This past week was marked by 45mph gusts of wind, followed by a deep freeze. A few days later. . .you guessed it, we were back up to 70 degrees. The mid-Atlantic has always been climactically bi-polar in late winter, but this year, 2014, is the worst I can remember.
A few of our nest boxes went down with the spate of high winds in February. So my friend Ken and I spent two weekends installing anchors and moving vulnerable nest boxes to better locations. You can read about our anchor system in a previous post. I am happy to report that our nest boxes survived the latest onslaught of heavy winds, and not one box went down. Given that nesting season is starting here in NC, that's some good peace of mind.
Earlier this month, just after the snowstorm, I talked with Francis at B. Everett Jordan Dam about putting our final phase one nest box, number 26, at the dam. We had already placed two boxes there, but the dam offered some of the best habitat available, and I wanted to fully utilize it. He agreed to meet with me on a Saturday afternoon in mid-March, to install the final box.
As the installation date approached, however, I was contacted by Perry Herpai from Spy on a Bird, the same company that had installed a Bald Eagle nest cam at Jordan Lake. Perry asked if we wanted to install a Barn Owl nest cam in one of our boxes, which would allow for live viewing over the internet. The timing couldn't have been more perfect. I talked to the board at New Hope Audubon, to secure funding, and asked Perry to meet with Francis and me at the dam.
Francis and I, after some discussion, decided to put the final nest box, as well as the previous two, on 4x4 wooden posts for extra stability. Wooden posts mounted in the ground are very secure, and don't sway at all, an important factor when thinking about live video hook-ups. Unlike most of our previous nest box set-ups, which were designed to be somewhat mobile, these would be permanently fixed in place.
On the day of installation, I arrived to find Jordan Lake much higher than usual, as a result of all the weather events we'd been having. The dam was in the process of releasing more water than I thought physically possible, dropping the lake level one foot per day. Considering the size of Jordan Lake, the amount of water being released at the base of the dam, in terms of cubic meters per second, was simply mind boggling!
Francis and I went right to work, removing one box from a tire-mounted metal pole and moving it to a 4x4 post before the others even arrived. This box is now a permanent installation right across from the visitor's center!
We then met with Perry, who deemed Box 19 to be the best candidate for a camera system. Box 19 is situated next to a pump station with electrical outlets, only a quarter mile from the Army Corps offices at the dam. We lowered the box off the existing pole, and Perry went right to work installing the camera.
With Perry busy with his electronics setup, Francis and I turned our attention to the new installation, Box 26. My friend Ken showed up to help with digging the hole and getting the box properly secured. Here's a pic of Ken and Francis busy with the prep work:
Digging a two foot hole in North Carolina soil is no easy chore. With large rocks imbedded in hard red clay, this ground is just brutal to human joints. The upside to this soil, though, is that any post imbedded in it is unlikely to go anywhere, with or without concrete. Here I am with Francis, lifting the post into place:
We decided to add a sack of concrete at the base, for extra stability in high winds. Box 26 is located on the far eastern side of the Corps of Engineers property, and can be seen from the hiking trail on the far side of the dam, going towards the spillway.
Below is a photo of the newly installed box 26, in habitat. This was the final nest box placement in phase one of our program!!
But it wasn't time to celebrate just yet. Upon arriving back at Box 19, we found Perry putting the finishing touches on the camera wiring. As with the other two Jordan dam boxes, this one was to be mounted directly into the ground.
Perry's company installs camera systems in nest boxes all over the country, including bluebird houses in back yards, and eagle nests in remote locations. We were very lucky to have him donate his time and expertise to our project. Here is the camera, fully mounted to the inside of the nest box:
Because the camera is mounted in the upper corner, it is out of the way of potential inhabitants, and offers nice images of the back of the nest box. An antenna will soon be installed at the Army Corps office, about a quarter mile away, to receive signal from the camera. Once the antenna is in place, hopefully within a few weeks, we will be able to stream live video online!!! I will post when the stream is ready to go live.
Here's a photo of the camera-installed nest box ready to go, on its new, permanent, wooden post. When the camera goes live, it will mark the end of phase one of our Piedmont Barn Owl Initiative, which set the intention to install 25 boxes in optimal habitat by 2015. We managed to install 26 boxes before the spring of 2014! Countless hours of talking on the phone, driving, and backbreaking work went into completing this part of the project.
We will now turn our attention to maintaining and monitoring the 26 boxes, inquiring about existing nest sites in the area, and educating the public. New Hope Audubon will continue to donate nest boxes where recent Barn Owl activity has been observed. Please contact us at newhopeaudubon.org to report sightings, or to ask questions about our program.