STOCKTON SPRINGS, Maine — The fledgling osprey beat his enormous wings Friday afternoon on the windy shores of Sandy Point Beach and struggled to escape the gloved hands that kept him grounded.
On the count of three, Mona Spear, a senior environmental specialist with Bangor Hydro-Electric Co., launched the young raptor into the air. He flew high over the Penobscot River, then arced back to land, a flock of seagulls at his back. Then the bird turned and flew low over Spear and a small knot of people who watched him avidly from the beach.
“He’s saying thank you!” Spear said.
Then as if replying to the bird, he added, “You’re welcome!”
The osprey’s saga began a month ago, about 70 miles to the east in a nest perched atop a utility pole in Roque Bluffs. The osprey and an adult bird were in the nest when it caught fire, perhaps because of sticks and debris smoldering in the wires, Spear said. A Bangor Hydro supervisor saw the power outage on the computer, and knew that birds had built a nest on that pole. So he shut power off to that section of line and sent a lineman to investigate.
That lineman, Robert MacAllister, headed out from Machias and discovered a burning nest with two osprey still inside it. He climbed the pole and used a long stick to nudge the birds out of the nest. One flew away. The other — the fledgling osprey released Friday — safely glided to the ground, but did not yet know how to fly.
Fortunately, he was in good hands, Spear said. The electric utility keeps an eye on the osprey that build nests on the company’s poles and train employees to help the birds in an emergency. MacAllister and others packed the slightly-injured osprey into a cooler and began a relay that led the bird first to Lamoine, then the company’s main office in Bangor, and finally to a bird rehabilitation facility in Freedom.
Marc Payne of the nonprofit Avian Haven said that staff there first made sure the juvenile bird had no broken bones and gave him a thorough evaluation. Then, they placed the osprey in an artificial nest in an outdoor cage with other fledglings. He grew bigger by chowing down on his favorite food — alewives donated to the facility by the Maine Department of Marine Resources.
“He likes alewives very much,” Payne told Spear and the other Bangor Hydro employees.
And he eventually learned to fly — though not very gracefully, the bird expert said.
“Ospreys are very clumsy when they’re beginning to fly,” Payne said.
After a month of care, staff at the center deemed the bird — which is protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Act — ready to go. They determined that it was unnecessary to drive him the long way back to Washington County, since osprey at that age are already out and about and will soon make a long migration to winter in South America, Payne said.
Avian Haven staff worked with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to find a good spot to release the eager osprey. They settled on Sandy Point, which is a very active area for the birds, Payne said.
“Hey, that’s a great feeling,” Spear said after watching the rescued bird fly away. “That was a great experience. It’s nice to see him go back and be successful.”