Sunday, 27 July 2014

I Spy with my Infra-Red Eye...

As you may know I have been keeping track of a small piece of my patch with a Bushnell Trail camera. I have been using trail cameras for about 8 years now. My first camera was bought from a company in America as at the time there were few on sale in my price range, although I was stung by the import duties.
I am what some might call a lazy naturalist. I enjoy listening to the dawn chorus only from my bed. I m not one who gets up at 5 am nor am I able to manage to stay up much past 11 pm. This proves somewhat of a problem in that most of our countries more interesting species only come out at night. The trail cam allowed me to explore my patches wildlife through the night whilst I selfishly slept the hours away. At first I experimented with a number of locations and was pleased with reasonable picture of badgers coming out for bait – peanuts. I found later that the smaller of my now two cameras was perfect for catching the antics of mice. I lowered its positioning and began to record the antics of Wood mice and Voles.

With my latest acquisition I have opted for a more scientific approach. A fixed camera point on a well used animal track along a hedgerow separating a wet meadow and Alder Carr from a barley field. The camera is mounted at about chest height on a beech tree. The trees canopy ensures there is little understory providing clear lines of sight.

To track movements rather than get good sightings I decided not to bait the camera and just record what passed by over the course of several weeks. I started on the 14th April and barring 2 weeks when I moved the camera to the river, it remained in situ until today when it was revealed that the batteries had run out (these will be replenished tomorrow and the survey will continue with only a week’s gap). I now therefore have 11 weeks’ worth of data and patterns are beginning to emerge.

It has been a pleasure to watch the Vixen rearing her single cub that seemed to use the tree as a marker as to how far he could travel from the earth whilst she was absent. It has been fascinating to watch the Badgers rocketing by. They seem to not stop to forage in the spot. Instead this is definitely a highway and one that is used intermittently perhaps once or twice a week. It is some 200 metres from the sett and not far from a latrine pit area that probably marks the edge of their territory. Muntjac are an occasional visitor. They do not seem to be residents, moving into the area for a day or so before moving on. 

The last sightings have encouragingly include a male and female pair rather than a lone male. Lastly there are the smaller mammals, Grey Squirrel, Brown Rat and Wood Mice. These are all infrequent visitors.

I am hoping to keep up this tracking of animals for as long as possible with as few gaps as possible and see what further patterns emerge. At present I have recorded 6 species of mammal and 7 species of bird but am holding out for my holy grail species, a Weasel. I have recorded them at this exact location in the past but have never managed to catch them on trail cam. Heres hoping the next few months are as productive.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The Wild Life

Some of you may be aware that I am currently reading George Monbiot’s book ‘Feral’. It’s a book I have been meaning to read for some time and although I know the central precepts of his thesis I am finding it interesting. In my youth I found Monbiot somewhat of a fool. I lauded his ambition and common sense but shook my head sagely as I read his ideas that seemed unwieldy and impractical in todays world. In recent years I have softened towards George and have begun to come round to his way of thinking and in particular his views on re-wilding, both of the wider ecology and ourselves.

I have yet to get the crux of George’s central point in the book; he is still building up the picture in a series of Bear Grylls like encounters, but something he did elude to was something I encountered today; the connection with wildlife and the outdoors. I am lucky, I grew up in a family that appreciated nature. Weekends were spent walking in the country and holidays were spent in this country in a caravan. Camping of an kind inevitably brings you closer to nature, even if it is just the mosquitoes in the gloom, the harvestmen on the ground sheet or the occasional frog in the welly. I therefore am one of those people comfortable with wildlife, I would go as far to say I am more comfortable with wildlife than I am with people. Sadly this isn’t true for all. I can recall meeting someone who on going to Wales saw their first ‘Wild’ Cow! Or the children I work with who cannot complete a Food Chain worksheet because they don’t know what the animals are on the sheet let alone what they eat.  I would like to stress that their lack of engagement is not to do with boredom or apathy merely circumstance. When I have taken classes out bug hunting or surveying nearly all light up and find themselves enthralled, the tadpoles in the pond are a particular favourite. It just took someone to take the time to explain to them what they were looking at. To turn over the stone revealing an ants nest and to show how the workers frantically worked to drag the eggs below ground.

In one of the early chapters George described searching for a certain place. Somewhere he found tranquil and energised him. For him it was in a canoe out in the sea in Cardigan Bay, Gannets above him and Mackeral beneath. My place is my local patch that I have visited weekly for the past 13 years, but I can get that same attachment, that moment of calm and awe at any moment.

and I headed this morning to the local park that I knew would be good for Butterflies. With camera in hand I spent an hour coming the long grass chasing crickets, all of which turned out to be the southern invader Roesell’s Bush Cricket, and identifying butterflies. I paused to sit on a rock in the baking heat beside a brook. Here I watched as an Emperor Dragonfly hawked along its length and attacked the preening Banded Agrions. Whilst sat quietly a Peacock butterfly fluttered into view and made a beeline, well as much of a beeline as butterflies are able towards me. It alighted on my knee, its tongue outstretched probing my hairy legs. I assume scientifically it was attracted to the salt in my sweat but alongside that analytical thought came the engagement with the animal itself. I could gaze into its swirling eyes and watch as the tongue rolled and unrolled.

From this encounter I sought the shade and remembered a few lines in an old book that claimed that in the 1970’s the park had a colony of Common Lizards. I had tried to see if they still existed before but thought today’s heat might help. I sought out the old walls and fallen trunks that seemed likely spots. As I ventured down one of the mown strips in the grassland I came upon a mother with two five year olds sat in the shade of a tree. They each carried little fishing nets, the kind you buy from the seaside and were gleefully chasing butterflies in the vain hope of catching one. The mother called them together and showed them how to take a bark rubbing from the cherry tree that offered them protection. It was at that moment that I had one of ‘those’ moments. A moment of peace despite the squeals of children, the discarded beer can and the noise of the traffic only metres away. It was a realisation that despite the struggles we interested in nature conservation face we have a lot to be thankful for. We all need and should have a moment or place, ideally both that energise us before we are worn asunder by the reports and government decisions, somewhere that nature can touch our core. It was also reassuring that there were at least two more budding ecologists who knows what they could do now that their mother had taken the time to show them what was out there.