TitCam Information

{last edited: 14th April 2010 See New For 2010}

BlueTitCam

This is a miniature monochrome camera housed in a wooden birdbox with a 25mm diameter entrance hole.
The size of the entrance hole limits its use to coal tits or blue tits. Coal tits seem to select the nesting boxes a long way from the house. This box (being just a few metres from the conservatory) has been used successfully by blue tits every year so far.

The camera has an integrated microphone and 6 infrared light emitting diodes (l.e.d.). It is an analogue camera so can be connected directly to a TV or video recorder. It could also be used with a computer so long as it was equipped with a video capture device (e.g. pci video capture card or USB video capture device). An extention cable carries 12V d.c. to the camera, and returns audio and composite video signals.

The camera lens angle of view was specified as 69 but when replaced with a 90 version there was no difference. Either way the image is not wide enough, but I can't mount the camera any higher in the box.



This camera is mounted in an abs box in an attempt to keep it dry.

GreatTitCam

This is a miniature colour camera housed in a wooden birdbox with a 30mm diameter enterence hole. The size of the entrance hole allows it to be used by great tits, while keeping out the larger birds. Although this box has been successfully used in previous years, we had big problems with cats for the first time last year so have moved it to a safer location. Unfortunately we have no way of knowing whether this new site is going to be acceptable to the birds.

Again the camera has an integrated microphone, and this time 8 infrared light emitting diodes, and requires a 7.5V d.c. power source. Although colour, the camera normally shows a monochrome picture due to the low natural light levels inside the box and the limiting factor of the infrared l.e.d. light source.


This lens on this camera was changed for a wider angled version (from 37 to 90) so we could get a better view of the inside of the box.

This camera was very hastily fitted directly into the bird box, with none of the protection added to the BlueTit camera.

Capturing Video

Initially the 2 cameras were connected to 2 line inputs on a DVD recorder, with a small portable TV connected to the DVD via SCART. This allowed easy switching via the DVD remote so we could watch "live" or view playbacks.

However, as both boxes became occupied, we wanted to be able to view (and possibly record) video from both cameras. For a while we used a pc & monitor for the second camera (teckie details here) but decided the loss of quality using an old Pinnacle PCTV card was unacceptable.

So the current configuration uses 2 portable TVs. It would have been nice if they were equipped with video outputs, then we could have connected both to the DVD recorder, and switched recording streams via the remote. However, the DVD recorder is slow and can only do one task at a time (e.g. stop recording, switch line inputs, re-start recording) so I have now made a simple switch box which allows us to instantly switch recording from one camera to the other.

Running the DVD on standard play (SP) allows us to record just over 2hrs of "action". We have tried the EP settings, but the video quality is noticably inferior.

Cabling

The cable supplied is not really intended for the great outdoors, so could do with the added protection of conduit. We have just strung up tort green wire about 8ft above the ground and attached all cable to this.

Patience, patience, patience...

This is in short supply in our house, so we use a couple of tricks so as to avoid the need to stare at the TV for hours on end:-
- Audio Monitor: audio from both cameras is fed into an old stereo amp. Any bird entering a box creates enough noise to be heard anywhere on the ground floor of our house.
- Saw dust: before nest building gets under way, we add a layer of clean saw dust to the bottom of each bird box. We can leave the DVD to record for 2 hours and then check the playback in super fast-forward mode. Any change to the saw dust pattern as we whizz thru' is easily detected, and probably indicates a visitor. Otherwise (if no visitors) it just takes 2 or 3 minutes to check a 2hr DVD.

Editing & Publishing the Video

Being a cheap-skate (...and now an unemployed cheap-skate) I don't buy software. And being an upright member of society I don't pirate it either. So rather than pay for Microsoft XP or Vista I use the Ubuntu distribution of Linux, and use some of the hundreds (possibly thousands) of free applications available.

The video file from the DVD is edited in avidemux to remove the bits we don't want and to create short video clips.



