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Pittsburgh eagle webcam closes down for year

| Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, 8:02 a.m.
Photo Courtesy of HAL KORBER
Derek Spitler of the Pennsylvania Game Commission removes the remote camera from a tree near the eagle nest in the Hays section of Pittsburgh. Camera owner PixController Inc. hopes to return the camera for next year's nesting season and may install a second camera at the eagle nest in Harmar near the Route 28 Expressway.

Digging in his climbing spurs into the tree more than 30 feet up, Derek Spitler of the Pennsylvania Game Commission took down the webcam for the bald eagle nest in Pittsburgh's Hays neighborhood on Tuesday morning.

At the site, the eagles' handiwork is still evident as even in the thick undergrowth, a wad of branches and sticks popped out from the intruding Virginia creeper vine that now laces the nest's exterior.

Although the equipment had to be pulled from the nest site, to recharge the batteries and clean the camera, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has not decided if the agency will support a webcam next year.

The enormously popular camera and live media stream provided by the Murrysville company PixController pulled in close to 3.5 million views on local websites, including Trib Total Media, of which the Valley News Dispatch is a part.

The webcam documented the daily life of the historic pair of bald eagles that are the first to nest within the city of Pittsburgh in at least 150 years. For its second season of nesting, the pair successfully raised three young eaglets that left the nest this summer.

In favor of running the webcam next year is Robert Schlemmer, president of the game commission board, who is a Washington Township resident.

“We are excited about how it went over and what happened,” he said. “I understand that the game commission office received emails and phone calls from virtually all over the world.”

Schlemmer said he was pleased with PixController, adding that there are other game commission webcams documenting an osprey nest and the wanderings and eating habits of an elk.

But Schlemmer said that the board can only make a recommendation. The agency's administration, including the executive director, biologists and others who worked on the project will ultimately decide the fate of next year's eagle cam. This year's run was a pilot project.

Schlemmer said that the board will soon discuss and make a decision on next year's webcams.

Hopes for a Harmar camera

Bill Powers, CEO of PixController, wants to return to the Pittsburgh nest and mount a camera at the Harmar nest, where that bald eagle couple set up a nest in a former red-tailed hawk nest on a ridge overlooking Route 28. That pair successfully reared one young that fledged this summer.

Bald eagle pairs return to the same nest site, adding more branches and material each year.

“The webcam has touched so many — audiences that I never thought about,” Powers said. “Cancer patients wrote me as well as a number of people with disabilities who can't get outside. They are one of the reasons why we need to do this next year.”

The webcam showed eagle life in amazing detail, and that's what attracted and held audiences, according to Powers.

For example, when the second eaglet tried to fly from the nest the first time earlier this summer, it looked like it might have fallen.

People rushed to comment on social media and Powers got lots of calls.

So Powers slowed down the footage to see what happened.

“That bird tumbled out of the nest and hit one of its wings on a branch and we were afraid that he broke it,” Powers said.

The next day, more than 100 people were on the nearby Three Rivers Heritage Trail.

The bird was eventually seen and able to take care of itself.

Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or mthomas@tribweb.com.

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