By David Horst firstname.lastname@example.org
New London -- Last winter, productivity slumped in offices across the country during feeding time at an eagle nest in Decorah, Iowa, where three eaglets became webcam stars.
Since this nest-eye view went online in February 2010, the site has recorded more than 212 million views from more than 20 million unique viewers.
I went along the Saturday before Christmas when Pat Fisher, who runs the New London bird rehabilitation center The Feather, led a small, mechanized crew of volunteers to wire up an 80-foot-tall white pine for the season premier.
The installation came courtesy of Gary Bunnell, known to area fishermen and hunters for his underwater fish cams and deer cams at WolfRiverCam.com. He got an assist from a bucket truck and crew provided by Great Lakes Line Builders in Greenville, a division of M.J. Electric Inc. The conservation group Shadows on the Wolf helped pay for the camera.
"It's a three-way deal," Bunnell said. "We're able to educate and entertain, and help Pat and help Shadows on the Wolf."
I wrote about this nest last June, when Fisher led an adventure in banding the two eaglets in the nest. Eagles have nested there for at least eight years. I'm not identifying the location for the protection of the birds and the privacy of the homeowners.
As you may recall, mom and dad eagle circled the whole time DNR Warden Mike Young was removing and then returning the young eagles to the nest.
But this was mid-December, when nesting activity is limited to repairs and laying in sticks to replace those lost to a windy autumn. The cameras needed to be in place before real nesting behavior begins in January.
With the bucket truck positioned in the yard, Bunnell and Dan Verhagen of Great Lakes ascended into the pine, just above the nest. They affixed a pair of camo-colored cameras and wired them through conduit hoped to be sturdy enough to fend off squirrel teeth and eagle beaks.
The eagles apparently were hunting nearby and the pair returned briefly, with mama eagle flying a few loops around the tree. Standing in the bucket at the edge of the nest, Bunnell said he had one thought as the huge bird circled: "I was thinking I hope to God they come back. I don't want to disturb what they do."
Bunnell, whose day job is as an account manager with a local company and describes Wolf River Cam as a hobby, had consulted with state and federal wildlife officials on when to do the installation. No permits were required.
Great Lakes provided the crew and equipment for free, as it has many times before. Jeff Ulman, president and CEO, said he does it because the big birds are an interest of some of his employees and he knows an operation like Fisher's could
never afford to rent the equipment. As an outdoorsman himself, he wants to do what he can for the good of nature.
Viewers will be able to watch as the eagles prep the nest, mother eagle lays her eggs in about late March, the eggs hatch within about a month and then the eagle parents weeks after hatching.
The eagle cam is fully able to pan, tilt and zoom in response to commands from the operator's remote laptop computer via the Internet. A backup camera is fixed in position but also has infrared capability for images at night.
The Wolf River Eagle Cam will be linked from WolfRiverCam.com, which Bunnell said generates more than seven million views per year. The feed will run through UStream Live, an Internet video streaming site that can handle the traffic if the Wolf River eagles really build a following.
"I would be happy with a fraction of the Decorah site's traffic," Bunnell said.
Nearly all of the advertising revenue from the site goes to U Stream. Bunnell said any donations should go to The Feather or Shadows on the Wolf.
"What they do is far more important," said Bunnell.
But the real stars of the show are yet to be born.