Category Archives: Mammals

Camera Trapping – a review

Dan Brown

With so many camera trap makes and models now available, advances in technology and (in general) a reduction in price, camera trapping has become a pastime for anyone and everyone to enjoy. Here I have a more detailed look at some of the makes and models on the market, features to look out for and how best to set your camera trap up.

A diurnal Badger tracks along an animal trail (www.biomeconsulting.com)

A diurnal Badger tracks along an animal trail (www.biomeconsulting.com)

Camera trapping can be phenomenally satisfying and a really enjoyable pastime. The buzz when you remove your SD card and flick through the images is something I will never tire of, as there is frequently a surprise waiting. Camera traps, or trail cameras as they are also known, have gone from expensive scientific kit to garden toy in a very short space of time. Increasingly they are being used for scientific and professional ecological monitoring but their affordability, durability and technological advancement have made them just as rewarding to use at home or on your local patch. In this article I will generally focus on the more affordable models rather that the higher priced scientific ones such as Reconyx.

Its not just mammals that can be cryptic. Using camera traps is a great way of confirming the presence of elusive birds such as Water Rails (www.biomeconsulting.com)

Its not just mammals that can be cryptic. Using camera traps is a great way of confirming the presence of elusive birds such as Water Rails (www.biomeconsulting.com)

Over the last couple of years, we have completed professional camera trapping projects to confirm (or not!) the presence of species such as Wildcat, Otters and Water Vole in Scotland (www.biomeconsulting.com); evaluated the success of various attractants for Eurasian Lynx, and general species monitoring, in Estonia (www.biomenature.com); assessed mammal communities in Norway, as well camera-trapping for fun here, there and everywhere. With around 12,000 trap nights under the belt in the last couple of years we’ve got a pretty good handle on what works, what doesn’t, and what you can do to maximize your chances of success.

A female Moose/Elk meanders through the deciduous woodlands of Estonia (www.biomeconsulting.com)

A female Moose/Elk meanders through the deciduous woodlands of Estonia (www.biomeconsulting.com)

In recent times I have started to wonder, and others have asked me on the extent of variation between models and which models are most effective. Whilst I can’t test them all, I have pulled together nine different camera traps to review. I have endeavored to cover a range of models from the cheapest I could find (£85) to one of the more expensive on the market (£399). Some models come in at more than £400 and I have excluded them here as they are unlikely to be the models of choice for the casual camera trapper; it is safe to assume that they are of a very high quality and are generally regarded as the elite models, primarily used for scientific monitoring.

Cameras set along a marsh-side animal trail

Cameras set along a marsh-side animal trail

Most camera traps are fairly standard in design and output, though one that I trialed has an increased field of view (150o – Moultrie Pano and another model sends pictures straight to a mobile phone (Minox DTC 1000), well that was the idea!. This review aims to highlight the pros and cons of each model and recommend (based on this trial, and past experience) the best trail cameras for different scenarios, e.g. taking abroad, use in the garden, large-scale monitoring etc. It should be noted though that this is not a scientifically rigorous test and that higher specification models of certain brands tested may perform better than the ones trialed.

It is also worth remembering that the images you produce are unlikely to win the BBC Wildlife Camera-trap photo of the year competition as most (but not all) of the winning images use adapted DSLR cameras with external flash guns. Similarly stunning ‘camera trap’ footage from programmes such Gordon Buchanan’s ‘Snow Wolf Family & Me’ uses adapted GoPro cameras.

A quick glossary of terminology

Passive Infrared (PIR): This is the mechanism by which most cameras detect an animal and trigger an image capture. The sensors on the front of the camera detect a difference in temperature between the subject and its surroundings and trigger a picture to be taken. This works best when there is greatest contrast between the animal and its environment, e.g. when the air is colder. The sensitivity of this sensor can be adjusted so during the summer you may wish to increase the sensitivity, the same for detecting smaller mammals, and also aquatic species such as Otter which are often cooler on the exterior due to better insulation, than other animals of a similar size.