Originally the edited video clip was saved in MPEG-TS (A+V) format, and then reduced to half size (to reduce file size) and converted to MP4 using VLC Media Player. However, my understanding of avidemux has now improved to the point where I can crop, reduce and save to mp4 without using VLC.

In an attempt to further reduce file size, some of the video clips have reduced bit rates, but this has had an adverse affect on quality. For example on some clips the bit rate has been reduced from 800 to 700kb/s and the picture looks OK until the bird moves, then you notice pixellation. Reducing the audio tracks from 2 to 1 and the rate from 128 to 44kb/s has some affect on file size without any noticable problems...this is work in progress.

Ordinary (still) pictures are edited using the Gimp to crop them and possibly improve sharpness or contrast. I've also created a Gimp script which creates 2 additional copies of the photo; one thumb-nail (smallest dimension 200 pixels) and one web friendly large image (smallest dim 800 pixels).

The pages for this website were created using Kompozer, with some minor HTML tweaks using the text editor gEdit, and were published to the net using FireFTP, an add-in for the Mozilla Firefox web browser.

More on Video Formats

While most of the video clips are in MP4 format, movie clips taken outside the bird box (on a Fuji camera) have been converted to Flash Video, which seems to be the most widely supported video format. For the PondCam clips I created .asf files, as this should be a nice friendly format for people running Windows. However, several Windows users have said these will not run. This can be solved by using the excellent (and free) SMPlayer instead of Windows Media Player.

...so determining the best video file format is still work in progress.

New For 2010

In the summer of 2009 I set about making a couple of new boxes, both fitted with the colour camera illustrated above. Rather than use the previous "lean-to" roof design, I used an apex roof covered with felt (left overs from repairing the shed roof).

The apex design allowed me to do 2 things:-
 - mount the camera at the front of the box so I get more of an angle on the birds, rather than looking down directly on their heads.
 - by painting the inside of the roof white, I was hoping to improve the natural lighting by using this as a reflector.

In addition, I dismantled an l.e.d. light and fitted the ultra-bright lights pointing upwards (as shown here).

The plan with the l.e.d. lights is to only turn them on for short periods once the chicks have hatched. I'm hoping that this will not freak the parents out if done when they are both away from the nest. As the l.e.d.s point upwards, the birds will only see the reflected light and not be dazzled.

I also extended the white painted area down the side of the box slightly, so that the camera would "see" part of it. The idea being that this would set the peak white for the camera and avoid other parts of the image (usually the nest or parts of the birds) from burning out.

Unfortunately I didn't think this one through. Parts of the image are usually burnt out when the IR lights are on, rather than with natural light. The effect of the white area with natural light is that detail is now lost in the shadows. I also had lens flare from the sun light coming in through the hole and catching the side of the lens.

When the birds were out of the nest I tried re-aligning the camera (which cured the flare) and smearing mud on the white paint (which did not help much). Maybe after this season I will experiment with a red paint reference.

Quick Cam

We noticed a bird entering the box on the garage during the cold spell, and decided to quickly install our small monochrome camera. I attached the camera to a thin piece of tin plate (actually a CD drive knock-out from a pc case) like this.

Lifting the lid, I then laid the plate across the top of the box, with each end supported by the sides of the box. With the lid screwed back in place, the camera was secure. So this is a very simple design which allows the camera to be quickly moved from box to box.

Pond Cam

We hardly used this during 2009, and earlier this year we gave it another try. But after a few hours the l.e.d. lights started to flicker and some failed.

I think these cameras are probably a waste of time (& money). In a pond they only have a range of about 8" due to particles in the water. They might be more useful if they had a very wide angle lens (actually called a fish-eye lens).

Anyway, when time permits I will try to dismantle this camera and either remove the lights or possibly replace them with IR lights. Then we may be able to use it as a rain proof, outside camera for spying on nesting robins.