A group of folks from the Great River Road Visitor & Learning Center (better known as Freedom Park) in Prescott, the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, and the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway are thinking about putting a webcam on an eagle nest at the confluence of the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers, and went to take a close-up look at the nest and its occupant one day last month.
Professional tree-climber Jim Spickler evaluated the nest for a potential camera but also brought the 10 lb., seven-week chick down to the ground for a visit with researcher Bill Route, who took blood samples and banded it before returning the eaglet to the nest.
Spickler, who travels all over the globe climbing our planet’s tallest trees and who has helped install several such eagle cameras, rated the Prescott nest as at least a nine out of 10. It’s solidly built, within sight (and transmission range) of Freedom Park, and there are good branches to mount a camera on where there won’t be a risk of the lens being covered in, well, eagle excrement.
Like the very popular camera in Decorah, Iowa this spring, the Prescott camera would let anyone on the Internet watch life in the nest next spring, 24 hours a day. In the video below, Spickler first evaluates potential camera locations, but it’s the the close-up footage of the eaglet at the end that is both fascinating and endearing.
Route, of the National Park Service has been conducting research into contaminants in our environment since 2006, and uses blood samples from young eagles on the Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers and the Apostles Islands to measure levels of chemicals.
Eagle populations have recovered to the point the birds were removed from the Endangered Species List in 2007. What almost wiped them out once is still a problem, though: the birds accumulate pollutants because of their diet and the fact that they are at the top of their food chain, which makes them excellent indicators of pollution levels.
If the webcam project goes forward, information about Route’s research will also be available on the website. That seems like an excellent way to mix entertainment and education, and it might inspire viewers to do more to protect eagles, and ourselves.
The nest camera idea came up about two-and-a-half months ago and is far from a sure thing. Many details still need to be worked out, including permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and funding. Bird expert Jim Fitzpatrick, who runs Carpenter Nature Center just upriver on the St. Croix, another project partner, is working on that process.
Watching the video and viewing the photos, I wondered how the chick and its parents responded to the intrusion and abduction. In an e-mail, Jim Shiely of Friends of Freedom Park told me, “When the eaglet was being captured in the nest the eagles flew overhead. You can hear them on the video. They did not and do not attack climbers except in rare cases.”
Thanks to Jim Shiely (disclosure: my wife’s uncle) for sending the photos and video and providing a lot of information. Photos and video by Jim Spickler, Margaret Smith, and Roger Santelman.