Spotting your triggers can be difficult. Here Chaffinches can be seen feeding amongst the leaf litter. A high PIR setting is generally required for smaller animals

Spotting your triggers can be difficult. Here Chaffinches can be seen feeding amongst the leaf litter. A high PIR setting is generally required for smaller animals

Night Vision Shutter (NV): This controls the speed of the shutter during night triggers. A high shutter speed will increase the clarity of the image, reducing blur through movement, but will also reduce the range of detection. Conversely, a low shutter speed increases the range of detection but also increases the likelihood of the image being blurred.

Field of View: The area captured in the image, usually 35-45o

Detection Zone: The area in which the camera is able to detect the heat signature and motion of the animal.

False Positive: An image triggered seemingly by nothing. These can be very frequent and are often caused by vegetation movement.

False Negative: When a trigger does not occur despite the presence of an animal in the trigger zone. This can be very frustrating! (See the album on BiOME Consulting Facebook page)

The Genet - a rarely seen, but widespread species in North Africa and Iberia. Camera traps make monitoring species like this considerably easier.

The Genet – a rarely seen, but widespread species in North Africa and Iberia. Camera traps make monitoring species like this considerably easier.

What to consider when buying

The following should be your key considerations when purchasing a camera trap:

  • Cost
  • Weight and size of camera.
  • Trigger speed (how long it takes to trigger an image being taken).
  • Image size and quality.
  • Battery type/battery life.
  • Ease of set up.
  • Durability
  • What will I use the camera for (e.g. garden, open ground, monitoring)?
  • On-camera review of images
  • Security – can I leave my camera safely?

Many of these features will vary in their importance to you depending upon how the camera is to be used. For instance if you are undertaking large-scale monitoring for nocturnal species you are likely to require a camera that takes good quality images with as short a trigger speed as possible, that will run for months, and resist all that the weather can throw at it. If you goal is to capture the garden fox then something much less high spec will be sufficient.

Birds and camera trapping

We tend to think of camera trapping as the realm of the mammologist/mammal enthusiasts; however it can be equally well suited to the monitoring of birds. I have often wondered about positioning camera traps along scrape or ditch edges to get an idea of all the waders and crakes we are missing, and I have previously targeted cairns on Scottish peaks with some interesting results. Angling a camera at a prominent perch or a carcass can also generate some fascinating pictures; the list of possibilities is almost endless and limited only by your imagination.

Camera traps can be used very successfully to monitor birds as well as mammals (www.biomeconsulting.com)

Camera traps can be used very successfully to monitor birds as well as mammals (www.biomeconsulting.com)

A crane family take a short-cut through a woodland in Estonia - not what we were expecting from this camera trap! (www.biomeconsulting.com)

A crane family take a short-cut through a woodland in Estonia – not what we were expecting from this camera trap! (www.biomeconsulting.com)

The RSPB, among other conservation bodies, have adopted camera traps as a means of passive monitoring for species such as Hen Harrier and Curlew. It’s worth remembering though that you can’t just place a camera trap in front of a nest without the correct licenses! The possible increased risk of predation is also a consideration in such scenarios – it’s definitely worth leaving such projects to professionals. Studies in relation to the predation of ground nesting birds are, however, ongoing and will no doubt yield valuable results in the future that will be used to target conservation efforts for threatened species.

Choosing a location

The best location depends on what you’re trying to photograph, but remains the single most important factor in camera trapping. For mammals, placing a camera trap on an obvious trail is a good starting point. Ideally the camera should be about 2-3 feet above the ground and facing along the trail rather than across it. This increases the likelihood of a trigger and the duration of any video of the subject. But, it is important to be mindful of false triggers as a result of vegetation movement when placing a camera trap at low level – a pair of shears and some careful gardening is often required to minimise the amount of time you have to trawl through subject-less photos. Fence lines often funnel animals along them, as do forest rides. For species such as Otter or Water Shrew, identifying a well used rock or riverside feature is the best starting point. Prominent trunks crossing paths can act as scent-marking spots and are worth focusing on. Holes and crevices always attract attention, even if they are seemingly unoccupied by a specific species and these can generate plenty of interesting videos and pictures, often of multiple species.

