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Saturday, July 23, 2011

To Commemorate The Wonderful NYC Bat Walks In Central Park This Year

A post! To Commemorate The Wonderful NYC Bat Walks In Central Park This Year: I'd like to take the time to congratulate the Leaders of the Bat Walk: Married couple Danielle Gustafson and Brad Klein; not only on yet another successful & educational Bat Walk - But, also on the wonderful article published in New York Newsday about it. Outstanding!

Well, I thought it would be interesting (and useful) to create a blog entry, to inform possible budding bat enthusiasts about the electronic bat detectors currently available. Since those reading this post are probably new to bat watching / bat detecting; I will simply list some of the entry-level models that are currently out there. Keep in mind, that sadly, we don't have many makers of low-cost bat detectors here in the US. Which is why, except for Tony Messina, the recommendations are from companies abroad. This blog also features full, detailed reviews of each. If you're interested, you can type in the name of the detector that interests you, in the 'Search This Blog' box on the right-hand side of the first page.

These are bat detectors that are simple, inexpensive, and good performers:

The BatBox Baton, from BatBox in the U.K. - An outstanding, frequency division detector.

The USD6 from YS Design in Japan - A very neat, scanning Heterodyne detector.

And, for those who are handy with basic soldering skills (simple electronic components): You could not possibly do better, than to look at the two kit offerings from Tony Messina in Arizona. Highly recommended!
There is the Simple Bat Detector Kit - and - The Bat Scanner (partially-built) Kit

Now, of course there are other detectors...Many of which are really awesome, but they begin to get expensive. If any other good, inexpensive detectors come to mind, I will update this post.
There are plenty of detailed reviews of other detectors on this blog, so if you don't mind spending more on a bat detector - By all means, check them out! (If you haven't noticed by now, I'm a bat detector nut!)
 ~90% of my bat detecting is passive monitoring of my backyard. Right outside my back window, in Bronx, NY. I happen to like Frequency Division detectors. They are convenient to plug into (via 3.5mm stereo cable) just about any digital voice recorder that one has available. Enabling you to get un-attended recordings of bat passes during the night.

I hope we have many new bat enthusiasts added to our ranks! Thanks to the work of Danielle and Brad. Of utmost importance, is an awareness that bats are beautiful, amazing, and very beneficial creatures. They have suffered a bad reputation (based on myths, etc.) for far too long! Well, I could go on and on...but, I'll say ciao for now.


Happy bat detecting!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The SM2BAT from Wildlife Acoustics

I have recently took delivery of the latest SM2BAT recording platform, from Wildlife Acoustics. The Folks there were nice enough to loan me a unit for a few weeks; so that I can test and review it.
I have been interested in the SM2BAT, and Wildlife Acoustics' software since early 2009 - As evidenced by my own "computer records". I think it just goes to show you, what an amazing product it is. It's not easy to keep me interested in something for over 3 years!
Well the unit arrived just the other day. And so far, all of my usual preliminary tests are producing very nice results. I like the fact, that in it's most basic option package (1 microphone) you get a very capable, professional bio-monitoring device. You start out with it, as a mono recorder. And that is fine with me! But, you may purchase an additional microphone, to make it a 2-channel recorder. More on that subject later...
I like the design, the layout, and the way it records ultrasounds. I can already tell, that it is a selective HF recorder..
The Song Scope software is also robust, effective, and packed with features. There is a lot more to report - but, this is just a quick "heads-up" for now. To let you know that a full, detailed test report and review will follow soon.

Happy bat detecting!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Review: Two New Ultrasonic Bat Detectors From Batomania - Part 2 Of 2

The two new HF bat detecting boxes, from Batomania - The Horchbox Ver. 1.5/2.0 and Minihorchbox:
During testing, both units appear to feature the same (general) level of sensitivity. Some interesting features that stand out (on both units) are:
The ability to select 3 main options for their Triggering Algorithm. The main available options, under 'How To Record' are:
Threshold - Bat Detect - Combined 
I like the performance of the 'Bat Detect' setting (which is also the default). The algorithm was designed very well. When in use, bat calls are practically the only sounds recorded. In general, it functions very well, and I have no complaints.
In addition, Sensitivity is also adjustable, using a numerical value of 1-250; so there's lots of flexibility and room to experiment. In my tests, I've found settings of ~ 9 to 15 to work well.
There is also a Rain Filter option you can select - Which helps avoid recording the sounds of rain. Very neat! As well as several Sample Rates to choose from. For example, on the Minihorchbox, there's -200kHz, -300kHz and -600kHz. In fact, to see exactly what the Configuration Menu (from the Minihorchbox) looks like, see this screenshot below:

 
As you can see, pre-determined record times (scheduled On/Off) can easily be set, via the green Time Box Control (at the bottom).

