Bold osprey chick gives Minnesota Power crew a surprise
When Bill Fraundorf talks about the one that got away, he's not talking about a fish. He's referring to an osprey chick that took its first flight Monday as Minnesota Power's osprey relocation team prepared to move it. "It's the first time we've ...
When Bill Fraundorf talks about the one that got away, he's not talking about a fish.
He's referring to an osprey chick that took its first flight Monday as Minnesota Power's osprey relocation team prepared to move it.
"It's the first time we've ever seen one fly away," said Fraundorf, an environmental compliance specialist with Minnesota Power since 2003.
"I'd climbed about halfway up the structure and I kind of looked up and saw the chick coming out a little," lineman Cole Schwarz recalled. "Then its wings came out a little bit and it just took off."
The chick didn't get too far from its nest atop one of the utility's transmission structures in central Minnesota. After the bird landed safely, the team was able to recover it and send it with 11 other chicks to their new habitat on waterways in northwest and west-central Iowa.
Normally, the osprey chicks are relocated shortly before they're able to fly.
"We joked that this is the first time Iowa is getting a flight-tested osprey chick," Fraundorf said. "They can't ask for a refund on that one because we know it flies."
For more than a decade, Minnesota Power has been helping Iowa Department of Natural Resources officials import wild ospreys, fish-eating raptors that thrive in northern and central Minnesota but were driven out of Iowa decades ago by the use of chemical pesticides.
When all goes according to plan, the Minnesota-born osprey chicks "imprint" on their new surroundings and return each spring to nest in Iowa.
A team including an avian biologist and bird conservationist with the Minnesota Audubon Society worked a remote area of lakes and forests north of Brainerd to obtain the chicks. Fraundorf had scouted osprey nests by land and by helicopter in the preceding week.
The annual mission is done with permits obtained by Minnesota Power at the state and federal levels. Rules state that one healthy chick must be left in each nest, according to Fraundorf.
After a full day's work Monday, Schwarz and fellow Minnesota Power lineman Casey Pederson had retrieved the 12 birds from different transmission structures by climbing to the nests approximately 80 feet in the air, Fraundorf said. They placed the birds, which are naturally pretty calm, into a large carrying bag that is pulled up and down with a double rope.
Once on the ground, a physical examination is done on the birds (they examine all the birds in each nest), and any going back into the nest are pulled back up in the carry bag and placed in the nest before the lineman climbs down.
"We like to bring them both down to examine them," Fraundorf said. "Then we know we're leaving a healthy bird in the nest."
Ospreys are commonly found nesting on transmission towers. In the area Fraundorf scouted, for example, he found 50 nests and counted 67 chicks.
"They seem to prefer the tops of transmission structures," he said. "They're in the open with easy access. It's kind of a perfect spot for an osprey as long as it's within a few miles of a good fishing lake."
They rarely interfere with power transmission, but when there is a problem, Minnesota Power employees have been known to put up decoy poles with platforms next to the power line, but a little bit higher.
"(Osprey) tend to pick the highest point," Fraundorf said.
Iowa isn't the only state to participate in an osprey reintroduction program. Fraundorf said South Dakota receives birds from Idaho. He was unsure about the rest of the country.
"It's an exciting program," he said. "It's a very positive program for environmental ethics and education."
Minnesota Power and Fraundorf were presented with a plaque from the state of Iowa this week "in recognition of outstanding contributions to the Osprey Reintroduction Program."
"All the bird lovers in the Midwest can say there really are some positive environmental programs happening," said Pat Schlarbaum, program lead for the Iowa DNR Osprey Program. "You're sharing what I call the highly desirable, watchable wildlife species. What (Minnesota Power) contributes to Iowa allows us to sustain a population that nobody had any dream we could sustain in Iowa."