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Ospreys building nests near Boling Bridge
Platforms erected to encourage birds to move from bridge set for demolition
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One of the two nest platforms for Lake Lanier ospreys stands on the shore at right in front of Boling Bridge on Wednesday, March 21, 2018. Ospreys have been photographed in the area, and signs of nesting can be seen piled on both platforms near the bridge, which is being replaced.

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The 65-foot-tall nest platform stands tall over Lake Lanier on Wednesday, March 21, 2018. The early makings of an osprey nest can be seen piled on the platform.
The ospreys have landed. We repeat, the ospreys have landed — and they’re using their new nest platforms.

Before the Georgia Department of Transportation removed the nests piled on the peaks of Boling Bridge, it erected two 65-foot nest platforms within sight of the fish-eating hawks’ former home. As spring approached this year, people have snapped pictures of the birds investigating the nest platforms, and on Wednesday, March 21, GDOT ferried The Times to the platforms from Little Hall Park.

On a blustery, chilly morning, the stainless steel boat chugged its way from the docks at Little Hall to the first platform, which stands on the edge of a peninsula almost a straight shot south across the water from the park in the Duckett Mill area.

Piloted by Derek Wade, GDOT’s construction project manager for the bridge replacement, the boat pulled up to the riprap at the water’s edge and, posted 65 feet up in the cold air, were the soaked branches and debris forming the vague shape of a nest.

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A rough nest is beginning to form on the osprey platform south of Boling Bridge on Wednesday, March 21, 2018. - photo by Nick Bowman

As commuters along Dawsonville Highway/Ga. 53 can attest, it’s hard to miss an osprey nest. Descending into the river basin offered motorists a clear view of the nests for years, and over that time they grew and grew.

Male and female ospreys add bits and pieces to their nests each year, according to the Audubon Society. If the hawks stick to the nest platforms this year and in those coming, the new poles will become thick with sticks and — if the fans of the birds around Lake Lanier are lucky — home to their fair share of eggs.

Ospreys can begin laying as soon as seven days after they return to their nesting area, according to Adam Betuel, director of conservation for the Atlanta Audubon Society, and will lay on their eggs between 35 and 40 days.

The nesting pair in Lake Lanier likely just returned from South America, Betuel said. When they’ve finished raising their chicks this year, the female bird will leave first while the male hangs around for another month or more. In some cases, the mother bird leaves before her chicks are truly independent — making the father responsible for seeing them the rest of the way.

While the birds mate for life and return to the same nest each year, they don’t migrate together or travel to the same winter climbs.

While they return to the same nest each year, the mating pair are just getting started at the platform south of Boling Bridge. The good news, according to Betuel, is that ospreys successfully nest on platforms similar to those on Lake Lanier in areas around the country.

Turning back (and into the wind), the boat was about to slip under the doomed-to-demolition bridge when Katie Strickland, spokeswoman for GDOT also on board, pointed out a little figure perched on Boling Bridge high above the morning traffic.

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An osprey perches on Boling Bridge on Wednesday, March 21, 2018.

While the ospreys are working on their new nests, the migratory hawks haven’t left their former, temporary home. Perched inward, looking over the traffic and the contractors welding together the new bridge below, the osprey preened and watched as the GDOT boat slipped past to the second platform.

The second pole sits just around the corner north of Boling Bridge, hidden from the construction by trees that will cut the line of sight when their leaves fill in. This platform has fewer sticks but still shows evidence that the birds had been investigating.

And all progress is good progress, as the birds will soon have to make use of their new nest in earnest when the demolition of the existing bridge begins between now and March 2019, when the project is scheduled for completion.

Pointing back toward Little Hall, the boat followed the wind and waves as it crossed underneath the new and old bridges. On the other side, the osprey had lifted off, losing interest in the hardhats busy below, and circled over the bare treetops.

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An osprey lands atop the nest platform south of Boling Bridge as a boat piloted by Derek Wade motors back toward the bridge on Wednesday, March 21.