Biologist David Hancock and his assistant Ken Cillis exchanged friendly banter this week as they tried to figure out how to secure a camera above an eagle nest frame in South Surrey.
Together, the friends have been building frames for eagle nests for more than a decade, but every tree comes with its unique challenges.
Hancock explained to Peace Arch News Tuesday at Surrey’s first eagle preserve, located near 0 Avenue and 172 Street, that placing a camera above the nest – particularly with this specific tree – is one of the most difficult parts of the job.
Hancock live-streams video from eagle nests he’s built on the Hancock Wildlife Foundation website. Currently, live-stream videos are available for nests in Delta, White Rock, Lafarge and Harrison Mills.
The South Surrey nest framework was made possible through an agreement with developer Dawson & Sawyer and the province. Dawson & Sawyer set aside a half-acre parcel of land for the preserve after cutting down an eagle tree in the area Aug. 16 – with permit from the province – to make way for a 93-townhome project titled “The Eagles.”
Tuesday, members from Hancock’s foundation worked with Arbour Pro Tree Services – the arbourists hired by Dawson & Sawyer – to build the nest framework, which is made using twigs and branches.
While two workers were suspended 100-feet in the tree, Hancock and Cillis constructed a mock camera configuration – using metal brackets – on the ground.
Both men, particularly Cillis, said they were more than happy to be working with their feet on the ground.
The challenge with camera placement, Hancock said, is that eagles can “fire their business” eight feet horizontally and up to three feet high.
“The camera needs to be above the nest, otherwise the birds are going to crap on the lens,” he said. “In this case, the tree is not suitable at all. We have to hang the camera with a bar from the side.”
Hanging the camera off the tree creates another issue, he said. The suspended camera could be used as a perch for the eagle, which would put the camera lens in line of sight of the eagle’s bottom end.
Instead of using spikes to deter the eagles from perching on the camera-suspension bracket, Hancock and Cillis settled on an angled branch.
The crew spent more than 12 hours suspended in the tree before the framework and camera was finally installed.
“It was not a friendly tree,” Hancock said.
Crews will be installing a second camera in a nearby tree in the coming days.
Hancock expects the eagles to return in October, and video of the nest is expected to be available shortly after the second camera is installed.
Hancock, along with a group of residents, is pushing to create an eagle preserve where the Croydon eagle tree was cut down last month.
A rally aimed at drawing even more attention to the issue is scheduled for Sept. 9 at the site of the damage, which took place on private property.
Hancock told PAN Tuesday that after the Croydon tree was removed by the city, city officials “instructed” him to order an 80-foot pole to build a new nest framework in the area. Hancock said that plan has since been stalled, and the public demonstrations are to put pressure on city officials to move forward with plans for a new nest in the area.
Contacted Wednesday, Surrey’s tree manager Nadia Chan – who returned this week from vacation – said she would go through her records to recall what kind of understanding was made with Hancock.
“We all know what the words were,” Hancock said. “Now they’re faced with what they want to do legally.”
Wednesday, conservation officer Alicia Stark told PAN the minimum fine that could be imposed under the Wildlife Act is $575. Alternatively, it could “go straight to court,” which could lead to a much harsher penalty.
Stark said investigation into who is responsible for the damage remains active, but is complicated by a lack of witnesses.
“Unfortunately, it’s quite a difficult investigation,” Stark said. “We don’t have any information on who started cutting down this tree. When we were notified about it, the tree was to the point that it was a public-safety issue.”
Stark encouraged anyone with firsthand information to call 1-877-952-7277.
– with files from Tracy Holmes
Croydon Drive and 20 Avenue eagle being removed: