George and Gracie are back in their East Marion nest.
The ospreys were the subject of their own online reality show, of sorts, last year, when a Greenport businessman decided to sponsor a webcam that trained its lens on their nest around the clock (Read more: Baby osprey hatches on live video in East Marion nest, siblings to follow).
The camera provided a window on the natural world rarely accessible to most people, recording their chicks hatch, feed and learn to fly.
Tax Reduction Services developed and sponsors the website where high-definition video is live-streamed from a webcam focused on the nest 80 feet above ground, 24 hours a day.
The nest is located on the property of Tommy Aprea, a retired commercial fisherman in East Marion who built the 4-by-4 platform where the pair first nested in 2014. It sits atop his unused radio tower. Aprea decided to build the platform after he noticed that an osprey seemed to have taken interest in the location.
“Ten minutes after we put the platform up, there was a pair of ospreys on it,” Aprea said in an interview last year. “The truck hadn’t even left the driveway yet.”
On a whim, Aprea said, he decided to place a high-definition camera on a perch above the nest so he and his friends could watch.
The video stream was unexpectedly riveting. But video cam access was limited.
Paul Henry, owner of Tax Reduction Services, said as soon as he learned of the nest and its camera, he was “instantly fascinated.” He decided to build a website where the streaming video could be shared more widely.
The ospreyzone.com website has drawn tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world since its launch last June. On peak days, it attracted 30,000 viewers last year.
Some of what the webcam captured last year was not easy to watch. The smallest of the three hatchlings — which hatched five days later than the first chick — was half the size of the other two and could not compete with its dominating siblings for food. The bigger chicks were very aggressive and pecked at their tiny sibling.
“The parents let it happen,” Henry said. “It was very hard to see. They ended up just killing it.”
As events unfolded, viewers grew increasingly concerned and even angry, demanding that the nest sponsors intervene to save the young bird.
“We are all saddened by the events that unfolded before our eyes,” Henry wrote in the message board that accompanies the video. He said the decision to “let nature take its course” was difficult but the right thing to do.
He consulted with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in deciding what to do.
“Our policy with our bird cams project is essentially ‘just say no’ to pleas for interference,” wrote John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
“The behavior you are witnessing – while seemingly cruel and heartless to us – is natural for many kinds of birds, especially those that feed on variable, unpredictable food supplies. The little nestling does have a chance to survive, but if it does not then that result was ‘meant to be’ by the nature of osprey breeding strategy,” Fitzpatrick wrote.
Later in the summer, one of the two remaining chicks got tangled in fishing line. “We were advised that if there is a manmade impact threatening the birds, it is OK to intervene,” Henry said.
He reached out to wildlife rescue experts and PSEG for help. Jim MacDougall from Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center went up in a PSEG-LI bucket truck and untangled the chick in its nest.
George and Gracie returned to their nest on March 31, a Tax Reduction Services employee said today. Watch the streaming live video here.
The majestic raptors winter in Central and South America and typically return to the East End, which is their breeding area, in the days around St. Patrick’s Day. They return to the same nest each year. A pair will have three eggs each spring.