A family of osprey living high above the University of Victoria playing fields are the newest local reality television stars.
In her years working at UVic, Sarah Blackstone has spent many years with the large nest securely built on a light post. She’s consistently photographed it, honing her skills while devouring information on the bird of prey, a family of osprey, that live there.
“I’ve always been a bird watcher and it’s hard to ignore a two ton nest,” she said.
When she first arrived at UVic the rabbits captured the attention of hawks and other meat eaters, with that food source gone, only the fish-eating osprey remain.
“I’ve seen them bring in people’s gold fish from the ponds,” said Blackstone, advisor to UVic’s provost, an avid raptor photographer and the driving force behind the webcam.
Osprey, also known as fish hawks, are recognizable by their whitish bellies, brown upper parts and a distinctive brown mask across the eyes. They nest near bodies of water, usually on tall vertical structures such as dead tree snags, utility poles or – as at UVic – on top of a tower housing floodlights for the athletic playing fields below.
“I’ve always been interested in the big raptors and hawks and owls,” she said. Blackstone saw it as an opportunity to learn about the animal, and has journaled the coming and going of the osprey pair, and happenings at the nest, for about seven years.
The two adults show up around April 15 and mess around with the nest, get reacquainted and then settle in for a period of incubation.
“Then there’s a long period where it’s not very interesting because she sits, and sits and sits,” Blackstone said. “Then in early June the chicks hatch.”
The little family ways are a water cooler subject around campus, one Blackstone regularly discussed withe president Jamie Cassels. They’ve often discussed the concept of the online webcam to share the osprey with the community at large.
“Together we’ve been chatting in the hallways and stuff for years, so this year we decided to make it happen,” she said.
As of last week, bird voyeurs can sit at their computers and watch at their leisure the comings and goings of UVic’s resident osprey family. The webcam is installed on one of the tall light posts that illuminates seating in UVic’s stadium. It gives a bird’s-eye view of everything from nest renovation and food deliveries, to interactions between chicks and defence of the nest from other birds of prey.
“It’s a little bit late this season, but now we have a permanent camera and we’ll follow the pair every year,” Blackstone said. “There’s a lot of information there. I want to share what I know and what’s known. Ospreys are really well studied so there’s a lot of information available about them.”
This year, there are two chicks in the nest — a third didn’t survive — and they’re due to fledge any day now. They’ll hang around the nest for a while as they learn how to fly and hunt.
“Most bird cams are placed very close to the nest but we’ve chosen to provide a wide view of all the activities in and around the nesting site,” said Blackstone. “This gives a better idea of the overall environment and all the factors that impact the success and failure of this nest.”
The website also includes photos, a blog, some history on the UVic nest and general information on ospreys.
Visit onlineacademiccommunity.uvic.ca/osprey to see and learn more about the birds.