RYE – Fifty feet above Little Bay, a pair of ospreys nest on a platform designed by students from Rye. Every movement of the birds can be seen around the world, via a live webcam powered by the sun.
“This is a love project that has been going on for 15 years,” said Robin Ellwood, PhD in science education and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) professor at Rye Junior High at the head of the project.
Ellwood said she had always loved birds, had become an ornithologist in college, and had a “life list” of bird species she observed and recorded. She wanted her students to understand the links between the avian world and ecosystems, to be able to observe birds in their natural habitat and to come up with their own data and research questions.
“As you can imagine, taking 20 eighth graders into the woods isn’t particularly calm,” she said. “So you scare what you study.”
When she researched the cost of making a nesting pole, with a solar-powered webcam, the estimates were prohibitive at around $ 20,000 a year, Ellwood said. But thanks to donations and manpower provided by New Hampshire Fish and Game, Eversource and a grant from the Rye Education Foundation, the osprey camera is now operational.
The osprey was named Ping and Furber by the students and they now have an egg in the nest.
“I would expect a second egg,” Ellwood said. “I hope three eggs, three chicks and that all three leave the nest.”
High school students from Rye, some of whom are now graduates, designed the birdhouse and made it in the school’s science lab. The Rye Education Foundation provided a grant for the cost of the webcam, solar panels and batteries.
“The kids decided they wanted a perched pole,” Ellwood said, and as anyone looking at the osprey’s camera will see, it’s used regularly by Ping and Furber.
The students, Ellwood said, “are over the moon” when they log into the live webcam and watch one of the birds use it.
NH Fish and Game provided funds and materials for the rig, which measures approximately 3 square feet, and the power company offered a remote location in Durham for the two poles. Four years ago, the plan was to haul draft horses in the 50-foot poles, one for the nesting platform and the other for the camera, but there was too much snow. The following year, Ellwood said, there was no ice so the horses couldn’t access the area.
Then Eversource came to the rescue last year by donating a new location, using three trucks, one with a crane, and laborers to install the poles. Using a giant auger and ATVs, utility workers spent more than two days installing the poles, fabricating storm-proof struts, and placing the nesting platforms and the camera at the top.
Starter nesting sticks, to attract osprey, were placed on the platform, which was signed by all of the students who worked there, Ellwood said. The installation was completed last May and 10 minutes after Eversource workers left the site, Ellwood said, an osprey flew overhead.
When she returned the next morning, she said, there were a pair of ospreys on the nest. There were also camera and power issues last year, but this year the system is working, although Ellwood said it is slow on cloudy days and the camera resolution could be better. . A larger solar panel would solve the problem, she said.
“We really made it work this year,” she said. “But it’s not quite perfect yet.”
Students can manipulate the camera to zoom in on the talons, or go into the distance to see a flock of turkeys pass through the field below, Professor de Rye said. Last week, when Ellwood went to the site to hook up a microphone, one of the ospreys was perched above the camera.
She said the students are studying what ospreys use to build their nests, what they eat, maps of the area and the implications of the climate. Since this is a STEAM project, the students also made renderings of their ospreys. They also build a web page about the programs, make mugs and t-shirts to commemorate it, and then sell them in a school store.
Later this year, the osprey, which will mate for life, will migrate to South America, Ellwood said. During the winter, the webcam will stay live to observe if owls or eagles invade the perch. Then, next April, she said, Ping and Furber are expected to return to the same student nesting pole.
To watch the Rye students’ webcam in Durham, visit youtube.com/watch?v=91iG6ingVZs&feature=youtu.be.
Donations to the student program can be made by check to Rye Junior High School, 501 Washington Rd., Rye, NH 03870 and writing “osprey project” in the memo line.
Ellwood won a 2016 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Education, the highest honor bestowed on teachers of mathematics and science.