This is what a typical list of  nightly recordings looks like:
(notice the detailed information provided for each recording)


And, when you double-click / Open a recording, you are presented with this screen. In addition to the visual representation of the call, you can also press Play, to listen to the entire recording, or just sections. In this screenshot, I've place the light green Marker right at the beginning of one of the bat calls that were picked up. Of course, there are other options available to you for manipulation of the recording:


And, as you can see below - Clicking the Spectrum button provides you with spectral analysis, and another assortment of controls, to aid in the manipulation and study of the recording:


Here is another (simple) modified example. I used the Search Loudest Call feature. This was produced and saved, using the Save Diagram option :
Of course, there are a multitude of settings, preferences, and modifications possible.


You should keep in mind, that the original Horchbox 2.0 is just as capable as the Minihorchbox - And in many cases, may be the unit which is preferred. Also, the Horchbox has a few other advantages over the Minibox. Such as GPS/GSM capability and longer recording time. It all depends on the needs of the individual user.
I happen to dwell on the Minihorchbox a bit more, since it's my favorite, of the two!
Until now, there has not been a device like it - Which is like having an advanced bioacoustics recorder, that fits right in your pocket! I love it!
The final feature that I'd like to mention, is the GPS/GSM feature of the Horchbox. When GPS is selected prior to placing the device in it's monitoring location: The exact location of the device can alter be recalled and displayed using Google Earth/Satellite View (by default). With GSM enabled, the Horchbox can be accessed remotely, providing the owner with various data, from any Web browser: This is accomplished by utilizing GSM/cellular technology.
Of course, if you are interested in one of these ultrasonic recorders; a visit to the Batomania Website will explain even more.

Many thanks, to Marcus Borst, of Batomania; for the loan of the equipment and accessories.

Happy bat detecting!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Review: Two New Ultrasonic Bat Detectors From Batomania - Part 1 Of 2

I've recently had the opportunity to test and review two new offerings, from Batomania, in Germany. The Horchbox 2.0: which is designed for field deployment / unattended logging of bat activity. And, the Minihorchbox: which could be considered a pocket-sized version of it's big brother. But, despite it's small size - It's also intended for long-term logging of bat calls.

So, I can't comment directly on how functional or effective the material is. The manufacturer does cover the topic of how waterproof the units are; and describes best practices, for outdoor deployment - In the Quick Manual (for one example). It is currently available in both the German or English language. It will be among the files, when you download & install the free Horchbox software.
The Quick Manual is concise, and basically tells you everything you would want to know about these units.
I urge you to look it over. I've pasted the English version at the bottom of this post.

There are a few features that make these two new bat detectors unique:

* They are capable of recording many bat passes, directly onto SD cards.
* They are especially great for unattended monitoring/recording.
* They are very easy to use, and no PC is needed for the actual recording.

In many ways, these new units from Batomania are perfect for my nightly recordings. Until now, I haven't had the opportunity to test or review equipment that was quite like this: Fairly self-contained, and reasonably weatherproof.

In the case of the Horchbox 1.5/2.0: It's very robust and solidly built. It is very well suited to deployment in the field. Especially in a safe location; since the unit does not currently feature any anti-theft measure. Luckily, in most cases, this is not a major concern.
The other neat attribute I like, is how the MEMs microphone element is protected.  by a thin gray material. I reckon it's well done, since it appears to be sufficiently shielded. I have not used (either unit) in inclement weather. I'm always reluctant to do so, with any detector.

In the case of the Minihorchbox: It's very compact and portable (see pics in previous posts). It'll fit in any pocket! I really like the fact that it's internal battery gets charged, by plugging it into one of your PC's USB ports. So, fumbling with batteries is never an issue. As with most bat detectors, the sensitivity is selectable.

Here is a screenshot, of a typical call listing window, from the Minibox:



I found both units to be excellent performers. They have neat features, and are sensitive, with great pick-up range. The fact that all bat calls are recorded directly to SD cards is great! I like the fact that options for Time Delayed 10x (AKA time expanded) playback is available; within the Horchbox interface. Please see the second half of my review, Part 2 Of 2!



Quick Manual Horchbox/Minibox

Introduction

The Horchbox and Minibox are sophisticated bat call recording devices. In principle, they work the same way. The difference is that the Minibox is very small, and includes an internal battery. Whereas the Horchbox has a bigger enclosure; and standard rechargeable battery packs are used. The Software for configuring the devices, and analyzing the data is the same. There are only minor differences in handling. This manual describes all the steps used for both devices, and acknowledges whichever differences are important.

