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BPA crew rescues osprey in peril
8/20/2014 12:00 AM
BPA linemen Aaron Nowack and Kyle Vopat work to free the injured osprey as the concerned mother osprey circles.
When Don and Sandra Downey, who live adjacent to BPA’s 230-kilovolt McNary-Franklin line in Pasco, Wash., answered a knock at their door last week, they were surprised and alarmed to learn that a neighboring feathered friend was in need. An osprey living in a nest on a steel lattice tower had become entangled in baling twine and was trying to free itself to no avail.
The mid-morning visit by their neighbor and his children brought the struggling bird to their attention and prompted the Downeys to spring into action on Wednesday, Aug. 6. Amid early attempts to contact someone who could help, the neighbors turned to Don. He had been a lineman with Benton Public Utility District and they hoped he might have more success finding assistance.
Right away, Don’s wife, Sandy, called BPA and got connected with Shawn Barndt, a physical scientist with BPA’s Environment, Fish and Wildlife division assigned to Pasco.
“It wasn’t very long until you (BPA) had people out here getting the bird down,” Don said.
BPA’s response was almost instantaneous. The call came into Barndt about 11:15 a.m. He quickly made contact with the Pasco TLM crew. By 1 p.m., journeyman lineman Kyle Vopat and apprentice Aaron Nowack, accompanied by Foreman III Greg Wilfong and equipment operator Jeff Yardley, reached the scene and freed the tangled osprey.
The rescue was no piece of cake. Yardley had to hoist Vopat and Nowack about 60 feet off the ground using a bucket truck to reach the portion of the tower supporting the nest.
“Our biggest safety concern was from the mother bird trying to protect the osprey we were rescuing,” Vopat said. “The bird dive-bombed us about 10 times before we were able to untangle the injured bird.”
Once the linemen and bird were safely on the ground, Vopat and Nowack handed it off to Wilfong. He transported the osprey to Barndt. The Environment, Fish and Wildlife staffer delivered the bird to
Blue Mountain Wildlife
, a volunteer nonprofit in Pendleton, Ore., that is equipped to offer treatment and care to orphaned, sick or injured birds of prey with a focus on helping them return to their natural environment.
“It’s not every day you have an osprey in the cab of your truck,” Wilfong said.
Despite being delivered to the care center, the bird was not out of the woods yet. According Lynn Tompkins, Blue Mountain Wildlife executive director, the bird had what appeared to be pretty serious damage to the foot from which it hung suspended from the tower and its nest.
“One foot was very swollen,” Tompkins said. “The bird couldn’t use it. I was afraid we’d have to euthanize.”
Tompkins and Blue Mountain interns cleaned the bird’s wounds, applying a solution consisting mostly of an antibiotic and steroids. Then it was time to wait until the swelling went down enough to X-ray the foot for a more precise diagnosis and sense of possible recovery.
Nor was the injury the only concern, Tompkins said. Persuading a young osprey to eat in captivity can be a challenge. Early attempts to feed the bird did not look promising. Fortunately, two other young osprey had been delivered to Blue Mountain three weeks earlier, and they were able to coax the new arrival into eating.
On Friday, Tompkins prepared to X-ray the osprey’s foot. As she reviewed the results, she was surprised.
“It was amazing,” she said. “The foot was perfect. The bird could use the foot and his toes. He still had a little swelling in his heel. But he was going to recover.”
In fact, the recovery went so well that Blue Mountain was able to release him with the two other ospreys Aug. 13. That day, Tompkins and her husband, Bob, Blue Mountain’s assistant director, transported the birds back to the site of the original rescue by the BPA crew for release. While the other two birds had been rescued from a different location, it is not uncommon for osprey to foster young birds separated from their parents. There’s a good chance the BPA-rescued bird gained a couple of foster siblings because of his mishap.
Gabriel Berglin, Luke Berglin and Blue Mountain Wildlife intern Emily Fitch look on as the osprey are released.
While BPA reports that it is rare to perform wildlife rescues on its equipment, Tompkins said that bird encounters with manmade objects are becoming all too common. Baling twine is just one of many threats that can be lethal to birds and other wildlife, she said, and we should carefully discard such materials to avoid similar hazards.
Barndt had nothing but praise for his lineman colleagues.
“I really appreciate TLM’s willingness to take on all aspects of line work from keeping the lights on to helping save osprey,” Barndt said. “Their quick response to this situation was awesome and critical to the osprey’s survival.”
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