Port To­bacco park gets ‘ea­gle cam’ for bird watch­ers

Live video will be avail­able on YouTube, web­sites

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By PAUL LA­GASSE pla­gasse@somd­news.com

Fans of Port To­bacco River Park’s bald ea­gles will soon have an­other way to view their fa­vorite birds in ad­di­tion to the park’s ob­ser­va­tion deck.

The Port To­bacco River Con­ser­vancy, Charles County Depart­ment of Re­cre­ation, Parks and Tourism, and imag­ing com­pany Ter­rain360 have teamed up to in­stall a live-stream­ing cam­era that will pro­vide a close-up view of the nest and its oc­cu­pants 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Ryan Abra­ham­sen, pres­i­dent of Ter­rain360, said that the cam­era is en­closed in a pro­tec­tive shell that will shield it from the weather and also hide its move­ments from the ea­gles to avoid star­tling them.

The cam­era has the abil­ity to pan 360 de­grees and zoom in and out, and can be op­er­ated re­motely.

Abra­ham­sen said that the idea had been floated of let­ting stu­dents take turns “driv­ing” the cam­era as part of their na­ture and en­vi­ron­men­tal stud­ies.

“There’s no tech­no­log­i­cal rea­son why not, but it’s some­thing that the county and the con­ser­vancy will have to or­ga­nize,” Abra­ham­sen said.

The nest is lo­cated ap­prox­i­mately 100 feet off the ground in a tulip poplar near the front of the park’s tree line. The nest is largely un­oc­cu­pied dur­ing the sum­mer and fall, but the pair of ea­gles that live there will be re­turn­ing in the win­ter.

The cam­era is pow­ered by a 60-pound recharge­able bat­tery mounted at the base of the tree, which in turn is charged by a pair of flex­i­ble so­lar pan­els that Abra­ham­sen and col­league Andy Thomp­son in­stalled near the base of the tree where the nest is lo­cated.

On Tues­day, Rich­mond-based ar­borist Luke McCall climbed the tree to in­stall the cam­era. His ef­forts were made more dif­fi­cult by slick moss on the tree branches and a sud­den drench­ing rain shower, which he rode out on a

branch at around the 70foot mark.

McCall also in­stalled an an­tenna that trans­mits the cam­era’s sig­nals to a match­ing an­tenna in­stalled on the roof of the Port To­bacco Ma­rina Res­tau­rant, from where the im­ages will be broad­cast to view­ers around the world.

The stream will be avail­able on Ter­rain360’s sis­ter web­site www.wild­stream­ing. com, which cur­rently fea­tures cam­eras that cover a pere­grine fal­con nest in New­port News, Va., and an osprey nest in down­town Rich­mond.

The live feed will also be avail­able on wild­stream­ing.com’s YouTube chan­nel, the Port To­bacco River Con­ser­vancy web­site and the park depart­ment’s web­site.

Abra­ham­sen of­fered to take charge of the in­stal­la­tion of the ea­gle cam, long a dream of the con­ser­vancy and the county’s parks staff, back in June when he com­pleted a panoramic map of the Port To­bacco River.

Ter­rain360 uses tech­niques sim­i­lar to those used in Google Street View to cre­ate “driv­able” routes along rivers and hik­ing trails around the countr y.

In June, Abra­ham­sen spent three days nav­i­gat­ing a pon­toon boat equipped with a spe­cially-de­signed cam­era rig that held six DSLR cam­eras ar­ranged in a cir­cle 10 feet above the wa­ter to cap­ture panoramic pho­tos ev­ery 20 to 50 feet of the Port To­bacco River from its many in­lets and chan­nels to where it joins the Po­tomac south of Chapel Point.

Vis­i­tors can view the com­plete map of the river on the com­pany’s web­site, www. ter­rain360.com, where they can move for­ward and back­ward along paths along the shore­line and chan­nels, as well as swivel and zoom in to look at de­tails such as birds’ nests.

In­stal­la­tion of the ea­gle cam took place over the course of sev­eral weeks. Abra­ham­sen and Thomp­son in­stalled the bat­tery at the end of Au­gust and had hoped to re­turn to com­plete the in­stal­la­tion by mid-Septem­ber, but heavy rains de­layed the plans to in­stall the cam­era, an­tenna and so­lar pan­els un­til ear­lier this week.

Ev­ery­thing went smoothly un­til Abra­ham­sen’s team hit a fi­nal snag: be­cause no one knew ex­actly how high the nest re­ally was, the ca­ble to con­nect the nest cam­era to the bat­tery ended up be­ing a few feet short.

If all goes well, Abra­ham­sen ex­pects to in­stall an ex­ten­sion ca­ble and have the cam­era up and run­ning some­time Fri­day morn­ing.

“Fin­gers crossed,” Abra­ham­sen said.

STAFF PHO­TOS BY PAUL LA­GASSE

Ar­borist Luke McCall pre­pares to “sling­shot” a lead line over a branch as a first step in as­cend­ing the tulip poplar in Port To­bacco River Park that houses an ea­gle nest.

PHOTO BY LUKE MCCALL

Rich­mond-based ar­borist Luke McCall in­stalled this “ea­gle cam” about six feet above the ea­gle nest in Port To­bacco River Park on Tues­day. The so­lar-pow­ered cam­era will pro­vide 24/7 vis­ual cov­er­age of the nest that will be view­able on YouTube and the web.

Though Port To­bacco River Park’s ea­gles are hard to spot this time of year, these clean bones at the foot of the tree where their nest is lo­cated are signs that they are still around — and hun­gry.

Andy Thomp­son of Ter­rain360 in­stalls a bat­tery pack at the base of the tulip poplar in Port To­bacco River Park that houses the park’s pop­u­lar ea­gle nest. The bat­tery pack will store so­lar power for a new “ea­gle cam” that will pro­vide 24/7 cov­er­age of the nest for view­ers around the world.

STAFF PHO­TOS BY PAUL LA­GASSE

Ar­borist Luke McCall as­cends to the bald ea­gle nest in Port To­bacco River Park on Tues­day in prepa­ra­tion for in­stalling an “ea­gle cam” that will pro­vide live-stream­ing cov­er­age of the nest and its denizens.

A pair of flex­i­ble so­lar pan­els await mount­ing on a frame at Port To­bacco River Park. The so­lar pan­els will power a cam­era that will al­low peo­ple to ob­serve the park’s ea­gle nest from YouTube and the web when it goes live Fri­day.

“We call this home­work,” said Rich­mond-based ar­borist Luke McCall of the te­dious process of un­ty­ing knots from a lead line that failed to wrap around a branch as he pre­pared for his climb to in­stall an “ea­gle cam” in Port To­bacco River Park.

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