Top predator stays in focus with 4K cameras

Hoofddorp, The Netherlands

Having one of the world’s top predators take up residence in the middle of your town may not seem like a welcome surprise. But, when that predator is the world’s fastest bird and provides the chance to capture its behaviour at its nest site, courtesy of a top 4K camera from Hikvision, it proved to be too good an opportunity for the people of Taunton and UK peregrine experts to miss.

The Peregrine Falcon is a large, powerful, and breathtakingly fast bird – the fastest animal on the planet. In normal flight it cruises at 40 mph and can reach 65 mph in a chase. But, on the hunt, it can dive towards its prey at more than 200 mph.

A top predator, the peregrine has little to fear except man, being driven close to extinction in the 1960s due to human persecution and the impact of pesticides in the food chain. With the benefit of stronger legislation and listed species protection, these birds have recovered in their natural strongholds and have now expanded into many urban areas. Just like the urban fox, the peregrine has found our built environment a perfect place to call home, lifelong pairs nesting in their eyries on tall structures and high-rise buildings and feeding predominantly on feral pigeons.

St Mary Magdalene Church in Taunton, Somerset, found itself with a pair of peregrine falcons at the top of its 163-foot church tower earlier this year and quickly turned to naturalist and ecologist, Michael Leigh-Mallory, to lead the Taunton Peregrine Project. Working with Coomber Security Systems, a total of five Hikvision cameras were installed to monitor the bird’s behaviour, with all the video feeds wirelessly transmitted to a Hikvision NVR and 4K monitor within the church.

Naturally, the birds chose the highest point possible to establish their perch, providing the second challenge to the team: placing all five cameras at a height of more than 160 feet within the confines of the church tower and in positions that would allow the Peregrine Project to observe the widest possible range of behaviours, including in-flight as they arrived and departed the site.

Finally, the ornithologists were determined that the monitoring activities should not disturb the birds. This meant locating the NVR and 4K monitor at ground level at the opposite end of the church.

Coomber Security Systems took on the task of designing and installing the bespoke surveillance system, using Hikvision PoE Switches to provide power and data handling for all five IR-equipped cameras that were sited on the tower.

The three 4K Vari-focal bullet cameras were mounted on wooden poles and then strapped to the tower to overcome the prohibition on making any permanent change to the church structure. Between the three feeds, the project team can see the birds in the air arriving at and departing from the tower, together with comprehensive coverage of the nest box that they installed in the hope that the birds would be encouraged to breed in the future.

The Project’s observation team also capture video and sound from a 4MP Mini Dome IP camera mounted within the nest box and a small 2MP PTZ camera mounted at the top of the tower to capture all round views, and to ensure the birds are not disturbed, a Ubiquiti AC Nano wireless bridge was used to create a secure connection between the top of the tower and the far end of the church. This means the video and sound from the cameras can be recorded and monitored 24/7 without impacting the natural behaviour of the falcons.

According to Michael Leigh-Mallory, Project Leader of the Taunton Peregrine Project, “With two months of operation under its belt, the new system has been providing 24-hour coverage of the falcon pair, including highly-resolved images of the peregrines flying in to the perch with their prey.

“Despite the difficult and potentially hazardous installation on the ancient building, and the use of an unorthodox mounting system that puts the cameras in very exposed positions, the 4K video from the IP bullet cameras is of amazing quality both day and night. The Hikvision equipment has recorded ground-breaking images of a wide range of behaviours, including nocturnal hunting, and all in incredible definition. These 4K images are most probably a first for peregrine observation in the UK. What’s more, this unique 4K footage has been providing valuable information to external Peregrine experts, like Ed Drewitt, naturalist, broadcaster and writer of the book Urban Peregrines.”

An Open Day was held at the end of March to allow the local community to see for themselves the result of their donations that fund the entire project. In addition, Somerset Ornithological Society and the BBC Springwatch team have shown great interest in the communities’ efforts and a large following is emerging on social media).

Now, the team plan to raise more money so the views of the birds can be live streamed to the Internet via their web-site, which is currently under construction.

Michael Leigh-Mallory, Project Leader of the Taunton Peregrine Project, said, “The Hikvision cameras have provided images of incredible definition! We have been able to record ground-breaking images of nocturnal hunting and a wide range of behaviour. The 4K images are probably a first for peregrine observation in the UK and this unique 4K footage has been providing valuable information to Peregrine experts like Ed Drewitt, naturalist, broadcaster and writer of the book Urban Peregrines.”


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