It was a project months, if not a solid year, in the making – former RTD outdoors columnist Andy Thompson, along with business partner Ryan Abrahamsen, wanted to set up a camera to capture ospreys raising a family on the James – but the final product hopes to be so much more.
“We wanted it to show what the ospreys were doing, that miracle of life stuff,” said Thompson in an interview with RVAMag. “But we also got a great camera down there with a full 360 pan and 30x zoom so its a view of the waterfront and everything that’s happening on the river.”
Ospreys, sometimes called river hawks, are native to both North and South America but do their breeding right here in RVA and along the East Coast during the summer. The camera, available at RichmondOspreyCamera.com, went live this weekend and it does indeed feature an adorable osprey family.
Thompson and Abrahamsen are no strangers to the River or James River Parks – they run RichmondOutside.com, a website devoted to outdoor recreation in the Richmond area. The new osprey cam project started about a year ago when the two outdoor enthusiasts pondered the idea of tracking the birds as well as offering a spotlight on downtown RVA.
“We thought it would be cool to show the wildlife in this downtown, urban areas. It’s one of the coolest parts of the city,” he said. The two worked with James River Parks, local biologists and bird watchers to help find out the least invasive way to capture the ospreys. Then there was the logistics of erecting a camera and streaming the feed to the web. Enlisting help from RichmondOutdoors sponsors RiverCity Outfitters, along with some handy, ourdoorsy friends, they managed to get the completely self-sustaining system, with solar panels and batteries and a constantly streaming camera with a wireless ethernet connection, erected.
“We had to raft through rapids and go through the pipeline to get it up,” he said. “You don’t don’t just canoe over with 1000 lbs of equipment.”
Connor Riley climbs the bridge piling early on in the osprey cam installation process.
Their friend Conner Riley, a rock climber and former Navy explosives expert, climbed up the pillion, inserting bolts to create infrastructure. It took four days of rafting out and building, all the while they had to worry about scaring off ospreys. The installation started ahead of the season, so they weren’t sure the pillion they picked would play host to an osprey family. But luckily, on the last day of installation, when they arrived on site a pair of ospreys flew out of the nest they’d built up around.
The location of the camera rig via Google maps
“That was the biggest hold-your-breath part of this,” he said. “Ospreys often come back to the same nest, but not always… it was days on the water. What if we do all this and they don’t come back? But we got there and they flew away to Brown’s Island in a tree and just watched us… needless to say, we’re not going back there till the seasons over.”
You can check out the osprey cam online here, or head on down to the T Potterfield Bridge and see the rig yourself.
Words by Brad Kutner, photos via Richmond Osprey Cam