I’ve glanced at the huge nest atop a railway bridge over the Kennebec River in Waterville for years. In my cursory glances driving by, I never noticed anything but an impressive structure of sticks—until April 11, 2022, when I saw the usual pile of sticks also included the silhouette of a bird head.
Osprey are a bird conservation success story. They’ve rebounded in big numbers since the banning of the pesticide DDT and can be a common sight diving for fish on rivers.
Maine’s Kennebec River is also a success story, sort of. The 1999 removal of the Edwards Dam, 20 miles south in Augusta, followed by the 2008 removal of the Fort Halifax Dam in Winslow, has brought sea-run fish further up the lower Kennebec than they’d been since 1837. Along with the alewives, shad, and sturgeon came more osprey and bald eagles.
In 2022 the Kennebec also was named America’s 4th Most Endangered River, as one of Maine’s Atlantic Salmon Rivers. While sea-run fish like the endangered Atlantic salmon may be traveling further upstream, they’re still stopped—injured and even killed—in Waterville when they meet the four hydroelectric dams run by Brookfield. There is currently a lawsuit against Brookfield for violating the Endangered Species Act and calling for dam removals.
I’m intrigued by this osprey pair making its home in a spot (Teconnet Falls, later Ticonic Falls) that has been home to a large Wabanaki village, trading center, dams, mills, and the attempts and hopes for a fish and river comeback. It is a confluence of environmental activity and activism.
So, in 2022 I started checking out the osprey nest regularly, watching the progress of this pair of birds as they live above a controversial dam, fish below it, go about their lives largely unnoticed by the local population, and hatch a new generation of osprey on the Kennebec.
I’m awaiting the 2023 spring return of the ospreys.
All photos copyright Alicia MacLeay