A Wildlife Cam in Emma Becomes Surprisingly Addictive
Coupled with a mate for life, an osprey’s nest has been called its “center of gravity,” its place of reconnection and lifelong family home. Wherever it builds its nest, this is the place where coupled ospreys return after winters apart, year after year. Offspring, too, will return to the same area and begin their own nests. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology points out that it’s pretty likely that ospreys within a single area are related.
As fish-eating hunters, ospreys build within riparian ecosystems, places where land mingles with a river or stream. If living in an area populated by humans, it’s not uncommon for the birds to choose telephone or power poles for their nests.
In building a nest, the male osprey delivers construction material—dive bombing dead branches, even, to break them off for easier collection. The female does the actual building. First season around, they’re just getting started. The couple will add to their nest annually. Cornell describes finished nests as three to six feet in diameter, with a depth of 10-13 feet, weighing in at over an incredible 300 pounds.
In 2010, as ospreys began to build a nest on a power pole between an Emma stretch of the Roaring Fork River and Highway 82, invested agencies took notice. Pitkin County Healthy Rivers, Pitkin County Open Space and Trails, Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES), and Holy Cross Energy (HCE) stepped in.
Power lines and ospreys don’t mix, HCE Glenwood Operations Vice President Cody O’Neil explains.
“Birds can cause a number of reliability issues for an overhead electric system, from temporary outages to permanent outages. We’ve adapted our construction practices to minimize the places where a bird can be exposed to energized equipment, thus minimizing outages and saving more birds in the process. We don’t move nests very often, though ospreys are a challenge, as they are a very persistent bird.”
HCE fast-tracked the move with funding from their overhead maintenance budget. The nest, and its power pole crossbeams, were moved 40 feet away to a safe, existing pole.
In 2015, the agencies reunited to install a wildlife camera.
“People are so curious about it. It’s right on the highway where everyone can see. They want to know what’s going on,” says Gary Tennenbaum, Pitkin County Open Space and Trails director. “Holy Cross Energy has been great to work with. They funded the pole and even brought the power to it. Any time we need to work with the camera, they come out with the bucket truck.”
ACES educates the public and schools about the ospreys. Pitkin County’s Business Information & Technology Services Department has handled the technology necessary for the cam, from installing the camera to operating the website (which can be found via PitkinCounty.com).
With real-time streaming, viewers have the opportunity to see nature in action. As of this writing, the ospreys “are sitting on something,” says Tennenbaum. “There’s always a bird in the nest. You can see it’s windy right now,” he adds, watching the streaming footage as winds ruffle the bird’s feathers.
“She’s eating something!” he exclaims. “It must be a fish.” The silhouette of a trout then reveals itself from the shadowy depths in front of the female osprey as she rips her beak into it.
The Osprey Cam is addictive, once you start watching. With chicks on the way, the nest will soon be hopping. Lisa MacDonald of Pitkin County Healthy Rivers enjoys the Emma Osprey Cam immensely.
“I think once the nest was moved, and then the camera went up, all of us here became a bit obsessed with the birds,” she says. “Our Healthy Rivers logo also contains an osprey, so I feel a connection to that.”
MacDonald often views the birds in person, camera in hand, capturing intense details outside of the nest.
“I’m very amateur and just happened to be in the right place at the right time to capture the birds,” MacDonald says. “I enjoy photographing all the raptors—golden and bald eagles, hawks, and the ospreys. They’re majestic: their wings, talons, and intense eyes.”
It’s hard not to be fascinated. For many like MacDonald, the Emma Osprey Cam is just the gateway to developing a fierce passion for local wildlife.