Lori A. Carter, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
As avian aficionados know, cliff swallows are tenacious creatures, birds that return to their preferred nesting locations decade after decade.
And so they’ve returned again to the Highway 101 bridge over the Petaluma River, after causing disruption to the four-year highway widening project and endangering their nesting rituals.
A coalition of environmental groups and animal activists sued Caltrans in 2013 after more than five dozen birds died in netting the agency erected to try to prevent the birds from building their conical mud abodes in the safety of the concrete bridge supports.
About 800 of the birds — which are protected by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act — have returned to the bridge area this year, Caltrans spokesman Allyn Amsk said.
They are being allowed to freely nest on the underside of the newly constructed center lanes of the bridge and portions of the old southbound lanes of the bridge. But Caltrans is trying to prevent them from nesting in active construction zones by erecting plastic sheeting and hand-scraping or pressure- washing to remove the beginnings of nests.
Bird lovers are keeping an eagle eye on the work, which was signed off on by both sides in a three-year settlement agreement.
“We’re concerned that they’re not being proactive enough,” said Veronica Bowers, director of Native Songbird Care and Conservation, one of the groups that has pressured Caltrans to protect the birds. “It requires daily action on their part. We’re concerned that it’s not happening and we’ve seen some evidence to support that.”