Feathered friends in need

Power company, townfolk help move osprey from harm



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John Guerro of Independence, a student at LaCreole Middle School in Dallas, took a personal interest in finding a less hazardous place for a local osprey to nest.

INDEPENDENCE -- Start with about 10 fish heads, weave in some orange hay bale twine, sprinkle in a few snails, weave in sticks and twigs and what do you have?

If you're an osprey, the answer is the foundation for a dream home along the Willamette River. There's even a park for the little ones.

A Pacific Power crew dedicated the better part of a crisp day Oct. 8 to relocating just such a home to a higher and safer spot in Riverview Park.

At four feet wide in some spots, the fat nest was in danger of causing power outages or being destroyed by electricity.

The mate-for-life ospreys who built the nest have been seasonal residents of Independence for at least the last four years, said one of the pair's many friends along the river.

"So that's what I watched them build every day," said Jamie Heide of Valley Concrete as he leaned in close to the nest being prepared to be lifted atop a pole. He said the osprey couple tried to build a nest for four years but had to keep starting over as bad luck struck. "It was tough."

Finally, the ospreys settled into domestic life. "Mom and Dad, every day, would bring in fish left and right for their three babies," Heide said.

Many Valley Concrete employees stopped by to check in on the nest relocation project and get a view of the nest. Concern turned to relief as they learned the nest would remain intact for the birds' return in the spring.

Everything Pacific Power does concerning the osprey nest, or the environment of any creature on the endangered species list, must be OK'd by the federal government. "Without permission you can't disturb a nest," said Mike Nordyke, line patrolman for Pacific Power.

Ten years of working with the nests has given Nordyke a respect for the osprey. "They fly to Southern California or Mexico and find their way back to their nest here," he said.

"It's amazing."

He said ospreys are also vital to scientists who are monitoring the levels of pollutants in the river. Since ospreys live off the fish they catch in the Willamette River, tests can determine if pollutants upstream are affecting their young.

But if you want to chat with a local expert on the birds go no farther than John Guerrero of Independence, a seventh-grader at LaCreole Middle School in Dallas. He also has watched the nest and the osprey family evolve. "On a good day you can sit on the bridge and see six or so of the ospreys," he said.

"They're the best fishermen around," he added. "Imagine what we could do if we could fish like that."

The thrill of the moment was not lost on Guerrero. He happened to stop by with his skateboard only because school was out due to an in-service day for teachers.

"It's a pretty rare thing to get the opportunity to be this close, to get a good look inside the nest," Guerrero said as he examined it. "Think of it -- they don't have thumbs or hands.

"Compared to what people used to do they've come a long way with environmental preservation," Guerrero said. "I'm so glad they're protected."

Ospreys are covered under the migratory bird treaty act, which means they're safe in their winter territory as well as summer.

"At first it was kind of a pain to relocate all these nests," said Nordyke. "But when you watch the birds and really examine the nests, you gain a real appreciation for them. They're so resourceful. Recently in a nest we found a plastic bag used for grass seed and big globs of wire used for electric fences..."

Relocating a nest usually takes three to four hours, but Nordyke expected the Riverview project to take four to five due to wiring challenges. He said the move will likely please the ospreys, who always like to build their nests at the highest point available.

The platform is a full 10 feet above the power lines, eliminating the risk of branches touching the lines.

"This is a pretty busy time of the year for us, just trying to make sure the platforms are where and how they need to be," said Doris Johnston of Pacific Power. "It's a small window. We can't make any adjustments in springtime because the ground is too wet."

Even though the birds mate for life they usually take separate winter vacations and will return to their nesting site in late March.

"Every year we have to increase our crew on the nest duty because there are more and more osprey along the river," she added. In 1976, only 13 pairs nested between Portland and Eugene. Last year, there were 234 pairs.

"We've had problems with service along the river serving Independence because of the nests," Johnston said. "We want to make sure it's safe all around -- you could end up with a fire or interruption of service if the nests aren't managed properly."



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