Differences

The basic handling and functions, are depicted directly on the devices (on the outside of the Minibox, and inside the box, for the Horchbox). Here are some differences you will see when comparing the two devices:
- External sleep mode is activated using a key for the Horchbox, whereas the Minibox utilizes a switch.
- Since the Minibox has an internal battery, there is a power on/off switch. Whereas the Horchbox has just a
  battery connection.
- For improved robustness against weather, the Minibox has a neoprene bag. Weather protection may also be improved by using the special alloy cover (included). The Horchbox is just fine, the enclosure has about the same level of protection as the Minibox does, with it's bag and the alloy cover.
- To open the Horchbox you need one flathead screwdriver, whereas the Minibox does not need anything special.
- The battery for the Horchbox is charged using an external charger, whereas the Minibox is charged simply by using a USB connection.

Setup for recording and placement outside

Please be sure that the battery is charged and the SD-Card does not contain any important data. Everything on the SD-Card is deleted when the Horchbox is activated! Place the SD-Card in the card slot, connect the
battery (for the Horchbox) or switch, on the Minibox. The front LED will give you some feedback:
- Repeated fast blinking: Indicates the SD Card is not inserted properly.
- Steady blinking, 1 to 5 times: Indicates the charge level of the battery (1 nearly empty - 5 quite fully charged)
So normally, you will get some blinking from the front (green) LED. Then the box stops showing external activity, so as to reduce discovery by bypassing people.
If you look at the circuit board inside the box (on the Horchbox), or the rear panel (on the Minibox): There
are two small LEDs. One is blinking regularly, whereas the other becomes active when sound is recognized by the unit. This way you can confirm that everything is OK.
Now the box is ready to be placed at the location of your choosing. If you want, you can switch the key-lock to Inactive (vertical/green dot on the Horchbox) or simply move the Sleep switch to the Sleep position (on the Minibox). This is useful, for keeping the unit from recording, until you are ready to place the box in position. After you switch the key-lock to active (horizontally/red dot for the Horchbox) or reactivate the switch on the Minibox, it will indicate the battery status again, via the LEDs on the front.
Please check that the box is located in such a way:
- That it is not easily detected by bypassing people.
- That the microphone does not get wet; for example do not place the box with the microphone facing up. Try to position the unit, so that the microphone
  is not exposed to direct precipitation.
- So that it is partially sheltered against wind, so that it does get moved out of position.
When you get back to the instrument, you can either just disconnect the battery (Horchbox) or switch it off (Minibox).
Then be sure to remove the SD-Card before you reactivate it again, to avoid loosing all the recorded data.
When you insert the SD-Card into your PC, it may prompt you to format it. Do not format the SD Card! The message appears because Windows can not handle the card. This is why you need the PC software Horchbox.exe to read the data. Using this software you can analyze and/or export the data in Wav/Raw format.

