"PITT MEADOWS, British Columbia – On an early spring morning the Pitt River flows so calmly that the peaks of the Coast Range seem to pause to admire themselves in its glassy waters. A motorboat lifts a wake, and the docks of the marina moan. Still tucked in for the winter, the pleasure boats stir then rock themselves back to sleep.
Standing on the riverfront dike, Sandi Lee quickly locates a soon-to-be mom. “There’s a nest in the scope,” says Lee, offering a look.
John Elliott peers into the scope. “What stage are we at?” he asks. “Still sitting on eggs," she answers.
In her journal Lee notes who’s home: Brown cap. Fierce yellow eyes. Dark necklace on a white breast. Bigger than its companion. A female osprey.
Elliott and Lee are spending a few hours on this river about 25 miles east of Vancouver counting the ospreys that have returned to lay their eggs. It’s unglamorous but crucial legwork for the two scientists from Environment Canada.
Ospreys tell a story, and Elliott, Lee and the other scientists who track them are trying to decipher their messages. For more than two decades in North America, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, the osprey has revealed disturbing tales about DDT, PCBs, pulp mill dioxins, flame retardants, stain-resistant compounds, urban runoff, mining wastes, prescription drugs, mercury and more. They are living repositories for chemicals: Perched at the top, they ingest all of the contaminants in every creature below them in their food web. Some build up in their tissues, affecting their offspring. As one chemical is banned, another takes its place in the environment. How do we know this? The osprey warns us."
Christopher Solomon reports for Environmental Health News August 26, 2014, in Part 2 of the "Winged Warnings" series, published in conjunction with National Geographic.