Nesting ospreys delay planned signal boost for Havre de Grace radio station

An osprey nest holds up expansion plans at WHGM/104.7 The Point

The manager of Havre de Grace-based WHGM/104.7 FM radio wants to reach all of Harford County with a more powerful FM signal, but a osprey couple has temporarily derailed those plans.

The birds have taken up residence on a communications tower near the Havre de Grace Community Center, where the station plans to locate its new FM antenna, WHGM president and general manager Jeff Davis said.

As a result, the station cannot move forward with installing the antenna until the federally-protected birds hatch their chicks and move on.

Davis took over the AM station, WHGM 1330, in October 2014. The oldest radio station in Harford County, it originally aired with the AM call letters WASA in 1948.

The station also just began simulcasting programs on WHGM and an FM station, re-branded 104.7 The Point, a format playing music from the mid-1960s through the 1980s, Davis said.

The ospreys breeding situation is expected to end by late July or August, according to what the tower owner, American Tower, told him, Davis said. That only sets the station back in its antenna plans by a couple of months.

"I didn't look at it as a setback. I looked at it as, we have got to protect the bird because it's our duty to do so, and because we have a legal obligation," Davis said.

The radio station already has preliminary approval from the Federal Communications Commission for the antenna, he said, adding that the osprey nest is not overly surprising.

"This is very common throughout the broadcasting industry. The best times to do anything for construction is definitely in the cooler months," Davis, who moved to Havre de Grace from the United Kingdom, said.

Each year, a couple thousand pairs of ospreys arrive in the Chesapeake Bay area in mid- to late March, Glenn Therres, an associate director with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Wildlife and Heritage Service said Tuesday.

About 80 percent of them stick around the tidal waters by the bay, and "they will nest on a tall structure with some kind of flat surface," Therres said.

Ospreys have adapted to human technology, and about 90 percent of them nest on man-made structures, he said.

The birds lay two to four eggs, and the young learn to fly by late July.

The nests can only be removed, without a permit, if there are no eggs or young, according to the website of the Chesapeake Bay Field Office of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which notes that like other migratory birds, ospreys are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

At 10 watts, The Point's signal only reaches roughly from North East to the Aberdeen area, Davis said. WHGM 1330 is the "superior" signal, as it can be heard as far as Dover, Del., Lancaster, Pa., and Baltimore, he said.

"Going to FM brings us in an audience that we normally wouldn't have with just an AM signal," he said, explaining it is mostly older people who are familiar with, or interested in, the AM station.

This isn't the first time Ospreys have run into conflicts over local man-made structures.

In April 2012, near the start of the ospreys return to the region, BGE relocated a pair of birds trying to build a nest on a Havre de Grace utility pole to a specially-built nesting platform nearby, an effort that took several tries.

The company has built similar platforms around the state in hopes of guiding the birds toward a less contested place to roost.

In April 2014, the Baltimore Sun reported an osprey pair was attempting to build a nest on a gantry in front of a traffic camera along Route 50 near the Bay Bridge. After several attempts, the birds were successfully relocated to a special nesting platform placed on the gantry.

After WHGM upgrades its signal with the new antenna, it's probable the ospreys will be back to roost again on the tower.

"The chances are pretty good that they will come back to the same spot," DNR's Therres said, noting "they develop sort of a stronger affinity" to a place where they raised their young in the past.

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