2006-03-02 / Front Page

Great Creek osprey nest platform gets a makeover

By Sam Bari

Volunteers carry a new pole through the salt marsh to replace the old osprey nest platform. Photo by Sam Bari Volunteers carry a new pole through the salt marsh to replace the old osprey nest platform. Photo by Sam Bari On Saturday morning, Feb. 24, seven men gathered at Marsh Meadows in the Great Creek estuary on North Main Road to erect a new pole and platform for the osprey nest.

Despite the frigid wind-chill factor bringing the effects of lower double-digit temperatures down to single digits, the men assisted state Department of Environmental Management Wildlife Division biologist Chris Powell in dropping a 25-foot, telephone-pole-sized log into a four-foot hole dug into the marsh a few feet south of the old osprey pole and nest.

Then a new platform for the nest was attached to the top of the pole, towering 21 feet above ground, offering a bird’s-eye view of the surrounding marsh. In addition to the platform, a new video camera was installed so visitors can watch the ospreys when they return to build their new nest around the second or third week of March.

The mostly rotten twigs and sticks composing the old nest had to be discarded when the old pole and platform were dismantled. Rob Bierregaard, a professor of biology at the University of North Carolina, a raptor expert and partner who inspired the establishing of the Conanicut Island Raptor Project, gave assurances that the returning ospreys would rebuild their nest on the new platform.

After the camera was installed, Powell tested the video system and reported that “everything worked perfectly.” The company supplying the camera last year inadvertently shipped the wrong model, and transmission problems occurred. “All those problems are solved,” Powell said, and visitors to the web site will be afforded full view of the reality osprey show 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The camera will be fully operational when the ospreys return. The Internet address is www.conanicutraptors. com/webcam.htm.

The osprey cam is a wireless system, which means there are no wires connecting the video camera to the computer that puts the images and sound on the Internet. The infra-red color video camera comes with a microphone. Both are mounted on a long arm above the nest. The infrared camera allows Web site visitors to view the nest after dark without lights that would disturb the birds.

Just below the nest is a small box containing the transmitter that sends the video and audio signal to the receiver located on the roof of the Rhode Island Turnpike & Bridge Authority building at the Newport Bridge toll plaza. The camera images seen on the Web site are almost real time, being delayed only a few seconds.

Last spring, despite occasional camera problems, Web site visitors had the opportunity to watch three hatchling ospreys come into the world at the Marsh Meadows nest. Two of the three birds survived to fledge. The parents of those birds will be returning from their winter migration to rebuild their nest on the new platform.

On Sunday, Aug. 1 of last year, Dr. Bierregaard captured and fitted one of the two remaining juveniles at the Great Creek nest with a $4,000 satellite transmitter to track its winter migration. Conanicus, the young fledgling, then tested his wings for a few weeks before beginning his migration south on Sept. 17.

He flew south until he reached the Cienaga Zapata (Zapata Swamp) in Cuba on Sept. 25, where he settled down. The swamp is an immense wetland that is apparently a prime osprey habitat.

Conanicus seems to have found the Zapata swamps much to his liking, for he has been in the area ever since. A Cuban ornithologist, Freddy Santana, and his students have been monitoring the osprey migration for years in this area of southeastern Cuba, near Santiago, where Conanicus chose to winter. He will probably stay there before returning to the Jamestown area after a twoyear absence. The record count for one day at the Zapata habitat was 606 ospreys. Young Conanicus can make many new friends during his extended stay.

Conanicus’ behavior is unusual for a young osprey. Usually, they will continue their trip south to areas in South America before settling down. Homer, a bird that was fitted with a tracking device on Martha’s Vineyard, followed a route similar to that of Conanicus. However, he continued his migration to Venezuela, where he finally settled for the winter.

On Friday, March 31, Dr. Bierregaard will give a speech at one of the Jamestown schools about tracking the osprey migration. A similar program open to the public is also planned for that evening at the library. Bierregaard will give an additional speech on Saturday, April 1, at the R.I. Audubon Society Birdfest. Times and exact locations for the events will be announced as soon as they are established.

Bierregaard’s lectures were made possible through a $500 grant from Jamestown Education Foundation and a $100 donation from the Audubon Society of Rhode Island.

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