Nine nests: Pleasant Hill Lake’s osprey conservation program a soaring success

Irv Oslin
Special to Ashland Times-Gazette
An osprey brings sticks to its nest atop the MARCS tower in Mohican Memorial State Forest.
  • Mohican Wildlife Weekend is April 28-30.
  • There are 8 osprey nesting platforms but 9 sites because osprey built a nest atop a MARCS radio tower.
  • Firelands Electric and Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District teamed to erect the first two platforms in the 1990s.

PERRYSVILLE − I’m glad this year’s Mohican Wildlife Weekend activities (April 28-30) include Pleasant Hill Lake’s osprey nesting platforms. Four guided wagon tours will bring visitors up close and personal with two of the lake’s eight platforms. They’ll likely see osprey pairs tending their nests.

This time of year it’s particularly fun to watch males bringing sticks to add to the nests. The females tend to be critical of their mates’ “interior decorating” skills and often rearrange the sticks after the male leaves to fetch another.

Previous column: New covered bridge over the Mohican River is a dream come true for this canoe enthusiast

More: Upgrades underway at Pleasant Hill Lake Park

Irv Oslin

Later in the season, after the eggs have hatched, both parents will be busy bringing fish to the nest to feed the hungry chicks.

Visitors can get an even closer look at osprey adults and young in the Pleasant Hill Lake Welcome Center. Not live birds mind you, but masterfully mounted osprey that fell victim to electrocution and storms.

Taxidermist Dan Clark's male osprey in flight. The deadly talons are specially adapted to allow osprey in flight to carry their catch parallel with their bodies to reduce drag when in flight.

Taxidermist Dan Clark of Danville took top honors for this stunning work at this year’s Ohio Taxidermy Association Championships in Mansfield. When you see them, you’ll know why. The display includes a male in flight and a female and young on the nest. One look at the male and his extended talons and you’ll realize what a terrifying sight this must be for fish. For many, it’s the last thing they’ll see.

The adult birds Clark used were electrocuted when they attempted to build a nest atop an electrical pole on state Route 95 east of the Pleasant Hill Park entrance. This tragedy inspired Firelands Electric Cooperative to erect a platform nearby for safer nesting.

Taxidermist Dan Clark created this display of a female and young osprey. The birds had died as a result of electrocution and storms.

After a similar incident years ago south of the lake on Pleasant Hill Road, crews from the Energy Cooperative responded by erecting a pole and nesting platform about 100 feet from the power pole.

The young osprey in Clark’s display fell victim to last year’s June storms — being blown from a nest near I-71 and state Route 97. That, according to Louis Andres, park naturalist and program specialist at Pleasant Hill Lake Park. Miraculously, the tornadoes and straight-line winds that devastated Pleasant Hill and other Mohican - area parks and forests June 13, 2022 , wiped out only one osprey nest around the lake.

Not bad considering the number of active nests in and around Pleasant Hill Lake. As of this spring there also were three eagle nests. One of those came down as well but the eagles built another nearby over the winter.

Pleasant Hill Lake, a showcase for osprey conservation

This map shows osprey and eagle nesting sites at Pleasant Hill Lake Park.

Pleasant Hill Lake has become a showcase for osprey conservation. It all started in the late ’90s when Firelands and Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District teamed to erect the first two platforms in the lake. Literally in the lake. This makes them less susceptible to climbing predators, such as raccoons.

Years of being battered by winds and waves caused the poles to lean precariously. Firelands replaced them. Meanwhile, Firelands, MWCD, and Greater Mohican Audubon, teamed to erect a platform near the beach area — this one with a live nestcam.

During the off-season, Firelands straightened the pole (which had developed a slight lean) and MWCD fine-tuned the camera setup.

A few years ago, Firelands erected what was intended to be an eagle’s nest platform at the west end of the lake. An osprey pair took up residence before the eagles had a chance. Earlier this year, Firelands added two more poles — one just west of the marina and another at state Route 95 and Covert Road.

An osprey lands on the new nesting platform at Covert Road and state Route 95. Note the camera feed apparatus on the support below the platform. Plans call for adding a live video feed next year.

The latter replaces a nest that osprey built last year atop a light tower at the boat storage area across the road from Big Fish General Store & Bait. That platform will have a nestcam next year if things go according to plan. (As of this writing, it appeared that two osprey pair were vying to claim the platform.)

Whether you watch them live — please keep a respectable distance, observing through binoculars — or on the live internet feed, osprey are fun to observe throughout the season. It’s so cool to watch the young flexing their wings, getting ready to fledge.

As with all of nature, things sometimes take a tragic turn. As we saw with last year’s storm. Predators can also take a toll. But, by and large, the Pleasant Hill osprey have enjoyed great success.

And us along with them.

Postscript: Make that nine nesting sites in and around Pleasant Hill Lake. While preparing to submit this column, birding expert and enthusiast Gary Cowell advised that osprey had built a nest on the MARCS tower in Mohican Memorial State Forest. (MARCS is an acronym for Multi-Agency Radio Communications System. The system allows the State Highway Patrol, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and local emergency management agencies to coordinate communications.)