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Ospreys nest in the strangest places

"This osprey nest on a cell phone tower on Scenic Road is delaying efforts to heighten the tower.Jim Larsen/staff photos Call about osprey nestsRuth Milner, Fish and Wildlife biologist, said anyone anticipating tampering with an osprey nest should first call her office. Her number is 415-379-2310. Or call the Fish and Wildlife enforcement officer, Bill Hebner, at 425-775-1311 ext. 115. South Whidbey's osprey families have taken to nesting on top of football field light poles, emergency transmitter towers and cellular telephone towers. People love watching the fish-eating birds of prey build their nests and raise their young, but to some people those nests are an annoyance or even a danger, so they remove them. But it's not the right thing to do without the proper permission. It sounds like I'll have to do some osprey sensitivity training on Whidbey Island, said state Fish & Wildlife biologist Ruth Milner on Thursday. Milner said state law lists ospreys as a protected species. It's illegal to harm or harass the nest or young of a protected species, she said, paraphrasing the law. That doesn't mean osprey nests cannot be removed, but to tamper with them one must first consult with the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Milner does her best to keep track of and protect nesting ospreys on Whidbey Island, but she was caught by surprise when told that some nests had been removed. Last Tuesday, a crew from Day Wireless removed an osprey nest situated off Cultus Bay Road on top of a 120-foot-high metal communications pole owned by Fire District 3. Mindy Thompson, a nearby resident who enjoyed watching the ospreys, said, There were two guys looking at the nest with binoculars on Monday and now it's gone. Fire Chief Don Smith didn't learn about the nest removal until after the fact and was distressed to learn what had happened. We didn't know anything about it, said Smith. I don't like our name associated with something in a negative sense. The Day Wireless person in charge was on vacation in California and unavailable for comment on Thursday, according to the company's office manager. Smith knew the osprey nest was on top of the fire district's tower, and he knew the birds were causing problems. Earlier this summer an effort was made by maintenance people to climb the pole and the birds attacked to protect their nest. The osprey were on them like a duck on a June bug, the fire chief said. Each time maintenance people returned, the birds would chase them away. And, according to Smith, it was known that nothing should be done with the nest until the baby birds left the nest and the ospreys flew south for the winter. By this week, the nest was clearly abandoned, according to Smith. Workers spent all day Monday at the site and there were no birds, so on Tuesday they removed the nest. Smith doesn't think the crew handled the situation correctly, but he agreed the emergency communications tower is not the place for a bird's nest. I-COM, the countywide emergency services agency, needed to install another microwave device on top of the tower to improve communications with the Langley and Saratoga areas. Now, signals can be beamed from the Cultus Bay tower to Camano Island and back to Langley for dependable reception. I was trying to figure out how to do it properly, Smith said of the nest removal procedure. An osprey nest high above the football field at South Whidbey High School could soon meet a similar fate. Rick Pitt, school district facilities manager, said ospreys first nested on top of the light pole in the spring of 1999. He checked with authorities and was told, We had to keep our hands off it until they migrated. When that happened about one year ago, the nest was removed. We cleaned the nest out, hoping they'd like a better place, Pitt said. As it turned out, the ospreys liked their home above the football just fine. When they returned this spring, they rebuilt the nest. The osprey were there when the Class of 2000 graduated in June, and when football season opened Friday night, Sept. 8, at Waterman Field. The bright lights didn't seem to bother the birds. The parents kept flying back and forth to the nest, feeding their nearly-grown babies, who could clearly be heard demanding more food. At the regional South Whidbey High School Invitational Cross Country meet Sept. 16, the osprey nest 65 feet in the air was the center of attention. Pitt said he too enjoys watching the osprey family, but the lights must be maintained. And if the nest should fall on someone, it could be dangerous. The nest is in the way, but they're persistent, and they're spectacular to watch, he said. Milner, the Wildlife biologist, said Pitt received some erroneous information from either her office or perhaps federal wildlife officials. He couldn't recall specifically who he talked to in 1999 when the osprey first moved in. They need to talk to us, Milner said, describing nest removal as illegal. When contacted, Wildlife biologists will work with the tower owner to deal with a problem osprey nest. For example, there is a nest on top of a cellular telephone tower on Scenic Road in Freeland. The company that owns the tower wants to heighten it by 10 feet, but that's on hold until Milner decides how to proceed. The Scenic Road nest is complicated by the fact there is a nearby heron rookery. This rookery has been publicized in past years when it left Langley and then settled along Newman Road, below a different osprey nest. One of that nesting pair of osprey was shot, and the mate abandoned the nest. The herons then moved to the Scenic Road site where there was another osprey nest. The herons' affinity for ospreys is simple: the ospreys keep eagles away. Milner said that during one recent visit to the Scenic Road osprey nest she saw four eagles soaring over the nearby heron rookery, hoping to feast on young herons. But the osprey are natural enemies of eagles and keep them out of their nesting territory. I told the cell tower people we need some risk analysis, she said. We want to make sure the osprey will come back. They're pretty resilient birds, but with the herons there, it's less predictable. Milner said in some cases an osprey nest can be taken away for maintenance work on a tower and then replaced, or another simple tower can be built that they might use as a nesting site the following spring. But the bottom line is that it's illegal to remove osprey nests. They need an OK from us to tamper with an osprey nest, she said. Osprey factsAdult description: 21-25 inches long (almost eagle-sized), males and females look alike, dark chocolate mantle with white chest sometimes streaked with dark brown, white head with a broad brown mask from eyes down to cheeks and neck, eyes yellow, bill and talons black. Immature description:Very much like adults, but brown upper part feathers look as if the tips were dipped in a cream-colored paint. Eyes are orange, fledglings will be adult sized. Nestling: Young in the nest will beg loudly, sometimes constantly, for food. May be aggressiveness between siblings. Feeding behavior: Female will tear flesh from a fish which the male has brought, and she will feed each nestling piece by piece. Source: The International Osprey Foundation "

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