Sunday, October 20, 2013

Unboxing the BirdCam Pro

Unboxing the BirdCam Pro

There's a new BirdCam from Wingscapes called the BirdCam Pro.  It offers several improvements over the BirdCam 2 which it replaces.  Here are some first looks as a brand new one comes out of the packaging.

The BirdCam Pro consumer packaging provides a glimpse of the device through a window in the box.  Like the BirdCam 2, it is a motion-activated, point-and-shoot camera with an 8 megapixel sensor.  It can also be set for time-lapse photos.  Mount it pointed at a bird feeder or other target where birds or critters visit to capture their JPEG photos or short AVI videos.

The back of the box shows setup examples and features.  The box reveals that the camera has no internal memory like the BirdCam 2, but will accept up to 32 GB SD cards.  The '2' would only accept a 4 GB card.  The box also reveals that this camera is WiFi SD card compatible and will record sound as well as stills and video.

The device, manuals and accessories are organized in a second inner container.

A tape measure, mounting arm and mounting strap are included with the BirdCam Pro.  The mounting arm is a new and welcome addition.  It can be attached to a wrought iron shepherd's hook as an example.

In addition to the user's manual, a BirdCam Discovery Guide booklet is packaged with the device.  This shows some sample setups and lures and BirdCam photos of common garden birds.

The BirdCam Pro is a bit wider and noticeably shorter than the BirdCam 2 (left).  Without batteries, it feels roughly the same weight as the BirdCam 2.  Notice that the LCD display of the 'Pro' is not visible through the front cover.

Opening the front cover reveals a new color LCD on the 'Pro' which can be used to preview photos and set up the unit (right).  This display is better protected from the weather than on the BirdCam 2.  It will be necessary to open the front cover to check battery and memory status.  Also, unlike the '2,' the new display remains off until activated, according to one of the reviews.  This should help to prolong battery life.  Battery power is also saved by the new LED flash arrays.  Improved power management of the 'Pro' allows up to 6 months battery life according to Wingscapes.  That's a big improvement over the '2.'  Even without using flash, I was changing batteries on the BirdCam 2 about once a month.  One review indicates that image quality has also been improved.

Depth of field setting can be fine tuned from six inches to infinity with the focus dial.  This is another improvement over the '2' which had only four ratchet settings.  I had one BirdCam 2 that consistently focused behind the target.  Wingscapes kindly replaced it and no doubt added this feature to avoid that problem.

The BirdCam Pro also includes a view finder as well as a laser pointer for aiming the device.  That screw socket is a second mounting site (there's also one on the bottom) which accepts a standard camera tripod mounting screw.  The one feature that is still missing, in my opinion, is a spirit level.  This would be very helpful to get it set up straight and proper.

The BirdCam Pro uses six C-cell alkaline batteries instead of four D-cells.  They are housed in a cassette which ejects from the bottom of the device.  This provides better weather protection and makes them easier to install than on the '2,' but again there is also a disadvantage.  To change the batteries, it will be necessary to remove the camera from its mounting arm or tripod.  That's a small price to pay, however, if the promised 6-month battery life is a reality.

I am looking forward to getting this new BirdCam Pro set up and running.  Wingscapes appears to have addressed specific weaknesses of the BirdCam 2 with their new product.  My first impressions are very positive and I am anxious to see the photos the BirdCam Pro will produce.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Hizzoner the Mayor

Last Friday, I was at West Beach in Deception Pass State Park.  I had a number of wildlife encounters that included several Bald Eagles featured in the previous post.  I also ran into an old friend, whose territory includes a small grove of Shore Pines next to the parking lot.  He is a Douglas Squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii), the native squirrel of Pacific Northwest coniferous forests.

The first time we met in this spot, it was early morning.  He was obviously cold and trying to warm himself in the morning sun.  He was remarkably tolerant of my close proximity.  This is probably a characteristic of park critters where there are often lots of people around.

On our second encounter, I dubbed him The Mayor of West Beach because of his pugnacious, take charge behavior.  Another creature had trespassed in his pine grove and he was having none of it.  He paused his eviction just long enough to come out of the grove to say hello.

The next meeting was more peaceable, and even a bit comical.  He showed his vain side, acting like a red-carpet celebrity posing for photographs.

This time he was all business.  The task at hand was stripping the scales off of the Shore Pine's cones and gobbling up the seeds.  It was chewing sounds that helped me locate him in the shadows.  He remained at ease with his duties as I moved in close to take pictures.  The piles of cone scales left by Douglas Squirrels are called middens.  Some can be quite large where the squirrels have returned to the same spot again and again.  Look for these along forest trails.  Archaeologists use the same term for evidence of dwelling sites of ancient peoples.

I was pleased to find this old friend still in his usual spot.  I hadn't seen him here for a while and wondered if he would ever be back.  These are the experiences that make exploring nature such a pleasure.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Fishing at Deception Pass

It was quite a morning at West Beach in Deception Pass State Park.  There was lots of wildlife plus dozens of naval aircraft flying into N.A.S. Whidbey Island nearby.  Look for Ault Field on the map in the link.

I want to start with the Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus Leucocephalus).  There were at least half a dozen and they were fishing in the shallow waters near the tide line.  It was quite a spectacle with all the soaring and swooping.  When they made a catch, they would head straight for the trees in the Dune Forest behind the sand dunes.  Look under the foot of the fellow in the first photo to see his nice catch.

This was the first bird I spotted with a catch.  The fish is not so easy to see in this photo, but it's there.  When shooting wildlife, it is necessary to take the lighting and the camera angles that you get.

When they dove, they would disappear behind the foredune, then rise up again with a fish in their talons.  I have seen this before, but it's always exciting.

This is the same bird enjoying his breakfast.  These eagles are much farther away than they look in the photos.  Thanks to a telephoto lens and some cropping, we can get closer looks.

If I had not seen these birds flying to the trees, I doubt I would have spotted them.  When they get into the dappled shade of the forest, they become almost invisible.  This could be a clue to the reason they are colored as they are.  Eagles will squabble with each other over fish.  Disappearing in the trees may be a good way to be left alone with one's catch.

Besides the eagles, the skies this morning were also filled with naval aircraft, dozens of them.  They were circling over the park preparing to land at the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station three miles to the south.  This is a P-3C Orion identified by the "stinger" on the tail.  One of these would pass overhead every three or four minutes.

It is possible this was a small group of planes doing touch-and-go exercises.  This is how they rehearse carrier landings.  Instead of several planes, I may have been seeing the same planes circling again and again.  This touch-and-go maneuver is the same technique used by the eagles to catch fish.  See the clever tie-in?

There is a new interpretive sign at West Beach to help visitors identify the aircraft they might see here.  We consider these part of the wildlife.  Besides the Orions, I saw a few EA-18G Growlers (#2) and one P8 Poseidon (#5) which is the Navy's version of the Boeing 737.  In the case of the Growler, let me tell you, the name does not come close to describing the noise these aircraft make.

Coming up, Heermann's Gulls, Northwestern Crows, Fraggle Rock and the Mayor of West Beach again.