Students work to relocate Carbondale osprey nest
A not-so-uncommon problem that perched itself on top of an Xcel Energy transformer tower in Carbondale has turned into a learning and team-building project for biology students at Colorado Rocky Mountain School.
In the spring, what wildlife experts believe to be a juvenile pair of ospreys attempted to build a nest on top of the tower that’s connected to the power substation next to the park-and-ride lot along Colorado 133.
Although it’s not believed the raptors tried to have young this season, there’s a good chance they’ll return next spring with that very intent, explained Kayo Ogilby, a science teacher at the private college preparatory school located just outside Carbondale.
The nesting site is hazardous for several reasons, not only endangering the birds but creating the risk for power outages.
“Locals have also seen the nest blow off that tower at least twice, because there’s nothing but a bolt on top and no anchor,” Ogilby said.
So, working with Xcel, U.S. Forest Service hydrologist and engineer Steve Hunter, Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials and the local Audubon Society, Ogilby is having his freshman biology students take on the task of coming up with a solution.
Students have been busy this fall doing research on ospreys, learning about their habits and risks to their survival, and then identifying sites on the campus to locate two nesting poles.
The students are also documenting their efforts along the way through photography, cinematography, podcasts, creation of a coffee table book, keeping a web log and by writing a newspaper article that the students hope to have printed.
Xcel has agreed to pay for and install the nesting poles at two campus locations, one within proximity of the power pole and the other near the Crystal River. Students are building the nesting platforms to mount on top of the poles.
“For several years, we have been using a problem-based approach to learning, where we find a genuine problem and a take a project-based approach to solving it,” Ogilby said.
“As part of that, students do research and learn about osprey biology and the ecology that goes along with that,” he said.
Following their passions
Students also learn problem-solving, how to get over hurdles, how to do research, how to get information from experts, and how to communicate with each other to make sure each aspect of the project is on track, Ogilby said.
The multimedia aspect of the project also allows the students to follow their own passions around the same topic.
“The thing that really appeals to me about project-based learning is taking initiative and being able to stay on task, and to be the owner of your process,” he said.
Student Sophia Ulrych is in charge of photography for the project.
“I find it very interesting that we have a problem like this right here in Carbondale … and I’m really enjoying being a part of that process to get it solved,” she said. “I want to be able to tell a story with these photos, and show people what the project entails.”
Variety of projects
Nicole Peirson is working with classmates Linnea Sherman and Alejandra Butcher Salazar to do research about ospreys and to include that in an informational coffee table book that will also tell about their class project.
“It will also be the study guide for the test that the class will take at the end,” Peirson explained.
As part of their research they interviewed Alan Poole with Cornell University’s ornithology lab and Mary Harris with the Roaring Fork Audubon Society and learned all about the birds.
“All of the information will be incorporated into our book,” Butcher Salazar said.
Nat Crawford and Mayan Davis are part of the student group that was put in charge of building the nesting platforms. They contacted an expert in New Jersey who builds and installs nest poles and came up with a design.
“It has to be able to support a 200-pound nest,” Crawford explained. “It’s a fun way to learn about ospreys.”
Added Davis, “We also got to learn about the history of bird, and how they almost became extinct in some places.
“Each of us is doing some part of the research, and then we talk about what we’ve learned in class so we all learn from each other,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun to learn about something we wouldn’t normally learn about.”
Student Oscar Pedersen is putting together a video about the class project, including interview clips with the various experts.
“I have to watch the videos over and over again and decide how to edit it, so I’m also learning about the editing software, which is something that I’m interested in,” Pedersen said.
Larkin Kern is part of the team that has been researching ways to erect a web-based camera on the nest to be able to monitor the birds’ activities once they build a nest. He’s also been working on applying for grants to pay for a camera.
“We’re debating whether do a 24/7 camera, or one that just takes pictures whenever the birds move,” Kern said. “We also think we will connect to the solar panels for power.”
Sophomore Ruth Oppenheimer is setting up a blog to be able to tell the story on the Internet. She’s also writing an article that will eventually appear in Carbondale’s weekly Sopris Sun newspaper.
“We have an entry from each student group talking about their role in the project,” she explained. “When the site goes up we will also be able to link to the webcam, so people can watch what the birds are doing.”
“I’ve learned a lot about osprey behavior, and I’m not even in the research part,” Oppenheimer said. “All I’m doing is writing about what other people are doing.”
Students hope to have the poles installed before the ground freezes and will erect the platforms before spring, Ogilby said. Xcel Energy also plans to put a cap on the electrical tower so that the birds won’t try to build a nest there again.
In terms of area, it’s the county’s smallest conservation deal ever. In terms of location, it’s one of the county’s rarest acquisitions.