|Photo by Mark Rightmire, O.C. Register|
Nice story by Keith Sharon that ran in today's Orange County Register:
The dead fish fell from the sky, splat, onto the concourse where the fans line up to buy beer and hot dogs behind home plate.
Last season, the UC Irvine baseball team had an issue that most athletic programs don’t encounter.
Birds of prey, or more precisely, a tandem of osprey, took up residence – perhaps drawn by their love of Anteater baseball – in a light tower behind home plate. They occasionally dropped fish they had hunted and pooped on the fans. But mostly, the ospreys just watched. They had built a nest that put them in jeopardy of being fried by the stadium lights.
And now, thanks to a sharp ecology and evolutionary biology professor and some luck, the ospreys no longer have the highest seats in the ballpark.
“The hope is that these birds colonize,” said Peter Bowler, who has worked in the marshland at UCI since the 1970s. He is giddy these days because he’s seen some “mating behavior” from the baseball-loving birds.
Bowler offered some advice to the male and female ospreys: “Let’s go guys. Think eggs.”
To understand the osprey situation, you need to know a little local osprey history.
• • •
For years, the use of the pesticide DDT in the area weakened the shells of osprey eggs, so they cracked before the baby birds were ready to emerge, said Nancy Kenyon, editor of the Sea & Sage Audubon Society newsletter.
When the use of DDT stopped, the osprey didn’t come back quickly.
Bowler built three osprey nests in the early 1990s in the San Joaquin Marsh area off Campus and University Drives at UC Irvine.
“They’re lazy,” Bowler said. “They like prebuilt nests, and I was trying to encourage their presence.”
The problem was that the crows liked the nests, too. The crows ran the ospreys out of town.
“Crows and ospreys are like the Hatfields and the McCoys,” Bowler said.
He got upset when the crows kept driving the ospreys away. “Forget it,” he said to himself. The ospreys left the area, and he didn’t see them again for years.
• • •
Then, slowly over time, the crows went away when the trees they were living in died, and the ospreys came back. They loved the Newport Back Bay area, and the area near the Sea & Sage Audubon Society.
And then two of them showed up in the light tower at Crawford Field while the Anteaters were playing last season.
“We thought they were egrets or turkey buzzards,” said Senior Associate Athletic Director Paul Hope.
So they sent a drone up near the light tower to take pictures of the birds.
“They were our resident mascots,” Hope said.
Kenyon heard about the ospreys and circulated an article about the burning of an osprey nest in a bank of lights in Florida.
The UCI athletic department decided quickly to turn off the bank of lights near the bird nest. Hope said he believes the ospreys laid eggs.
“We heard chirping, but we have no idea what happened to them,” Hope said.
After last baseball season, the ospreys disappeared again.
This January, maintenance workers removed the vacant nest from the light tower. And Bowler got a phone call asking about relocating the nest.
Bowler and his class used some wire screen, wooden braces, branches from tamarisk and black willow trees. They built a circular nest about 3-feet in diameter. They put it atop a 30-foot-tall platform in the marsh. The man-made nest was placed about a quarter-mile from the baseball field.
And they waited.
In the first week of February, the ospreys returned. They took up camp in the student-made nest.
“I was ecstatic,” Bowler said. “The students were very happy. It’s a personal success for everybody.”
They grew even more elated when Bowler saw the mating behavior. He hasn’t seen eggs, but he has a lot of hope.
“I hope the eggs hatch, and the birds will be back next year.”