Monday, 10 April 2017

An Unexpected Robin Nest

I recently went looking for an old nest box had fallen from its tree.  A bit of poking about in the undergrowth located it... plus a pair of nesting robins, sitting on eggs.

So we have a robin nesting on the ground in a broken old nest box, and quite vulnerable in my opinion.  In an effort to make it a bit more robust I've put some temporary 'anti-cat' protection around it.  I also popped a webcam in (operation of approx 1 minute).  I'm a bit concerned the nest is still fairly vulnerable, but at least I've warned the kids off that bit of the garden, explaining that to the dog was a bit trickier. Some more robust anti-cat measures will go up over the Bank Holiday weekend... any way here she/he is:

Fluffed-up Robin incubating eggs
YouTube Live Stream:


Setup a live youtube live stream, and will live stream video in the daytime.
At least 2 eggs hatched today, I think 1 last night and 2 in the day.  There are at least three chicks being fed regularly.  Two videos uploaded today:
1) Adult robin eating eggshell and discarding another piece
2) First glimpse of chicks, a few hours after hatching

Main post

My rough-and ready solution to documenting this is a LifeCam studio webcam (higher res/better low light than its LifeCam Cinema sibling).  This camera has up to now been monitoring the rabbit shed, so it was simple to move it.  Handily, the nest box is adjacent to the shed with power and network access (who dosen't?).  A quick network cable run to a 'stand-by' raspberry Pi + PoE splitter meant that I could house the bulk away from 'Robbie' the Robin (name was not my choice), to minimise any disturbance.  Video capture is using iCatcher console CCTV software

Robin nesting in old,. broken nest box
The Robin box is behind the upturned pot (enlarged on inset).  Electronics are housed in the box attached to the pergola (another re-purposed bird box).  I've done a bit of waterproofing with electric insulation tape to protect the webcam .  The original entrance hole is facing to the right (not used), with robin access through some other animal-caused damage to the lid region.

SO, fingers crossed, with a bit of help this family will make it through.  Of concern is all the cats, badgers, rats and mice that I've filmed on my trail camera in this exact spot...

Techy bits
Motion jpeg streaming from a compatible usb webcam guide here via a raspberry pi.
This uses an original Type B raspberry Pi.  I had to fix the focus as it wants to focus just behind the bird's head, which isn't very helpful

Code to fix the focus on Raspberry Pi.. Enter the following in a terminal window
sudo apt-get install uvcdynctrl # install package to control USB webcam
uvcdynctrl -v -d video0 --set='Focus, Auto' 0 # turn autofocus OFF
uvcdynctrl -v -d video0 --set='Focus (absolute)' 35 # fixed focus position
...more on controlling auto focus of usb webcams here

The Pi gets its power via power over ethernet (PoE) to my house (via shed).  Video stream is captured at iCatcher console on a PC as follows: On new camera setup, select 'Network Device', and enter 'Source' as follows, replacing with the IP address and port of the Raspberry pi in the custom feeds dialogue box:


I get approx 10fps at 1280x1080, which isn't bad and makes for some some nice screen grabs. 20 fps at 800x600 is also possible, but I've opted for higher res, lower framerate.

So why not use a Raspberry pi camera module?  Several reasons...

  1. This was quick to do with minimal disturbance as I could locate the Pi far away from the nest.  Rasp Pi camera cables are not very long, and more fragile than a standard USB cable.. I can access the Raspberry Pi + its power gubbins without going too near the nest.
  2. The low light performance of the PiCamera is AWFUL.  I have recently installed one of the new v2 camera modules in a custom designed box with its own lighting rig (incidentally is just above this old broken, occupied box!), and have struggled with illumination.
  3. Pi Camera module is not robust, and likes to fry itself it you handle it without taking extreme care to earth yourself first.
raspI camera has its plus points, and is good in an enclosed, pre-planned situation.  Its also cheaper than this webcam (off the shelf.. this webcam was an ebay bargain)

So fingers crossed we make it to the weekend and I can properly fence it off, in the meantime we're watching with interest...

Post Easter weekend...
While not especially pretty, the robins don't seem to mind this attempt to put off the local fox/cat/badger population

Friday, 7 April 2017

2017 Double camera Bird Box - Intro

Our 2017 double-camera bird nestbox went up a couple of weeks ago.  This is a two-camera setup built around a conventional wooden box design... with a Raspberry Pi 3 for a brain.  The box gives a day and night (infra-red / IR) video options (e.g. to check for roosting at night), with separate 'from above' IR and 'from the side' daylight cameras.  It has a temperature, humidity and ambient light sensors, the latter to automate interior illumination with either visible light or IR leds, all of which have high and low settings.  It's connected directly to the local network so all video storage is handled off-box (as it were).  All we need now is some birds...
2017 double camera bird box

