by Susan Wider

Way to go Santa!

He brought me the Wingscapes BirdCam 2.0. Now I can take super-close pictures of our birds without disturbing them. When I unwrap the box, Iím thrilled, then worried. Iím not the household techie. I have to look at a set of handwritten notes to download photos from my regular camera.

Iím also one of those ďread-the-manual-firstĒ people, which means I often bog down in the poor English translations. But this is such a great gift, and I love the idea of spying on our birds up close. No more fuzzy approximations of Downy Woodpeckers taken through the reflection of drapes on the dining room window.

I unpack the box and lay everything out. The camera, at 5.5 x 3.6 x 9 inches, is bigger than I expected and weighs a solid 4 pounds. It has an infrared sensor built in, and a photocell to turn things on and off at dawn and dusk. It comes with its own tape measure to help determine focal length and has the requisite cables for computer downloads and TV viewing. There are also two bungee-style cords to attach BirdCam to a tree trunk or fence post. Santa also remembered the four size D batteries that should keep things running for about a month.

Yes, I do read the entire manual before doing anything. But itís short, well-written, and makes the whole thing sound so easy to use.

And it is.

The manual suggests I start by putting BirdCam on the ground with some seed scattered in front of it, but since clever Santa also brought the optional mounting arm, I go for a more advanced setup, and secure the arm to one of our feeder poles. The arm sets up fairly easily but when I screw on the heavier BirdCam, the whole affair seems not so solid, but it holds.

Iím starting to channel - Iím in Santa Fe after all - my techie self, so I use the six-step Quick Start Guide and weíre in business.

No kidding. Even using the programmed factory settings, which you can default back to at any time, I have 50 photos a few hours later when I go out to check. Theyíre not bad, but Iím getting too much sun. With a simple swing of the mounting arm, I move BirdCam for better lighting, and by the next morning Iím in love. With the factory settings of a five minute delay, and three shots per event, I have 86 shots that include an Evening Grosbeak (Iím sure the guyís posing), a mass of bushtits, several Flickers, and a Western Scrub Jay.

My friends are so jealous.

Santa also included two memory cards and a card reader so viewing the photos is mostly a breeze Ė okay, after I make handwritten notes listing all the steps. I was even able to email photos right away. Iím finding my inner techie.

BirdCam moves around so easily that Iíve already had it on another feeder pole at the birdbath. I use the built-in laser aiming device to be sure Iím centering the field of view. This also turns out to be super simple. The BirdCam menu is not heavily layered, so I can find my around in it really easily. Once I set the time and date, Iím able to monitor things like water levels in the birdbath. With our resident flock of 60ish Robins, I now know that they need a refill around noon after their morning bathing is over. And with BirdCam's photo timestamps, Iím also seeing clear patterns in visitation. Bluebirds first, around 7:30 am. Then the Robins about an hour later.

Iíve also had BirdCam on a tripod which is great for more spontaneous set-ups. I can move it easily to take advantage of the light, or to quickly get it near a feeder where I may have recently spotted a new bird.

And you catch surprises. Like a batch of Starlings one morning around bluebird hour, and a Cedar Waxwing trying to join the thirteen Robins at the bath.

BirdCam is tough. Birds land on it. Snow piles on top. Iím still on my first set of batteries and itís snapping away. I do get a little nervous taking the memory card in and out. Its slot is very close to the rim and even my small fingers have trouble getting a good grip on both sides of the card.

Soon Iíll be trying some of the other features like experimenting with different resolutions (low-med-high), or taking ten-second videos, or trying night shots of animals that may be stopping by for seed feeds under our feeders.

Now if I just had a version of BirdCam with a remote control that would let me make set-up changes and monitor the pictures from my computerÖ Okay, forget that. Trooping out and back to the camera probably counts as exercise.

Susan Wider is a writer and violinist based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her magazine articles and stories have appeared in TennisView, Crow Toes Quarterly, Lighthouse Digest, and Six7*8th, among others. She is currently at work on a novel for young adults. She can be reached at