Sunday, March 29, 2015

Balcones Canyonland NWR - March 2015

This weekend, we made our first venture back out to the Balcones Canyonland NWR to look for the returning Golden-Cheeked Warblers which were reported back in the area in the past week or so. This endangered species only nests in Central Texas where it can find steep canyons containing a mix of old-growth Ashe Juniper (cedar) and oak trees. It spends its winters in Nicaragua.

We spent a couple of hours on both Saturday and Sunday mornings along the Cactus Rock Trail at the Warbler Vista portion of the reserve, a perfect example of the warbler's habitat. We heard both Golden-Cheeked Warblers and Black and White Warblers staking their territory along the trail. We were not able to visually find all of the warblers we heard. Along this trail section, the warblers were primarily foraging high in the oak trees.

We heard the Golden-Cheeked Warbler on both days at trail markers 1, 3, 5, and 8. Mostly, we heard the song pattern bzzz bzzz bzzz bzzz-so laaazy. On one occasion, we heard an alternate pattern. Note the striped olive back of the female taking flight.

We heard the Black and White Warblers at markers 1 and 5. Its song, weesee weesee weesee weesee has been described as wiping newspaper on glass.

We also saw a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet at marker 5. Along the upper half of the trail, I saw both a Golden-Cheeked and a Black and White Warbler, both of which were foraging along the ground-level branches of the juniper trees.

Back at the parking lot, we were treated to the melodious song of a Bewick's Wren. A pair is building a nest in the eaves of the covered visitor's information sign next to the parking lot.

All images taken with Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L at ISO-1600, 1/1000sec, with fill-flash.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Carolina Chickadee, Second Prospect

Today, the Titmice did not come back but a pair of Carolina Chickadees made multiple visits to the nest box to check it out. Danielle and I feel like anxious landlords waiting for nice tenants to sign a lease ... and hoping there are no drive-by shootings by house sparrow thugs.

In the video below, we capture both the inside and outside camera. We have since moved the outside camera closer.

Update 2015-03-16 - Nest building begins today by the Chickadees. We don't know if this is the only nest they are working on. They started with continued investigation of the nestbox. Midday, they started bringing in material. It seems to be only the presumptive female bringing the material. As expected, the base is starting as some sort of moss (color image taken after dark with iPhone slipped into the ventilation slot).

The following video that Danielle put together includes some snippets the action today. The total footage time of birds in the nest box was just over an hour!

Update 2015-03-17 - More progress on the building of a moss base. Brief encounter with female House Sparrow trying to harass the chickadees. The mono-filament line seemed to help as house sparrow was unwilling to land on top of the house.

Update 2015-03-21 - Much nest building activity again on the 18th but nothing since then. Last night, the camera in the owl box failed in the heavy rain. I had to retrofit the way I mounted the camera on both nest boxes. In doing so, I took the opportunity to take a picture of the "completed" moss base.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Titmouse Scores First Video

This past week, I have been setting up video coverage for some new bird houses we put up. This morning, we found we had captured a pair of Black-Crested Titmice on video. The video clip below is a merge of two clips. In the first, one bird enters the nest box with a moth in its beak. It calls to the other bird, which comes into the nest, and they swap places. Then, a few hours later, another bird enters with yet another moth (this one is wriggling). It calls again but no second bird enters the nest.

The calls are nothing like I have heard from a Titmouse before. It starts as repeated, low, cooing sound like piou piou piou that sounds almost like dove. Then it increases in rapidity to almost a flutter as the other bird enters the nest box. This set of four frames from the video summarize the key events.

Happy PI Day

Got on the computer this morning to watch a count-down clock celebrating "PI Day", when the digits of the date and time match those of PI.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Nestbox Camera Project

In this project, I have put together a nest box camera system for observing small cavity nesting birds. I started with a Texas Bluebird Society Nestbox which I acquired from TBS. I am also building an owl box on the same basic plan, just changing all of the dimensions.

We applied several tricks to keep house sparrows out.  We screwed in small eye-bolts around the top and next to the front hole. Through these we strung mono-filament fishing line. This is supposed to discourage the sparrows. After putting this up, no more house-sparrows have entered but other birds have ... fingers crossed.

We mounted the house on a 10ft 3/4" EMT conduit partially buried in the ground in a cement footing. This puts the bottom of the house just above my eye level. I can easily maintain the box with a foot stool. In retrospect, 1" conduit would have been better as this still gets blown around in a breeze a bit (the recommendation online was 1/2" conduit, which we thought would make the birds seasick!).

We used an 8" stovepipe vent and cap to construct a "predator baffle". It rides on top of a worm-clamp fastened to the main pipe just under the stovepipe vent cap. It does clank a bit in the wind, so we may add some foam to reduce the noise.

In order to observe the birds inside the nest, I purchased a Hawkeye Nature Cam and mounted it in a separate box above the main nest box.  I started by drilling a 2-1/4" hole centered on the top of the nestbox roof. I then created a 4"x2"x2" box out of red cedar board in which the camera is housed.

I removed the sun-shield from the camera and flipped the bracket around, mounting first on a piece of corner molding.

This made it easy to then screw this completed assembly into the inside of the camera box

I need to add some weatherstripping or caulk to improve the seal between this box and the roof of the bird house, as the Hawkeye is not weatherproof.

In order to capture action outside of the bird house, I mounted a Swann Pro-642 security camera on a 10ft 1" EMT conduit pole fixed in a movable footing of concrete. I placed this a few feet away from the side of the bird house. I am hoping squirrels do not defeat the predator baffle by jumping across this gap. What I really need is a night vision camera with a narrower field of view so I can place it further away.

In order to capture all of the action of these cameras, and the ones I will set up for the owl box, I purchased a Lorex LH030 Internet-enabled DVR. I installed it in the observatory, which is much closed to the nest boxes than the house, and remotely attach to it with a PC or iPad client. The client is a bit... quirky, and we're still trying to figure out the best way to download video. Right now, it seems easiest to use the playback mode and then record with a screen-casting application such as Camtasia or Jing.

Update 2015-03-21 - Last night, the camera in the owl box failed. I think that water got into the in-line filter mounted on the cable near the camera. The warranty support from Birdhouse Spy Cam where I purchased the camera is a full year. Richard Yost, owner, was quite ready to send me a replacement camera - awesome service.  In the meantime, in order to try to fix the problem, I took the camera down and heated the cable in a heating pad with a desiccant bag to drive out the moisture. After a hour of this treatment, I was able to recover the video and audio feeds. I have changed the mounting arrangement and place the filter assembly in the wooden housing as well.

Here is how the camera looks from inside the big owl house. The view from the bluebird box should be similar albeit with a smaller size ceiling.