Posted: Jun 8, 2012 12:55 PM by Mark Thorsell - KPAX News
Updated: Jun 15, 2012 10:04 AM
LOLO- Earlier this week we brought you the story of a web cam at Dunrovin Ranch that's bringing resident osprey Ozzie and Harriet to the world. Well, any day now two osprey chicks will emerge from their eggs, which have been watched over by an adult pair nesting in their high perch in Lolo.
The same pair of birds has fledged one to three young per year over the last ten years and thanks to a partnership between The University of Montana and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the entire world is tuning in to watch the soon-to-be mom and dad.
When the Cornell Lab, a Cornell University-affiliated world leader in the study and conservation of birds, expressed interest in partnering with UM on this webcam project, Professor Erick Greene and researcher Heiko Langner were thrilled.
"These cameras are a way to engage the public and to have the entire world view the ospreys we are researching," Greene said. "It is an incredible opportunity for the world to gain an intimate perspective of an iconic Montana bird."
The Dunrovin Guest Ranch osprey, along with a pair nesting above Riverside Health Center along the Clark Fork River, have been "reality TV stars" for just about a year. UM's Department of Geosciences hosts the cameras to help researchers study the way mercury moves through the food chain in the Clark Fork River basin.
It was the quality of the images from the two high-resolution cameras that initially grabbed the interest of the Cornell Lab according to a news release. Charles Eldermire, BirdCams project leader at the lab, is charged with finding sites all over the world to expand the BirdCams project so that anyone can see avian behavior during breeding season.
"Our bird cams offer an intimate perspective into the everyday lives of birds, providing something at once both ordinary and extraordinary," Eldermire said.
When Cornell picked up UM's 24/7 video feeds last Friday, their highly trafficked site offered the entire world a rare glimpse of the nest's happenings during this special season.
"We've had hundreds of daily viewers-some of them as far away as Australia and Japan," Greene said. "Even schools are broadcasting the live feed to their entire student body."
While the world looks on, the UM scientists are learning about the health of local rivers by studying what the ospreys bring back to the nest and feed their chicks.
Because of their top position in the food web, ospreys are useful indicators of local environmental conditions. Young ospreys only eat fish their parents catch within a few miles of the nest, so these young birds reflect the condition of the local fish population, which in turn are indicators of river health.
When the baby birds are about 25 days old, the researchers will use a roofing-lift vehicle to ascend to the nest to band the chicks and to collect very small blood and feather samples. The samples will be analyzed for environmental toxins back in Langner's laboratory. The UM researchers partner in this effort with Rob Domenech, director of Raptor View Research Institute and a local raptor expert, and Dave Taylor, local roofing-business owner and citizen scientist.
So far the UM team is alarmed by what their studies have found. While the world might view the stunning Montana backdrop as pristine, Greene and Langner are discovering otherwise. They have found extremely high levels of mercury, a potent neurotoxin, in the osprey chicks along some parts of the Clark Fork River. Now their focus is to determine the long-term effects of these contaminants on ospreys and the ecosystem in general.
"We hope that these nest cams bring a larger awareness of overall river health to the folks watching," said Greene. "Once citizens feel a connection to this species, we hope there will be a heightened desire for protecting the resource upon which they depend."
The Dunrovin Guest Ranch hatchings can be viewed live online. We'll be watching these new stars too and will bring you the latest on Montana's News Station.