Hello, my name is Mike Lawrence and I teach a combined 3rd and 4th grade class at SoSET Charter School in the Blair-Taylor Elementary School. There is a nest in our area and last spring I asked the owners of the land if I could install a camera above it. Once I got permission, I wrote a STEM Grant through the DPI of Wisconsin for $5,000. I submitted the grant in April 2010 and heard back in August that I was approved for $4,600 for funding of the eagles4kids project. When I wrote the grant I knew where I wanted to be at the end, but I really didn’t have a set plan on how to get there.
First, I contacted the bald eagle specialist at the National Fish and Wildlife Agency in Minneapolis to find out the legal issues with working around a bald eagle nest. I was told I had until the end of December 2010 to install the camera, and I had to keep the equipment a certain distance away from the nest. I contacted the local DNR and they did not show any interest. Talking with people about the project, I made contact with the National Eagle Center and they became interested in the project. They eventually created an education partnership with my school and are an important partner in this project.
Next, I started with the power issue. Initially I wanted to use batteries to power the camera and modem/router. I planned on having 12 batteries, keeping six at the site and six in my garage recharging, and each week I would swap them. There were too many potential problems with this idea, so I switched to solar and wind. Solar was a better idea than wind but there was still potential for unknowns over the years for maintenance and reliability. I decided that I had to get direct power out to the site, even if it cost more. The nearest power pole to the nest was 250 yards away and across a highway. After speaking with Riverland Energy they agreed to run power to within 40 yards of the eagle nest. They subcontracted out the project to Moll’s Utility, who installed five power poles and crossed a two lane highway.
Then, I made contact with Centurylink, the local phone company. Their nearest connection point to the nest site was 100 yards away. They agreed to run a wire with internet connection to the same spot where the power was run. Now I had power and internet connection at the site but nothing to connect them both together. I had to get an electrician to make the final hookups and install an all-weatherproof box at the site. The modem/router, injector, and power strip are the only components in the weatherproof box.
It had taken about two months to get to this point. All that had to be done was to install the camera above the nest. I purchased an Axis camera early on in the project that could withstand the different weather conditions in Wisconsin. Remotely, I would be able to zoom in and out with the camera, but not tilt up and down or side to side. A college friend made the mount that the camera would be attached to. Initially, I thought I would cover the camera mount with cottonwood bark, but decided to put camouflage tape on it and then spray paint a light brown over it. I had contacted a local tree trimming business and the owner agreed to install the camera above the nest. We decided that his two-man bucket would not reach the spot where the camera needed to be installed, so he decided to use his one-man bucket that reached sixty seven feet high.
Everything was in place! We picked a day to install the camera, but the day before we started having camera problems so we put it off a couple of days. There were predictions of snow and the temperature was going to drop, so I had to get the camera installed. The person installing the camera was also leaving for a fishing trip for a week. I decided to install the camera the Monday before Thanksgiving. When we showed up at the site, Lucy and Larry were in the nest. I had been checking the nest for the past two weeks and they hadn’t been there, but they showed up the day we were going to install the camera. We had to wait a couple of hours until they left and we moved in. We finished laying the conduit across the creek and running the ether wire through it. We had the camera working on the ground and ready to go when the bucket truck arrived. I was on the ground with the camera connected to my laptop while the bucket operator went up with the camera. Once the camera mount was screwed into the tree I told him where to point the camera, based on what I was seeing on my computer screen. He had to manually move the camera to the right spot and then screw the dome back on, all on the tips of his toes. While he was installing the camera, Lucy and Larry had come back and were flying back and forth over the nest.
I had to find a broadband provider that would handle the eagles4kids.com stream. I was told that we could reach a million hits during this nesting period. I chose to go with WildEarth out of South Africa. I had a Skype video call with the owner and introduced the project and they immediately said they were interested. They would handle all the traffic on the web page for free and in exchange they would run an ad when you first log onto the live feed and then there would be ads at the bottom every once in a while. I was not a big fan of the ads but I needed their service and it has worked out great. WildEarth made the final connection and we were able to put the feed on the webpage. We had a website kickoff at our school where we unveiled the web page and the National Eagle Center brought Harriot, one of their bald eagles.
There were a lot of phone calls, meetings, and site visits with the different business partners and many nights wondering what had to be done next and how it was going to get it done. I was asking a lot from the businesses and keeping everything moving forward was difficult at times. I ended up having to raise an additional $2,600 to pay off the bills. I was able to do this through donations and a fund raiser.
There are a couple things I would have done differently, and they both have to do with the camera. I thought when I purchased the camera I was getting sound, but I need to purchase an external microphone. Secondly, I would like a camera with infrared capability to allow for night time viewing. The microphone has been purchased for next year and we are looking into an infrared adaptor that works with the camera. I wouldn’t change anything else about how I approached the project. I learned a lot about people, great and not so great.
All of the companies that worked with me on this project have gone out of their way to make it happen. The web page was created early on so I could show the businesses what it looked liked. The grant money paid for most of the material costs and the business partners donated the labor. In exchange, I put their logos on the bottom of the web page. I have monthly sponsors, and I put their logo on the eagles4kids homepage for the month they are sponsoring. Their sponsorship pays the electric and internet connection fees for the month they are sponsoring. I do not have any costs as long as I keep getting businesses to sponsor the site.
I had a lot of good fortune. The best thing that happened was forming a partnership with the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, MN. Scott, the education director at the eagle center has done a great job of working with the students through Skype discussions. I met Rob from Centurylink who made the internet connection happen. Sometimes he would meet me four times a week at the site. It was usually after work and a lot of times in the dark when he would meet with me. He never got paid to do this because he was doing it on his own time. I met with the head of operations of Riverland Energy at the nest site and I had to sell him on the project. After we met at the nest he looked at me and said he would make this work. It was a great feeling. Getting direct power to the nest was my biggest worry, because I had gotten a preliminary estimate of the cost and I could not afford it. My school administration and the local community have been very supportive and willing to go out of their way to help out. I have also been fortunate to have Darrin Briggs, another third grade teacher, who has taken an great interest in the project. He creates videos, follows the discusions about eagles on the iternet, and manages our facebook page.
The most important part of this project and the ones who have gained the most are the students. They created the name eagles4kids, helped design the web page, are involved in weekly video-skype question and answer sessions with the National Eagle Center, have been interviewed by the media, created brochures promoting eagles4kids, ran a carnival for a fund raiser, and are creating a children’s short documentary about the project. Creating the documentary will be a whole new adventure for the students and me. Our goal is to have it close to being done by the end of the school year. We will have to wait for the first flight of the eaglet(s) so we can include it in the documentary, and this will happen after school is done for the year. Our long term goal is to submit the documentary to film festivals in the Midwest. The students are living and breathing this project. They are keeping daily journal entries and I hope to find a way to put some of them on the web page. I am very proud of all of them!