Who dunnit?

Several osprey who seasonally call Freeland home won't have a nest to return to in early spring.

Sometime during the last week in August, crews working on a large power pole between Fish Road and Highway 525 removed the nest belonging to a pair of the protected birds of prey. The wooden pole is approximately 65-feet tall, and is owned by Puget Sound Energy. It is an oversized pole, used both to hold power lines and as a base for a T-Mobile Wireless cell phone receiver and transmitter.

In a telephone interview this week, Tim Bader, a spokesman for PSE, said PSE rents space to other utility companies on poles like the one at Fish Road and Highway 525. He said PSE did not order or carry out the removal of the nest.

"It wasn't a PSE contracted removal," Bader said.

Ruth Millner, a spokeswoman for Washington's Department of Fish and Wildlife, said Friday they were not aware of the nest.

"That's not one I knew about," said Millner.

Millner knew of a few osprey nests in the Freeland area near Fish Road, but not the one directly next to the Shell gas station. She was surprised when she heard one had been removed without the department approval.

"I'd be surprised that anyone would be so bold," said Millner. "I'm amazed."

Fish and Wildlife approval is required to remove osprey nests. Last year, the South Whidbey School District was admonished by the department for taking a nest off one of the light poles at Waterman Field at the high school.

Millner said because the state didn't know about the nest, they could not have prevented a company from taking it down. Had they known, she would have suggested several ways to work around the nest. Unless the company can show just reason -- for the safety of their workers or the birds -- Millner said the nests should remain untouched.

"We wouldn't have told them they couldn't," said Millner.

Despite the nest's removal, Millner said the birds will likely return next year and rebuild their nest in the same spot.

Millner said the cellular company Cingular Wireless has applied to do some work and co-locate a new antenna to improve their coverage area on a nearby tower. She explained that Cingular Wireless did not have permission to work on the pole until Oct. 1 because several herons have been actively nesting on the adjoining property.

But exactly who removed the nest near the highway was still a mystery as of Friday.

Bader said he believes the nest was taken down by T-Mobile, a cellular company that rents space on the pole for their cellular service.

"It looks like a T-Mobile removal," he said.

Several employees at the surrounding businesses watched the removal of the nest, and had no comprehension of the bureaucracy surrounding the large nest.

"I didn't see what they were doing until they hooked up the pole and took the nest down," said Dennis Nichols, an employee of Dollar Power, a business located within 100 feet of the pole.

Nichols and his co-workers did not remember the company name printed on the trucks workmen were using for the nest removal. He said crews worked on the poles for two days and could often be seen eating in the adjacent Shell gas station.

Nichols and co-worker Wendy Emerick said they were familiar with the large birds, often watching them while on a lunch break outside this summer. Nichols and Emerick said the activity had dwindled in the nest and it had been empty for a few weeks.

"It was a huge nest," Nichols said. "I saw it come crumbling to the ground."

Langley resident Ann Campbell, a 25-year member of the National Audubon Society, was also surprised to hear the nest had been removed.

Campbell said osprey typically return to the same nests year after year, and usually occupy those nest for approximately three months.

"Many are so excited to have them they build a nesting pole," said Campbell. "I think people are pretty fond of osprey."

The large nests osprey build are interesting, Campbell said, because both the male and female osprey work together to build their home. In the 43 days it takes for the birds to hatch, both the male and female will incubate their eggs. Even after the chicks hatch, she said it can be another 50 days before they leave the nest.

"What they built was a nice little spot for a nest," Campbell said of PSE.

Repeated phone calls to T-Mobile had not been responded to by press time Friday.

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