Chehalis - Harrison Live CAM Project Report

Chehalis River + Eagle Point
Background: the objective here is to establish 2 underwater CAMs to view salmon and sturgeon; 3 CAMs on a tower in the Chehalis Flats to view eagles, ducks, geese and swans; 1 or 2 different CAMs to overview the Flats; and finally install the electronics for live broadcasts from the Eagle Point Observatory. In short, a series of CAMs that will enable us to tell the "Story of a River" -- the Hancock Wildlife Foundation mandate.
This article originally posted in our now archived old discussion forum
Read on (here) for the continuation

Update: A couple of weeks back we got the first CAM functional underwater -- though we have learned that this early in the season the water is so warm that the fungus grows on the cam lens every week. The cool approaching weather will take care of that.

The second underwater cam is waiting the arrival of the barge from which it will dangle to the bottom of the Harrison to view Sturgeon. I understand that a barge has been found. We await word from Wentworth for the day of installation.

The Tower -- its erection on the Chehalis Flats happened so incredibly on schedule and efficiently that I can only give my "hats off" to the five man volunteer Aluma crew who did all the erection in less time than suggested, but also to the helicopter crew, Gerry and associate, who flew the tower out from the shore at Sandpiper Resort Airport to the Chehalis Flats and the Ducks Unlimited Canada site where it was placed and then the upper deck built.

What a day. It was perfect sunny weather with only a few puffy clouds over the adjacent mountains. What happened unexpectedly was awesome. While we were assembled on the Sandpiper Airport, well 15 feet to the side of the active grass runway, three different small planes came and went -- some added excitement. Then the big finale! The Fraser Blues, the local Langley, BC stunt pilots, came in and landed in formation right beside us. Quite exciting.

After they had lunch at the 'fine dining' Rowena Restaurant, they made an even more spectacular departure: their aircraft broke left and right of our tower and these old war trainers were but inches away -- or at least to me standing on top of the tower that is what it seemed. The next surprise, which coincided with the arrival of the big helicopter to lift the tower, was a fly-past with colored smoke streaming from the 5 aircraft in formation.

Our helicopter crew was impressed when we stated we had orchestrated this for their arrival. Now things started to happen quickly. The cost of this machine, while being donated to the Hancock Wildlife Foundation, was being paid for by another fine non-profit organization who I will identify later. At nearly $50 a minute the ground work was prepared quickly by the trained Aluma crew and the helicopter crew.

About this time Mary, my wife, brought JudyB and her husband from Maine and Mary's son visiting from Montreal to the assembled gathering on the airstrip. Richard road up on his big red motorbike and Ken arrived from cleaning the Chehalis underwater cam. Of course Karen was already there with me in the early AM so between the Sandpiper crew, the Aluma Crew, the hangers-on and our international crew we were quite a gathering.

First, two of the Aluma Systems crew and I were dropped out on the Flats so I could direct the tower drop where desired and then the crew could start to level it while the rest of the tower top and erection volunteers came out on the next trips.

Once the tower was in place and other men and parts on site, the helicopter crew went off and brought for "more artistic placement" 4 old tree stumps that adorned the flats. My point was I wanted them placed around the tower so some of the eagles will sit up 'photographically' for you.

Hopefully I have placed the tower in the right location -- where lots of salmon carcasses will be drifting by and available to the eagles and waterfowl in the nearby deep water channel of the Chehalis River. Time will tell. Every year the channels move and the fish re-choose their favorite waterways.

Right on time Richard Moore, in his little rubber run-about arrived out on the flats with my wife Mary. They got to see the details of the site, the rapidly closing-in superstructure which is to house our fuel cells, battery, and the all important methanol fuel. On this tower will be anchored 3 CAMs to view the eagles and waterfowl. Mary got to ride back in the helicopter. What a wonderful day with everything going as planned and a lot more provided by the supporting air crews.

Special Contributors: while I have hoped and planned for this day for two years a lot of elements had to come together. First, several of our HWF Directors had to get both the Federal Fisheries and Ducks Unlimited Canada on board as the project was to partially take place on their lands. Now this was not difficult as the Fed Fisheries had been helping us the past couple of years with the underwater CAMS. DUC was of course emotionally and environmentally on hand from the beginning but it required the formality of several meetings for their promotions people to understand what message we wanted to tell and what elements they could use to effectively distribute their ecological story. We are so pleased to have both the Federal Fisheries and Ducks Unlimited Canada on board. Thank you all.

Then were a few details about getting a tower, a resting place for three cams above the flooding waters, having it built and then transported to the center of the Chehalis Flats. This came about one day when I spotted piles of scaffolding -- at the Aluma Systems yard in Delta BC. I explained my needs to a 'listening' secretary and was immediately forwarded to Jon Carey. He of course was a bald eagle Cam supporter -- he and his wife had been watching our cams. That revelation made the rest of my story unnecessary. He got his boss to approve the donation of the tower and a crew to erect it. Apparently his crew, when the project was going to be involving a donated helicopter as well, offered to undertake the erection on a voluntary basis. We didn't get the two essential workers -- we got 5 volunteers. Thanks Aluma and guys.

But the big issue: How to get 1500 pounds of steel and a bunch of builders and builders out over a mile across rivers and mud to the flats. A helicopter was a logical choice. Some months earlier a very kind friend of mine, the husband of our former company auditor, had offered to fly me and a crew up the coast to establish cams on a Kermode bear or White Spirit Bear river. I had been unable to pull this all together this season and decided to ask Russ to exchange the trip for the one out onto the Chehalis Flats. But then came the problems.

First, many of the components were being donated but the transportation onto the flats looked bleak. Then I decided to try and convince my friend to use his helicopter for this, what I thought was a smaller job. Well things did not go well. While the components were being gathered I could not make contact with Russ or Ellen -- again and again I was trying. I even dropped by their house with no further enlightenment. Then just days before the water levels were right for our assault on the flats I made contact. They were on a round-the-world expedition and stopping home for 12 days. Furthermore, his helicopter could not lift this tower. But then the offhand comment -- "OK I will hire you a larger helicopter with a lift hook". It was done. Well for me it was done but the resulting bill is probably about to arrive for Russ and Ellen --- thanks a million to you both. I hope Russia equals the enjoyment of Mongolia.

But the above are by no means all the players. Richard Moore and Tom Cadieux, both HWF Directors, donated boats in case of need or emergency. Betty-Anne Faulkner of the Sandpiper Resorts, a co-sponsor of the Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival which also co-sponsors our Chehalis CAMS, offered her airport facilities for the upcoming eagle festival but also as the assembly place for the CAM tower. Her Sandpiper Golf Course and Resort sits right on the banks of the Harrison River at the outflow of the Chehalis and overlooks the Chehalis Flats & in season 2500+ eagles -- the perfect assembly location. Thanks Betty-Anne.

Then of course were all the supporters on the ground. What a marvelous day for JudyB and her Charlie to arrive and Mary to be able to bring them out. Thanks Judy for a year of help.

The next step: We will be attempting to get the sturgeon cam underwater shortly. The eagles will start to arrive on the flats about the beginning of November and that is when we will set up the three viewing cams for the eagles and waterfowl which are presently being tested in our backyard. By that same date we will have the site ready for live broadcast and hope to introduce you to these at the Fraser River Bald Eagle Festival, November 21 & 22 -- when we hope to release one of the OWL rehab eagles.

The fall and spring of 2009 and 2010 will be an exciting time. Thanks for your continued help and support.

David Hancock

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