SAN CLEMENTE : Hawk Nest Removal Spurs Investigation

Gazing through a high-powered telescope, Donna Martin watched a baby red-tail hawk bravely try its wings for the first time last spring. From her patio, she saw the tiny bird spring from its nest, fluttering wildly through the air before inexperience and gravity sent it tumbling, unhurt, to the canyon floor.

And when a pair of red-tail hawks set up house in the same nest atop a power pole near her Vista Valinda Street home two months ago, Martin watched the nest every day, eagerly awaiting the hatching of the young.

But last Monday, when she trained her telescope on the power pole, the nest had vanished. And in its place was a brand new set of San Diego Gas & Electric Co. power lines.

While utility officials acknowledge that they took down the nest, they maintain that what work crews removed was a crumbling collection of sticks and leaves that was devoid of any signs of birds, including eggs.

But Martin and local wildlife preservation groups are finding that story hard to believe. And they have taken their suspicions to state Department of Fish and Game authorities, who say they will begin an investigation into the allegedly missing eggs today.

Peter Bloom, a director for the Orange County Audubon Society, said that based on Martin's description of the hawks, the birds were nesting.

"I'd say there is a 99% probability that the nest had not been abandoned," Bloom said. Even if the nest were empty, Fish and Game officials say, removing it from the pole without permission is unlawful.

The red-tail hawk is on the protected species list, and to "take, possess or destroy the nest or eggs of any such bird" is a misdemeanor, said Robert Turner, a Fish and Game patrol lieutenant.

But utility company spokesman Tom Larimore said that neither he nor the work crew was aware that they were breaking the law.

"Our crews tell me they took down an old, half-broken hawk's nest that hadn't been used in some time," he said. "My report is that there were no eggs and that the nest was falling apart."

Larimore said that the nest would be replaced on top of the pole this morning.

He maintains that the power company has been sensitive to preserving bird nests in the past, once spending $3,000 to build a new platform for a nest in Escondido.

But Martin remains convinced that the eggs were destroyed by the work crew.

"The parents are still out there on the power line," she said. "If you even start to get close to them, they fly around crying."

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