SEASIDE — When the ospreys arrive in Seaside next month, they're going to have to learn to smile for the camera.
The world will be watching them as they clean up the nest they left last fall, lay their eggs, feed their chicks and teach them to fly.
Like reality TV, every squabble, every intimate makeup session, every day, whether it's good or bad, will be publicly displayed.
There's no telling how the ospreys will feel about it, but Seaside residents are looking forward to the time they can turn on their computers and watch the ospreys in Broadway Park.
The ospreys are expected back in early April; last year, they arrived April 3.
“The story has been such a good story, and because the birds have been here a few years, people in town have taken ownership,” said Neal Wallace, public works director for Seaside.
Wallace and several others huddled under the roof of a covered picnic area, shivering in the cold wind and rain Tuesday while a crew worked to attach a camera on a platform 60 feet in the air that holds the osprey nest.
While Wallace had hoped to have the camera, which was paid for by community donations, operational by last Wednesday, a few glitches caused a delay. Now, it probably won't be ready until late Monday or Tuesday.
“It was a Murphy's Law day,” Wallace said about the first day of work.
Although the arm holding the camera was attached to the platform, and the wiring was about finished, someone noticed that the angle of the stationary camera would be pointing at the platform, not into the nest. The wooden arm holding the camera needed to be adjusted at a different angle — a problem that couldn't be fixed in a few minutes.
“It's not anybody's fault,” Wallace said. “Some days you're the windshield and some days you're the bug. Today we were the bug.”
But come Monday, when a crane will be available and the guys from Olympia Systems Inc. — also known as CritterZoom.com — return to finish the job, the cam could be in place for everyone to access.
“It's the next chapter in the 'osprey saga,' ” Wallace said.
The saga Wallace referred to started several years ago when a master plan for Broadway Park called for reconstruction of the ball field and installation of artificial turf. Fundraising was slow, and the park development languished for a while. Then, local agencies and organizations decided to pool their money, and in 2011, the artificial turf was ordered.
But before the turf could be rolled out, there was, of course, a glitch.
An osprey couple had decided that a light pole in the field would make a fine place for their nest, which is at least 4 feet in diameter.
“I had quite a few people tell me we couldn't go forward with the osprey there,” Wallace said.
But not to be deterred, Wallace and his crew wrapped some artificial turf around the pole to give the birds a sense of protection. It turned out that the fine-feathered couple wasn't bothered at all.
After the ospreys left town for the winter, a 60-foot-tall hemlock pole was put into the ground 450 feet east of their original nest. A square, cedar-framed platform was attached to the pole, and the nest, which Wallace had salvaged, was placed on top of it.
Sure enough, the couple returned to the nest last year and went about their duties, as if their summer home had never been moved.
Then came the idea of an “osprey cam.”
Wallace contacted Phil Turner, owner of Olympic Systems Inc. A former surveillance-camera operator, Turner decided he enjoyed training his cameras on animals rather than people. He has provided cameras for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife as well as organizations in four states.
CritterZoom.com shows bald eagles, barn owls, great blue herons, harbor seals and other animals through the lenses of the cameras Turner has designed and mounted. The site gets 500,000 to 1 million views a year, he said.
Turner also offers online classes for children.
“I love the smiles of the kids when they see what's out there,” Turner said. “I don't think people know what's out there.
“I'm in love with the wildlife camera,” Turner added, as he prepared the 1.3-megapixel camera and a smaller backup before they were mounted on the platform. “I laughingly call my business a 'for-profit nonprofit.' ”
Each camera provides a color view during the day and infrared at night. The secondary camera, however, has only one-third of the resolution of the larger camera. Both are stationary and cannot be remotely operated to turn in a new direction.
In addition to the camera, the platform will be wired for sound.
The signal from the wireless camera will go to a receiver on the top of the Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District building nearby. From there, the signal will be sent to a server in Los Angeles. The server is provided at a reduced cost by a “benefactor” who also loves animals, Turner said.
The cost to set up the osprey cam is $4,600 — even with some of the labor donated by Turner and others and the use of the “spider lift” — a crane with a basket to hold two people — donated by Luke Colvin, of Arbor Care
To pay for the installation, the Necanicum Watershed Council raised $1,600 from its annual Necanicum Bird Discovery Days this year and in 2012. In addition, donations came from the Seaside Visitors Bureau, $1,000; Seaside Downtown Development Association, $500; Seaside Chamber of Commerce, $500; Del Sol, $250; and several other businesses. Erin Barker, owner of Beachhouse Vacation Rentals, loaned Turner the use of a beach house.
When it looked like there might not be enough money to order the osprey cam and attach it to the platform before the osprey arrived, Melyssa Graeper, director of the Necanicum Watershed Council, offered to underwrite most of the project, using unrestricted, donated funds, with the promise of being paid back when the osprey donations came in. She knew people were interested when there were so many people asking questions at a recent Seaside Downtown Development Association meeting.
“Everyone was real excited,” she said. “There was such an effort to save the nest. People are interested.”
In addition to the $1,600 the council is donating, proceeds from future Bird Days will go to pay the $400 annual website fee.
“I can tell you I'm not going to get a lot of work done when the ospreys show up,” Graeper said, while she watched the crane rise up to the nest. “I'm glad I've got two computer monitors — one osprey monitor and one work monitor.”
Also watching the installation and taking photos was local conservationist Neal Maine, who helped to design the platform and research the best location for it.
Always the teacher, Maine said the osprey cam presented a potential for “wonderful community education and original research.” By viewing the ospreys, students could document the chicks' lives and possibly learn something new about them.
“I'm sure everyone will enjoy watching the juveniles grow up, fledge and leave. It's like they (those observing) are the parents sometimes,” Maine said.
The ospreys' choice to make Seaside their summer residence is a sign that the local environment is healthy, he said.
“It's one of those measuring sticks,” Maine added.
“They fall into the group as keystone organisms. In order for this to work for them, everything below them has to work — the air, the trees, water quality and fish. Their presence indicates the intactness of the habitat.”
But, although people will view them through the camera, it's really the ospreys that are watching their guests, Maine said.
“We invaded their environment, and if we're good, they'll allow us to stay,” he said.