Happy Spring to one and all!

Things are gearing up as “winter” (air quotes, because this year’s was a joke..) subsides and all things wild look to procreate. As a birder, this is my favorite time of year as our feathered kin transform out of their subdued winter plumage into brilliant hues made for attracting the opposite sex.

For biologists studying wildlife, many field jobs are right now getting started as the birds prepare for the nesting season and other animals are soon to bear young. Since I’m not going to be in the field this season, I need to get my up close and personal nature fix elsewhere..

We call ’em the cams.

If you haven’t experienced the online live-feeds of all manner of birds and animals playing out life in their natural habitat broadcasted as reality t.v. (only better), you must go check any and all of them out. Be prepared for instant addiction.

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I’m an unabashed fan of the cams.

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Seal Island’s Boulder Berm Cam provides views of puffins loafing on the boulders that provide a network of burrows wherein the puffins build their nests.

When I worked on a seabird nesting colony on Maine’s Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge last summer, I was one of those animals broadcasted live, but was certainly not by any means the highlight. The island, managed by Audubon’s Project Puffin, has been outfitted with cameras that follow the breeding season of a variety of colonial nesting seabirds across the spring and summer. While we studied the birds, we found we had an audience studying us studying the birds. But what they’re really watching for is downy puffin chick we extract from the burrow for banding. Over the winter, the island’s cameras turn to the gray seals, which haul their enormous bodies up onto the island for the coldest months to give birth to their young.

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A cam viewer snapped a screenshot of Project Puffin researchers passing the a chick via explore.org’s live feed puffin cam…they even circled the chick to make sure everyone could see it!

Another of my favorite cams is DC’s bald eagle cam, which has followed The President and First Lady for the past three years, giving us a front row seat to the nesting eagle pair as it carries out the egg-laying and chick-rearing process live on camera.

What I love about these cameras is not just the fuzzy little, bobble-headed nestling that everyone waits for and which absolutely captures even the coldest of hearts, but the very fact that humans are given a chance to peek into a world that is either right in their backyard or 23 miles out to sea and that they might very well have had no idea it existed had they never tuned in. By watching life play out in real time, the audience can feel a greater sense that they’re connected to the creatures they’re sharing this earth with.

For example, bearing witness to today’s pipping bald eagle egg along with countless other viewers, we’re sharing the experience of a tiny life that is breaking it’s way free of it’s calcium enclosure.

Right. This. Very. Moment.

Nature is occurring and this is a window to reveal these hidden wonders. I have the tab open and check in periodically to see if the brooding parent might stand up and give us a peek. The sound is on and I can hear the wind rustle through the tulip poplar tree in which the massive stick nest is held aloft, songbirds are singing and there’s the occasional blare of a police siren in the distance. What a juxtaposition. But nevertheless, we’re getting a glimpse into a private world, and it’s an honor.

Even more satisfying than just the enjoyment of the beauty of nature, perhaps, is that we can become the scientist from behind the screen. Oftentimes when biologists aren’t in the field we’re missing a lot of what’s going on with the animals we’re studying. By keeping a constant fix on nature, the people around the country and even around the world are watching and seeing what we miss, be it the presence or absence of certain or unusual species, or zooming in to identify the number on the ankle bracelet of a banded bird. Citizen scientists helped us this summer determine the band number of certain puffins that had been banded in previous years. By looking up the number in the seabird database, we were able to determine the lineage of the bird identified and learned that it was the descendent of a puffin first banded in 1997. By helping us track the movement and expansion of the ranges of these birds, we can better understand them and help provide protected areas where they and their future descendants can safely raise their own young.

By watching these cameras, we are widening our perspective of the natural world. We are learning about the struggles that wildlife undergo to survive in harsh environments that are often negatively impacted by human impingement. By seeing this firsthand, it could really affect how we confront the future, through the way we live, the decisions we make and the perspectives we have.


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