With Blue Jays project starting soon, Dunedin moves to save osprey habitat

City officials remove 22 recreation complex poles to make way for new training facilities for the Toronto Blue Jays, but also to help nesting ospreys.
Dunedin officials have decided to remove the 22 poles at the Vanech Sports Complex to make way for the new Toronto Blue Jays training facilities. One of the poles was  topped by an osprey nest like this one, causing officials to make efforts to relocate it. [Times (2012)]
Dunedin officials have decided to remove the 22 poles at the Vanech Sports Complex to make way for the new Toronto Blue Jays training facilities. One of the poles was topped by an osprey nest like this one, causing officials to make efforts to relocate it. [Times (2012)]
Published January 3

DUNEDIN — Some ospreys will be pretty surprised when they return to their nest atop a light pole at the Vanech Sports Complex this migration season and find it gone.

City officials have decided to remove the complex’s 22 poles to make way for the new Toronto Blue Jays training facilities, including one pole that was topped by an osprey nest.

While the city made preparations to relocate the nest, state and federal wildlife protection agencies recognize that ospreys like to return to their nest site, year after year.

Assistant City Manager Doug Hutchens said all 22 poles used for lighting softball fields, in-line skating, racquetball and tennis courts had to be removed so the ospreys would not relocate to a pole near the original nest.

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According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “Ospreys construct their nests at the tops of dead trees, atop power poles, and on manmade nesting platforms ….The nests are most often used year after year and can become up to 10 feet high as more nesting materials are added each breeding season.”

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also notes: “Ospreys build large stick nests located in the tops of large living or dead trees and on manmade structures such as utility poles, channel markers and nest platforms. Nests are commonly reused for many years. Nesting begins from December (south Florida) to late February (north Florida).”

The osprey is protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Permits are required throughout the state to remove a nest, and a replacement structure must be erected to mitigate the removal, according to the state FWCC website.

The agency requires that osprey nests removed under migratory bird permits be replaced by structures of comparable or better quality. The policy is designed to help ensure that osprey populations will not decline.

In addition, because of their strong attachment to nest sites, ospreys are strongly attached to nest sites and will often rebuild a nest in the undesirable location unless a superior site is provided nearby.

Though the osprey is federal and state protected, a permit is no longer required to relocate an inactive nest like the one at the complex, Hutchens said. However, the city will be guided by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s osprey removal policy.

Nests are typically active from late January to July, so “time is of the essence in relocating the nest,” Hutchens said.

City Arborist Craig Wilson has consulted with Barbara Walker, representative of the local Audubon Society, and she has advised city officials on the proper relocation protocols for the osprey nest.

“She was instrumental in the repair and replacement of several osprey nests in Dunedin post Hurricane Irma,” Hutchens said. “The subject nest will be carefully relocated to a nearby pole not scheduled for removal and placed on a specially-fabricated osprey platform.”

The cost to remove all the poles and relocate the nest will cost the city $77,949 in project funds. The poles were taken down with an emergency authorization order, earlier than initially planned to avoid potential project delays from an active nest.

In hopes of recovering some costs of demolition, the city’s Finance Department solicited inquiries from local recreation groups that might be interested in reusing the poles, Hutchens told commissioners at their meeting on Dec. 18.

Dunedin Little League is interested in two of the racquetball court lights for use at their batting cages. “Those will be made available to them at no charge by the city, provided they remove and install. That work is being coordinated by the Little League with Himes Electric,” he said.

Construction at the Blue Jays’ Player Development Complex is scheduled to start the first week of February. The Vanech Recreation Complex will close Jan. 7 to allow the contractor to mobilize and secure the property in advance of construction.

Commissioners Maureen Freaney and Heather Gracey thanked staff for bringing the Audubon Society on board to protect the species.

“It sounds like a good move to get it done so it doesn’t get in the way of progress,” Freaney said.

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