DOC launched Royal Cam in 2016 and since then we’ve welcomed thousands of viewers. We’ve also partnered with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, who improved Royal Cam's video stream with a new camera in 2019.
We work hard to make sure Royal Cam viewers can enjoy royal albatross 24/7 without disturbing them. To do this, we chose a camera that would be clear, unobtrusive and broadcast well even during gale force winds.
Keeping albatross comfortable
We want to make sure the royal albatross you see on Royal Cam feel comfortable around the camera. So, we chose a model that runs silently and we could position to capture them in their natural habitat while giving them space. While the birds may look close to the camera, it’s placed 6 m from the nest. This makes sure it does not disturb the birds, while offering an unrestricted view of the nest.
The adult birds have paid no attention to the camera’s presence so far. But when moving around the headland, chicks can become curious about it. Royal albatross chicks use their beaks to explore, so you might see a curious chick giving the camera a peck once they wander from the nest. So, we’ve made sure the camera is ‘chick-proof’ and safe for their exploration.
Using the right hardware
Our latest camera, supplied by Cornell Lab of Ornithology in 2019, is an Axis P5635-E MkII PTZ.
The camera can be panned up to 360 degrees remotely and has night vision which is supplied by a separate piece of equipment. This allows us to widen the camera scope and keep the chick in view as much as possible, even while wandering outside the nest and at night.
Seeing at night
The light is an infrared illuminator that turns on automatically when the light conditions are low. The camera has a filter that allows it to see the infrared light at night. You can hear it clicking on at night when it is getting dark.
The infrared light is 850 nm wavelength and is invisible to people and birds. The light has a 120 degrees lens that spreads the beam out over a wide distance. It's mounted above the camera to ensure that albatross are not able to walk up and stare into the light.
The zoom on this camera has better magnification than any of our previous cameras, so you can see even more of what’s happening in the nest. It also has diffuse LED lighting which is harmless to the birds and ensures viewers can see the nest at night.
The headland is also often exposed to gale force winds and rough weather. We use a camera that can record clear video footage, even when being shaken by the wind. So, you can watch the video stream even while there are winds of over 100 km per hour.
Placing the camera
Each year since 2016, we chose a nest close to the DOC rangers' office where we can manage the live stream of the video. We found that the length of the cable could impact the video quality broadcast from the camera. This mean that the longer the cable, the greater the chance of bad video quality. So we’ve taken care to select spots that will provide the best video quality for viewers.
To keep it steady, we mount the camera on a wooden post. We hold it in position using an umbrella stand, a concrete base and rocks so it can withstand the wind and weather.
Protecting the heritage of the headland
Royal Cam is set up on Pukekura/Taiaroa Head. This is an important site for Māori, who were the first people to occupy this area several hundred years ago.
Heritage New Zealand have listed the headland as a category one historic site. This means the ground must remain undisturbed. Every measure has been taken to ensure that Royal Cam doesn't disturb the birds or negatively affect the historic site where it’s been placed.