Webcams at mybitoftheplanet - 2013

***Our 14th year of nest box coverage***

Go to the Webcam                  webcam for phone

I have been running a nestbox webcam each year since I first set one up to follow a pair of Blue Tits as they nested in 2000. Over the past ten years we have spied on the nesting of Blue and Great Tits, Starlings, House Martins, Robins and non-breeding Swifts in 2009. Sadly the House Martins have failed to return since their nesting failed in 2007.

In 2009 we were honoured by the presence of two pairs of non-breeding Swifts during much of the summer. In 2010 both pairs returned and successfully raised families, and in 2011 we had three nesting pairs, raising a total of six offspring. In 2012 we were back to just two pairs after our original pair failed to return.

As of 12 May we now have two pairs of Swifts in residence and can now look forward to following their progress.

The cameras in our four Swift boxes use infra-red illumination. This means that while the boxes appear to have some lighting at night, as far as the birds are concerned they are in darkness.

Go to the Webcam
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The Nestboxes and their Cameras

In the way of an introduction to the webcams, below are brief descriptions of the camera-equipped nestboxes that I have set up around my home, and which may feature in the webcam(s) during the year.

The notes need updating as I have added four new Swift boxes at the front of the house. Cameras will not be added to these until I have seen the boxes being used for a season.

The Cameras

By 2008 I had installed cameras in eight nest boxes - 3 House Martin nests (plus an external camera), 2 Swift nests, 2 Starling nests(converted to Swift boxes in 2009 - see below) and my Blue/Great Tit nest box. I have decided not to use one in my Robin box this year, and I do not have any cameras in my House Sparrow terraces.

EM120 and EM220 cctv cameras as used for webcams

The cameras used are EM120 Black and white cameras (on the right in this picture), chosen for their very low light level capability (0.4lux), and EM220 colour cameras. The B/W cameras have built in microphones.

The cameras have lenses of several focal lengths (mentioned in the notes below).

 

All the cameras are 'hard-wired' to multiplexer units next to my computer. These units provide me with the quad images that will sometimes appear on the webcam. Both my main PC and my Toshiba laptop use WinTV devices to input from single sources, although I can select feed from any of the ten cameras individually or any combination of four of them for each computer.

The webcam is provided by my old faithful Toshiba Windows 98 laptop running software called Viewcam32.

Below are brief descriptions of the camera-equipped boxes -

The Blue/Great Tit nestbox

The Blue/Great Tit box

 

This is the oldest of my nestboxes, having been constructed around 1990. It is a purpose-made tower built to allow for photography at the nest, and the nest entrance is about 8ft above ground level, and faces East.

The right hand image shows the platform that I can stand on, and in the shadows above it you can just make out the position of a bench seat.

 

 

The Blue/Great Tit box - camera position

The 'business end' of the box is shown here. The camera (labelled 1) is one of two EM220 colour cameras (both with 2.9mm lenses) being used, the other inside the nestbox, giving a vertical view.

In front of the camera a support holds in place a pair of crossed Polarising filters (labelled 2) which act as a 'blinker' between the camera and the bright light of the nest entrance - this is particularly important in the mornings.

Label 4 indicated a tape flap attached to the edge of a glass sheet. The glass can be removed for cleaning or access by sliding to either side.

When there is a nest present a second sheet of glass can be slid in to replace a soiled one without creating any gap at the back of the nestbox.

Above the box, a plywood baffle (labelled 5) hides a curved diffuser which protrudes into the box. This houses a small tungsten light bulb (which is on permanently). Resting on the baffle so that its light is directed through the diffuser is an old Vivitar 2500 Thyristor flashgun. I have replaced the batteries in this with a lead that goes down to a separate battery pack situated on the platform shown in the first picture. This allows me to turn the flash on/off remotely. The flashgun uses a sensor to control its light output and I'm using a length of fibre optic cable to enable the sensor to operate in this set up the end of the cable is labelled 3 in the picture.

The whole area seen in the photograph is normally hidden behind a black fabric screen which has a slit cut in it though while I can watch and take photographs.

