INFORMATION ABOUT OUR CAMERAS AND SET-UP

Here is a little mini-course on my camera set-up.  I get a few questions about this subject and I’m always in a bit of a quandary about how to give some useful info on camera set-ups without scaring people to death with the complexity of all of it.  I love to see people set up video recording like we have here because it is the coolest thing we ever get to see when the animals come and hang out with for us.

I’m not a tech guy, and I have just learned all of this on the fly by muddling through it, but I have recently written up some notes on camera configuration (which was one of the hardest things for me), and on setting up the video software (Blue Iris is what I use, and it’s the only one I know anything about).

SETTING UP A BIRD BOX
First, a few tips on bird boxes.

Camera placement
You need about 5 to 6 inches of distance between the front of the glass on the camera and the bird. This provides a large enough view to be able to see the bird as it moves around, and it provides a little bit more depth of field than you get if you’re in too close.  I have generally needed to add a little accessory box onto the bird box in order to give me that standoff distance.

I use a hole saw to drill a 3-inch diameter hole that the camera will sit partially into. I hold the camera into that hole by screwing in a 2-inch screw only 1 inch deep on each side of the camera and then hooking some type of elastic band across the back of the camera to compress it into the drilled hole. Take a look at the photographs that we have posted with this set of instructions and I think you’ll get the idea.  The elastic banding technique allows for extremely quick removal of the camera for cleaning, adjustment, or replacement. The elastic band also allows for quick adjustment of the camera position by placing a little block between the camera and the bird box.

Side view of the nest box
Side view of the nest box.
Back of the nest box
Back view of the nest box.
Nest box
The nest box in all its goofy glory. We put an old lamp-shade on the pole to prevent snakes from climbing up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adding a window
It’s good to have a window of some type in the bird box – if possible off to the side of the camera so that it is not shining into the camera’s face and causing a glare. If you take a look at our video of the nesting titmouse, you will see that there is light coming from a window on the right side of the screen. This is a large hole, probably 4 inches diameter, that I cut into the side of the box and covered with some thin white nylon parachute material and then covered that with plexiglass for durability. It provides a nice diffuse light source.  Again, you can see it in one of the photos.  In bird boxes, don’t let the camera see all the way through the bird’s entry hole because the light, when compared with the relative darkness inside the box, will produce glare and blast out the picture.

Mounting the box
You need to give some thought into what you will mount the box on. I think it’s pretty important to be able to snake-proof the box by putting a snake guard below the box whether its on a pole or a tree or whatever. You can see the green snake guard we used in one of the photos – it’s sort of an upside down bowl. If you plan to mount the box on a tree and put a snake guard around the tree, then obviously you would need to pay attention to whether that tree is actually sufficiently isolated from other trees so that snakes and other animals can’t jump across to the box from another nearby tree. Around central Texas, ringtails are extremely proficient jumpers and they can get into very small holes.  Snakes can climb pretty much any tree.  We learned our lesson a couple of years ago when we had a snake attack a clutch of baby chickadees. Fortunately, Jane is utterly fearless when it comes to snakes so the snake had only gotten one chick before Jane got hold of it and launched it out of the box.

CAMERAS
Here is a description of the cameras I use.  I strongly prefer PTZ cameras (pan-tilt-zoom-focus, operated remotely via computer or phone app).  They cost $400 for the type I use.

Fixed-position-cams (you can zoom or focus remotely, but you can’t re-aim them remotely) cost $90.  They are like the 4” diameter cameras you might see at the entry of restaurant or a convenience store.

If you can afford PTZs, that’s what you should use (unless you need the camera to be within about 4-5″ of the birds.  The PTZ cameras run a fan inside them all the time that produces a slight high-pitched whine.  I have to put my ear against the camera to hear the whine, but it might be annoying to the birds).

The PTZ’s are hugely more versatile than the non-PTZ cams.  (PTZ cameras need a different POE+ switch than you can use for the static-position cameras because the PTZ cameras draw more power than the static-position cams.)

I use Dahua 25x-zoom PTZ cameras.  They cost about $400 on Amazon. https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B071NNG1XC/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o08_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

I use these PTZ cams on the owl nests, on the dry creek for long-range viewing, outside the fox dens to watch their playpens, and anywhere you need a long range zoom.   For example, all of the cameras in the 2 following videos are PTZ’s.
A near miss for the great horned owl:  https://texasbackyardwildlife.com/what-the-a-near-miss-for-the-great-horned-owl/
A snoozing fox meets a plucky little black-crested titmouse:  https://texasbackyardwildlife.com/a-snoozing-fox-meets-a-plucky-little-titmouse/

The non-PTZ  fixed-position-cameras which I use cost $90 each.  Here’s an Amazon link.  These non-PTZ cams are what you would need to watch the inside of a birdbox, or in very close quarters inside an underground fox den.

