We have three nest boxes. The first two and the colour cameras installed inside them were purchased from BoxWatch in 2001 and 2002 respectively. Both cameras have now been replaced - after nearly 15 years this is hardly surprising. The third nest box was installed in January 2007 and replaced a sparrow terrace that we had installed on the side of the house several years earlier. We replaced it because the only bird that had shown any interest in the terrace was a bluetit which took over the middle section in spring 2006 and successfully raised a brood of chicks!
The third box was designed and built by me in order to house two cameras, one in the conventional place over the nest and the other to the side of it. This high quality camera is also IR sensitive and so we have installed IR lighting as well as the normal lighting.
The video cables from the three boxes and the cables from several other cameras installed in the garden used to be connected to my PC directly using 3 four port video capture cards from Euresys. In the autumn of 2015, I installed two Axis P7214 video servers and a year later added a third one. These have enabled me to remove all the Euresys cards and now the signals from all the analogue cameras are digitised by one of three Axis P7214 Video Encoders. The output from these, and a couple of other digital network ready cameras, come to my PC as digital streams via a new PoE capable switch, the Netgear Prosafe GS108PE.
The PC has also been upgraded and is now a quad core processor machine based on a Gigabyte H97-D3H motherboard, Intel Core i5-4690 processor, 8GB of main memory, 256GB Samsung 850 Pro SSD, a 256GB disk for non i-Catcher data, a 1TB disk for the i-Catcher files, and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 750 Ti display adapter. In spite of all the Windows 10 hype, I deliberately left the upgrade to Windows 10 until all our chicks had fledged (or died!) However, this upgrade went pretty smoothly and was completed before Microsoft's July 2016 deadline.
To take advantage of all this hi-tech gear, with help from Huw Edwards of i-Catcher, I have installed the latest i-Catcher software to support them. This means that we can now take videos at 25 frames/sec and hope to post on this website some of the more interesting episodes that occur during the season.
This picture shows the second screen with its eight feed windows. If you click on the image you will get a bigger version! Although this picture is now very out of date, it shows the general idea of what it looks like.
Each of the nest boxes has an external camera pointed at the nest box hole so that we can see the comings and goings of the parent birds - and very briefly, the chicks when they fledge! Other cameras point to our bird table, a hedgehog feeding station, a fat block feeder at the bottom of the garden and one of our bird feeder poles.
The software used to capture the images from these cameras is i-Catcher Console from i-Catcher. This has been upgraded to version 6 which enables me to record full 25fps video from the network cameras. These include the old analogue cameras which are attached via the video servers. As well as this software, we bought the Axis video servers, the Netgear switch and most of the video cameras from i-Catcher who have been most helpful in supporting me during this major upgrade.
In 2004, the lighting in each of the Boxwatch boxes was enhanced by adding three white LEDs and a resistor in parallel with the existing light. The LEDs are Nichia NSPW510BS obtainable from Maplin as product NR73Q. The LEDs have a max reverse voltage of 4v and were installed in series with the resistor which is a 1k variable resistor set to about 600 ohms. The additional slightly bluish light has noticeably improved the colour of the bluetit's plumage. Although the original pea bulb installed as part of the original kit from Boxwatch has to be replaced nearly every year, these are the original LEDs - still going strong after more than 10 years!
Since November 2012 we have had one telephone line with a high speed fibre optic broadband link. Our ISP is Zen Internet and we are currently using their standard Unlimited Fibre 2 service. This carries all the webcam traffic as well as our normal internet traffic. We are about 400m from the local green cabinet, but in spite of this we get a download speed of about 60Mb/s and an upload speed of about 15Mb/s compared to the theoretical maximum of 76/20Mb/s. This link uses a D-Link DIR-880L router. I eventually got fed up with the unfriendly user interface of the ISP supplied router. This high speed line handles all our webcam traffic with ease.
Additional digital photographs are sometimes taken using a conventional digital camera.
Many people have asked us how to go about setting up a webcam. Although we are not experts, we have written some notes here which we hope will answer some of these questions.
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