A Short History of the OspreyCam at the University of Florida
The idea for the Osprey Cam came from Professor Mark Hostetler who is an urban wildlife ecologist in the Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation (WEC) at the University of Florida (UF). He thought of the possibility from initially seeing these majestic birds bringing fish to their nests during the baseball games. In addition, Professor Hostetler teaches a study abroad class in New Zealand, and there was a national event where people were able to see a Royal Albatross raise a rather large chick (see http://www.doc.govt.nz/royalcam). It was quite a success and this generated the idea to have an Osprey Cam on UF's campus.
After scouting the baseball field for one season, we decided to place the camera on the right field pole, where a nesting pair was seen. Funding came from WEC as a way to educate people about ospreys and wildlife in general. We had a number of people help us work through the challenges to get this camera operational, as described below.
We first contacted Mark Humbert, Project Manager, UF Planning, Design & Construction. He helped us throughout the project, in particular getting in touch with different people to discuss ways to attach the camera and ways to navigate UF's network to make it accessible to the public. UF's Athletic Association was very supportive of the idea and appreciation goes to Brian Barton, Scott Webster, and Bill Smith giving permission and helping with the logistics for this project.
We then had to explore which camera to purchase. After settling on EarthCam for the video equipment, we then had to decide how to get the camera up a 90-foot pole! This involved strategizing on ways to attach the camera to the pole to get the best view. First, we had to get power up to the top of the pole. Through Mark Hubert, we contacted Craft Electric to look at the pole and help build a power conduit up to the top. After several visits to the pole, we developed a plan to run power up to the top. In addition, we decided to use an antennae system to broadcast the video from the top of the pole to a connector antennae attached to a building nearby. This receiving antenna connects to UF's network.
To make sure the whole system would work with UF's network, we contacted Wally Sanchez of UF's Network Services. This was not an easy task as compatibility with UF's system was difficult to navigate and took many conversations with Earthcam and others to get it working. Wally was a key figure in getting the system operational.
Craft Electric set up renting a 120ft boom to install the camera and we also had a local welding shop (Roger Welding) weld an aluminum pole where the camera would attach. We also attached the receiving antenna on a nearby building - in direct sight of the broadcasting antenna that we would install on the top of the pole. This was connected to UF's network and checked. Having all the pieces to the puzzle together, we scheduled the boom lift and all the parties to gather December 9th to install the camera. That is when Murphy's Law reared its ugly head!
The morning started out ok, as Craft Electric methodically laid the conduit up the pole and we got power up to the top by 11:00 am. Now the tricky part, we had to connect the antenna, turn on the camera, and hold it up to see where would be the best place to attach the camera. Unfortunately, after multiple attempts, we could not get the camera to work and we could not determine where to attach the camera. It was 3:30 pm and it would be dark soon. Plan B! We decided to attach the welded pole to the right of the nest and attach the camera on top and angle it towards the nest. In the meantime, Wally ran back to IT and daisy-chained about 110 ft. of Ethernet cable so that we could attach directly to the camera and to a laptop on the ground. After a few more snafus, we finally saw an image and it was almost perfect. We hooked everything back up and hoped for the best.
However, it was not to be. We could not get the camera to work. Over the next month, with multiple explorations and calling various people and experts, we could not get the camera working. We also had a local tree climber, Jonathan Colburn (Nyssa Ecological, Inc), help us figure out a way to climb the pole without the boom. Unfortunately, we could not work out permissions, but we did appreciate his effort. Therefore, we decided to go back up the 90 ft. pole with a boom, but this time used a UF boom truck (thanks to Allen Masters and the Building Operations and Maintenance group at UF). We met on January 30th, went back up to the equipment and there was the wrong cable in the wrong outlet inside the power box. It was a simple matter of hooking it up correctly and viola...we have streaming video online!
Now, we hoped that the nesting pair of ospreys that we saw last spring would come back to the same nest. So far, the signs are promising. We have seen the pair on the nest, bringing nesting materials, and even the male bring fish to the female. Follow these birds over the next four months as they lay eggs, and raise their chicks.