Over the last few weeks, I have been pretty focused on building a camera set up so I can monitor the wildlife that visits my yard.
I have a pretty exacting set of criteria.
It needs to be affordable. I know affordable is a squishy term because what may be affordable to me may not be to you. But I really wanted this to be a less than $100 project, at least to start out. I am a big believer in starting a new project with the minimum viable setup, and then, if we decide it’s worth pursuing further, then I can spend some money. But to start, less than $100.
Then it needs to be simple. I didn’t want to run wires, set up networks, or learn new technologies to set this up. There are a number of reasons for this, but one of them is that just like I didn’t want a large upfront investment of cash, neither did I want a large upfront investment of time. I was willing to spend an afternoon setting this up, at least to get started.
And then, what result did I desire? I wanted to be able to have videos of the animals that visited my yard that I could download and share on social media. A bonus would be still photos, but if I had video, I could always capture stills from that. I knew these wouldn’t be award-winning photos, but I wanted to have proof of concept before I figured out something better.
And I wanted to not have to go out to the camera and retrieve an SD card from the camera like I would if I used a trail cam. I should be able to do this over the internet.
I could do almost all of this with a simple trail cam, like this one. The two big things I didn’t like about the trail cam idea is that I had no idea what I had taken pictures of until I pulled the SD card and took it inside to my computer. The other is that the video quality wasn’t all that great. (I’m aware that higher dollar cameras have solutions to both of those issues, but not under $100.)
In the end, I bought a Blink outdoor security camera. With the required sync module included, I paid around $75, but the price fluctuates on this all the time between $50 and $125. They go on a huge sale on Amazon Prime days as well. The camera is small – about 3×3 inches. It’s battery-powered and uses wifi, so no cables are needed.
The Blink outdoor camera is designed to be a security camera, so it’s motion-activated. I have it clamped to a board in front of a saucer of sunflower seeds, and so when a bird (or lizard or squirrel) gets in the saucer, it automatically records up to 60 seconds of HD video and then uploads it to the cloud. From there I can review it when I want, download it to edit elsewhere, or share it on social media directly from the app.
Each day it syncs with the sync module and downloads the day’s history, so I also have a local copy of all the videos recorded that day.
It’s not a perfect system. I almost went nuts until I figured out how to urn off the notifications. It says you will get 2 years of use from a pair of AA lithium batteries, but by the 3rd day, I got a warning that I was using it more than planned and my battery life would be shorter. The stills are not as good as I would like, and the framerate is a little slow for my purposes.
But overall, I’m really happy. I have begun to upload some of the more interesting ones to YouTube. I’m investigating feeder types, to attract even more birds. I’m putting in a water feature over the next few weeks, because birds love moving water, especially in our heat. I’m going to set up a solar collector, to get around the battery life issue.
And, God help me, I’m looking into setting up an always-on livestream on YouTube. Which does involve cables and money and new technologies.
But wherever this ends up, it all started with $75 and an afternoon.