March 17th marked Westminster’s launch of their new Standley Lake live camera, which gives residents a hawk-eye view of the park’s Bird Island.
The 24/7 camera stands about 400 feet away from the island that hosts a habitat with a plethora of birds, including great horned owls, western tanagers, the American avocet, egrets, blue herons, pelicans, gulls, ducks and many other birds stopping by.
And that’s not all.
“It’s not just these birds that you’re going to find here, they change seasonally,” said Sully Tun-Ake, Senior Park Ranger at Standley Lake.
In the winter, mostly waterfowl birds hang around the popular birding destination, like Canada Geese, joining resident raptors and Osprey, she said.
As well, moose sometimes swim and make their way to Bird Island.
The camera replaces the previous location, which was filming an eagle’s nest in the park. However, due to the trauma those eagles endured the past few years and federal regulations, the new nests are unable to be filmed.
A Dedicated Convocation
In the past, residents were able to watch the beloved Bald Eagles in the park, but the camera had to be moved due to a troubling trauma the convocation of eagles residing in the park endured during the last few years, according to Tun-Ake.
The cam had filmed live on an eagle’s nest in the park up until 2020, when the tragic events began.
“It’s 2020 and that’s when we’re all like `man, to make matters worse,’ we’re already going through a hard time,” she said.
The mother bird, who lived in the park for 6-7 years, laid her eggs in the nest and only a week into the hatching, another bigger, stronger female eagle brutally attacked her. Tun-Ake knew about the event from dedicated bird watchers who saw the attack overnight.
The attack was brutal and she said the eagle was very vocal, and credits the dedicated convocation of cam-viewers for alerting her to the event.
“It was like Citizen Science without us asking for it, which was beautiful,“ she said.
As sad as it was, Tun-Ake said this happens due to hormones, which fuels the new females to look for new territory.
After the fight, the male called for the original mate to take care of their hatched child and she never responded. Tun-Ake said that likely meant she had fled the area.
Due to it’s age, the baby Eaglet required constant care from either the Mom or Dad However, due to hunger, the male needed to leave the nest. He returned after two hours but his baby had died.
“That was another traumatic thing for the public because the Eaglet got picked off by another bird,” she said.
The following year, the male had accepted the new female and they mated. In the winter of 2020, the pair began showing nesting behavior, Tun-Ake said, but tragedy struck again: a huge wind storm on Dec. 23 collapsed the nest.
They recovered and soldiered on, ultimately adapting to a new nest the park built in 1993. Eggs were laid. Unfortunately, another windy day came and the branch with the nest completely broke off. The eaglets that hatched didn’t survive.
“They were mourning after we took the eaglet out of the nesting area,” she said. “They came back for weeks calling to that little one.”
Now, those eagles have relocated deep into the refuge area and Tun-Ake said park staff will be giving them needed space after a couple of traumatic years.
Austin Cox, a spokesperson for the City of Westminster, also said federal regulations require a certain amount of distance between park officials and nesting eagles which prevents them from placing a camera on their new nest.
“That’s just how nature is you’re going to see the good and you’re going to see the bad,” Tun-Ake said.
Risks to Birds
The birds in the park are very lucky to be in a wildlife-protected area, Tun-Ake said. However, that doesn’t come with full immunity; birds must adapt to changes in their habitat.
Water levels are one of them. Low levels can create a land bridge to Bird Island, making easy access for predators to walk across. Human irresponsibility exists too, with fishing lines and lures catching onto birds.
“We constantly have to rescue birds that are tangled up in fishing line,” she said.
As well, habitat loss due to climate remains a risk factor, and what’s in the habitat. She pointed to the possibility of lead poisoning in birds.
“It can get into the soil, it gets into the aquatic plants, the fish eat the plants, and it kind of goes into this whole cycle,” she said.
One instance of weird behaviors coming from a newly born eaglet worried the rangers of possible lead poisoning. The eaglet eventually grew out of the struggles and no lead testing was done to see if there was a small dose, but lead poisoning always remains a possibility.
“There are severe cases, which we haven’t seen in our Eagles, where it can lead to death. And I mean it kind of shuts down their whole system and gives them seizures when there’s a high doses in eagles. And it’s not just (in) eagles,” she said.
Raptors, she said, are constantly affected by lead nationwide. The lead can come from hunting ammo, fishing sinkers and lures.
“We haven’t really had a huge die off that we can say (lead is) a threat but we definitely know what’s out there,” she said.
Westminster tests for lead in Standley Lake and Andy Le, a spokesperson for the City of Westminster, said that lead levels are very low.
“The City tests for lead in Standley quarterly and it remains below testing limits or essentially undetectable,” he said.
Importance of Birds
Tun-Ake said the birds are a key signal for the health of the area.
“They tell us a lot about our environment, whether we are doing the right thing, is our ecosystem healthy,” she said.
She pointed to the controversy between Bald Eagles and DDT, which said are one of the great American conservation success stories.
“They’re much more than just beautiful birds. They tell us when there’s something going on in our environment, and that’s why I think they’re, they’re amazing,” she said. “And it’s not just birds. It’s just in general with nature.”