Web cams offer new outdoor viewing options in the digital age

MILWAUKEE -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service surveys Americans every five years to assess trends in outdoor activities. According to a 2009 analysis of the results, one of the most popular "outdoor recreation activities" was wildlife watching....

Bear den web cam
Thousands tuned in via web cam last winter to watch Lily the bear and her cubs inside their den in northeast Minnesota. The web cam of the hibernating bears is just one example of the remote opportunities available to experience nature up close and personal in the digital age. (Forum Communications file photo)

MILWAUKEE -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service surveys Americans every five years to assess trends in outdoor activities.

According to a 2009 analysis of the results, one of the most popular "outdoor recreation activities" was wildlife watching.

The Service estimates one-third of U.S. residents engage in wildlife watching.

For purposes of the survey, that's defined as closely observing, photographing or feeding species of wildlife in backyards, wetlands, woodlands, rivers and lakes.

It can be done at home or away from it.


However, the report doesn't include information on what seems to be a growing trend: people who watch wildlife via a digital device.

Last year, a video camera placed near a bald eagle nest in Iowa drew large online audiences to view the adult birds' efforts to hatch and raise eaglets.

In January, a "den cam" broadcast the birth of black bear cubs in Minnesota.

And in Wisconsin, cameras provided live images of spawning sturgeon on the Wolf River and nesting ospreys on Big Muskego Lake.

I'm a proponent of getting into the field and seeing the action live and in person.

But there are some things even the best eyes and optics won't reveal. And some wildlife, like nesting birds or birthing mammals, are best left undisturbed.

As technology has advanced and America's digital obsession has increased, it's no wonder wildlife cams have been a hit.

Now anyone -- dedicated wildlife traveler or couch-loving web surfer -- can watch remote yet intimate views of animal behavior provided by a live web cam and the Internet.


How many more millions of Americans watch wildlife through a live camera feed to their television, computer or smart phone?

Certainly it's a big number.

There's no substitute for getting outdoors. But if live web cams can increase America's appreciation of wildlife and support for science-based wildlife management, let the electrons flow.

Just don't use it as another excuse for not making a real connection to nature.

And wouldn't it be great if digital wildlife viewing would emulate hunting and angling and contribute a portion of its proceeds to conservation programs?

As spring has sprung across the country, many wildlife cams are offering views of spawning or nesting sites.

Here are several:

- Not Hawkeyes, but eagles: Perhaps the biggest wildlife cam sensation in 2011 was the feed from a bald eagle nest in Decorah, Iowa. According to sponsors of the camera, 222 million viewers have accessed the U-stream site in the last year.


The adults hatched and successfully reared three eaglets in 2011. This year the female has laid three eggs, too. Its nest is placed in a cottonwood tree.

During the past year, the eagles repelled an attempted nest invasion by a raccoon. The birds have also been seen hunting, flying and feeding at night.

To view the nest, visit .

- Ivy League pride: Cornell University recently added a feed from a web cam placed near a red-tailed hawk nest on campus. The female hawk has been named "Big Red" after the school's athletic teams.

The hawks have raised young at the site for at least the last four years. At least two eggs are in the nest.




- Brewtown falcons: The recovery of peregrine falcons has been well-documented in Wisconsin, the result of successful nesting at man-made structures in mostly urban environments.

The once-endangered raptors are now frequently seen soaring through the airspace of downtown Milwaukee.

WE Energies has placed a camera at a nest box at its Valley Power Plant in Milwaukee. The camera recorded a peregrine laying an egg March 16.

- Hawking the fish hawk: For several years, the city of Muskego, Wis., has run an "Osprey Cam" from a platform on Big Muskego Lake.

To view, visit Muskego's website at and search for Osprey Cam.

- Wisconsin eagles: Shadows on the Wolf, a nonprofit conservation group, offers live shots of a bald eagle nest on the Wolf River. Visit .

- A fish's eye view: Wisconsin's biggest and oldest fish take center stage each spring as thousands of lake sturgeon migrate up the Wolf River to spawn.

A series of underwater cameras provides views of the fish as they swim and jostle in their mating ritual.


Due to warm weather in March, the sturgeon spawn has been weeks ahead of normal. Fish already were observed spawning in late March, according to DNR sturgeon biologist Ron Bruch. The concentration of fish is largest at the Shawano Dam.

To view the underwater camera, visit .

- Walleyes, too: Sturgeon aren't the only fish to migrate out of Lake Winnebago and into the Wolf River to spawn. The walleye spawning cycle peaked in late March in the Wolf.

Underwater cams at several spots show walleyes moving up and downriver.

Here's a link to the camera at Shiocton:


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