Installation and Configuration

To change the behavior of the devices, you may configure them using a PC. Therefore, you need to connect the boxes using the USB cable. When doing this the first time, the PC may request to install a driver. Use the driver included on the SW-ZIP file. This should normally work with Windows XP/Vista/Windows 7. There are two drivers: one for 32-Bit, and one for 64-Bit operating systems.
After the drivers are installed, you can start the Horchbox software. There are three typical actions you might do:
-Import recordings from an SD Card, or from a previously generated image, or configure the Horchbox. For now, we want to do the last one. Therefore connect the device; without SD Card and no battery (for the Horchbox), to the PC using the USB cable. The PC might take a few seconds to recognize the device. Afterwards, click on Configure HW; and the software will search for the box. Normally it will find the box and ask you if it should connect to it. Answer with Yes. There will be a window showing you all the device options. Among the main things you might want to do are:
- Set the internal clock. This is done every time you click on the 'Write Config to Box' button.
- Put some personal identifier on: Box Name and Comment.
- Modify the trigger scheme: You may either use Threshold or Bat Detect. Threshold should only be used at
locations without much noise, or other sounds. Normally, Bat Detect is the preferred selection: The box tries
to record sounds, which are similar to bat calls.
- There is also a Sensitivity value which you can use to select the level for the triggering. This does not
influence the loudness of the recordings – It only decides whether or not a recording is made. All recordings
are made the same way, and do not depend on the selected sensitivity. Please be aware, that there is an
internal dampening system – So the sensitivity of the microphone can be reduced by the box itself, when a bat is quite close to the box. This behavior is not user configurable.
- The value of Noise Level should be kept at 5. If you intend to use the box in very noise environments like
highways or wind turbines, you might try to increase this value (maybe up to 15). You may need to do
some guess work, and try to find a good value for special applications.
- The Rain Filter check-box helps reduce recordings of raindrops, but you might miss some bats also.
- Finally, you can decide how to record: Each recording will have a duration of at least the number of seconds
you enter at Rec. Duration. If you check Extend, it will be extended as long as bat activity is recognized (up
to 11 Seconds). Then there will be a short (less than 0.1 second) pause, before the next recording will start
again.
- And finally, you can select the Sample-rate depending on your needs. The higher the sample-rate, the more
data will be generated per second (200 kHz->400 kByte/s, whereas 600 kHz takes 1.2 MByte/s).
- At the bottom you will see some global control strategies for sleeping/recording. You can select light
thresholds and time dependent sleeping.
- Newer boxes might have some extended parameters, such as:
- Switch off voltage: The box will shutdown when the battery reaches a certain voltage level. This prevents
the battery from damage by deep discharge. Please be sure to select a voltage according to your
battery. For 7.2 Volt batteries 6 Volts is a good value.
- Send Data All: This selects how often a data sample is sent to the Internet. The box will not record while
the data is sent, typically it takes 5 minutes. While doing this, the box takes a lot more power than
normal, so each data sample sent will reduce the battery time by approximately one hour. Good values
are maybe 6 or 12 hours.
- GPS mode only: Normally the GPS is only switched on when a data sample is sent. This is fine,
because for general usage, the box is placed somewhere and kept there. If you want to use the box as a
mobile device - While walking/driving, and you are not interested in online data, but you still might want to know
where you went (and also where recordings took place). Then you can activate this check-box, and the
GPS will always be active. This takes some more power, but under the described conditions you are not
going to be using the box for 5 days (or similar).
There are some more things in the menu of the window. You can load configurations, and also save them to a file. In addition, the Menu window allows you to do a firmware update:

Firmware update

When you select Firmware update in the Hardware menu, you can update the firmware of the device. So
you will need a .hbf file, normally provided by Batomania.com or via  e-Mail. Please be sure to follow the
instructions, normally this works fine. The instructions are according to the Horchbox, please note that you do
not need to disconnect the battery for the Minibox – Naturally that is neither simple, nor should you open the
Minibox in any circumstance. The rest of the process is the same for both boxes.

Using the PC SW to analyze/export Data

After you remove the SD-Card from the device, you'll want to use the PC SW Horchbox.exe, to check the content of the card. Therefore, you insert the SD-Card into a card reader connected to your PC. Also, be sure to have administrator rights, before starting the PC SW. Click on Import SD-Card and normally there will be a box displayed showing how many recordings/environmental data entries are found. After all recordings are found, the main window will open, showing a list of all recordings.
Please try to play around a bit with the software, for now this is only a short description. Most of the main features are mentioned:
- To speed up, you might consider creating an image first. This will take some time, but since you might do it eventually
anyway, for backup reasons; it is recommended to do it as a first step. Then, you can open the image and
work as you did before.
- Use Freq. Analyze to get some estimations of the recording. This is definitely not a perfect algorithm, but it
does help. After the execution, you will see three additional values in the list: Freq, Energy and
calls. You may also want to check out Call View afterwards, to get a special display of the single calls (not
the recordings).
- After double-clicking on one entry in the list, you will see the time display of the recording. Use the left/right
mouse buttons to zoom and select an area to see a spectral view of the selected range. In the time display
window, try to use the shortcut keys mentioned on the buttons – this speeds things up. To set comments: Use the CTRL key and see what predefined comments are available.
- The playback of the sound will only work if you have write permissions for the directory where the
Horchbox.exe file is located. So do not start it from a CD or similar.

If you have some experience with PC's and bat analysis, you will probably find your way quite quickly through the software. Perhaps you have questions or improvement ideas – Then e-mail to Info@Batomania.com  

Click here for Part 2 Of 2 of this review

Happy bat detecting!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The two NEW devices from Batomania (in Germany)

I'm almost done testing the two brand new devices from Batomania, in Germany! The Horchbox 2.0 (previously ver. 1.5) and Minibox. This Minibox is just too cute!
It is really amazing! So small! The other neat thing about it, is how inconspicuous it appears. From a distance, it looks like it could be a PDA or cell phone. So that, if you wanted to - You can easily do some "covert" bat detecting! While taking a leisurely walk through your suburban neighborhood. And, no one would have a clue that you're actually holding a high-end bat detector - SD card shown for scale:


Front of Minihorchbox, with protective front panel installed. LED's are behind a protective window on the left; microphone located on the right:


Back of Minihorchbox, featuring SD card slot (card inserted) and 2 switches:



And, the HorchBox 2.0 is a perfect, weather-proof box, to set-up in the field (or even close to home) for unattended recording of bat activity. The same can pretty much be said, about the little Minibox - It comes with a neoprene case, and a front end cover. Both providing additional safety from inclement weather.
Both units are designed to be used for unattended recording of bat activity. With these units, the actual bat calls are recorded onto the SD memory cards, provided.

