Of Eagles and Eaglets - Cameras and Computers - and the Net
Tuesday, May 23 2006 @ 09:43 PM PDT
Contributed by: Richard Pitt
Of course I'm refering to the Hornby Island bald eagle nest and eggs, and its subsequent replacement, the Vancouver/Sidney nest with eaglets. To date, these two streaming nest sites account for more people viewing than any other event on the net with the exception of the Pope's visit - which lasted 2 hours and was watched by something like 30,000 people at one time. These nests have been watched for over 2 months by over 10,000 people simultaneously virtually continuously (edited to add - over 25,000 I found out once I got access to the logs). I'm finally getting a chance to slow down and catch up - and document what has happened since the beginning of January this year.
This is the first of a series of stories on how these nests were put on the net, and some thoughts on how and why they became famous.
I've known David Hancock of Hancock House Publishing for more than 20 years. In early January this year, David asked me what it would take to connect up a pre-existing camera feed from a nest on Hornby Island to the Internet. He had in mind that the opportunity for people, especially scientists and students, to study the nesting habits of these magnificent birds both without disturbing the birds, and from the comfort of their own place.
Just the potential for people not able to climb a tower into a blind - such as the disabled or those of us older than we really want to admit - was an impetus for him. He knows well the rigors that such on-site monitoring can be as he has done his fair share over the past 50 years as a biologist specializing in raptors.
The Hornby nest was about 100 feet up a "snag" Douglas Fir - a tree that the top was broken off by lightning. The picture shows the tree from the front door of Doug Carrick's home across the street. The nest is just below the top of the tree in the center, hidden by the first clump of branches.
Doug Carrick and his wife Sheila retired to Hornby Island 13 years ago. They had been visiting, and incidentally also monitoring this eagle nest, for several years prior, and have had the nest under view for 19 years total. The nest is on a neighbour's property, and for years the owner would not let Doug do what he wanted to do - put a camera in the nest. Eventually the property sold and the new owners said yes. Doug applied for a permit to have the camera installed and this was done while the eagles were away for their annual salmon feed in October of 2004.
A retired Dept. of National Defense (DND) electronic engineer, Bob Chappel, put together a package of camera, microphone and electronics similar to others he has used in other wildlife camera installations. A local cablevision person, Doug Wood, strung a cable across the road from the neighbour's tree to Doug Carrick's home. A local tree trimmer climbed the tree and installed the camoflaged camera housing.
During the first nesting season, Doug had the camera hooked to his television and a VCR. When interesting things happened, he video taped them. In all, he accumulated about 13 hours of tape, and boiled it down to about a 1 hour tape and then farther to a 35 minute presentation. Doug presented his video to groups around the Vancouver Island area, and David Hancock attended one of his presentations in late 2005.
The rest, as they say, is history.