Aberystwyth University

Institute of Mathematics and Physical Sciences

Robotic Telescope Project :


“Serendipitous Wildlife Imagery”



Three baby gulls and an adult gull near a radio antenna on the IMAPS roof.

 For a video (5 Mbytes) from June 2008 click here!




What you can see:

The white thing on a pole is one of two (the other is just out of the picture to the right) receivers for satellite signals. these are test units for our receiver chain in the Arctic, which we use to study the upper atmosphere. The gulls have nested in the coil of cable just to the right of the left-hand pole. They've also broken open some of the sandbags used to stabilize the receivers and spread the sand around. The chicks (and the parents) sometimes sit on these piles of sand. It must be more comfortable than the roof. The view is from the control room for our robotic telescope, a couple of floors up – so we can ge a better view of the chicks from here even if they've gone back into the nest.



About the gulls:

We have had gulls nesting on the rooftop for a few years now, but usually on the upper parts of the building. This pair moved into the coil a bit over a month back (I think!), but the chicks only hatched out during the first week of June 2008 (the first time we saw them was on Friday 6th June). By Monday 9th June 2008 they were out of the nest and wandering around. There are three chicks. Two are about the same size, one a lot smaller. There are other gulls nesting on other parts of the roof. As of 1st July the chicks are much bigger and have started to flap wings.



Why we have the telescopes:

We are using these telescopes for both teaching and research. Strictly speaking these are "remotely controlled" telescopes rather than "robotic" as they do not have much automated capability yet. Remote access allows students and staff to operate these from home or from their offices without freezing to death outside! For research purposes we are using these for looking for flashes of light from when meteorites strike the Moon's surface. In addition we are also using the scopes to demonstrate close range remote sensing techniques and also for automated search capabilities for boats and swimmers adrift in the sea. Follow this link to find out more about the telescopes or to look at our gallery of images taken through the scopes. One of the offshoots of using high power robotic telescopes and night/day vision cameras that monitor the sky, and the outside of the robotic telescope dome, is that occasionally we pick up signs of wildlife. Below is a collection of some of other interesting images captured so far. Alas most are in black and white as we find these cameras are more sensitive than colour cameras at night.







Some sort of bird of prey flies past the external dome CCTV camera – these two images are 1/50th second apart





An inquisitive sea gull examines the external dome CCTV camera. The dome can be seen

in the background. Sea Gull’s apparently have very long tongues!



An inquisitive rook or crow caught on CCTV on 1st July 2008. The dome can be seen

in the background against a spectacular cloud backdrop.



A sea gull shadow sweeps across the exterior of the robotic dome.




Although strictly not wildlife, this helicopter flew past the field of view of the robotic telescope

and was probably several km distant when captured. The de-interlaced exposure of less than 1/50th

second captures the rotor blades frozen in motion.





Cloud video – if you click here you can access a superb time lapse movie of clouds

evolving at different layers in our atmosphere above Aberystwyth. This was recorded

with the external dome CCTV camera capturing 1 image per 10 seconds on 7th June 2008.






If you click here you can access a time lapse view of the Moon from the early hours of the 8th June 2008.

The shimmering on the craters is due to atmospheric turbulence. As the Moon gets lower in the

sky we see it through more and more atmosphere, so there is greater chance for turbulence to

distort the fine scale details in the image. If you click here you can see a short video of the Earthlit (night)

side of the Moon with the illuminated north pole of the Moon just off to the top right. We try to

monitor the Earthshine on a regular basis as it is possible to see occasionally very faint flashes of light from

meteorites striking the Moon’s surface – these would not be visible against the daylight side. For more

information about the robotic telescopes please follow this link.




Associated web sites:


Institute of Mathematical and Physical Sciences – or what we get up to in Physics!

The University of Aberystwyth
– our University Web Site


BBC Spring Watch – to see other wildlife web casts



For further details contact:


Dr Anthony Cook

Institute of Maths and Physical Sciences

University of Aberystwth


Home Page:



The information provided on this and other pages by me, Tony Cook (a t c @ a b e r . a c  . u k), is under my own personal responsibility and not that of the Aberystwyth University. Similarly, any opinions expressed are my own and are in no way to be taken as those of A.U.