Horchbox / Front view / Top screws loosened, almost ready for outdoor deployment:

Counter-clockwise, from top left: (covered) Stand-By keylock, Status LED's, Microphone (protective mesh)


Install a 7.2 volt battery, tighten the four large plastic screws - And you're ready to go. The Horbox 2.0 also features Temperature Recording and a GPS/GSM system. Remote access to the box will also be possible - Wow!

Each unit, comes equipped with everything you need; including a new SD memory card, to store recorded calls on. More info and pics coming soon!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

...Just something I came across while surfing the Web...

While surfing the Web, for additional research data on bats - I found a certain scientific research paper; that was written, using the Big Brown Bat as the test species. The link to the PDF, etc. really isn't important. I wouldn't want to "single it out" or anything anyway. And, in any case, the data is far too detailed to be of interest to the average bat enthusiast.
But, one of the pieces of equipment used, was this: IOtech WaveBook/516E

In addition to this ridiculously expensive piece of equipment, were equally expensive microphones.

Frankly I just think that it is really excessive, and ridiculous. There are plenty of manufacturers today, that offer excellent equipment - With equal or better capabilities.
With far less complicated interfaces/software; and for far less money. I believe both hobbyists and Researchers are very fortunate today, to have many bat recording solutions that are essentially "Plug & Play"

Here are some that come to mind: 

Pettersson's D240X - D240X

Wildlife Acoustics' SM2BAT - SM2BAT

Binary Acoustics' FR125/AR125 -  FR125/AR125

In the meantime, I've gotta tell ya, I do my best, not to fall in love with the bat detectors that I review... : )   But, this D240X from Pettersson is a real beauty! Be sure to read my recent review of it, on this Blog!

And, finally - Here are 2 sonograms I made, using Raven Lite; representing it's Time-Expansion capabilities:


 

I'll post more sonograms (and sounds) in the near future.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Can you see an Eastern Red Bat?

Just came across a few pics I took, about a year or two ago. The Red Cedar trees are in my neighbor's back yard. I wish I could have gotten closer... Anyway, I was thinking, these were either an Eastern Red Bat or an Eastern Pipistrelle Bat?
On the photo below (taken on December 04, 2010, by the way!) have a look just to the left of center:


Can you see an resting Bat in either one of these pics?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Heterodyne Sonograms from The Pettersson D240X

I've been experimenting with The Pettersson D240X for a few nights now; and I'm really impressed with the way it works. I happen to have a nice sonogram to share, produced from the Heterodyne section of the detector. At this time, I would say it's a Big Brown Bat (Eptesicus fuscus).

And again, since there is no easy way to get just sound files on blogger, I've gone ahead and made a video of the laptop screen - As it's playing the file. The digital camera's microphones do not do the original recording any justice: The actual recording sounds so "clean" and clear, like music. As I've mentioned before, the D240X is by far, the best sounding heterodyne detector I've ever heard.

The recorder used, was a Zoom H1. By the way, if you happen to be trying to decide between buying a Zoom H2 or H1...Go for the Zoom H2! You won't be disappointed. I regret having sold mine...

Here is the Sonogram, produced by Batscan 9:



Here is the Sonogram, produced by Raven Lite:




 And here is a video, of the (amplified) recording being played (in Audacity):

video

 Happy bat detecting!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Latest Bat Detector News:

Some new developments, in the world of bat detecting:

Elekon - Has updated their Website, their Online Shop (Yay!) and they have sent out their latest Newsletter - Which you can sign up for (for free) by just entering your e-mail address. Neat!

Batomania - Has made some updates to their Website, it's still a work in progress, though... They have also made some improvements to their new HorchBox 2.0 Project software. Some new features have been added to enhance the GPS utilities. And again, I hope to be testing & reviewing both the Horchbox 2.0 system, and the Minibox. The equipment has been shipped to me, for evaluation; and should be arriving soon.

I've been using the USD6 and The Pettersson D240X nightly now; and I hope to have some good sonograms to share, from each unit soon!

Happy bat detecting!