The Sopris Sun

CRMS students relocate problematic osprey nest

By Ruth Oppenheimer and Allie McKinley
Special to The Sopris Sun


Editor’s note:
This story comes to us directly from the students who worked to relocate a pair of nesting osprey, and is one of the final steps in the successful project.

In the last week of October 2016, Steve Hunter, a concerned local citizen, approached the biology program at the Colorado Rocky Mountain School (CRMS) with a problem.

A young couple of ospreys had nested on top of an 80 foot XCEL power pole next to the RFTA Bus Stop along Highway 133 in Carbondale. The birds presented safety issues such as getting shocked or causing a power outage. Additionally, the nest has twice blown off the power line, though thankfully no eggs or fledglings were in the nest yet.

Before the summer, the students’ goal was to work with XCEL energy, who had agreed to donate and instal the poles, and relocate the ospreys by installing a new nesting platform on CRMS property. The students separated into five groups and each chose a certain task to complete.

One group’s job was to research about osprey natural history. They learned many things about ospreys and helped to make sure that we put the new platform in a safe environment that would not be disturbed by predators and would additionally provide access to rivers to hunt fish. That group also created learning targets that the rest of the class would need to know and eventually be tested on toward the end of the project.

Early on, the biology class met with Mary Harris, a respected member of the Roaring Fork Audubon Society. Harris had several suggestions pertaining to the students’ work, and answered their questions. Later in the month, the class had a Skype meeting with a highly-respected osprey expert and a rockstar in the national and international birding community, Alan Poole from the Cornell Ornithology Lab. Questions for Alan focused on osprey care, health, and migratory patterns.

One of the other groups focused on writing grants to purchase a webcam so that we could live-stream the nesting activities of the birds to the broader community. Anja Simpson, a student on this team spoke about the challenges of a webcam that could stream such a task. Simpson expressed her concern with the costs early on, but we were thrilled and thankful to receive a grant from Alpine Bank, which ended up funding the camera that the Biology students chose. The classes also used an internal grant, called the Chris Babbs Award, to further fund elements of the webcam system.

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A third group in the class focused on a home for the ospreys. Their goal was to research platform designes and build a platform which would support a mature osprey nest, which can weigh as much as two hundred-pounds. Ospreys will normally nest on a tall surface like a pole or a dead tree. This group planned extensively in order to build the ideal nesting platform for the guest of honor.  In order to entice the birds to their new location, Alan Poole from Cornell recommended that the students collect sticks, pretend they were ospreys, and build the beginnings of a nest on their platform which they did on a late February day in the classroom.     

“Xcel is going to provide and instal the poles,” said Nat Crawford, a student on the platform building crew.  “We decided to install two poles: one to host the nesting platform; another, an infrared illuminator (for night vision) 15 feet away, to host the camera, a microphone, and wireless antenna which will stream the video. These birds are going to have a better wireless connection than most of our faculty!”  

Nat’s dad, Doug Crawford, helped with the construction of our platform building,

In early March, the class met with local ecologist Dee Malone to solicit her opinion on the potential sites we had chosen for the nest.  

“Our challenge was choosing a site that did not have too much human traffic but was also visible to people from the campus and community,” said Mayan Davis, another student on the platform building crew.  “We want to see and enjoy these birds!  We also needed to be close enough to a human structure to access power and internet. This was one of our most challenging decisions.”

We finally decided to put the poles on the west side of the Crystal River just upstream of where 106 road crosses the river on its way past the campus and up toward Spring Gulch.

A final couple of groups were involved in making a video documentary and an podcast to air on KDNK . Comprised of two hard-working freshmen, the video team has been documenting every step. “We are videoing the process and then we’re going to edit it into a five to ten minute documentary which will live on the project’s website,” said Sophia Lareau, one of those hardworking freshman.

Soren Blachley, a member of the podcast team, reflected on his process added, “It has involved a couple of all-nighters to learn how to use the audio editing program and convert all our audio into a story, but I am excited about the final product”.

On April 5, 2017, our biology class and a team from XCEL Energy erected the two poles.  The process started at 9 a.m. and finished at 3:15 p.m. and the outcome was one pole with our futuristic looking, eco-friendly, wireless webcam.

“These things are tall,” laughed our teacher Kayo Ogilby when several students suggested that Biology students ought to monitor and adjust the equipment once a year rather than XCEL.  

As of this printing we still need to run power to the pole and complete the website before streaming will be live.

“Well… and some birds need to actually decide they want to use this platform,” noted Ogilby as he talked with Steve Hunter, who was also on site all day.  Hunter, who echoed the same sentiment of other osprey experts, was optimistic that they would come.  “This is the nest of dreams.  Build it and they will come”.

Before a betting pool could be established the birds showed up.  At about the same time we were erecting our nest local resident and blacksmith Franz Froelicher, whose studio is right near the transformer station where the birds originally tried to build their nest, observed the nesting pair attempting to build again on the top of the transformer tower.  The birds were apparently trying to stuff their nesting sticks under the deterrent cone XCEL had installed.  

On Saturday and Sunday CRMS teacher Matt Norrdin observed those birds circling over the new nesting platform on CRMS.  

“It was amazing to watch – you could tell the birds were scoping out the platform,” he said.

On Monday morning, while our biology class was in session, Joe White of CRMS observed one of the birds carrying its first nesting stick to the platform.  He immediately alerted the class and  throughout the day we enjoyed watching them continue to build their nest.  

“I’m in awe,” said Ogilby. “I can’t believe they found it so fast. It is truly a joyous spectacle to watch and feels so good to see that all the time and effort that these students invested paid off with a safe and sturdy alternative for these birds. It was such a fun process.”

Franz Froelicher recognized the birds as the mating pair from the transformer tower.  “One of them has a distinctly white head – almost mistakable for a bald eagle,” he said. “They have found their new home”.  

To learn more about this project, visit our temporary site goo.gl/uYdua7. This site will also direct you where to go once our webcam is active.


Published in The Sopris Sun on April 13, 2017