The Riverfront Trail’s inter-species soap opera has not been renewed for another season, as a pair of osprey successfully resettled a nest colonized by Canada geese last spring.
“I took off the goose excluder on Friday afternoon, and the female (osprey) was very attentive and watching from one of the light poles,” University of Montana biologist Erick Greene said in an email Monday.
The goose excluder was a chicken-wire cone placed over the nest last month to prevent early arriving geese from beating the osprey to the prime real estate. The nest overlooks the Ogren-Allegiance Park, home turf of the Pioneer League’s Missoula Osprey baseball team.
Canada geese migrate from their southern wintering grounds about three weeks ahead of osprey. Last year, a goose nicknamed Clara beat the fish-hawks to their nest and laid her clutch of eggs before they arrived.
The osprey tried and failed to evict the goose, much to the distress and enthrallment of neighborhood birdwatchers. They also attempted to build new nests, including one on top of a crane involved in a railroad bridge renovation by the ballpark.
The osprey eventually set up housekeeping on a NorthWestern Energy utility pole, just above a 100-kilovolt line. Utility workers had to keep the nest trimmed all spring to prevent electrocutions.
Clara the interloper prompted hundreds of letters and emails to the Missoulian and on social media as humans took in the lesson of avian relations. As geese greatly outnumber osprey, Greene and his professional colleagues agreed to take sides and help the raptors.
So this year, Greene placed the wire-mesh geese excluders on the baseball field nest and several others along the Clark Fork River. One goose couple was already eying the baseball nest when he went to work March 7.
With their reserved nest open for action this weekend, the osprey moved in Monday. They could be seen all morning ferrying sticks and clumps of grass to the pole top, as well as bathing in the river. A pair of geese paddled nearby.
“Living right over there, I see them in the sky a lot,” said neighborhood resident J.R. Roof, who was walking the Riverfront Trail on Monday morning. “There’s also that great blue heron that hangs around down here, and tons of other birds. This is a jewel of Missoula to have the Clark Fork right here. It’s a lot cleaner than it was 20 years ago when I started coming here.”