable guide possible.
When the dredge spoil restoration of Poplar Island began in 1998, state and federal wildlife managers hoped to document the creation of habitat and the response of bird populations. Jan was contracted in 2002 to do the necessary monitoring. With a clicker for each hand (and another in his head, he says), binoculars and spotting scope in tow, he bicycled the 3.5 mile long island twice weekly for more than a decade. He preferred direct counts to population estimates based on sampling. “One reason I like this job – I saw Poplar Island die, and then I saw it return.”
Scientist, naturalist, trip leader, teacher and friend: This is what Jan Reese has meant, and continues to mean, to the Talbot County Bird Club. He is responsible for the recruitment of many new members over the years. More significantly, he has been responsible for keeping them here. COVID-19 has forced him to restrict his activities, but comments like, “Jan showed us nesting goldfinches in that tree” will remain for a long, long time. We miss him, and we wish him well.
— Wayne Bell