Lifestyle

Osprey squatters mark seven years at Central Kitsap High School

An osprey braves the rain Tuesday, lifting off from its nest atop a 105-foot field light pole at Central Kitsap High School. The lights have been placed out of commission since the birds began nesting on the pole in 2003. - Larry Bennett/for the Central Kitsap Reporter
An osprey braves the rain Tuesday, lifting off from its nest atop a 105-foot field light pole at Central Kitsap High School. The lights have been placed out of commission since the birds began nesting on the pole in 2003.
— image credit: Larry Bennett/for the Central Kitsap Reporter

Bruce Vidinhar stepped over a cluster of branches Tuesday, the mess left by Central Kitsap High School’s most notable squatters, and peered toward the sky.

There was no squawking or movement from above as the district’s grounds department supervisor peered through a pair of binoculars on a drizzly late August morning behind the school.

Only a 6-foot-wide pile of sticks, perched high and proud atop a light post more than 100 feet above the football field and track.

“We could be here all day,” Vidinhar said, scanning the clouds.

The nest, with an annual carousel of high-flying, fish-eating occupants, has been there much longer.

It’s been nearly 10 years since an osprey made a home of one of the light posts at the field where Central Kitsap’s football, soccer and track and field teams practice after school. The district pulled the plug on the 12 bulbs atop the post seven years ago, fearing the light or heat may hurt their taloned neighbors. The nest of raptors has endeared itself to staff and students.

In 2003, shortly after the nest went up, then-Maintenance Supervisor Richard Lopez told the Central Kitsap Reporter, “Right now we’ll leave them alone and let nature take its course.”

Apparently, it has. But a wildlife supervisor with the state said relocating nests is legal, effective and relatively inexpensive, but the district has no plans to relocate the nest.

The wood structure has been home to numerous osprey over the years, becoming a mainstay of the school, like a pep assembly or a graduation. Tales of the nest and its occupants are many, from one former undersized football player assuming the nickname “bird food” to other players getting “bombed on” during practice, according to 11th-year coach Mark Keel.

But the lights on which the nest rests have gone unused since the osprey moved in, eliminating 25 percent of the lighting source on a field used for team practices during the school year and community events, like the fundraiser “Relay for Life,” during the summer.

District officials say the nest has gone untouched because it would be expensive to relocate and, since the field isn’t used for regular-season home games, it wouldn’t be worth the money.

The lights were installed in 1981.

“Our stance is that the field is not as heavily used as it once was,” said Richard Best, director of facilities for the district. “Yes, we could use the lights, but there’s not an insignificant expenditure that would allow that to happen.”

David Beil, spokesman for the district, couldn’t immediately supply figures for how much the district paid for the lights.

To remove an osprey nest, people are required by law to obtain a free permit from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. Permits are issued when nests interfere with the function or safety of an artificial structure, said Greg Schirato, a regional wildlife manager with the department.

Osprey are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which prohibits the transportation of nests or eggs without a permit. Failure to do so carries a penalty of a misdemeanor, Schirato said.

Best estimated it would cost “thousands of dollars” to relocate the nest.

“It’s not an inexpensive project by any means,” he said, adding the district would need to erect a pole adjacent to the pre-exisiting structure.

But Schirato, who builds artificial nests for osprey, said all it takes to move a nest is to build a platform above the structure, a common solution for bird nests interfering with power lines and cell phone towers.

“Building a platform is what power companies typically do,” Schirato said. “This would keep the birds from nesting on another pole.”

There are four light poles surrounding the field at Central Kitsap, each equipped with 12 bulbs, and the other three are fully functional and turned on when needed, meaning the grass and surrounding track aren’t useless.

All regular-season home games for the football and soccer teams — the squads that use the fields most — are played at Silverdale Stadium. That’s been the case since the stadium was built in 1987.

With the district two years ago spending $100,000 to “re-lamp” four light posts at Silverdale Stadium, officials say the fourth light post at Central Kitsap isn’t needed. Each bulb on the field lights costing about $1.50 an hour to operate, Best said.

As far as the district is concerned, three lights posts are enough to keep the field properly lit given the amount its used.

“At this point, the school district has no intention of removing the nest,” said Vidinhar, who became a grounds supervisor in 1995. “The situation isn’t causing any issues for us.”

And many people, even Keel, who works his football practices around the nest because portions of the field are too dark to use when the sun goes down, enjoy being around the osprey. It’s unclear how many birds are currently in the nest, but three were seen about a month ago.

The football players look forward to seeing what the birds bring home from hunting trips, and Keel has learned that young osprey squawk more than adults.

And the only danger the birds pose is to the players’ uniforms.

“They’ll get bombs dropped on them every now and then,” Keel joked. “We’ve learned to have fun with it.”

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