After a CL&P crew demolished its nest, an Osprey set out immediately to rebuild.

                      Column and Photographs By Kevin Zak

   Is there a problem within the State of Connecticut with Osprey building nests on utility poles? I believe there is, and man vs. nature is again in conflict, and this problem needs direct and immediate attention from our public utility companies, Northeast Utilities (NU) and United Illuminating (UI) and our State Legislature. A state-wide Osprey policy is needed. Osprey are federally protected and the state is not allowed to give permission for nest deconstruction without gaining a federal permit.

    That did not happen in Beacon Falls last week. A proactive plan needs to be created to prevent needless destruction of Osprey nests and/or eggs while protecting the public from damage their nests can cause.

    Verbal permission was granted by Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) a month before a Beacon Falls nest was destroyed. If a new nest was erected prior to their arrival this could have been avoided. This created public outcry and intense media scrutiny which resulted in CL&P erecting an Osprey pole. 

   Is it possible this can happen again even with a federal permit? Is this bird federally protected, but not protected from the Federal Government? If yes, then why? This question needs to be answered. Just because a Federal permit for removal is granted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife agency, and on the “to do list”, but was not gotten to on a timely basis before the Osprey return in the Spring, is not an excuse to destroy eggs or a nest that is considered active. These nests just do not show up overnight and create a problem. Often these nests are there for decades. What makes them such an immediate threat to public safety and cannot be dealt with while they are not active on the nest?

   A top official at DEEP’s Wildlife Division told me last week that the utility companies are well aware they are not to disturb an active nest.

CL&P pole #G8704
    “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe”, John Muir once wrote.

   The Naugatuck River has once again caught fire. This time the spark came in the form of two majestic creatures called Osprey. The utility company was under strict orders to leave the Beacon Falls nest alone if there were eggs in it. It appears they did not follow orders. A day after the nest was dismantled I went to check out the scene with Sondra Harman and we found egg fragments at the base of the utility pole that had once supported the Osprey nest.

   CL&P has publically denied eggs were in the nest and we have handed over the egg samples we found to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife for further examination/investigation. After the nest was trashed the birds were distressed.

While CL&P officials denied the existence of eggs in the Osprey nest, Kevin Zak discovered shattered eggs at the base of the utility pole the following morning.

    Their names, Jack and Elizabeth, came back from their winter home, possibly somewhere in the Caribbean. Last year they began building their nest on top of a CL&P utility pole overlooking the Naugatuck River in Beacon Falls. With views looking north that can rival any in the country. It looks directly into the Naugatuck State Forest. Any real estate junky would kill for their view. Look south towards Seymour and beyond makes their home a dream location for anyone with a pulse.

   Captain Jack Sparrow struggled trying to regain control of the Black Pearl and so has this local namesake Jack. Though this Black Pearl was in the shape of a utility pole simply called #G8704, and the mutinous crew came from CL&P. Instead of doing right by Jack and Elizabeth they focused their efforts on trying not to have power interrupted to their customers. Determined, Jack was, to keep his home for his mate after traveling over 6,000 miles round trip along the east coast of North America. This created an intense battle of wills between man and nature. CL&P wanted Jack and Elizabeth off their pole. Jack said otherwise. When this river began to be dammed 300 years ago for man’s use, nature lost.

   We are good at creating a thousand barriers between us and the natural world. We cut off this apex predator’s food source, fish, causing Osprey to disappear long before my father was born. We also wiped out every living plant and creature in and along this once beautiful free-flowing river. So why should now be any different?

   Sometime in the pre-dawn hours of April 21st utility crews set out simply to protect their turf and dismantle a growing nest on pole #G8704. It is true the nest had tremendous potential to become a problem. What was mistaken for a large blue tarp in the nest caused concern with the power company. It turned out to be a long thin green piece of plastic. Its origins remain a mystery to all but it’s proud but equally determined owner. Osprey apparently like the colors green and blue and Jack had found a source of the green plastic as there was more than one piece of the same plastic in the original nest.

   After CL&P completely removed the nest and plastic, Jack quickly began the laborious process of rebuilding. This was in spite of CL&P’s effort to dissuade them by placing a crown of needle like spike strips at the top of pole #G8704. The next day, in an act of defiance, Jack brought a new piece of the same green plastic and placed it on top of the spike strips. It was as if to tell CL&P and Elizabeth, who patiently perched nearby, he was going to take back their Black Pearl.

   As the fire storm these two caused began to burn out of control countless people took to their cause and began to request CL&P to draw a compromise to help them.

   CL&P soon came to realize the mistake that had been made and put into action a plan to save this pair before they caused harm to themselves from the spike strip, or split up. Osprey can mate for life and return year after year to the same nest. It was likely they would split if Jack could not rebuild in time for Elizabeth’s need. Each year it is the male that will add material to the nest. Some nests have been known to weigh up to 1,000 pounds.

