Garden Wildlife Cameras - Part 1

Figure 1: Peanut bird feeder

Attracting wildlife into the garden has many benefits including pest control and mental health well-being. Gardening is also great exercise; I can easily do 15,000 steps just pottering about all day in our not-very-big town garden. Enticing wildlife into the garden also provides the opportunity to photograph it (stills and videos) under more favourable conditions.

We do not get much in the way of mammals though I have seen a singular hedgehog and a lonely grey squirrel; on one occasion, I spotted a young rat that was dead a couple of hours later - presumably a victim of the local cat population. Oh! there was also the muntjac deer on the road outside though I did not see it personally.

Amphibian-wise, we do have our resident frog(s) producing frogspawn on a regular basis.

In the main, we are limited to photographing birds and butterflies and any other bugs and beasties that visit the garden.

To attract the birds, we have a Finches Friend bird feeder (Figure 2) and a more conventional peanut holder (Figure 1) hanging in our Winter Cherry tree where it can be viewed from the house and the summerhouse.

Figure 2: Finches Friend bird feeder

To attract butterflies, moths, and bees we plant lots of nectar-rich flowers ...

Figure 3: Nectar-rich flowers

Figure 4: Ivy is an important late-season nectar source for bees

Outdoor Cameras for Garden Wildlife

The first camera we put up was a Genbolt 5MP WiFi Outdoor Security Camera, circled red in Figure 5, at the beginning of 2022. It is an excellent CCTV unit for the price (about £70) with colour vision (day and night), floodlight, siren, motion detection, two-way audio and digital zoom. Not all those features are necessary for photographing or videoing wildlife. It was very easy to set up and Genbolt's customer service was excellent.
Figure 5: CCTV and Trail Cameras

The picture quality is very good ...

Figure 6: Photograph from Genbolt CCTV

... and the 4x digital zoom is useful for live viewing but recorded stills and videos revert to the un-zoomed view. You can, of course, post-process the photos to crop and enlarge the interesting bits in even the simplest photo-editing software. Here are a couple of short videos taken with the Genbolt CCTV system: the first has blackbirds feasting on rowanberries in October 2022. The second video shows blackbirds, house sparrows, and blue tits (?) on the mountain ash (rowanberry) and feeders - can you count how many birds?

Video 1: Blackbirds feasting on Rowanberries (Genbolt CCTV, October 2022)

Video 2: Avian Frenzy!? (Genbolt CCTV, November 2022)

Some of the cons of the Genbolt camera for observing wildlife are: (i) the Pan & Tilt motion is a bit noisy and can frighten the birds away (see Video 3, increase sound level 'til you can hear the birds), (ii) the motion detection was great for humans but did not work for small animals/birds even on the most sensitive setting (see Video 3), (iii) some distortion at the edges - a compromise with wide-angle view, (iv) video footage was a bit stuttery - this may have been my fault as I had set the recording at 15 frames per second (fps) or, maybe, that was a default I hadn't changed. I upped the fps to 25 (maximum) to see if this would improve matters: Video 4 was recorded at 25 fps and highest quality - you need to look carefully in the centre of the video to see the bird - the recorded video does seem to be more free-flowing.

Video 3: Genbolt GB213 illustrating human detection and noisy pan & tilt motor

Video 4: Genbolt GB213 video at highest fps and quality

I should stress this is an excellent product when used for its intended purpose (CCTV); close-up action of birds is not its primary function.

Clearly, the Genbolt GB213 camera was not going to provide close-up photos and videos of our feathered friends. So I bought a more specialised trail camera: the Wechamp 30 MP Wildlife Camera (circled purple in Figure 5).

This is not a WiFi camera so could not be connected to our home network. I used a phone app to set everything up via bluetooth - in truth, I found it all a bit fiddly and the local WiFi hotspot (no internet connection) kept dropping out. Motion detection for birds was non-existent, though it was pretty good for foliage moving in the gentlest of breezes! Consequently, any useful recordings were triggered manually. I have no doubt the camera is great for tracking larger mammals - just not optimised for our flighty avians. Videos 5 and 6 were recorded during the Big Garden Birdwatch ...

Video 5: Tits on birdfeeder recorded by Wechamp Trail Camera

Video 6: Tits on birdfeeder recorded by Wechamp Trail Camera
I was very happy with the video quality but found it all very finicky to set up and operate. I am prepared to accept that I'm not as au fait with this modern technology as I could be! Another important consideration is that this trail camera eats AA batteries for breakfast; you could see the charge depleting in real-time during the day. There may be parameters you can change to make the batteries last longer than the single day I was getting out of them. This was not an issue with the Genbolt camera because it was plugged in to the mains electricity supply. In any case, I needed to look at more sustainable options: either plug-in or rechargeable batteries.

See Part 2 for how I got on.


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