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The West's best critter-cams

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Jodi Peterson | Mar 19, 2013 05:00 AM

In the usual Monday-morning email deluge, one message caught my eye: "Live Webcam Captures Peregrine Falcons Laying Eggs."

Peregrine falcon
Peregrine falcon

The advertised falcon was in Maine, not around here, but who can resist peeking at a rare bird on her nest? It's sort of like looking in somebody's windows, except in a non-creepy way that won't get you arrested.

Anyway, it got me wondering about what other kinds of wild animals Westerners might be able to spy on without binoculars.  Turns out there are all sorts of critter-cams out there for wildlife voyeurs; here's a sampling.

WHAT: Great horned owls

WHERE: Boulder, Colo.

NOTES: Hosted by Xcel Energy, the camera was intended for peregrine falcons but owls ended up nesting there instead. Mounted on Valmont Station, a power plant, the owl cam "is installed 260 feet above ground because the owls prefer nesting in a more secluded area, and mother owls can become quite aggressive when raising their young," according to Xcel.

WHAT: Barn owls

WHERE: Starr Ranch, Orange County, Calif.

NOTES: Watch barn owls eat, preen, lay eggs and mug for the camera. According to host Audubon California, "We’re just trying to give all a relatively simple way of watching a truly wild situation unfold in the rawest sense and learn from it. Put another way – THIS is pure REAL LIFE “Reality TV”. Ain’t no director overseeing this script."

WHAT: Burrowing owls, big brown bats, ospreys, salmon, seals

WHERE: Washington state

NOTES: Hosted by the state's Department of Fish and Wildlife, you can stream video or check out pictures snapped every 10 seconds (the osprey cam is highly recommended for its excellent vantage point, even when the nest is empty)!

WHAT: Bald eagles

WHERE: Channel Islands, Calif.

NOTES: According to the National Park Service, the 2006 birth of the first bald eagle chick to hatch on the Islands unaided by humans made big news. In response, the agency installed webcams that "bring live, streaming images of bald eagle nests into the schools and homes of millions of Americans. The solar-powered camera runs daily between 8:00 am and 6:00 pm." Also check out the discussion forums where viewers post eagle cam highlights.

Baby hummingbirds
Baby hummingbirds

WHAT: Baby hummingbirds! (this one wins the Extreme Cuteness award)

WHERE: Irvine, California

NOTES: Phoebe is a Channel Islands Allen's Hummingbird who built a nest in a rose bush in Joe and Erica Dellwo's garden in southern California. She kept coming back year after year and, in 2007, they set up a webcam. From their website: " Phoebe has a dedicated community of followers from all around the world, and we love hearing that schoolchildren are learning about hummingbirds with the help of our webcam and that Phoebe has inspired visual artists, musicians, poets, and more."

WHAT: Seabirds, seals, sea lions, sharks, whales

WHERE: Farallon National Wildlife Refuge, off San Francisco, Calif.

NOTES: This webcam sits on top the Farallon lighthouse, and captures bird, seal and sea lion colonies (and a fair amount of fog and rain). You can click through a 360 degree view from the lighthouse, or just focus on one spot and observe.

Sea otters
Sea otters

WHAT: Grizzlies

WHERE: Brooks Falls, Alaska

NOTES: Hosted by Katmai National Park & Preserve, the camera captures brown bears as they descend on the Brooks River to devour sockeye salmon.

If you're interested in the academic analysis of how critter-cams connect us to nature, you can check out this research paper from the US Geological Survey. But the best reason for observing wild animals up close is simply the sense of awe and mystery it engenders. You can share your favorite wildlife cam in the comments below.

And if you can watch this Baby Panda cam from China without smiling at least a little, you are a sad, sad person.

Jodi Peterson is High Country News' managing editor and tries not to watch baby burrowing owls during work hours.

Peregrine falcon photo courtesy Craig Koppie & US Fish & Wildlife Service

Baby hummers by Flickr user eliduke

Sea otters by Flickr user mikebaird

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