Spying on Your Backyard Neighbor

Lights, Camera, Action!

Getting a good view of the wildlife around your home can be a challenge. After all, birds and other wildlife are naturally shy of humans. Your slightest movement sends them flying or scurrying away. A bird feeder placed near a window is great, as long as they can’t see past the reflection; but what about seeing what is not in view of a window?

We have come to expect surveillance cameras in public places, but what about using them by the bird feeder, by the tree, or next to the hole in your fence? Over the past 10 years or so, we have invested in game or trail cameras, but they are a hassle to work with. To see if you have captured any images, you need to go out and retrieve the memory card, and play it on your computer. This can be tedious and time consuming, and these devices require a lot of batteries — sometimes 8 or more. And, if they are at your cabin and several hundreds of miles away, it just isn’t possible.

We have found a better solution for our retreat in the Ozarks. We are using Blink Mini cameras. They are small, about the size of a pack of cards (but square). They record short video clips or still images (your choice) and are triggered by motion. Once triggered they record a video clip and send you a notice by text or email that they just recorded something. You can then view the recorded clips at your leisure, from wherever you might be in the world.

These little cameras are totally wireless and connect to your existing WiFi network. Your only restriction is the reach of your wifi network. You also need to install the Blink dedicated HUB which also talks with the cameras. Just plug this into a nearby wall outlet. The XT version, which is black, is the weatherproof model and is easy to mount. Two screws do the job. They require just two AA batteries that can last a long time. Blink advertises 2 years of battery life, but this is based on usage. If you have a lot of activity, your battery life might only be a few months. But that is not bad!

Use your smartphone to set up, access, and customize each Blink camera’s settings. The interface is easy and intuitive and allows you to adjust motion sensitivity, the length of the clips, and a host of other parameters. You can control what area of the image will trigger or not trigger the motion detection — you might want to eliminate a tree branch that blows in the wind or street traffic that might be visible in the corner of the frame. You can enable or disable audio and disable the LED recording light so that you don’t spook an animal or an intruder.

We place some of our Blinks low to the ground to record raccoons, opossums, and low dwelling wildlife. Others mount to our railings and trees. We have a library now of recorded clips that include: bobcat, coyote, armadillo, opossum, raccoon, flying squirrels, ground hogs, skunks, a snake, birds of all kinds, deer, and we even have recorded a tarantula. We have been amazed by the diversity of wildlife that visits our property during the day and night, and the various seasons of the year.

Recently we installed a camera inside an owl box… a bird box designed to attract a screech owl. Immediately, on the very first night, we captured clips of a cute little flying squirrel that climbed inside to check out the box. He has been back a few times since, but has not made a nest there yet. And we have seen a great crested fly-catcher come and check things out a couple of times. And just recently, we recorded a clip of a screech owl checking out the nesting box. We hope she returns this winter to raise a family!

Of course, these cameras double as security devices. They can notify you when a human is lurking around your property and provide you, and law enforcement, with time and dated images and video. The cameras do have microphones and some have speakers offering the ability to actually have a conversation over the camera. They even have a temperature sensor that you can view on your phone.

There are other wireless cameras on the market that may have similar features. If you are interested in the Blinks, they can be found on Amazon. If you are just getting started, considered a starter kit that includes 2 XT cameras. The cost is between $99 and $115. Start with two, but you will probably like them so much that you will end up buying several more.


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