Friday, May 25, 2012
SML State Park trying to keep osprey cam live
Device is attracting attention across the world.
A large bird of prey is garnering Smith Mountain Lake State Park world-wide attention.
People watching the live feed of the osprey nest at the park have contacted park officials from as far away as Scotland and Nova Scotia. A classroom of elementary students in Nova Scotia has joined the thousands of viewers awaiting the hatching of the eggs.
The park started streaming live video in April on Ustream.TV. By Mother's Day weekend, more than 70,000 people had looked in on the nesting pair and their three eggs.
"I know there was a hatch watch Mother's Day weekend," said Brian Heft, park manager. "At any given time there [are] 100 people watching. The eggs hatch any time after five weeks. The first egg reached five weeks Mother's Day weekend. Normally it is around Memorial Day weekend, but with the warm weather, it seems everything is a couple of weeks ahead."
The park and its many volunteers have been trying to get live streaming video of the nest since the osprey nesting program began in 2004. A camera has never worked throughout the entire season.
"That's been the most aggravating part of this whole process," said Heft. "It's a love-hate relationship with this camera. We get it up, it's operational for a month and a half, people get interested in it and we get a big storm and it fries the camera."
When the park was using 800 feet of cable to connect the nest camera with the Discovery Center, static would build up in the line, even though the system was grounded (grounding, using a lightning rod, for instance, carries the electric current from lightning away from electronic devices such as the osprey camera). This made it vulnerable to electric surges. This year, the park installed fiber optic cable.
"I really feel like the fiber optic cable is going to be the best fix," Heft said. "It may not ever prevent it from happening. With fiber optic, there's no metal in the cable and it goes from the Discover Center to the nest. There's an Ethernet connection that connects the camera to the fiber optic cable."
There was a setback the Monday after Mother's Day when the camera went down again.
"I don't think it was lightning," said Heft. "It's something about the computer not recognizing the camera."
The park staff is working with a company in Wisconsin to get the camera back, but the clock is ticking. They had replaced the camera before the eggs have hatched. Once the fledglings hatch, no one can go near the nest. A lot of viewers are hoping for the best and are chatting about it on the Ustream Channel.
Ospreys are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The pesticide DDT nearly exterminated them and many other birds in the 1960s and '70s. Since the banning of DDT, the osprey population has rebounded nicely. There are several nests on Smith Mountain Lake, though Heft said he does not know how many.
Park officials started talking about the osprey program before 2003. "At that time, there were more reports of osprey building nests on shore markers and they were starting to become an issue with some of the channel markers covering up the solar panels with their nests. So we thought if we put a pole and a nest platform up, we would get a pair," said Heft.
Appalachian Power, the Virginia Ornithology Society and the Friends of Smith Mountain Lake State Park helped the park get the program started by providing money and advice. The goal of the nesting program and camera is to encourage people to come out and enjoy the park.
"We put a lot of thought into where the nest is, where we put the camera, sun angles on the nest; it's never in the face of the camera," said Heft. "It's been very good quality. I want to make the point; yeah, you can see them online and follow them, but don't make that the be-all for you. If you are in Scotland I can understand that, but if you are in Roanoke or Huddleston, we have a large-screen HDTV in the Discovery Center that the camera feeds. The first time I saw it, I was blown away. It looks like almost 3D. It is like you are looking right in the nest."
There also is a trail that will take you to a spot where you can see the nesting pole. The park also has a new Visitors Center with historical, cultural and nature displays. A new 700-gallon aquarium has just been set up.
"It is a representation of what's in the lake," said Heft. "All the fish in the tank come from the lake. We want to entice people to get out in the park. It's not designed to replace going out in the park, it is to pique their desire to get out and explore."
Smith Mountain Lake State Park, 1235 State Park Road, Huddleston. 297-6066, dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/smi.shtml
Osprey Camera, ustream.tv/channel/smith-mountain-lake-state-park-osprey-cam