Brian Pavloff, president of Variable Speed Solutions, finishes the installation of web camera in the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. It will be recording the activities of the Western Snowy Plover and the California Least Tern. (HUNTINGTON INDEPENDENT / March 19, 2013)

He didn't expect to be staring at his computer screen for hours on end, but Brian Pavloff caught himself doing just that.

Pavloff, president of Variable Speed Solutions in Huntington Beach, had just finished working on a web camera project for the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. Even before it started broadcasting live online on March 11, he couldn't help but stop and stare at his screen.

"I never watch webcams in any length. And then after this project, all of a sudden I find it sitting next to me at night and I can't look away and I'm constantly going back to it," he said. "It's gotten to the point where my wife is telling me, 'Get off the webcam!' And I tell her that I'm only looking at birds."

The birds he's looking at are the western snowy plover and in a month's time, he will be also be looking at the California least tern. They are listed as two of the state's endangered bird species.

And for the first time, these birds will be under the careful watch of a camera, recording all of their nesting habits until the summer. The footage will then be used by researchers and universities to come up with better ways to help these birds get off the endangered species list, said Jayson Ruth, a board member of the Bolsa Chica Land Trust.

"It's fabulous for people all over the world that are interested in these endangered birds," said Mayor Connie Boardman, who is also a board member of the land trust.

Ruth, who is also a science teacher at Huntington Beach High School, has spearheaded this project from the beginning and after seven months has seen it go from an idea to reality.

"It's the first of its kind. Nobody's ever filmed long-term studies of the plovers or the terns," Ruth said. "It's not just a nest camera; it's really a nest site. We're filming an entire colony. We have the remote capability to film the nesting sites. We can zoom in on a nest when they form."

Ruth can change the position of the camera to focus in on a specific location using his laptop.

"We can actually follow them around. We've been monitoring their behavior and doing counts," he said. "There's a small wetland next to the nest site, so we're looking at what's happening at the night time versus the day time and the different types of animals that are using this area. We're looking at the big picture."

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Educational Aspect

With advances in technology, studying a specific species of bird is merely a click or screen tap away.

"Instead of bringing students on a field trip, you can bring the field trip to the students," Pavloff said.

With the non-intrusive camera installed at the nest site, it will give researchers a better understanding of these two species.

"You're right in there with them without disturbing them, so you're learning all about behaviors, really specific points of information that a researcher or a grad student might want to be able to use as they're trying to better understand the nature of these birds," Ruth said.

The footage also helps Ruth with his lesson plans for this class, giving his students an opportunity to watch something that has never been done before.

"Instead of just talking about it, they can see it," he said. "So instead of me just standing up and lecturing and giving them notes, I gave them a list of questions they have to answer [as they watch the live stream]."

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The Camera and Location