The Eco-Cam Story: Part 3

One of the photos taken with the Eco-Cam

The third of a three-part series all about the one of a kind Bolsa Chica Land Trust Eco-Cam.

Click here to read The Eco-Cam Story: Part 1 and Part 2

This year Bolsa Chica Land Trust’s Vice President and board member Dan Kalmick updated the Eco-Cam tech and added a new High Definition camera (and a bunch of other technical behind-the-scenes improvements).

In summary: we replaced broken parts, built an elemental proof storage box, bought a new awesome camera, and improved the Live feed stream on our website so the general public could watch both cameras on the website.  Read below for more details written by Dan.

the old box, wires, sand, and spiders webs

“Over the past year, if you’ve been following BCLT’s website updates and social media accounts you’ve no doubt seen our Eco Cam. I spent several months before the birds arrived in April updating the original design and infrastructure pieces built by board member Jayson Ruth. The original design got the job done but had some problems in the harsh salty environment of Bolsa Chica. It’s great for animals, fish and birds, but not so great for electronics and cameras.

Upgrading the system first required a review of what worked great and what didn’t work great.  The site to site wireless connection of about a mile from the Department of California Fish and Wildlife trailer to the Eco Cam worked like a champ. It had a moth living in it, but worked great. Then there was the actual mount itself. The pole and solar mounts were in perfect shape and could easily be reused. I had to strip everything else from the old setup: All of the wiring, mounts and anti-perch equipment needed to be replaced.

temporary work table in the office

The boxes that housed the electronics were open to the environment to allow for heat to escape (something that it turned out we didn’t need) so they were full of spiders and moths and other critters.

The first thing to do was debug them, and then proceed to clean out the boxes. The four 12 volt batteries used to power the camera at night were still in good shape.  The rest of the wiring was either overkill or was so corroded it was no good anymore. The switch and injectors had failed as well. The old camera was in ok shape but was very dirty and its audio unit no longer worked.

Once I determined what had failed, I started doing research on what would be the most efficient way to proceed. Power wasn’t my concern as we have two solar panels and can reuse the existing solar regulator and battery charger that was still in good shape (still having to clean out the moths that had lived in it).

I figured we could run everything off of a switch that runs on 12 volts (based off of the 12 volt batteries we already had). I sourced a switch and used it as my basis for running all of the equipment. Power from the solar panels (during the day) or the batteries (during the night) provides power to the switch. This then powers both the old camera and the newer HD camera we purchased (that has a built-in audio processor). I sourced the same microphone that Cornel’s bird cam uses to replace the broken audio from the old camera. I also replaced the old wiring that connected all the pieces.  To house everything, I had a custom made box that has so far withstood the elements out in the wetlands wonderfully. With all of that installed we successfully got everything put together and were able to get both cameras up and running.

The upgraded setup with 2 cameras and element proof box

During this time, I also rebuilt the network and reconfigured how we were getting our feed out to the internet so the general public could view the Eco Cam on our website live.

Now our struggles are keeping the camera lens clear from saltwater and keeping the solar panel clean from bird doo which was so voluminous at one point we lost power until about 10am each morning. For Phase 2 of the Eco Cam, I’d like to add some internal advancements and a NOAA certified weather station for the micro climate that is out at Bolsa Chica.

Overall this was a great project and I hope we can rely on continued support!”

*all photos taken by Dan Kalmick

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