For non-PTZ cams, you need probably a 5-port POE switch $35.  Here’s another Amazon link.

If you are going to use any PTZ cams, then the switch needs to be POE+, like this one.  It’s $109.  You might be OK with a cheaper one, but for a PTZ cam it has to be POE+, not just a POE switch.

 

SOFTWARE AND COMPUTER SET-UP

Blue Iris software
We use Blue Iris.  There are other software packages available for running security cameras, but Blue Iris is the only one I know how to use or to help you with it, so I’ll say “use this one”.   The cheaper version is probably adequate for your needs if you only need to run a couple of cameras).   You’ll have to buy a license and download the software onto your computer.  It costs $35.  Here’s a link to Blue Iris.

Hardware set-up
You need one short ethernet patch cord to go between the switch and your computer, and a long ethernet cable to go from your switch to the cameras (I advise buying them considerably too long to allow for miscalculation of the required length).   You need to figure out a way to get the ethernet cables from inside the house to outside (such as through the crack of a barely open window, or through a 7/8” hole drilled right through the wall).  For long cables, I use $175 rolls of 1000’ Cat6 ethernet cable (UV protected for laying it out on the ground in the sunlight instead of burying it).  Here’s a link

You also need some RJ45 terminals and a crimping tool to crimp them.  Here’s another link.

BEFORE YOU ATTEMPT TO PUT A TERMINAL ON THE END OF YOUR CABLE, YOU ALWAYS HAVE TO FIRST SLIDE THE COUPLER ONTO THE ETHERNET CABLE THAT WILL JOIN THE CABLE ONTO THE CAMERA DONGLE – and be sure to also put the O ring on the camera dongle.

You must configure the individual wires before crimping on the terminals.  They have to be in the correct order/configuration, which is:
With the springy tab on the clear RJ45 terminal facing down, and with the terminal pointed away from you (as if you were about to plug it into something), the wire pattern starts on the left and is 1. Orange & white, 2. Orange, 3. Green & white, 4. blue, 5. Blue & white, 6. Green, 7. Brown & white, 8. Brown.

Crimping tool $65  (yes, they are very proud of their tools).

Configuring Dahua PTZ cameras
Here are some step-by-step instructions for configuring Dahua PTZs.

