The residents of Riverside Health Care Center in Missoula have been receiving a lot of Christmas cards in the mail in the week leading up to the holiday. Rather than the usual friends and family, these cards have all been from people they have never met, and are addressed to all 63 of the people who live there.
The notes have been coming in from across the country thanking the staff and residents for being the host of an online streaming camera placed next to an osprey nest in the care center’s parking lot.
Riverside set up a map in its lobby to track where all of the letters have come from. Each of the cards is taped around the border, with pins dotting the country in Vermont, South Carolina, New York, Missouri, California, Texas, Florida and Washington.
“We put them up and display them so the residents can come by to read them whenever new ones come in,” said Melanie D’Isidoro, a life enrichment aide at Riverside. “It’s just nice for residents to know that there are other people out there thinking of them.”
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The Montana Osprey Project runs two live webcams of osprey nests around Missoula – one in Hellgate Canyon in Riverside’s parking lot, and another in Lolo.
The project is run by University of Montana wildlife biology professor Erick Greene and his team of researchers in collaboration with Rob Domenech from the Raptor View Research Institute, one of the leading experts in raptor migration.
Its goal is to study the ecotoxicology of river systems, and was started in response to the removal of Milltown Dam. Greene said if there are toxins, including heavy metals, in the water, they show up at the top of the food chain in osprey.
One of the birds the project tracks, which was born at the stadium of the Missoula Osprey Pioneer League baseball team, was recently seen wintering along the Gulf Coast in Texas. It was named Emmett after the blue “M8” leg band that was put onto it as a chick. In all, the project has banded more than 200 osprey chicks.
D’Isidoro said she didn’t know where the pair of osprey at the nest near Riverside go for the winter. Greene said the birds the Montana Osprey Project tracks have traveled as far away as both coasts of Mexico as well as Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
“I had heard about osprey but hadn’t seen them until I came to work here,” D’Isidoro said.
Virginia Villemez, Riverside’s executive director, said the people who tune into the webcam have made a connection not only with the two osprey that return to the nest every year, but the staff and residents at Riverside as well. Greene uses social media to keep fans up to date on the happening around the nest.
“When I first started here he said can you go outside and wave at the camera, everybody has heard there’s a new director there,” Villemez said.
Iva Rosa MacKenzie said she and the other residents feel a sense of parental protection for the osprey living next to them.
“Every day, someone takes a look to make sure everything is okay,” she said, holding one of the cards addressed to the residents from “your friends in St. Louis.”
She said it’s nice to hear from the people that have been looking at the birds online all year. This is the first year Riverside has received cards from the webcam’s watchers.
During the summer, residents spend their time on the front patio watching the osprey in their nests, the closest place to be able to see them in person.
When the birds are in the nest, Riverside sets up a monitor in the lobby displaying a feed of the online webcam for residents and visitors to watch.
“They will come back around April, and leave again by early October,” MacKenzie said.
One webcam fan, Delores Williams, wrote a story about the two birds and used photos of them to make a book called “The Antics of Iris and Stanley” that she sent to the residents at Riverside.
“The birdwatchers all around the country are like their own little community,” D’Isidoro said.