Osprey take to nesting platform as alternative to Lake Norman mansion’s chimney

jmarusak@charlotteobserver.comMarch 27, 2014 

— The osprey that refused to leave the chimney of a Lake Norman mansion last year, fouling the living room at times with the smell of dead fish, are back from warmer climes.

This time, mom and dad appear to have ditched their lofty perch for a man-made osprey nesting platform just offshore that was funded by homeowners Scott and Denise Smith.

The birds visited the nest the first day it went up a few weeks ago and seem to have settled there, said Tim Gestwicki, executive director of the nonprofit North Carolina Wildlife Federation.

No one’s happier than the Smiths, who paid $1,500 for the federation’s Lake Norman Wildlife Conservationists chapter to install the osprey nest and platform. It cost another $1,500 for workers to dismantle the chimney nest, Scott Smith said.

“It’s good news,” Scott Smith said at his home on Thursday as the birds perched on their newfound home. “I can see them right from my kitchen.”

“I think they’re pretty much fixtures out there now,” Denise Smith said.

Scott Smith, who owns Charlotte-based Morris Costumes, said he’s always admired the birds – even when the osprey built a 4-foot by 4-foot nest on one of his home’s chimneys, 40 feet above the ground.

He has enjoyed sitting in the conservatory of the couple’s 8,700-square-foot Chateau Lyon and watching the osprey swoop into Lake Norman for a catfish. He admires their piercing chirps and 6-foot wingspans. He even smiles recounting the fish skeletons he’s collected from the yard and the day a strong odor seeped down the chimney into the living room. It smelled like the pier at Myrtle Beach, he said.

But the Smiths said they had to do something because limbs from the nest threatened to damage roof tiles that the home’s former owners imported from Lyon, France. The tiles cost $500,000 and an additional $250,000 to install, Scott Smith said.

Chateau Lyon cost $22 million to build and came fully furnished with 19th-century French antiques. The Smiths bought the foreclosed estate with 500 feet of shoreline for $4.4 million in May 2012. The home is on gated Alexander Island at the end of Langtree Road, off Interstate 77, Exit 31in southern Iredell County.

In February, the Smiths installed an aluminum platform with spikes on their chimney to discourage the birds from nesting there again. Yet the osprey veered right back to the chimney after their annual migration from Central and South America, Scott Smith said.

But they soon became smitten with the nesting platform on the lake, he said. They add sticks and straw to the nest daily and were seen breeding on the platform on Thursday.

The platform is on a 35-foot pole, so it’s about 28 feet above water, Gestwicki said. It gives the osprey a 360-degree view of the water and “zero chance” of predators attacking from below, he said.

The federation has built 40 to 50 such platforms in the Catawba River Basin, from Lake James to Lake Wylie, with most of the nests on Lake Norman, Gestwicki said.

“They can fish, fish, fish from there,” he said. “It’s perfect.”

Marusak: 704-358-5067; Twitter: @jmarusak

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