Raspberry Pi as a Naturewatching Camera

Those of you who watch Springwatch on the BBC are probably already ahead of me. I was interested to see that there was a short article in one of the programs on a “£25 Nature Watching Camera” from MyNaturewatch. It turns out that this is an (almost) perfect application for the Raspberry Pi so I decided I would give it a go using one of my idle Raspberry Pi Zero W and a camera I bought when I bought my first Raspberry Pi.

It was simple to do, just by following the instructions on their website I built the camera in a couple of hours. Then I hit a couple of snags. The first was because I didn’t follow their instructions and the second because (I think) the Pi must be running quite fast and (again I think) it overheated and stopped running.

The first problem was that I assumed I would be able to access the operating system with the code they had provided and spent a while trying to access the Pi to connect it to my WiFi network. It turns out that the camera is a server and therefore you have to access it through a client (either a smartphone or PC). (Note to self for future reference – read the instructions fully).

The second is more questionable and I don’t yet know either if it is the problem or if gluing a home-made heatsink to the chip has made any difference.

The User Interface is a bit clunky and its difficult to know if it is running or not. In particular I found connecting it to my smartphone (an iPhone 6s) didn’t always work and so one was left with the question as to whether it was running and just not operating as a server properly or whether it had stopped running. It would be helpful if there was some external indication that it was running (e.g. if the camera LED blinked occasionally). A related problem is that you’re dependent upon the video streamed from the Pi to your smartphone to line up the camera on the target.

Apart from these niggles, it works fine and I’ve ended up with hundreds of photos of the birds on my feeder. a few of which are shown below. As you can see we have a family of Greater Spotted Woodpeckers who visit regularly.

If you like this sort of thing and/or you want to get your kids interested, I would recommend this. If you can find a more stable platform to watch, you won’t end up with as many pictures of a swinging birdfeeder as I have.