My impression of our live camera comes from the perspective of a layperson. I can navigate most of the programs on my computer and I am getting pretty good at PowerPoint, but the technology behind our streaming video is well beyond my knowledge. In fact, I am better at interpreting what the cranes are doing than how the image is brought to me.
Every year our system is updated. Components wear out and new devices combine what used to be separate equipment into smaller packages that use less power and promise better results. About all that remains of the original system is the trailer itself.
This year we bought a new camera with better picture quality and upgraded radio and antennas for getting the signal back to the nearest internet connection at camp.
We also switched from a DSL line to a satellite up-link based on the promise of faster speed, but that’s only true if you believe the advertising.
Whether they are surfing the web or watching movies, most people use the internet for downloading so service providers configure their systems accordingly. We, on the other hand, are uploading and with that in mind we were promised more than enough bandwidth for a high quality broadcast. Not so.
Seems we used up what we were allotted in a few days and now it has been slowed — except for an hour or two at 3am when no one else is up.
That slowness doesn’t affect the quality so much as it limits the camera driver’s ability to pan, tilt and zoom. Then there is the fact that we are a quarter mile away from the nest. Add some morning fog, heavy rain or a strong wind that shakes the camera and sometimes its hard to see. The new antenna is a dish, two feet in diameter and all you have to do is aim it in the general direction of the receiver at camp. The old one required critical alignment to work properly but it was made of wire mesh which didn’t catch the wind – and shake the tower making the camera wobble when it is zoomed way in.
Then there is the power issue. The trailer contains five, 200 lb batteries and a backup solar panel. On overcast days that is not enough so we have a generator to occasionally charge the system. When we headed back to Ontario a week ago, we decided to run the genny once more but surprise surprise, it wasn’t there. Someone with light fingers and no scruples had cut the bicycle lock and taken it.
Luckily the manager of Kitz & Pfeil, the local hardware store, is very supportive and sold us another late Sunday afternoon. We locked it to the trailer with anchor chain and hit the road. Of course, that means viewers must now listen to a constant drone but we felt it was safer with something solid to fasten it to.
All generators are not created equal. In an effort to save some money, I opted for a slightly smaller replacement but, as it turns out, it was only capable of keeping the camera running but not charging the batteries at the same time.
In an effort to keep the camera running, Heather had Brooke rent a bigger one. Thereafter, he cleaned up the little one and exchanged it for what I should have purchased originally. Despite it having been run a few times, we were given a full refund. I told you the manager at Kitz & Pfeil was a good guy.
With all of this finally sorted and the batteries on their way to a full charge, Heather’s stress level dropped by half a point, just in time for a power failure back at camp which shut down the the entire system at camp, which delivers the stream to the internet.
There are many live wildlife cameras to choose from these days, but I would bet that few of them work miles from the nearest electricity or internet connection. I imagine that fewer still must stay a quarter mile from their subject to avoid disturbance. And I can guarantee none of them are recording nesting Whooping cranes.