   In response to media reports and public outcry, a decision was made within CL&P to erect a 60 foot pole next to and higher than pole #G8704. It would be fitted with a 3’ x 3’ platform made of wood and chicken wire. The date to erect the pole was set for Monday, May 3th. On Thursday the 26th I received a call from Carlos Caridad, CL&P Manager of Environmental Operations, who said: “We are concerned about the Osprey not returning. We do not want to wait until Monday and we will erect the pole and platform first thing tomorrow, April 27th.”

   I arrived at 6:30am just before Environmental Officer Keith Williams and found the hole for the pole had already been dug. By 11 am Jack and Elizabeth had a new, improved and “safe” nest erected by caring utility linesmen. After the 60 foot pole was erected, two men, in separate bucket trucks, secured the platform on top of the pole. Sondra Harman handed over a large plastic bag with nest material she and I saved from the original nest. At a height of 60 feet in synchronized fashion one linesmen separated from the new pole and swung the articulating arm towards the live utility pole. The other removed the branches and “river plastic” from Sondra’s bag and carefully placed each piece securely onto the new platform. While wearing protective rubber gear, as if playing the old game of operation, one man artfully removed the material from the spike strip on pole #G8704 and placed each piece carefully into the bucket. He then returned his articulating bucket arm, as in a dance, to the new nest to meet the other linesmen where together they began placing and rearranging each stick and green plastic in hopes of convincing Jack and Elizabeth that the new nest was the better place to live.

CL&P linesmen did an excellent job erecting the Osprey platform and transporting nesting materials from the ulity pole to the safer platform.

   It is habit that the male Osprey will bring the material to the nest and arrange it carefully. However, it is also habit that the female will often rearrange the branches in the way she sees fit. Elizabeth gets what Elizabeth wants.

   CL&P has had success with Osprey nests dating back to the early 1960’s that arguably resulted in the assisting of re-populating many of the Osprey you see along the coast of Connecticut. The burning question was will Jack and Elizabeth return? Will they use the new platform?

   What is certain is that a fire Jack and Elizabeth could have caused on top of pole #G8704 has not only been avoided, but it symbolizes a fire that is burning in and along this “once” chemically laden landfill called the Naugatuck River.

   If you are one of the countless inhabitants in the Naugatuck Valley that still think the Naugatuck River stinks and has no value, look a little closer. This beautiful river will surprise you. There have been few, if any, that have not been surprised at what they see in the Naugatuck River Revival Group’s documentary “The Hidden World”. It is not called “The Hidden World” for nothing. Many of the dams that created the Naugatuck River’s original demise have been quietly removed. They lit the fuse that caused the spark that lit the fire that brought back not only Jack and Elizabeth but no less that 5 nesting pair of Osprey. That is 10 Osprey living between Naugatuck and Ansonia. Three of these nests have eggs as of this writing. These young may someday return to the Naugatuck Valley to nest themselves.

   It was the cleaning of the water, the removal of the dams, the return of the insects and plant life that were completely wiped out not so long ago. The Devil’s River, as described in the book “The Trout Pool Paradox”, now supports fish. Those fish have caused the return of the Osprey and Bald Eagles to the Naugatuck River.

   If you missed when the Naugatuck River allegedly caught fire the first time and you don’t believe that this river has once again “caught fire”, come see “The Hidden World”. See what happens when man reverses his mistakes. This wonderful river, once used to fuel the economy as an easy way to get rid of our waste, can once again fuel our economic recovery. It is already here. We don’t have to build it. It is patient and forgiving.

   On Saturday morning Jack buzzed the platform in a flyby with two new branches placed on pole #G8704. Early Sunday I saw both perched on the new platform. Monday I witnessed Elizabeth rearranging the branches the 2 CL&P linemen had placed so carefully onto the 3’x3’ platform. Sorry guys, you know how women are.

   The issue is not whether I found Osprey egg fragments at the base of the destroyed nest. This is true and U.S. Fish and Wildlife is investigating. The issue is how do we get UI and NU in the same room with our political leaders, and a few Osprey experts, and keep this terrible thing from happening again.

   John Muir, you were so right, you cannot tug on one thing without affecting everything in the universe.

   So, why should you care about Jack, Elizabeth and a free-flowing river? Even if you are more concerned about your job, your property values, human life, being unemployed and/or basic human comforts, the “return of the Osprey” is a sign of the “return of a quality of your life” in the Naugatuck Valley. You should care, if not for yourself today, for your children and for your children’s children tomorrow. They may want to see the results of what you do today. Our actions today make a difference tomorrow.

   To see pictures of Jack, Elizabeth, their home and the CL&P crew please visit us on facebook at: Naugatuck River Revival Group. The sequel to “The Hidden World” has begun.