Santa’s top tips for the wannabe mammal-watcher

Dan Brown

Fancy a new challenge in 2015? Then why not take up mammal-watching? Here’s a few tips on getting started

So your mum’s asked you what you want for Christmas, you’ve got all the bird books you need, optics are too expensive, and you feel like a new challenge for 2015. Moths are so 2014, how about mammals?? We continually pass them by as not being exciting enough in the UK but there are loads to see and take a trip in to the WP and the options are endless.

Most mammals require patience and field-craft in order to get good view, some however, don't! This iPhoned fox proved incredibly obliging and an enjoyable experience despite the ubiquitous nature of the species.

Most mammals require patience and field-craft in order to get good view, some however, don’t! This iPhoned fox proved incredibly obliging and an enjoyable experience despite the ubiquitous nature of the species.

Knowing which bits of kit or books to buy can often be the biggest stumbling block when starting out on a new taxa so here’s a brief intro to the kit that will help you to your first Pine Marten encounter or knowing your Striped from your Common Dolphins. I

A bit of research into what to see where can soon find you close-up and personal with most British mammals. These Common Seals can be seen from the roadside in the Cromaty Firth

A bit of research into what to see where can soon find you close-up and personal with most British mammals. These Common Seals can be seen from the roadside in the Cromaty Firth

[’m assuming here that everyone has a pair of bins and a ‘scope and camera are also useful additions to your arsenal of mammaling kit.]

Books

Obviously the best place to start; there’s not a lot of point in searching for mammals if you don’t know what to expect or don’t know what you’re looking at when you do see something! Three key books should see you through your average day in the field in the UK & Western Palearctic: Mammals of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East (Aulagnier et al 2008 A&C Black), Where to Watch Mammals: Britain & Ireland (Moores 2007 A&C Black), and Whales, Dolphins, and Seals: A field Guide to the Marine Mammals of the World (Shirihai & Jarret 2007 A&C Black). If you want to delve further in to the subject then Bats of Britain, Europe & Northwest Africa (Dietz et al 2007) and The art of tracking animals ( Jedrzejewksi & Sidorovich 2010) are also worth a good read.

All the books you'll ever need for Mammaling in the WP!

All the books you’ll ever need for Mammaling in the WP!

Gadgets

No ecologist is complete without a gadget or two to play with. Bat detectors have been around a long time and are easy to pick up, from £80 basic models to £1000+. What you get for your money varies considerably and the more basic models wont produce an on-screen sonogram (something which is great to look at and considerable aids ID in the field). Knowing which bats are cruising around your garden as you kick back with a glass of wine after a summer BBQ is always satisfying. The likes of The One Stop Nature shop (http://www.onestopnature.co.uk) has a selection of more affordable (but still good) detectors, whilst NHBS has a range of more professional devices. There are now also a range of static bat detectors such as Anabats and SM2s that can be left in situ for extended periods to record bat activity.

The Mammalers Gadgets (clockwise from top left): Bushnell trail cam, SM2 static bat detector, GPS unit, EM3 hand-held bat detector.

The Mammalers Gadgets (clockwise from top left): Bushnell trail cam, SM2 static bat detector, GPS unit, EM3 hand-held bat detector.

Trail Cams or Camera Traps have surged in popularity recently as the costs have dropped and the technology advanced. I’ll be doing a full review of camera traps in January so if this is something you’re interested in then I suggest saving your pennies and holding out until the new year! In brief though, they are a valuable asset to any wildlife enthusiast and great fun to use. They are also considerably under-used by birders – think how many rails and crakes we would be detected by putting a camera trap on a pool edge…

Camera trapping offers an amazing way of identifying species presence and absence, especially when it comes to elusive mammals. This Water Vole colony was only confirmed through positioning a camera on the ditch line.

Camera trapping offers an amazing way of identifying species presence and absence, especially when it comes to elusive mammals. This Water Vole colony was only confirmed through positioning a camera on the ditch line.

It might be a non-descript ditch but its amazing what you find when you set a camera trap. A brood of 8 Teal were also successfully raised in this ditch!

It might be a non-descript ditch but its amazing what you find when you set a camera trap. A brood of 8 Teal were also successfully raised in this ditch!

Lastly, GPS – if you’re down Aousserd Road in Western Sahara then GPSing any sightings will greatly benefit nature conservation in the country. The same applies all over Europe and the WP. GPS and indeed mobile phone apps such as Viewranger are superb for recording and mapping sightings. Garmin and other companies produced a range of great value cheap GPS units.

Traps

If you want to take mammaling to the next level then it frequently requires trapping. HOWEVER please check that you have the appropriate licenses if trapping abroad, and have also applied for a Shrew license if necessary in the UK (for more info see: https://www.gov.uk/wildlife-licences). Longworth Traps are the most successful in terms of catch-rates but cost a fortune per unit. A cheaper alternative are Sherman traps which don’t have as high a catch rate but are still good and more easily transported. Don’t forget to provide bedding and of course bait!

Good luck and happy mammaling!

The best way of getting close up with small mammals is through trapping. These Sherman traps are ideal and the RSPB health food snacks seem to work well.

The best way of getting close up with small mammals is through trapping. These Sherman traps are ideal and the RSPB health food snacks seem to work well.

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