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Watchable wildlife

WHITE CITY — A little camera trained on a new artificial nest along the Rogue River is offering a bit of avian voyeurism that shows the Rogue Valley housing shortage also appears to be for the birds.

A nest platform erected on the Mace Foundation property, erected to lure an osprey family, instead drew two Canada geese that subsequently hatched a clutch of goslings that plopped out April 9 as the family abandoned it.

Within hours, two osprey moved in and now appear to be creating some additions to their abode while prepping for their coming young.

And all the while, the camera captures their every move live — transmitted to anyone who wishes to see what the young couple is doing.

“It’s reality TV,” says Steve Niemela, Rogue District wildlife biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “It allows people to get an intimate look at the bird’s behavior and observe them without any negative effect on the birds.

You like to have a nice story to tell, with a plot,” he says. “We hope they have a couple of chicks and there’s some cool stuff for people to watch.”

The bird-cam is the latest offering from the Watchable Wildlife Foundation on Mace Foundation land off Highbanks Road along this somewhat secluded section of the Rogue.

Links to the osprey platform as well as a nearby great blue heron rookery are present on the foundation’s website — and free to view — at https://watchablewildlifefoundation.org/

The foundation is at the heart of the Mace Family Watchable Wildlife Area that pays homage to Bob and Phyllis Mace on their 165 acres where they lived and mined gravel along the Rogue.

The foundation is the legacy of Bob Mace, who was the former Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife leader who coined the phrase Watchable Wildlife to give just credence to critters that crawl, bound or fly instead of the sexy ones targeted by hunters and fishers.

Envisioned for the property is a day-use area for picnickers, birders, anglers and others escaping regular life along the Rogue Valley floor, and the nearby Whetstone Creek will be restored as a habitat anchor for the wildlife species Mace championed in his work and his life.

Along with river frontage nearly the length of six football fields, perhaps its biggest draw will be a 125-acre lake carved into the property’s vast commercial gravel expanses, providing fishing and other water recreation opportunities currently not offered along the valley floor.

That gravel pit is currently under commercial excavation, and the public is largely not yet allowed on the land.

Though now owned by a private trust, the land eventually will be deeded to ODFW and managed as an extension of the agency’s Denman Wildlife Area under a unique agreement that could take decades to play out.

Until then, foundation members have been looking for ways to engage the public there, and the virtual camera trained on a newly created nesting platform fit the bill.

“Doing something like this really fits our mission,” says Mace’s daughter Linda Marr of Ashland, who oversees the foundation. “It’s really fascinating to watch them. They’re so incredible.”

The rise of nesting platforms on utility poles generally meet the needs of animals as well as people.

Animals such as ospreys began looking to these artificial poles as potential nesting sites as their populations have grown over the decades while their natural nesting habitats in older, mature trees has dwindled.

“It’s wildlife, there’s always a question of limiting resources,” Niemela says. “Sometimes they need some help.”

Utility companies and bird-lovers have long adapted utility poles with nesting platforms so the make-shifts nests don’t trigger power outages that can cause fires and kill the nesting birds.

Occasionally, as on the Mace Foundation land, the poles are erected strictly for the birds.

While geese tend to be ground-nesters, they occasionally take over existing osprey nests before the migratory osprey return to their Oregon breeding grounds.

For now, it’s back to the ospreys and their day-to-day musings, an intimate peek into their daily lives without becoming a disruption.

“It does gives people the opportunity to see stuff they normally wouldn’t be able to see,” Niemela says. “Even if you were a trained wildlife observer, you’d be 100 yards away looking at it through binoculars and potentially effecting the bird’s behavior. This, they just get used to it. They sit there.”

For viewers, it can be downright mesmeric.

Last year when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Niemelas searched for ways to amuse their two young boys. They discovered webcams, mostly set up at urban zoos.

“My kids just love watching the zoo animals,” Niemela says. “Today, I turned my son on to the osprey site, and we watched it for 20 minutes as he ate breakfast. It was great.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.