In addition to the very dim tungsten lighting, two banks of white LEDs are used to illuminate the box during daylight hours. These are controlled by a timer/dimmer arrangement that I have assembled so that during the hours of darkness the webcam image will become dimmer.

The Starling/Swift Boxes

House, showing position of Starling boxesThese consist of a pair of nestboxes high on the North facing wall of my house.

Originally positioned half way along the wall, I moved them to the rear corner of the house after we had trouble with the Starlings attacking Swifts in 2007. The metal screen that sticks out at the left of the box was part of my attempt to block the Starlings' view of the front of the driveway where the Swift activity takes place.

 

Starling boxes and cctv images

 

Each of the nest chambers has a floor area of 17x27cm, and there is a camera in each, attached to the central partition, just over 20cm above floor level.

 

 

The boxes are illuminated day and night by Infra-red LEDs.

In 2009, a pair of Starlings had one rather unsuccessful brood (just 1 chick out of five survived to fledging) and after they left a pair of non-breeding Swifts moved in. They found the high entrances difficult to use so I introduced a temporary ramp which proved successful, and they staying from June until mid-August.

 

Following their departure I took the decision to make the boxes Swift-friendly by replacing the high entrances with low ones measuring 65x35mm.

In my notes I will refer to these boxes as SW-le and SW-ri

 

 

The House Martin Nests

Our three artificial House Martin nests were constructed using fibreglass as a skeleton which was then covered with a mixture of sawdust, soil  and cement. Originally put up about ten years or so ago, they were not used until 2004, when we first saw House Martins working on one of them in the middle of August. In 2005-6 they returned producing two broods each summer, and staying with us until well into September.

After that season I carried out a major reconstruction to include cameras in all three nests ready for 2007. Sadly, bad weather caused the failure of the Martins' brood just days before they were due to fledge.

House Martin boxes, showing wiring arrangement

 

I have created a false panel above the nests to include the cameras and their links, and which can be hinged down for access (joists in the loft prevent access from above).

A black neoprene rubber sheet acts as a seal around each lens to reduce access for the wandering parasites.

 

House Martin nest box, showing camera position

 

This image gives a closer view of the camera position of each nest.

Once final adjustments are complete I use mud to coat the rubber sheeting and to seal around the rim of the nest, as the Martins have done previously.

 

House Martin nest boxes


These are the images that the cameras provide. The camera in all three nests have 2.1mm lenses which give a wide angle view in the confined space.

 The external colour camera has a 3.6mm lens.

 

Prior to the 2008 nesting season I installed infra-red LEDs in all three boxes, and gave the boxes a fresh coating of mud!

The Swift Boxes

House, showing position of Swift boxesThe Swift boxes are situated on the same, north-facing wall of the house, but in the north-east corner, giving prospective users a clear approach pathway.

Over the previous few years there have been Swifts nesting in the loft of our neighbour's house, just 12ft away across our shared driveway, and these boxes were put up in 2006, so I was optimistic that at some point the boxes would be discovered.


Swift boxes with cctv nest images
The entrances comply to the BTO recommendation and measure 130mm by 30mm. Originally they had rectangular entrances, but these proved too much of a temptation to the Starlings (which nested in them in 2006!).

Each nest has a floor space of about 27.5x20cm and the cameras are located above the slightly raised nesting areas

Both boxes are illuminated with infra-red LEDs. I will be using higher power versions for 2010.

 

 

For 2009 I  added a loudspeaker housing to the side of the Swift boxes.

This contains a loudspeaker and tweeter salvaged from an old Hi Fi system and will be used to play Swift calls when they arrive over us in late April.

It seems that this approach is a very reliable way to attract Swifts to come and at least investigate new boxes that have been put up - and in June 2009 a pair of non-breeding Swifts moved in!

The loudspeakers will be operating once more in 2010.

 

In my notes I will refer to these boxes as SW-up and SW-lo.

 

In addition to the camera-equipped boxes, there are two sets of Sparrow terraces on the house. You can see one of them in the picture of the Swift boxes (above). That has three compartments. The second terrace is on the back (west facing) wall and can be seen in the picture of the Starling/Swift boxes (above). That terrace has four compartments. At least three pairs of Sparrows nest in these boxes every year.