Internet bald eagle observers win recognition from National Park Service

By Alex Wilson 07/14/2011

A dedicated group of bald eagle enthusiasts were honored by Channel Islands National Park officials for their tireless work moderating an internet webcam documenting re-establishment efforts for the majestic species.

The Santa Cruz Island EagleCAM was established during 2006 after a bald eagle chick hatched naturally on the northern Channel Islands for the first time in decades. Last year the website received more than 1.6 million hits from more than 145 countries.

Six discussion-board moderators were given wing tags like those worn by the eagles during a recent ceremony, along with books and other gifts. They also viewed the premiere of a new movie called “Return Flight: Restoring the Bald Eagle to the Channel Islands,” which featured one of their favorite birds soaring through the sky.

This year posed significant challenges for the EagleCAM program, since the adult eagle pair that had been the stars of the show since its inception moved their nest to a remote canyon that cannot be reached with the required signal.

EagleCAM backers, including the Ventura County Office of Education, had to scramble to find a more accessible nest.

They fortunately found one with a successfully breeding pair, but had to hook up additional electronic links, including one to the island’s highest mountain peak.

Website moderator Jannn Galavan of Riverside says she’s impressed with all the work it takes to bring the birds into their homes. “That is mind boggling, what they go through to set up the cameras,” says Galavan.

Galavan says she keeps an eye on the nest all day, and posts edited videos of some of the most interesting behaviors. She’s especially intrigued by what good parents they are.

“It’s amazing to watch what’s such a huge, and supposed to be a fierce bird be so tender and gentle with their babies. It’s fascinating to watch them learn to work together,” says Galavan. “And the babies are so just so cute, the way they learn from their parents. It’s almost like watching your own kid grow up.”

One of Galavan’s favorite things to watch is eagle chicks exercising their wings and preparing for their first flights.

“They test them from the time they’re little, from the time they barely have wings, to the time when they’re getting ready to fledge. And you can tell when they’re getting ready to do something new,” says Galavan.

The eagle recovery efforts are funded by the Montrose Settlements Restoration Program, which stemmed from a lawsuit against a chemical company that dumped DDT into the ocean decades ago and caused severe impacts on the environment, including brittle bird eggs. Bald eagles disappeared from Santa Cruz until dozens from Alaska and the San Francisco Zoo were released between 2002 and 2006. Some have made it their permanent home, like the stars of the webcam.

Wildlife biologist Peter Sharpe with the Institute for Wildlife Studies has played a key role in the eagle program. He says moderators of the website and other observers make a real contribution to science.

“The volunteers who watch the cams help us out immensely. For one, we don’t need to really watch these nests much. We’re going out and watching the nests that aren’t on line. Then at night I can come back and go through everything that’s been posted during the day to make sure food is coming in early in the season when eggs are hatched. So it really saves us a lot of time,” says Sharpe. “It’s good for us and it’s really good for educational purposes.”

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