Osprey's home stirs woes in Conowingo

Nest at railroad signal site danger to birds, people

April 20, 2003|By Jennifer Blenner | Jennifer Blenner,SUN STAFF

An osprey nest on a railroad signal pole in Conowingo is worrying environmentalists.

Bob Chance, trail manager for the Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway, said the proximity of the large nest to the tracks has prompted concern for the safety of the osprey, as well as the trains along the site.

Chance said he was contacted two weeks ago about the nest's existence by Norfolk Southern Railroad officials in Conowingo who were concerned that it might be obstructing the view of the signal from the tracks that run over the Susquehanna River.

"They were just trying to follow protocol," he said.

The location of nests of osprey is not a new problem in Harford County. Each spring, when the diving birds try to re-establish their original habitat in the Chesapeake Bay region, they discover continuing land development in Harford has reduced their potential nesting sites.

Typically, ospreys build their nests in dead trees or on man-made structures such as telephone poles, silos or channel markers. They like to nest near water because they are fish eaters, and a pole is a convenient place to dive for fish, says Chance.

"It's so hard to have mutual cooperation between humans and animals," he said. "You will see more of this kind of confrontation."

Dave Brinker, ecologist for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said when osprey choose a signal pole it places railroad officials in a dilemma: "Which is more important, the safety of the birds or the safety of people?" he said.

He said if the typically large nest is an obstruction to the railroad, the company coordinates with the Department of Natural Resources to find a solution. If no eggs are in the nest, it can be removed. But, if the nest contains eggs, it must remain intact, Brinker says. Another option is building a pole nearby and moving the nest there, he said.

Chance and Brinker said they have not been able to determine whether there any eggs in the nest.

Rudy Husband, a spokesman for the Norfolk Southern Railroad, said he was not aware of any problems in Harford County since last summer when an osprey nest was obstructing the view of a signal. In that case, he said, a plastic owl was mounted nearby and the frightened birds soon abandoned the nest.

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