An ideal spot for a camera looking along a woodland ride (www.biomeconsulting.com)

An ideal spot for a camera looking along a woodland ride (www.biomeconsulting.com)

A diurnal Otter comes in for a closer look. This camera also confirmed the presence of Water Voles and breeding Teal, all in the space of a week!

A diurnal Otter comes in for a closer look. This camera also confirmed the presence of Water Voles and breeding Teal, all in the space of a week!

Whilst most cameras come with the option of being able to padlock them shut, it is still worth bearing the security of your camera in mind. Placing it in a public place without securing it thoroughly is likely to see it vanish.

It probably goes without saying, but you also must have agreed access with the landowner to the location you are placing your camera traps.

Choosing the correct location can produce some very satisfying pictures, and its not just mammals!

Choosing the correct location can produce some very satisfying pictures, and its not just mammals!

Affixing your camera

All cameras come with a strap for attaching them to a suitable structure. Personally we have found that using strong garden wire is as good and usually a better option, as it doesn’t loosen. In many cases it is often possible to affix the camera to an existing feature e.g. a fence post or tree, however if you have the time then manufacturing some simple, small stakes is often beneficial and overcomes the frequent problem of having a great camera location but nothing to anchor it to. If you are positioning your camera along a stream, river or ditch edge remember to bear in mind fluctuating water levels, these cameras are weather-proof but don’t fare too well when submerged!

As well as the importance of recognising significant features that may funnel animals or birds past the camera, you also need to bear in mind other factors that impact on the images.

Another great location where animal movement is funnelled by surrounding landforms (www.biomeconsulting.com)

Another great location where animal movement is funnelled by surrounding landforms (www.biomeconsulting.com)

Trigger settings and angling your camera

In general it is best to angle the camera slightly downwards towards the ground rather than up. This avoids any unnecessary triggers from overhead vegetation or branches. It is also worth trying to avoid directing it towards either a rising or setting sun/moon, both of which can trigger the camera.

This is exactly how not to angle a camera trap - slightly up and into the rising sun: cue steamed up lenses and repeated false positive triggers.

This is exactly how not to angle a camera trap – slightly up and into the rising sun: cue steamed up lenses and repeated false positive triggers.

Of course angling it the right way can produce some surprises: this flock of Waxwings alighted for 5 seconds on a cairn on one of the Scottish peaks two winters ago.

Of course angling it the right way can produce some surprises: this flock of Waxwings alighted for 5 seconds on a cairn on one of the Scottish peaks two winters ago.

Vegetation movement can cause huge numbers of false positives which are very frustrating to work through, especially after months in the field. Depending on the location of your camera you may wish to adjust the sensitivity of the camera trigger mechanism. A camera trained at a grassy field of view may be excessively triggered by grass movement, in these cases it is worth reducing the sensitivity to low. The best locations are generally the understory of woodland where there is minimal vegetation and shelter from wind movement, as well as along open ditch edges, upland knolls and sand dunes. In these locations you may wish to have the sensitivity on high.

If you are after small mammals then the trigger settings should always be set to high, reduce the height that the camera is set at, and if possible add on a macro lens.

Adjusting the PIR sensitivity allows better detection of small mammals. Here a Shrew puts in an appearance (www.biomeconsulting.com)

Adjusting the PIR sensitivity allows better detection of small mammals. Here a Shrew puts in an appearance (www.biomeconsulting.com)

Baiting

Baiting can massively increase the success of camera trapping either by using an existing foods source e.g. grain spillage or carcass, or by placing your own bait down. Cat or dog food is ideal for carnivores, anchovies or sardines can attract in Otters and Water Shrews, and grain and peanuts will draw in small mammals as well as birds.

