Ospreys settled in sports lighting draw concern

When Leslie Garcia took her Pomeranian for a walk at Bonita Creek Park last week, the Newport Beach resident noticed two new companions along her daily route.

Two large, gray ospreys nested on top of a sports field light, a seemingly perfect perch — at least until someone flips the switch.

While Garcia doesn't consider herself an animal activist, she couldn't help but worry about the possible harm such high wattage might cause the birds.

"It's really unfortunate they chose that spot," she said. "I wish they had picked a tree."

The city, alerted to the issue Friday, still awaited direction Wednesday from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife regarding how to proceed, said Laura Detweiler, the city's recreation and senior service's director.

While Garcia pleaded with Newport Beach staff to keep the lights off, the bulbs have turned on every week night for the past few weeks, Detweiler said.

"To change things now could be an issue," Detweiler said, noting that ospreys choose their nesting sites for a range of reasons, not all of which people understand. "We want to get some information in before we do anything, because the last thing you want to do is disrupt them."

The bulbs begin to warm at dusk and can shine over the sports field as late as 10 p.m., she said.

Ospreys can spend two to five days building a nest and often select tall, flat structures in open areas to do so, said Richard Burg, a senior environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Last year, an osprey nest was built on lights at Robb Field, a large recreation park in San Diego.

While nests built on lights have been known to catch on fire, such an occurrence is "extremely rare," Burg said.

He noted that the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects nests from being disassembled and posited that the bulbs' heat might even help to incubate the eggs, though he didn't know of any studies proving that hypothesis.

"They choose these sites for a reason," he said.

So far, the regular activity at the park, such as softball games and the presence of residents like Garcia, do not seem to bother the birds, Detweiler said.

Councilwoman Leslie Daigle said that as far as she is concerned, "The birds can stay."

As the city continues to monitor the avians, Detweiler asks that birdwatchers maintain a respectful distance.

"They have their own little personalities, which you get to know," DeeDee Gollwitzer of Laguna Hills said about the ospreys, which are birds of prey with long narrow wings and a white underside and crown. "It's kind of cool."

Gollwitzer began photographing ospreys at the Back Bay Science Center nest in 2007. During her drive there last week, she thought she spotted a male from the nest flying near a car dealership by Jamboree Road — a surprising distance from the center.

She parked, saw it grab some nesting materials and then followed the bird, but not back to the Back Bay Science Center. It went on to Bonita Creek Park, where another osprey seemed to be asking for more materials to be fetched, Gollwitzer said.

"She'd yell at him, just nag him," and then the birds would mate, Gollwitzer recalled.

She said she saw double bands marking what she assumed was the male bird and thought they might have been put on at birth at the science center, making him a Newport native, so to speak.

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World