An unusual new sight greets Michigan drivers who are stopped at the intersection of Kings Highway and the I-94 Business Loop in Kalamazoo. A few hundred feet from the highways, inside a fenced-off landfill, stands a large wooden pole held up by four wooden legs, each of which ends in a cairn of stabilizing rocks. Sitting on top of the pole is a platform, and on that platform sits a nest. And in that nest are two of the region's most popular ospreys and their brand-new eggs.
The birds used to live across the river, where they nested on top of a utility pole on an unused property owned by paper manufacturer Georgia-Pacific (GP). But a new nature trail is being built along the Kalamazoo River right along that property. Local wildlife filmmaker Matt Clysdale, who had been photographing the birds for an upcoming documentary, realized that this could lead to trouble for the raptors.
"This trail was going to go directly underneath their nest," says Clysdale. He consulted with an osprey expert who told him that the human traffic would probably put a great deal of stress on the birds and maybe even cause them to abandon their nest.
So Clysdale hatched a plan. With the help of artist Brent Spink, the Kalamazoo Nature Center, GP and a local contractor, the new pole was erected across the river on a landfill owned by GP. The landfill, part of a Superfund project to clean up of the Kalamazoo River, was established a few years ago. "It's capped and completely fenced in," Clysdale says. "No one ever really goes there. It's far enough from the new trail that the birds wouldn't be disturbed."
The new pole and its nesting platform were put up this winter while the birds were spending the season in South America. The old pole was then cut down to prevent the ospreys from returning to the old site and a piece of their old nest was put on the new pole to make it more attractive.
"Lo and behold, the birds took to it," Clysdale says. They arrived later in the season than some of the region's other ospreys, but not only did they find and nest at the new site at the end of March, they are already sitting on three new eggs.
The eggs are significant, and not just because the ospreys took to the new site, says Clysdale. "The birds have been a symbol of hope for the returning health of the Kalamazoo River." The river is listed as an "area of concern" by the Environmental Protection Agency due to extensive polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) pollution from local paper mills.
Luckily, years of cleanup efforts have done a lot to restore the river. "It's starting to come back," Clysdale says. "The birds are fish-eating raptors, so the fact that they're having healthy young has been really hopeful for the community. We don't know if that's an accurate barometer, but that's how people are seeing it."
Clysdale monitors the nest with a camera mounted on a perch arm above the platform. The birds can sit on the arm and look down on their nest — the same vantage point that Clysdale has for his camera, which sends photos to his iPhone every half-hour.
The filmmaker is thrilled that the birds have taken to the new nesting site. "As Brent Spink told me, it's not that often in life that things just work out. Everything came together for this and it worked out beautifully."
You can follow the progress of the Kalamazoo Osprey Family on Facebook.