Rangers in California use a HD camera for the Christmas Bird Count

Gary Strachan using the high def camera for the Christmas Bird Count
Strachan using the video in the visitor's center for the CBC

Gary Strachan likes to pour a fresh cup of coffee, settle into his office chair, and go birding. Strachan, the supervising ranger at Año Nuevo State Reserve in Northern California is a self-proclaimed “bird nerd” who is reveling in his department’s new toy: a remote control high-definition camera.

The solar powered “ HD Sealcam,” however, is much more than fun and games. It allows Strachan and other rangers to watch over noisy northern elephant seals and all their neighbors on the 13-acre Año Nuevo Island, which sits just over a mile offshore. The camera can rotate a full 360 degrees and can also swivel 180 degrees up and down.


And it’s not just being used to keep an eye on Steller and California sea lions, brand cormorants, brown pelicans and the various nesting seabirds on the rocks. Rangers are also monitoring great white shark populations in the surrounding waters.

Strachan used the Sealcam for the Christmas Bird Count, and the new technology allowed for greater precision than ever before. “It was warm. I was dry,” Strachan says. “And seeing rare birds is pretty cool.” But the real advantage, he says, is being able to count and monitor wildlife with zero disturbance.

Rangers aren’t the only ones that get to look through the lens. Vistors, who aren't allowed on the Island, can see video from the camera on a plasma screen at Año Nuevo’s visitor center. Soon researchers will be able to use the camera for their studies too. And while the rangers are still learning new ways to use the Sealcam, they’re already talking about getting an infrared attachment for 24-hour coverage.

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