Bald eagles on TV, on the Internet

Wednesday, April 18th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TURNERS FALLS, Mass. (AP) _ One of the best places to watch nesting bald eagles is at the bar at Jake's Tavern in this Connecticut River village.

For the past five springs, one of the two televisions above the beer taps has been steadily tuned to a local cable broadcast of the eagles in their nest on a river island just upstream.

``Everyone who stops in ends up watching them. Even the tough guys,'' said bartender Sandra Escott. The regulars even won a community contest to name chicks born last year _ they picked ``C'' and ``J,'' after the former bar owners.

Cable television and Internet sites _ the Turners Falls eagles can be seen on both _ have emerged over the past decade as a whole new way to get a close-up view of rare wild animals.

Unfortunately, the show doesn't always have a happy ending. This week, the parent birds abandoned the last of the three eggs they had struggled to save through snow storms. Another egg had cracked, and the lone eaglet to hatch had lived only a few hours.

``It's not a sanitized, Disney version of nature,'' said Bill Davis, a biologist with the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, who helps answer the thousands of e-mails generated by the Internet site. ``Things don't always go right.''

More than a half-dozen Web sites now feature live shots from wild bald eagle nests scattered across the country from Florida to California. Web-linked cameras have also been tucked into the nests of black eagles in South Africa, golden eagles in Canada and resplendent quetzals in Costa Rica.

The regulars at Jake's were not optimistic this spring, even though the eagle pair had successfully raised 16 chicks since 1989. They noticed the bad signs: three late and heavy snowstorms in March, and the parent birds leaving the eggs untended for long periods of time.

Even so, refuge volunteer Pat Carlisle, who had gone to the cable office each morning to turn on the broadcast, had hopes.

``The last egg was due to hatch on Easter Sunday,'' she said Monday. ``And then this morning about 7:30 a.m. one of the eagles covered it up with leaves and twigs. She _ or he _ left the nest, but stayed perched close by. And that was that.''

Massachusetts was one of the first places to see widespread use of live video broadcasts of wildlife beginning in 1989 with a pair of nesting peregrine falcons.

``It's incredibly popular and it can be a wonderful teaching tool,'' Davis said. ``The first thing many people do in the morning is log on or tune in and see how these birds are doing.''

In Washington state, Web cameras have broadcast nesting bald eagles and Cooper's hawks, along with bats and migrating salmon.

``We have a lot of seniors and even people in recovery wards in hospitals that are logging on just to get a spiritual uplift,'' said Chuck Gibilisco, who heads Washington's program.

The public hasn't been the only beneficiary, says Dorothy Gerhart of the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge in western New York.

``We learned things that biologists studying these birds from a distance could never learn about their behavior,'' she said.