  1. Plug a patch cord into a brand-new camera and then plug the patch cord into a POE+ port in the hub/switch, which is attached to your computer.  (It won’t work going straight into the computer, and it won’t run on a plain POE port on the POE switch.  It has to be a POE+ in order to run a PTZ camera.)
  2. Write on the back of the camera and on the outer rim of the camera the camera number you are designating for that camera
  3. Your computer must have an IP address assigned to it in Network settings.  You can’t let the computer assign it for you.  The reason I could not log in to Susan’s cameras through a browser was because her computer did not have a static IP assigned through the Network and Sharing Center (in Control Panel).  Go into Change Adapter Settings, click on the network card for the LAN, then Properties, then Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IPv4), then type in an unused IP address (for Susan I put in 192.168.1.249), click a blank in Subnet Mask and it will fill it in for you, Default Gateway should be 192.168.1.1, Preferred DNS Server is 8.8.8.8, and Alternate DNS Server is 8.8.4.4.   Click the box for Validate settings upon exit.  Click OK, and close all of the Network windows.
  4. Open your browser and log into 192.168.1.108, which is the factory default IP address to login to virtually all brand-new cameras (except I think Hikvision brand cameras, which use 192.168.1.64 as their factory setting).
  5. The browser should offer you a window with a Dahua brand name on it, in which they have already filled in “admin” as the username and they are asking you to make a new password.  Make one up with letters and numbers, at least 8 characters long.  Fill in your email address if it asks for it.  Click OK.
  6. The computer screen should now be displaying a live image from the video camera (or it may tell you to Click Here to install something, so go ahead and click it and get it to install the plugin, and then it should give you a live image through the camera).
  7. Click the “Setting” tab.  On the left side menu, click the Video item.  Set the frame rate to 25.  Set the bit rate to 4096 or 6144 (the higher number eats up a little more CPU processing power).  Hit the “Save” button.  Click on the “Overlay” tab and then select the “channel title” tab and type in a name that you want displayed on-screen, and hit the Save button.  Select the “Time title” item and hit the “disable” button. Hit the Save button.  (Don’t do that last step if you want the time code to be stamped onto the recorded videos.)
  8. On the left side click on the “Network” item. Then click on the “TCP/IP” item.   Change the last three digits of the “IP address” from 108 to a number greater than 15 (and that number must not conflict with another device of any kind on your network, such as computers, printers, other cameras, joysticks, or things like that.)  Write this new IP address on the back of your camera and make a note of it somewhere you can easily find it without having to go out to look at the camera.  Hit “save”. This will kick you out of the camera and a new sign-in window will appear. Log back into the camera using “admin” as the username and the new password you assigned the camera a moment ago.
  9. You should now have live video image on screen again. Click the “Settings” tab. Then on the left side, click the “System” tab. Then click the “General” tab, and then click the “Date and time” tab. Click the button for “Sync PC”. Click the “save” button.
  10. On the left side menu click the “Account” tab. Click the “Add user” button at the bottom.  Put in a username and a new password of your choosing, and then put that same new password in the blank for “Confirm password”. (You can use the same password as the one you assigned to the camera a few minutes ago in Step 4.)  You need to hit Save at the bottom of page.  If you can’t see the Save button, use the hard-to-see scroll bar on the far right edge of the screen to scroll down to it.  For security/hacker reasons, if you want to delete the admin and admin login credentials, go to line 1 in the account window (which is where you already are) and hit the delete button over on the right side.
  11. Close the browser and open Blue Iris.  Click your cursor in the upper margin so that no camera is selected. Click the upper left button, which is a gear icon. This will open a new window that asks you to name the camera.  Give it a name you will easily recognize, and then on the next line name it something like “PTZ1” (and this will become the front end of its file name for file naming purposes).  Click “OK”.  This will open a new window for that camera. Click on the “Video” tab.
  12. From here on out, leave everything as it is set by default except for the things which I list below here. Over on the right about halfway down in the “Max rate box”, reset the fps to 25.  (If your video image on the screen is backwards or upside down, then this “video” tab/window is where you will find in the lower right portion of this window a “rotate” setting, and over on the left side you will find a “flip left/right” setting.)
  13. Click on the “configure” button, and in the new window you can input the new IP address you have assigned for this camera in the browser. Also type in the username and password that you assigned to the camera in the browser.  On the line below that in the drop-down menu box, select “Dahua”, and on the next line “Main Stream RTSP”.  Click OK.
  14. Click on the “Record” tab.  Down on the left side, un-click the box for “Combine or cut video each…”.
  15. Click on the “PTZ/Control” tab at the top.  In the “Network IP” box, set it to “Dahua New V4 (that’s the setting for the cameras I use).
  16. To set the camera motion detector triggers, click on the “Trigger” tab and then on the “Configure” button. For starters, I’ll recommend setting the minimum object size to 300, and the minimum contrast to 20, and the minimum duration to 0.3 seconds.  Down below there, I uncheck “Object detection” and I check “Use zones…” and then hit the Edit button. In the new window, down at the bottom click “Rectangles” and it will then let you use your cursor to select a target/trigger area for the camera. If you select the entire window, you are likely to get a lot of false alarms. When you are finished, click OK.
  17. Click OK two more times and it will reset the camera and take you back to a live video window.  I think you are now done.  Have a beer.

