Death of an Osprey

April 09, 2016  •  78 Comments

I visit Point Reyes National Seashore nearly every day. Many of my trips into the park are with visitors who want to see the amazing diversity of wildlife this place has to offer. On days I am not with visitors, I visit on my own. I visit so often because I have a connection with this National Seashore that is hard to explain. I've seen hundreds of bobcats. Do I NEED to see one more? Yes. Every time I see one, it brings me the same feeling as when I saw my very first. It reminds me how lucky I am to live here. It reinforces that the happiest things in my life come from what I see, not what I buy.

The park is always changing. Elephant seals share our beaches. Whales migrate through our backyard. Elegant terns feed their babies here. But there is one animal whose return to Point Reyes each year I look forward to more than any other, the Osprey. Their return marks a new season. They create a spark for me. Their hunting style, their call, their dedication, their persistence all make them one of my favorite birds to photograph. 

There is a pretty famous osprey nest in Point Reyes. It is on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard just as you enter the park. It sits on top of a massive dead tree. The nest is huge from its many years of use, each season getting a remodel from the returning birds. I look at it on every trip into and out of the park. It starts and ends each trip for me. I have spent dozens of hours sitting on the hillside across the street from it, watching and photographing the action each year it is used. It isn't used every year, but late February of this year, the pair of osprey chose the nest and settled in. 

For weeks they brought in sticks to shore up the nest. They brought in lichen to fill in the gaps. The pair copulated on the nest frequently. The male would fly in fish to feed his mate regularly. They were well on their way to a successful nesting season.

But in the blink of an eye, everything changed. On my way out of the park one evening, there was a huge vacancy in the sky as I dropped down Ottingers Hill. At first, I couldn't figure it out. My mind was seemingly playing tricks on me. How did I miss the nest? I pulled a U-turn and went back up the hill. On the way back down, reality set in. The nest was gone.

I parked on the side of the road and looked up. The pair of Osprey were sitting in a nearby tree chirping (crying?). Where was the nest? There was only one explanation, the wind blew it down. Right? I walked into the woods and couldn't believe my eyes. The tree laid in chainsawed pieces on the ground, the osprey nest scattered down the hillside.

I was furious. Two osprey sat in a tree above me vocalizing over the scene that laid below them. What could have possibly be going through THEIR minds?

I spent the better part of a week searching for answers. I called US Fish and Wildlife Services, US Division of Wildlife, PG&E, and the many friends I thought would be interested in what happened. After all the redirects, form emails, links to PG&Es commitment to wildlife, I finally got my answer.

PG&E dropped the tree, with the osprey nest and their eggs still in it.

PG&E told me they did not have a specific permit for the removal of this tree, but did so under their general use permit. They sited the emergency situations this general permit covered. Their example, "If a nest is on fire on the top of a utility pole." They also told me they had a biological monitor on site, who suspected there WERE eggs in the nest. Yet they cut it down anyway.

This tree withstood 2 MAJOR storms this spring. Dozens of trees came down in these storms. This one did not. Why, PG&E? Why? The osprey were in South America for 6 months prior to their return. Why did you wait for the osprey pair to return, build their nest, and lay their eggs before destroying their home? Even if this was legal (though I content it is a major violation of the migratory bird act), how can you consciously, morally and ethically make this decision? I am beyond nauseated at this decision.

The case is now under investigation through the US F&WS. While politics as usual may likely be the outcome as it is in so many cases of gross violations like this, I hold out hope that the person in charge of the investigation will make a strong statement on the behalf of wildlife.

 

UPDATE: Those that are interested can contact USF&WS at the address, phone or email below. Those that would like to contact PG&E can do so at the contact information on their website. For everyone who is upset as I am at this event, perhaps our comments can be firm but constructive. Perhaps we can ask PG&E to fund a new osprey site with a camera so the community can watch a new nest be built, or some similar positive act in our calls/emails to them.

US Fish and Wildlife Service
Migratory Bird Permit Office
2800 Cottage Way, Room W-2606
Sacramento, CA 95825

916-414-6464
lawenforcement@fws.gov

PG&E
http://www.pge.com/en/about/environment/pge/stewardship/birds/index.page

CA Dept of Fish and Wildlife hotline:

888-334-2258

UPDATE 4/12/16: 

Thank you to all who have showed their support and have commented. Sorry I can't reply directly to them all, but I have read each and every one of them and those with suggestions I have taken seriously. Thank you.

I had a call with PG&E today. They are in favor of erecting a new nest platform. The park (Point Reyes National Seashore), the Golden Gate Bird Observatory and others will be involved in the process. We will discuss a suitable location and logistics of doing so. I am suggesting that they include a camera on the platform so the community can watch the progress of any birds that will use it.

I spoke with USFWS as well. They will continue their investigation as to whether or not the law was broken. In my mind, it is clear. An egg was destroyed when a tree was taken down during active nesting in a non-emergency situation. I am not sure how it can be seen any differently. We'll see how the investigation goes and I will keep everyone posted.

Thank you again for your support. 

Daniel

 

 


Comments

Daniel Dietrich
Funny you should ask. I just met with PG&E at the site and do have an update that I am working on right now. Should have an update posted in within a week. Thanks for asking!

Daniel
Follow Up?(non-registered)
A year later, do we have any follow up news?
Catherine(non-registered)
update -- I wrote a firm letter to the FWS email address provided (R8lawenforcement@fws.gov) and the PG&E email provided by a commenter below, and BOTH were rejected as "undeliverable -- wrong address". If anyone can provide me good email addresses, I'd like to chime in as another voice to help make this right. Thank you.
Catherine(non-registered)
Daniel, I was alerted to your story here by a friend on explore.org's Osprey cam site in Maine. She posted a link to your story, and I read it and was heartbroken to hear what happened. But I was also so inspired and impressed that you have spent the time and energy to investigate and follow up with determined actions. I will email PG&E politely but firmly to express my dismay and encourage them with pressure to do the right thing and to let it be known that if they should act this way in the future, they will be hearing from the public. Thank you.
Nancy Abouhanna(non-registered)
Thank you Daniel for keeping us updated! I'm happy that things are progressing in a positive way. Hopefully USFWS will not drag their feet on the investigation much longer. I look forward to your photographs and updates on this tragic situation with a positive solution for the Ospreys.
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