Brain: RaspberryPi 3.  Most of the electronics gizmos interface via a female to male header + perfboard 'shield' that plugs into the GPIO header pins of the raspberry pi.
Power: This is via Power-overEthernet (PoE) using this TP-LinkPoE kit (~£20).  This allows one cable for power and network access, and provides a 12v feed for the LED illumination and IR-cut, which is also dropped to 5v for the Raspberry Pi using a RECOMR-7885.0-1.5 module (~£10)
Top-down camera (Cam -1): InfraRed Raspberry Pi v2 camera module (~£22.79).  This does higher resolution, fixed focus motion-activated video and image capture, using the excellent PikrellCam software.  Video is saved direct to my local network to overcome local storage issues.
InfraRed cut-out filter:  This switches a filter in front of Cam- ( the Pi v2 IR camera), in the daytime for normal-looking daytime images a and video.  In low light/dark, the IR filter is pulled back and IR led array activated for unobtrusive night viewing.  this is interfaced to the Pi's GPIOs via an L2930NE ic.
Side-view camera (Cam-2): MicrosoftLifeCam Cinema (~£15 ebay).  This is the 'dumb-camera', and just generates a video stream that is monitored by a windows PC running iCatcher CCTV software.
Illumination: There are 3 lighting circuits, (1)3x 'White' leds recycled from a broken torch, (2)4x  'Warm' leds (from the 'drawer of stuff'), (3) an 36 LED IR led.  The latter is coupled to a 5k variable resistor as full power causes a white-out.  These three lighting options work off the 12v feed and have low and high settings.  The 12V LED circuits are switched by the Pi's GPIO pins via a ULN2003AN ic.  I used some different types of LEDs since I didn't know what would work the best ultimately.
IR array
Temperature and Humidity: HDC1008  I think these are now discontinued, but as this was 'in the drawer of stuff', in it went.   This sits in a separate, vented compartment and logs outside temperature and humidity to a MySQL database.

Entrance hole counter: The box has a 25mm entrance hole, with in outer and inner IR detector beam, as such we can distinguish between entering/exiting/head pop in/head pop out.
Other stuff:  I've also added inside and outside PIRs as an alternative way of measuring activity - but haven't worked this bit up yet...

It's built in a modular fusion so that it can be relatively easily dismantled.  The circuitry for the entrance counter is housed separately, into a compartment in the front panel of the box, and connected via a hacked cat5 cable and jack to the Pi shield.

Some pictures...
Easy access side door.
Showing position of side camera and opaque windows for illumination

The main box area is under the wiring bit, with glass partition separating webcam section
Raspberry Pi Shield in detail

One of two vents for the HDC1008 temp and humidity sensor

In situ

As I develop more of the software side of things I'll post updates at intervals.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Nesting material for birds - in video

Recently I posted the question - 'Who's been taking nesting material'... so we setup a trail camera and did a spot of long-lens lurking to document which birds were taking sheep wool added to the eaves above our 'Welly boot' bird nesting site.

Blue tit on wool
While not a great surprise, turns out it was Blue tits and Great tits.  We caught these two on our Trail Camera at the Welly boot nest:

Blue Tit on welly boot nest

Great Tit on welly boot nest

..and at the main wool store:

Blue tit on Hairy Harry

Monday, 27 March 2017

Providing nesting material for birds

Everyone likes to be tucked up snug at night - even garden birds...  After discovering that our local birds were taking a of sheep's wool nesting material stuffed into the eaves above our 'Welly boot nest site', we wondered whether we could put it out next to our bird feeders.

The next question was 'Would it matter if it got wet'.. so we decided to setup an experiment.  One has the sheep wool under a plant pot, the other is open to the air.

These two  have been named 'Hairy Harry' and 'Woolly Willy'.  All very scientific-like.

One of our nest boxes is seeing daily activity with blue tits doing some preliminary nest-building, using a mixture of moss and ?bark slivers.  None of the wool is going here, so someone else is obviously taking it...

Update: Find out who --> Videos in this blog post

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

2017 Double camera Bird Box - sneaky peek

My 2017 Bird Nest Box should hopefully be up and running later this week, hopefully not too late for this season.  This version has two camera:  A 'from the side' camera which is a webcam (as described in previous posts), and a 'view from above' camera that uses as raspberry pi InfraRed (IR) camera with Infrared-cut to allow night and daytime viewing, I've added dimmable IR and non-IR led illumination.  The RPi camera does video capture via the marvelous program PikrellCam.

Test screen shots below (Microsoft LifeCam above, Raspberry Pi v2 IR cam below)

Daytime previews
Night time previews
I've also included an entrance hole counter and facility to measure ambient temperature and outside light levels.

More details to follow....

Monday, 20 March 2017

Up-cycled welly-boot bird nest site

For a kid's school project they were challenged to up-cycle a pair of wellington boots, and we came up with this:
Welly boot nest box
No cameras this time around, a low tech project, but quick to do!

We also added some old wool to the eaves for optional nesting material - this was taken within a week, not for a nest in the boot, but for some other nesting site, and was re-filled today.  The boot is tucked into a shed roof overhang.  This nesting site would probably suit a robin who are partial to open-fronted nesting sites, and hopefully don't object to the previous owner's feet.