03 December 2011

The bird cliff web camera story

-Adventures in destination development

For us as architects destination development is more then just building. It is very much about beiing involved all the way. The hornøya wind shelter (below) and bird hide has been in place for a year. It has sheltered both visiting birders and locals, and it has survived the test of heavy arctic storms. We are now working on a scheme to further develop Hornøya as a fantastic bird and birding place. This includes improving the nature trail / path, improving the lighthouse accomodation fascilities and making new and better information folders for the nature reserve. In addition we are now setting up a wireless bird cliff web camera.

Birding to the wwworld! 
We have spent quite some time finding the funding for this project, and in collaboration with Eivind Bøhn from Cloudware we have researched and developed a high speed wireless web cam solution.



Hornøya bird cliff has for more then 30 years been a reseachers heaven. The very close proximity to Vardø, with all necesarry amenities and infrastructure, and the easily accesible birdcliff with a wide variety of species, is the key. The result of these studies can be found in many publications, such as Seapop. Our aim for this web cam project is to give everyone the possibility to tune in to the Hornøya bird cliff, and perhaps follow the birds trough a whole breeding season. From the birds arrive in mid march in snowy blizzards to when they leave in early August.

 Incoming Puffins, fratercula arctica



Hornøya is the perfect place for bird studies and photography. Check out Birding Frontiers / Martin Garners blogpost from Hornøya

 Razorbill, Alca torda, above and below



The web cam:
Finding the right web cam solution is by no means a simple task. Especially when your birding site is in the arctic and without internet access. There are no easy ready-made package that will consider everything from the strategic placement at the site, to camera types, to wireless solutions and the implementing of the infrastructure on the chosen websites. Handling both image quality and traffic smoothly with several displaying websites is a challenge. Choppy or no-flow videostreaming seems to be the standard, exept for the most (very) expensive systems. It rather quickly became clear that we had to handle every level of this project. For this we joined forces with IT-specialists Cloudware and set up a system that is pefectly fitted to our purpose. 
Above is Eivind from Cloudware, two days ago at the Vardø Harbour office. Allways with an incoming phonecall. It is the guys at the Harbour office who is handling all traffic to, and accomodation on Hornøya. Here we tested and assembled all the hardware. The birding reader will perhaps notice the camera lens, Kowa - well known quality optics. 


One might say that december is not the time to execute such a project. Heavy storms is more or less the standard weather this time of year. That combined with only a few hours of twilight in the morning, makes far from perfect conditions for work on Hornøya. However this was our last chance to make this happen. Hornøya is a nature reserve and we had all the necesarry permits arranged in advance. In order not to disturb any birds, we chose to to this after the breeding season, when Hornøya is empty of birds. Beiing that this is a cost-sharing project, with several parties involved, meant that we had to have our finances in order before we set out. In short - we were delayed a little. But no less determined to make it happen..
Originally we were going to Hornøya with the Vardø Harbour-boat. But due to a longlasting storm from south-west and heavy waves, Hornøya was not safe to access. Three guys from the Norwegian Coastal Administration had been stuck on the Hornøya lighthouse for several days, due to the storm. Still, eager to go on with our project we teamed up with local heavy-duty-machinery-man Per Ivar in Vardø. We soon set out in his RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat), with our approximately 70 kilos of computer and camera hardware, lots of tools and several hundred meters of electricity and network cabels. We had to inspect all sides of the island to find a suitable place to go on land. Because of heavy waves and wind we had to bring a small rubber boat that could enter the most shallow parts on the lee side of Hornøya. In the end we managed to bring all our gear and ourselves on land safely, and almost dry.


It was almost dark when we got up to the lighthouse. Thankfully Eivinds girlfriend Birgitte had joined us on this little adventure - more man/girl-power was needed. We set up our base at the lighthouse, and started assembling the webcam setup. ´Yours truly´ found a good place for the webcam, with views towards Vardø island and in the middle of the bird colony. On the photo of the camera a Puffin burrow entrance can be seen. Setting this up in the near complete darkness, and on the edge of the high cliff, in gale force wind was a refreshing experience. 

Eivind and Birgitte set up the wireless broadband-connection in the top of the lighthouse, where we had a clear view to our reciever in Vardø town. Then we connected the camera to the transmitter via 200 meters og cable from the birdcliff. We had planned the operation in advance and everything went quite smoothly, considering the working conditions. However we all had the return trip in mind, and the wind was increasing in force.  Know we had to make our way back where we came from, as planned and timed with Per Ivar with the RIB. We had entered Hornøya on a favorable high tide, and in at least some daylight. But even in that operation our little rubber boat had punctured the outer air chamber on the rocks. As we came down to the sea it became clear that we had to find a new place to enter the RIB. The swell of the sea was big. This meant that had to carry all equipment to the other side of the island, and hopefully find a calmer place. 

Thankfully Per Ivar is a well prepared man. He brought a powerfull spotlight and Tor Erik, the rescue diver! That  is Tor Erik swimming towards us, with a line to attach to our half inflated rubber boat. We had to climb down the steep rocks with all our equipment. Our backpacks did the first trips from the rocks to the RIB, with diver Tor Erik shutteling the small boat between the RIB and us. We had to time the waves and do a sliding jump on to the rubber boat. Everything was carried out with determitation and safety in mind. Rather like a smooth navy seal operation (exept for the illuminating clothes, and some other minor details...).


I got a few photos, blurry and shaky, with the camera set at iso 6000, and to some extent they give an idea of the conditions. Another day at the office...

Eivind beiing pulled to the RIB

Per Ivar pulling in the rubber boat in heavy sea swell and wind

A happy crew safely on land in Vardø harbour. Thanks a lot to supermen Tor Erik (left) and Per Ivar for exellent help! Without you guys we would be stuck on Hornøya. In the end this was a very fine winter adventure..

Mission is accomplished.
The next day we took this this screenshot from a perfectly connencted webcamera. Everything works and transmits as planned. The scene is set, and we are ready to welcome all the birds of the cliff in spring time. Now Hornøya is empty of life, but after a few months of icy winter darkness, the bird cliff will again be the liveliest place in Eastern Finnmark! And the scene will look more like the photo below!



Be ready to tune in to the Hornøya Bird Cliff Web Camera - it will be operational and online on several websites sometime before February, and we will let you know as soon as the sun and the birds come back next year. First webwizard Eivind has a programming job to do, making the traffic flow run as it should, and implementing it on a few websites. More info to come soon on the Biotope website and on the funders varanger.com, Vardø MunicipalityVardø Harbour , the County Governor of Finnmark and The Norwegian Directorate for Nature Management


As much as we will enjoy following the birdlife online, there is no doubt that the live version of Hornøya is an unrivalled eperience! It is truly a remarkable place! All bird photos on this post is from a photo workshop we arranged this spring, in late march. All photos are copyright of Biotope / T.Amundsen.


A few more Hornøya photos follow below: A couple of bird cliff scenes and a Puffin ´fight club´ scene - In summer these bird seem quiet and calm with their slightly ´conscerned´ expression, but in early spring they fight! Perhaps we will have a few of those scenes in front of the new online webcamera!
To be continued..


Tormod A. / Biotope



Bird cliff scene

Brünnichs Guillemot, Uria lomvia

Razorbills, Alca torda


Puffins, Fratercula arctica - fight club...