Man who launched Decorah eagles webcam dies

Bob Anderson helped save peregrine falcons

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DECORAH — The Decorah eagles' best friend and an inspiration to the thousands of raptor enthusiasts he helped create died suddenly Monday morning.

Bob Anderson, 64, founder and director of the Raptor Resource Project, helped save peregrine falcons from extinction, led the successful effort to reintroduce them to their historic eyries on the bluffs of the Mississippi River and then educated and warmed the hearts of multitudes with an Internet nest camera that documented the lives of a bald eagle family.

Scores of Decorah eagle fans, writing on the Raptor Resource Project's Facebook page, expressed their condolences and their wish that his spirit will soar with birds he loved.

From the Facebook page:

Bob's Celebration of Life will be on Saturday, August 8, 2015 at the Trout Hatchery in Decorah at 1:00 p.m. Bob's celebration is public and all are welcome to attend.

Bob's passions were his work with falcons and the Decorah Eagles cam. Bob loved the role the eagles played in education, and keenly felt the surcease they gave others towards the end of his own life. Although we are still working out the details of a way forward, Bob's work and legacy will go on. We have more projects planned for this fall, including a Decorah North project, work on a possible catalyst for nest building in the area of the now-defunct N2, ongoing activities in the Philippines, and replacement of several nest boxes.

You can make a donation to this Paypal. If you prefer to send a check, please send it to:

The Raptor Resource Project
PO Box 16
Decorah, IA 52101

The Raptor Resource Project is a non-profit organization and all donations are tax deductible. We respectfully ask that you not send flowers, although cards to the PO Box are welcome

Friend and colleague Dave Kester of Decorah said Anderson had been feeling weak, tired and short of breath this spring before being diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, which at times manifested itself with a racing heartbeat.

Anderson was on his way to the doctor Monday when he collapsed and died, Kester said.

Kester and other friends and associates of the man responsible for the wildly popular Decorah eagles webcam said Anderson likely will be remembered more for his successful efforts to restore peregrine falcons to their historic haunts.

“The eagle cam, with its incredible teaching value, made him famous, but to me his leading role in the peregrine falcon recovery and his successful effort against long odds to restore peregrine falcons to the bluffs of the Mississippi — that is his true gift back to the planet,” Kester said.

Longtime friend and colleague Amy Ries, who maintains the Raptor Resource Project's website and helps band raptor chicks, said Anderson recently told her that he considers his role in restoring falcons to the Mississippi River cliffs his greatest accomplishment.

“He was also proud that he produced MF1, the first midcontinent peregrine falcon hatched on the birds' road to recovery from near-extinction. As of last year, she had 512 descendants,” Ries said.

In the wake of the pesticide DDT's devastating effect on raptors, “the earth needed someone with Bob's energy, commitment and focus,” said Raptor researcher Jon Stravers of McGregor.

“A lot of us will never see a falcon over the Mississippi River without thinking of Bob Anderson,” Stravers said.

Contagious enthusiasm

When live falcons were extremely rare, Anderson used artificial insemination to breed captive females at his acreage near Decorah. Anderson's chicks, released at nest boxes attached to bridges and power plant smokestacks, have produced more than 1,500 progeny — a decisive factor in the birds' removal from the endangered species list.

But those birds would not nest on the Mississippi River bluffs until Anderson devised a technique in which the chicks were released from simulated rock boxes atop a bluff at Effigy Mounds National Monument, imprinting in the brains of the young falcons the concept of cliffs as nest sites.

“The experts said it could not be done, that great-horned owls, the falcons' archenemy, were too numerous, that they would eat all the chicks. But Bob persevered, and Bob was right,” said Pat Schlarbaum, a wildlife diversity biologist with the Department of Natural Resources.

Ries said Anderson ended his 17-year career with 3M, a multinational corporation based in Maplewood, Minn., to move to Decorah in 1996 to devote his life to the well-being of falcons and other raptors.

Wales native John Dingley, now of Decorah, said the highlight of his life was helping Anderson put falcons back on the bluffs.

“His plan sounded so improbable, but it worked and it worked fast,” he said.

Dingley, a Raptor Resources Project board member, said Anderson “went through his life savings” funding his falcon recovery efforts.

Anderson, who maintained videocameras at numerous raptor nests, pioneered the use of video technology to increase understanding of raptor behavior and the public's appreciation of the magnificent birds.

The Decorah eagle cam, with 324 million hits, ranked as the most viewed live video of all time.

“He taught people to care about raptors. His enthusiasm was contagious, and a lot of people caught it,” said DNR wildlife diversity biologist Bruce Ehresman.

DNR Director Chuck Gipp, a longtime admirer of Anderson's work, said his “enthusiasm for raptors has inspired countless others and will live on as testimony of his dedicated efforts through the years.”

Rescuing raptors

Collaborating with award-winning cinematographer Neil Rettig of Prairie du Chien, Wis., Anderson mounted a miniature camera on a peregrine falcon to capture stunning in-flight footage for the documentary “Raptor Force,” which aired on the Public Broadcasting Service's “Nature” series.

Anderson marveled at the falcon's physical capabilities and enjoyed telling about a tableau he witnessed on the smokestack of a Wisconsin power plant.

The male falcon, while delivering a dead pigeon to his mate, fumbled it near the nest box, according to Anderson. The female stepped to the edge of the nest box, glanced at the plummeting pigeon, dived off the stack and caught it before it hit the ground, he said.

Anderson said he never felt more alive than when rappelling down the sheer face of a bluff to band baby falcons — a practice he maintained until recent years.

Retired DNR employee Lowell Washburn, who worked closely with Anderson on the falcon recovery, recalls his colleague as a “fearless climber” who traversed cliffs, smokestacks and skyscrapers as if he were “immune to gravity.”

He rescued many ill and injured raptors and spoke eloquently on their behalf against lead ammunition and faulty electricity transmission lines, both of which kill many eagles and other raptors.

Footage from the first camera at the Decorah Hatchery, installed in 2007, became an integral part of “American Eagle,” another Rettig documentary for “Nature.”

“It's the real reality TV,” Rettig said of Anderson's nest cams. “He brought the secret lives of birds' right into people's homes.”

Rettig, who worked with Anderson since the mid 1990s, said he and other colleagues are meeting to discuss “how we can keep his dreams alive.”

A participant in those discussions, Brett Mandernack, manager of the Eagle Valley Nature Preserve near Glen Haven, Wis., said he met Anderson in 1984 and volunteered the next year to work in Anderson's peregrine falcon breeding chambers in rural Hugo, Minn.

Mandernack, a Raptor Resource Project board member, said Anderson relied primarily on the help of like-minded volunteers, with little corporate or foundation support.

“He did not look for fame or glory. He was indifferent to it,” said Mandernack, who recalled several joyous moments with Anderson.

“He did a 'happy dance' when we caught D1 (one of the Decorah eagle offspring) to mount a solar powered tracking device on her,” he said.

When the two of them observed the cracking egg shell of the first Upper Midwest peregrine to be hatched in 20 years, they exchanged a look that said, “Cool. We did this,” Mandernack said.

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