More of what the night holds

Last year at some point I purchased a couple of surveillance-type video cameras, units that can offer both live views and semi-autonomous recording. Only one is weatherproof, however, and it relies on a network cable, so the applications are a little limited. Nonetheless, I use it for monitoring areas in the yard that are likely to show something interesting – for instance, the frog activity in the backyard pond, or trying to see what kind of wildlife has been visiting. I have coupled the camera with a freeware program that will start recording when motion is detected in certain portions of the frame, defined at will.

You might think this could be set so that false readings are minimized, and it’s kind of true, but not exactly. Moths, for instance, are common enough throughout the area at night that I seem to have a false trigger (and thus a brief video clip produced,) roughly every 10-15 minutes. The cameras have their own infra-red illumination, which is handy (necessary, actually,) but all it takes is a moth within about three or four meters passing through the motion zones. If I let the program run overnight, I usually have dozens of clips to pore through in the morning, with very little of even passing interest.

Worse, however, is a simple trait: spiders balloon all over the place at night, throwing a strand of webbing into the breeze like a parachute and letting it carry them to new locations. Which means, in very short order, that no matter where I put the camera, it will be sporting at least a few web strands by morning. And if the spider decides to spin a web in front of the lens, well, I might have over seventy clips collected by sunrise:

As impressive as the size of that arachnid might seem, it’s only because it’s extremely close to the lens, which also explains the focus and heinous overexposure. To better illustrate, here’s the culprit in a normal photo; the entire front of the camera is roughly 5cm across.

unidentified spider perched in front of infra-red video camera lens
The staccato frame rate is courtesy of the program I believe, not ideal but sufficient for the purpose. But it’s also a product of the low-light sensitivity of the camera, producing just four or five frames a second in darkness rather than 20-30 in the day. At times, I would like it to be higher, such as when it appears a bat has crossed the field of view, but that would take a much more expensive camera.

Yesterday, when there was compelling evidence that a bluebird nest box in the yard was possibly playing host to a flying squirrel nest again, I set the camera up to try and confirm this. Flying squirrels are nocturnal, so the IR camera is a necessity. The initial setup was aimed just a little lower that optimal, and definitely a bit cockeyed – the camera is intended to mount to a wall or post, and does not possess anything useful like a tripod mount. Another spider happened along and, apparently aware that it was being monitored, offered a bit of direct communication, the punk:

You might take this to mean that arachnids are more intelligent than we give them credit for, but then you have to consider the nature of the communiqué and realize that insect-brained is probably pretty accurate. Or bird-brained.

As I was typing this post, I got another alert as something hurtled past right in front of the camera. Now, I have a clip which almost certainly contains a bat, but I’m not exactly sure about this one, so I’ll let you judge.

And here’s a screen capture of the crucial frame – still not detailed enough to be sure, but from the speed and flight behavior, I’m inclined to say it’s a bat myself.

screen capture from IR camera showing very close pass of something, possibly a bat
By the way, someone might speculate that I’d actually captured a flying squirrel in flight, but they’re gliders, and highly unlikely to be able to pull this kind of maneuver.

Now the next bit, and this is the problem with not having much time to post. I recorded this audio clip several nights back and had it about half-prepared to put up, then forgot about it entirely. But one quiet evening I started hearing familiar noises outside, and went out with the little audio recorder to see what I could capture. The sounds were of a pair of barred owls (Strix varia) getting territorial nearby, and while I suspected there were a few hundred meters away near the big pond, it turns out they were in the neighbor’s yard only about thirty meters off. Despite this, and despite my ability creep closer (while remaining out in the road – I probably should have chosen different wording there,) the audio was very weak and had to be amplified significantly, which also amplified the recorder noise and the interstate traffic. But you still get a good example of their “monkey calls.”

Barred owls arguing

I believe they eventually caught sight of me, none too challenging for owls of course, and when the calls hadn’t issued for a couple of minutes I chanced shining a flashlight in the direction I’d been hearing them, seeing nothing. Only a minute or so later, I heard them resuming the calls from a greater distance. At some point I hope to snag some photos, but unless I catch them right at dusk, we’re talking flash photos from a notable distance, pushing the limits of even my most powerful flash unit. So we’ll just have to see what happens, both in regards to any owls and especially with capturing any images or video of the flying squirrels. You know where to find me.