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It was twenty degrees and a blustery January day, snow eddied over the steep bluffs accumulating in deep drifts, held in place by frozen statues of juniper and blue bunch. The herd of elk was two hundred strong, moseying their way casually across the short grass prairie to the timberline above where they would soon bed down for the day, taking turns resting their eyes and keeping watch. The wolves seemingly appeared out of nowhere, running at a speed straight up hill that only a jackrabbit could appreciate. There were two of them, one dark grey, the other a shade of ghostly white. At first glance it appeared these two were in a race to head off the herd, to beat them to their bedding area with the intent of finding a slow one, but upon further review it appeared these two were not in the hunt or at all concerned with the elk that stood motionless observing this uphill race. As quickly as the two wolves had appeared they disappeared into a draw choked with Limber Pine and juniper, and then a few seconds later they shot out the top and disappeared off the screen. That’s correct, off the screen, because the wolves and elk were not being viewed in person or in real time; in fact I was sipping a fresh cup of coffee sitting in my office on a Monday morning.

Trailer CamI was tipped off to the presence of the wolves on the ranch because one of them was captured on a trail camera I had previously positioned on the “Mountain Road”. The photo had been taken the previous Sunday and then automatically sent to the server in my office within a minute, and within the hour it was uploaded to the ranch’s website, which we created and maintain for the landowner.  What took me a few minutes to realize, after having seen the photo, was that I had the “trailer cam” positioned in a saddle a little over a half of an air mile away and I had pre programmed it in the direction of the slope where the wolves had run up.

The “trailer cam” as I refer to it, is a fully transportable solar powered network IP camera. I bought the trailer on craigslist, stripped it down to its frame and axels, and then had it rebuilt to support and transport a solar array, a very powerful IP camera and a radio antenna. The idea for the trailer cam came to me after installing a camera on a pole over an agricultural field. The site has great wildlife activity and it seemed to always have something to look at, but it was difficult to accept that repositioning the camera system would not be a small undertaking.

With this particular property being extremely diverse and quite large, there are numerous areas that have great wildlife viewing potential at different times of the year.  So rather than continue setting up immobile systems that may only have good viewing seasonally, it seemed like a good idea to build one transportable system. The first step was to expand our relay site with more radios in all directions so the ranch would be limitless for camera viewing opportunities.

The relay site is centrally located and is visible from nearly any locality on the 10,000+ acre ranch. The relay consists of three rocket radios, two 90 degree models and one 180, that transmit the ranch’s network in all directions, thus lighting up the entire property with a secure wifi signal. With this system in place we are then able to position the trailer cam anywhere on the ranch and have a live video feed. The camera is nothing short of incredible. It is a PTZ model which stands for pan, tilt and zoom. It can be accessed and controlled with a desktop computer, a tablet or a smart phone by anyone with the access code. It will pan 360 degrees; tilt nearly a full 180 degrees and zoom 20x optically and up to 35x digitally. A good comparison would be to think of looking through a medium powered spotting scope.

When the landowner wants the trailer cam moved it can be transitioned into transport mode within ten minutes and moved to any location on the ranch. The solar panels fold inward and are secured vertically, the mast the camera is attached to is lowered with a winch, and the camera and radio antenna have a quick connection that disconnects them so that they can ride safely in the cab of the pickup.

The trailer cam has only been in operation for six months but it has already captured numerous wildlife interactions from banded trumpeter swans, to fighting whitetail bucks to elk and wolves and even a trespasser who was asked to leave, and who was, to say the least, a bit surprised to have been caught. The full utility of the trailer cam is just being realized as more uses are being thought of. This technology enables any landowner to enjoy their property all year long regardless of where their permanent residence is. During the cold winter months, the drifting snow and subzero temperatures can be enjoyed from the comfort of anywhere. For the property owner with smaller acreages the same camera on a fixed mount that is hardwired into the grid may be the perfect solution. There is also the option to have the video recorded onto a server which is accessible on site or remotely. That is how I was able to see the wolves, because I was able to recall the video based on the time stamp from the trail camera photo.

For large properties or smaller ones, for wildlife viewing, weather updates, security monitoring or just enjoying the scenery, today’s technology puts all of this, literally at your fingertips. Let me know if you would like me to quote you a system.

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Thoughts on "Pan, Tilt, Zoom"

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