Tuesday, April 15, 2014

DIY animal surveys

Our neighbourhood is a cat neighbourhood. Walking along the streets at dusk or after dark, you can see at least a small handful of local cats prowling around or sitting smugly on their owners' driveways soaking up the last bit of heat of the day. So it didn't come as any surprise to me that every time I discarded the scraps outside that our own (indoor) cat for whatever reason didn't eat, they'd invariably be gone the following day.

I thought it worth investigating exactly which cat was taking these scraps. We've occasionally seen kittens wandering around our yard and more regularly around the neighbourhood, and I was a bit concerned for their welfare - so I thought it would be good to know if they were feeding in our yard and whether they could be collected for a rescue shelter.

So I got out my old crappy laptop with its old crappy webcam and set it up outside in our garage, somewhere that rain/wind wouldn't bother it (though it's old enough that I wouldn't have been too distraught if something did happen to it), and turned on a motion capture software program (I can thoroughly recommend yawcam - it's free!). I was unsure whether our nightly visitor would be put off by the outside light I left on for the webcam to be able to see, and my fiancee was understandably cynical as to whether the process would work at all. So come next morning, I rushed out to reclaim my laptop, and after flicking through the images captured during the night, felt vindicated at seeing this photo come up at 12.11am:

I needn't have worried, though, as I'd forgotten two basic attributes of cats. Firstly, they are curious and attracted to new and interesting objects - and secondly, they're attracted to warm objects. The laptop that had been running all night out in the cold was both of these things! Thus, at 2.23am, the vision went entirely black, followed by images of the cat walking directly in front of the laptop sniffing at it:

Then an hour later at 3.14am it returned for another look at the laptop before scurrying off, not to be seen again in the footage (though it may well have returned - the laptop stopped recording when Windows decided to restart after downloading a security update... a lesson for anyone wanting to try this at home!)

It just goes to show that with the modern (and sometimes slightly less modern) technology we have available and take for granted, it's actually pretty easy to set up some fun and interesting projects to see what's just outside your door. It's probably worth noting, though, that the webcam didn't actually pick up any evidence of said cat eating the food left out for it, even though it was definitely gone the next morning!

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