The osprey have returned to Island Beach State Park for the summer. The birds' return was captured by the Friends of Island Beach "osprey cam" in mid-March.
The birds have been tidying up their nest about 40 feet up in the air near the park's Interpretive Center, in preparation for the eggs to be hatched soon.
Berkeley Patch plans to keep the "osprey cam" a running feature so visitors can watch as the eggs hatch and the chicks emerge.
The non-profit Friends group purchased the camera and the solar panels to power the camera for about $10,000 back in October to prepare for the spring return. The camera is equipped with night vision and runs 24 hours a day, said Rita Carey, who chairs the Friends' "Osprey Cam" committee.
"It's all wireless," Carey said. "We would welcome donations. You can donate on the website or send us a check. It's going to cost about $1,000 a year to maintain the camera and the website. We are most anxious it be self-sustaining."
There are about 30 osprey nests mounted throughout the park and the nearby Sedge Islands, Carey said.
The osprey cam nest is located by the park's Interpretive Center about seven miles in from the entrance. Visitors will also be able to watch the birds on a large-screen television inside the Interpretive Center when the center opens on Memorial Day, she said.
"Most of them (nests) are quite a bit shorter than that," she said. "The ones on the Sedge Islands are not quite that tall."
Conventional wisdom holds that the birds mate for life and return to the same nest each year, Carey said.
"I don't see any leg bands on those birds," she said. "We may have a different pair of birds."
Carey cautions park visitors not to get close to the birds or their nests or the osprey may leave the nests.
"They are wild and can be easily frightened," she said. "The chicks are subject to predators like hawks or crows."
The birds will spend the next month arranging their nests and preparing for the female to lay her eggs sometime in April. Male ospreys typically return first and start tidying up the nests before the females return, Carey said.
"She comes back and they keep working on the nest until they are happy with it," Carey said.
The osprey chicks will hatch five or six weeks after the eggs are laid, she said.
The group is grateful to the Seaside Heights public works department, which donated the pole for the osprey cam nest, and the Seaside Heights Fire Company which helped mount the camera.
You can watch the osprey cam streaming live on the Friends' website, here, and follow their progress as they prepare for and raise their chicks.
For more information on the Friends, visit their website, here.