Hello everyone. My name is Kirstin and I am the Reserve Assistant for Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve, nestled in the North East of the Cairngorm’s National Park.
I am quite simply obsessed with spying on wildlife! I am not ashamed to admit it and its not become a problem – yet.
I discovered the joy of trail cameras with the Wildcat Project in Angus over three winters.
We set up over 70 cameras across the glens to help in the research and monitoring of wildcats and feral cats and identify the routes that they use and the size of their territories. And we found them!
But it was not just the cats – we also uncovered the whole other world of the animals that live out their lives there.
Since then, I have become a raving fan of this wildlife friendly technology and own three cameras myself.
What is a Camera Trap?
A camera trap is just a digital camera connected to an infrared sensor which can “see” warm objects that are moving, like animals.
When an animal moves past the sensor it causes the camera to fire, recording an image or video to a memory card. The beauty of camera traps is that they can be left in the field to watch an area of habitat for weeks or even months.
Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve is brimming with special wildlife and we use trail cameras to monitor our waterways and priority species.
This is where camera traps come into their own.
They are wildlife friendly – in that the animals don’t know they are even there apart from your residual scent – so they can capture shy and skittish species. As most of you will have seen in wildlife documentaries they have been used to record some of the rarest species in the world and some fascinating animal behaviour.
They operate at night when we don’t so are perfect for nocturnal species.
During lock down I have turned my attention to my garden and my feathered neighbours.
It has been really rewarding. I hadn’t realised birds have so much personality!.
To avoid all of the pitfalls I fell into repeatedly here is my How To guide.
First Step: Choosing a Camera
My go-to place to help me choose my camera was NatureSpy. They are a not-for-profit organisation who tap into conservation camera trapping across the UK to get the low down on makes and models. They have a excellent choosing a camera section – https://shop.naturespy.org/camera-trap-chooser/
Second Step: Identify where the action is.
A camera is only as good as the person wielding it!
Start watching your garden to identify any hot spots.
Feeding stations are great areas for birds to congregate. Though the middle of my garden is abit of a desert for wildlife and mown within an inch of its life we leave the edges wild to act as wildlife corridors and this is where we have placed our bird feeders.
Other brilliant areas for action are watering holes – so garden ponds or fountains. If you are lucky enough to get visiting mammals to your garden try and identify where they come in – a gap in the fence or a well used run in the grass.
Please be respectful of the your wildlife. It is bird nesting season. While an obvious place for a camera is on nest boxes or nest sites it might not be the wisest place. I have Blue tits on eggs in a nestbox and pied wagtails on eggs in my woodshed and have opted not to camera trap these just now and leave them undisturbed to raise their young.
Pre-camera trap baiting can be a great way to get passing wildlife used to stopping for a few minutes so you can get images when the time comes. The bait has to be targeted to the species and never in excessive amounts. I put a small dish of cat food out every night for any passing hedgehogs, foxes or badgers.
Step 3 – Really get to know your camera and its settings.
All cameras will need AA batteries and an SD card . Its a good idea to have 2 SD cards per camera so you can switch out and let the camera keep going.
Lots of camera models have a hybrid setting that lets you take a mix of photo’s and video. You can set the number of photos it takes and the length of video. Be aware though that the camera takes the photos 1st and then begins to video – so you could miss the animal in motion by the time the video catches up.
Also with video don’t always think the longer the better. Most wildlife passes through pretty quickly and when it comes to going through your footage a 30 second clip that is mostly empty can mean the difference between you staying interested and getting bored and giving up – and missing some really good stuff!
Check the date and time are correct!!!!
This week I have opted for 10 second video with an instant delay – so if it gets interesting the camera will instantly create another video. Right now I value video more. I try to camera trap for behaviour so its animals in motion and sound that I target.
Don’t be scared of the camera! I have seen the fear many times – Experiment on all settings in your living room and see what works best for you.
Step 4 Setting up and Camera placement
This is the single most important factor standing between success and failure. Be instinctive and place your camera in a place that feels positive to you. A camera should ideally be placed about 2 metres from your target on a diagonal so you can capture an animals approach.
After several years I am now firmly of the opinion go as low as you can go when placing a camera. Most animals are much smaller than we are and navigate the world at a much lower level. So don’t go for an animals head height – go for feet height.
I rather smugly thought I would place my camera opposite a feeder and catch amazing footage. Not so. I think I have moved my camera about 15 times this weeks due to false triggers caused by swaying vegetation.
Necessity being the mother of invention I decided to try ground feeding the birds. Certain species actually prefer to feed from the ground, such as the blackbird, chaffinch and Robin. And it worked -phew.
Meet the Natives
The Greater Spotted Woodpeckers – Mr and Mrs
Carrion Crow – Aka greedy guts in my garden.
Jays are one of the most photogenic birds in my garden and are a wonder to watch. Look at those colours, the moustache , the streaky head, the eyes. Although they are the most colourful members of the crow family, jays are actually quite difficult to see alot of the time. They are shy woodland birds, rarely moving far from cover.
A Goldfinch and Yellowhammer
And finally a Blue Tit peck-by
Though this is pretty bad footage of a blue tit having a go at my camera I absolutely love it. It sums up a blue-tits personality perfectly – feisty. Gotta respect that!