Sunday, March 9, 2008

Owl Cam' Problems

Ordinarily, my Januaries and Februaries are made hectic by the need to prepare the screech owl cam' for another season's nesting. At a minimum, that means bringing down the box; cleaning it out; pulling out the camera modules and making whatever changes to the electronics that seem appropriate (or downright necessary) based on the previous year's performance and my ambitions for the coming season; chasing out the inevitable fox squirrel; and potentially a great deal more. I always wish I'd started sooner, but even when I do (usually to make big upgrades to the hardware), it always manages to be a rush in the end.

This year's January and February were different, however. Shoulder/arm/hand problems manifested out of nowhere and made it impossible, much of the time, even to use a keyboard and mouse. These days, that could be a serious problem for anyone, but it's a show-stopper if you earn your living writing computer software, as I do. Fortunately, with the attention of doctors and time-off from work, things have improved. [Unfortunately, my colleagues at The University kept throwing emergency work at me even when I needed to be resting, and I was too much the dutiful professional to turn it away. Foolish me. And were my painful efforts appreciated? Quite the opposite. But I digress.] Needless to say, hauling the owl box up and down from the tree to perform the yearly maintenance, and squirrel eviction, has been out of the question. Or it should be. Actually, I've been tempted routinely, but there's no way of knowing what that work would do to my shoulders, and I can't afford to do anything but let them get better.

So, loyal Owl Cam' viewers, that's the bad news: I don't think I can make it happen this year. The owls are probably ready and willing to nest in the box. (As usual, they're keeping a low profile, but I can guess.) The box is not much worse-off than it was at the end of the nesting season last year—the camera windows need cleaning, and there was an intermittent connection somewhere in the side camera compartment's illuminator wiring—but the cam' could work well enough even with those problems.

Unfortunately, that still leaves the issue of the squirrels. Specifically, a female fox squirrel and her three nursing pups. They're fine critters and I don't blame the female at all for deciding to nest in the box – she'd've been dumb to pass-up the opportunity. (And I wouldn't want dumb squirrels in my yard – I'd be a laughing stock, if word got out.) But, as long as the squirrels remain in residence, the owls can't move in. The female squirrel might decide to move the family to another nest at any time. I've seen it happen in past years, and speculate that it might be a means of leaving behind nest site parasite populations. But so far, she and the pups are happy where they are, and, even if I could bring down the box to remove them, I wouldn't be willing to do it in a way that might separate mom from her pups. My friend Sallie, the raptor rehabilitator, has helpfully offered to take care of the pups in such a case, but by "take care of" she means that she'd be happy to feed them to the raptors she's currently repairing. That's an offer I've forcefully declined. When the local red-tailed hawks stop by now and again to eat one of my squirrels, that's fine. It's a perfectly ordinary and proper competition between native predators and their would-be prey. But I'm not going to intervene and deprive the squirrels (or the red-tails) of their usual fighting chance.

Anyway, the problem of moving a family of fox squirrels is an academic one until my shoulders have made a full recovery, or at least until I better understand what I can and can't do with them in their current condition. I muse about squirrel moving only because of the lingering temptation to risk some injury to prepare the nest box for the owls. I'll miss the owls, if they're unable to move in this year. And the thought of disappointing so many loyal viewers is a very sad one. On other hand, I must admit that a part of me would welcome a break from those months of non-stop work, just this once.

So go my ponderings, but all of those matters are really neither here nor there. At the moment, the situation is out of my hands. If the squirrels decide to leave, and the owls choose to move-in, I'll bring-up the Owl Cam'. If not, well, maybe I'll bring it up anyway. I can't be the only one who enjoys a bit of squirrel watching.

In either case, loyal viewers, take care of yourselves, and have a good 2008.


  1. YOU care of yourself, Chris, so sorry to hear about it. Get better, please!

  2. Anonymous10:49 AM CDT

    Hey Cris...just get better!! Appreciate all the work you have done over the years for all us owl fans and cam viewers. Could be interesting to see what Nature decides anyway, without your activities! Take care, and I look forward to hearing you are healed!!


  3. Thanks for the update Chris.

    We'll miss the cam this year, but understand. Take care of yourself!


  4. Sorry to hear about your injuries Chris.

    As an IT professional I appreciate and understand what you're going through, and as one of the people running the Rochester Falconcam I can certainly empathize with the amount of work that goes into keeping a webcam and its site in working order.

    Take care of yourself, and we'll look forward to the owls again down the road.

  5. I get several emails per year from people wanting to buy baby squirrels!

    Rest up and go big next year.

  6. Oh, I'll miss the owls this year, but more important that you take care of yourself.

  7. Oh man! I've been checking the owl cam page periodically and wondering, but I didn't find my way to your blog until today.

    I'm in Austin, too, and I'd be more than happy to come do the shoulder and arm work if you're truly tempted to do it, and if you come up with a squirrel solution. I could probably rustle up some more volunteer labor, too.

    I'll e-mail you a contact e-mail address, just in case you're interested.

    Robyn in Oak Hill

  8. theowlette3:46 PM CDT

    I'm very sorry to hear that you're not up to shooing out those squirrels. I look forward to watching them each year! Squirrel babies would make a tasty treat for some hungry screech owls, though...

    Ivy in California