Configuring Dahua Non-PTZ cameras

  1. plug a patch cord into a brand-new camera and then plug the patch cord into a POE port in the hub/switch, which is attached to your computer.  (It won’t work going straight into the computer.)
  2. Write on the back of the camera and on the outer rim of the camera the number you are designating for that camera
  3. Your computer must have an IP address assigned to it in Network settings.  You can’t let the computer assign it for you.  The reason I could not log in to Susan’s cameras through a browser was because her computer did not have a static IP assigned through the Network and Sharing Center (in Control Panel).  Go into Change Adapter Settings, click on the network card for the LAN, then Properties, then Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IPv4), then type in an unused IP address (for Susan I put in 192.168.1.249), click a blank in Subnet Mask and it will fill it in for you, Default Gateway should be 192.168.1.1, Preferred DNS Server is 8.8.8.8, and Alternate DNS Server is 8.8.4.4.   Click the box for Validate settings upon exit.  Click OK, and close all of the Network windows.
  4. Open your browser and log into 192.168.1.108, which is the factory default IP address to login to virtually all brand-new cameras (except I think Hikvision brand cameras use 192.168.1.64 as their factory setting).
  5. The browser should offer you a window with a Dahua brand name on it, in which they have already filled in “admin” as the username and they are asking you to make a new password.  Make one up with letters and numbers, at least 8 characters long.  Fill in your email address if it asks for it.  Click OK.
  6. The computer screen should now be displaying a live image from the video camera.
  7. Click the “Setting” tab.  On the left side menu, click the “Video” item.  I change the “encode mode” to H.264H.  Set the frame rate to 25. Set the bit rate to 4096 or 6144 (the higher number eats up a little more CPU processing power).  Hit the “Save” button.  Click on the “Overlay” tab and then select the “Channel title” tab and type in a name that you want displayed on-screen, then hit the Save button.  Select the “Time title” item and hit the “Disable” button.  Hit the “Save” button.  (Don’t do that last step if you want the time code to be stamped onto the recorded videos.)
  8. On the left side click on the “Network” item. Then click on the “TCP/IP” item.   Change the last three digits of the “IP address” from 108 to a number greater than 15 (and that number must not conflict with another device of any kind on your network, such as computers, printers, other cameras, joysticks, or things like that).  Write this new IP address on the back of your camera and make a note of it somewhere so that you can easily find it without having to going out and look at the camera.  Hit “Save”. This will cause you to be kicked out of the camera.  A new sign-in window will appear. Log back into the camera using admin and the new password you assigned the camera a moment ago.
  9. You should now have live video image on screen again. Click the “Setting” tab. Then on the left side, click the “System” tab. Then click the “General” tab, and then click the “Date and time” tab. Click the button for “Sync PC”. Click the “Save” button.
  10. On the left-side menu click the “Account” tab. Click the “Add user” button at the bottom.  Put in a username and a new password of your choosing, and then fill in that same new password in the blank for “Confirm password”.   For security/hacker reasons, if you want to delete the admin and admin login credentials,  go to line 1 in the account window (which is where you already are) and hit the delete button over on the right side.
  11. Close the browser and open Blue Iris.  Click your cursor in the upper margin so that no camera is selected. Click the upper left button, which is a camera icon. This will open a new window that asks you give the camera a name you will easily recognize, and then on the next line name it something like “IPCam1” (and this will become the beginning of its file name for file naming purposes.)  Click “OK”.  This will open a new window for that camera. Click on the “Video” tab.
  12. From here on out, leave everything as it is set by default, except for the things that I list below here. Over on the right about halfway down in the “Max rate box”, reset the fps to 25.  (If your video image on the screen is backwards or upside down, then this “video” tab/window is where you will find, in the lower right portion of this window, a “rotate” setting, and over on the left side you will find a “flip left/right” setting.)
  13. Click on the “Configure” button, and in the new window you can input the new IP address that you have assigned for this camera in the browser. Also type in the username and password that you assigned to the camera in the browser. On the line below that in the drop-down menu box, select “Dahua”, and on the next line “Main Stream RTSP”.  Click OK.
  14. Click on the “Record” tab.  Down on the left side, un-click the box for “Combine or cut video each…”.
  15. If you want to set audible alerts for when the camera gets motion-activated, click on the “Alerts” tab and then go to the lower half of that window and click the option for “Sound an alarm…”, and then use the “Configure” button to set it up.
  16. Click on the “PTZ/Control” tab at the top.  In the “Network IP” box, set it to “Dahua IPC-HDW5231R-Z” (this is for the cameras that I am currently using).  These cameras can be zoomed through Blue Iris and they will then autofocus.  To manually focus them, you have to directly log into the camera itself.
  17. To set the camera motion detector triggers, click on the “Trigger” tab and then on the “Configure” button. For starters, I’ll recommend setting the minimum object size to 300, and the minimum contrast to 20, and the minimum duration to 0.3 seconds.  Down below there, I uncheck “Object detection” and I check “Use zones…” and then hit the Edit button. In the new window, down at the bottom click “Rectangles” and it will then let you use your cursor to select a target/trigger area for the camera. If you select the entire window, you are likely to get a lot of false alarms. When you are finished, click OK.
  18. Click OK two more times and it will reset the camera and take you back to a live video window.  I think you are now done.  Have another beer.