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A new home for birds
Almost lost in the canopy next to Loon Lake, Mark Villers trims away branches high up in a Douglas fir tree last Thursday morning. A few of the branches were saved to build the platform and the rest were dropped to the ground. Villers was more than 150-feet off the ground topping the tree to build the start of a nest for ospreys. World Photo by Lou Sennick

LOON LAKE - It would be hard to turn down a flat with a treetops view of Loon Lake and the surrounding forest.

"Oh it's an awesome view, a panoramic view of that half of the lake," said Mark Villers, the project's designer and builder.

The timber cutter, by profession, hopes the newly retrofitted Douglas fir along the lake's shore is just right for a pair of hawks that might be looking for a new aerie to replace a former nest tree that snapped and blew down in a storm.

"Birds of prey are kind of neat to watch," he said. "This (project) is unique because people can see it."

Villers' experiment started one morning last week, when he traveled to the remote lake between Reedsport and Scottsburg. He jumped in a small boat and was ferried to the other shore into the northern fringes of the Elliott State Forest within view of the popular Loon Lake campground.

"We went through some rigors to pick the possible trees," he said.

Carefully, he scoped the chosen tree, mentally preparing for his task. He clamped on a special leather climbing belt weighted down with gear anchored to chains and began his ascent.

Spurs on his boots helped his feet chip into the bark as he shimmied about 150 feet up into the thick, green crown of the fir. The sounds of his rattling chains, spurs and hatchet whacks echoed eerily across the empty lake joined by the occasional rumble of a faraway log truck.

Villers finally chain-anchored himself high in the sky near where only an eagle soared to watch his progress.

The Coos Bay-based timber faller's job was to top the tree just above a whirl, the place where limbs spiral out. It's no easy task to tie oneself to the trunk and cut away with a chainsaw half a football field above the forest floor. But once the tree stopped swaying, Villers was back at work cutting the limbs two feet from the trunk.

Villers was working under the auspices of a trio of agencies, including the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife and the Oregon Department of Forestry. The project cost the BLM $800 for Villers to create two platforms for possible osprey nests. The osprey are favorites with recreationalists who flock to the lake during the hot summer.

"You have to be careful," he said describing his work. "OSHA requires two qualified climbers even if only one climbs in case there's an accident."

Villers has done a lot of topping where he has cut away parts of trees to get the tops to die to create woodpecker habitat. Creating a flat for osprey is trickier.

"When we climb a tree that we're trying to keep alive it's a little bit harder," he said, adding a project like this will keep him off ground for two or three hours.

Once he has the branches cut to length he takes pieces of other limbs and secures all together with galvanized wire.

"That creates a base for the birds to start with," he said.

It's not the first time Villers has created osprey nest habitat. Last year, he completed a similar contract for the Coos Bay-North Bend Water Board as mitigation for the Pony Reservoir project, although he never knew whether the osprey liked his work. He couldn't return to watch since the property is not accessible to the public.

ODFW District Wildlife Biologist John Toman said he expects the osprey will like Villers' work.

"Experience shows … if you build a site, quite often we get use," he said.

Toman knows of at least one pair of osprey that already nest at the lake. And it will be easy for him to see whether the project is a success. He expects it won't be the last such effort. For instance, the Tenmile Lakes area likely will face a lot of development in the future and Toman suspects osprey might find nest replacement trees hard to find.

If so, Villers might find himself again climbing high in towering Douglas fir for a hard day's work and a bird's eye view of the Tenmile.

- Senior Photographer Lou Sennick contributed to this story.