The trial

Over Christmas/New Year I tested the nine models in three scenarios; at the base of a Red Squirrel feeding hopper at Treborth Botanic Garden, Gwynedd; on a marsh edge trail at RSPB Malltraeth, Anglesey; and in a copse on the outskirts of Derby. Many thanks to Red Squirrel Survival Trust and the RSPB for allowing me to trap at these locations.

The target of the first test site, mainland Welsh Red Squirrels!

The target of the first test site, mainland Welsh Red Squirrels!

The aim was to see how they coped with multiple triggers in different scenarios, and hopefully, in both night and day. This is by no means an exhaustive review with plenty of additional tests and scenarios possible, and there are many more models available.

For the trials at Treborth and Derby, all nine cameras were lined up immediately adjacent to each other. Whilst there will have been a subtle difference in each ones field of view and detection range, they were effectively focused on the same central point. At Malltraeth the cameras were split along the same animal trail with four facing in one direction and the remaining five further along the trail facing back towards the first four.

All nine cameras lined up and ready to trigger. The ground in front of them was baited and it was hoped the stream would also funnel birds and animals along it.

All nine cameras lined up and ready to trigger. The ground in front of them was baited and it was hoped the stream would also funnel birds and animals along it.

The trial models

I’ve summarised the specifications of each of the model included in the trial in the below table. This is followed, in ascending cost order, with my thoughts on the pros and cons of each, and is concluded with my overall opinion on what to buy. Other makes not included here but maybe worthy of consideration include Cuddeback, Scoutguard, Uway, and Reconyx.

The trial models (Top row L-R) Hawke ProStalk PC4000, Acorn Ltl 5210, Bresser Visiomar; (middle row L-R), Acorn Ltl 6210, Minox DTC 650, Bushnell Natureview HD; (bottom row L-R), Minox DTC1000, Spypoint HD7 & Moultrie Pano 150

The trial models (Top row L-R) Hawke ProStalk PC4000, Acorn Ltl 5210, Bresser Visiomar; (middle row L-R), Acorn Ltl 6210, Minox DTC 650, Bushnell Natureview HD; (bottom row L-R), Minox DTC1000, Spypoint HD7 & Moultrie Pano 150

Table: Comparative specifications of each of the trial models

Model Cost (£) Weight (inc batteries) Size (S/M/L) Ease of setup Max image size Trigger speed (s) Max vid size Field of view Range of IR (ft) Batteries Case seal
Bresser visiomar game camera 85.23 240g S M 6mp ? (1)? 720p 52 40 4AA Moderate
Acorn Ltl 5210 95.69 300g S M 12mp 1.2 640×480 35 65 4/8AA Good
Acorn Ltl 6210 129.80 350g S M 12mp 1.1 640x4801440x1080 35 65 4/8AA Good
Pro Stalk PC400 129.95 300g S M 5mp 0.9 640×480 60 33 4AA Good
Minox DTC 650 199.00 365g M VE 8mp <0.5 1080p 50 (?) 49 12AA Strong
Bushnel Natureview HD max (119439) 269.00 610g M E 8mp 0.6 1920×1080 55 60 4/12AA Good
SpyPoint HD7 165.16 580g M/L E 7mp 1.0 720p 30 50 6AA Moderate
Moultrie Pano 150 189.00 1130g L E/M 8mp 0.9 1280×720 150 40 6C Good
Minox DTC 1000 399.00 700g M E/D 8mp 1.0 1080p 50 (?) 50 12AA Strong

Summary of each model

Bresser Visiomar

Pros: Small. Cheap. Moderately easy setup. Good value for money.

Cons: Poor detection rates at night

A dinky, cheap and fairly inconspicuous camera and despite only running on 4AA batteries we have shown that they persist for a relatively long time (>6months). The detection rates seem good with the initial tests matching the higher powered models however the Bresser fell down at night with virtually no triggers indicating that the sensor isn’t quite as good as it could be. The set is up is through a remote on which you can also replay any images. A word of warning, I bought mine on Amazon and it arrived from the EU with only German instructions!

Acorn Ltl-5210A & Acorn Ltl-6210MC

Pros: Small. Cheap. Easy setup. Excellent image quality

Cons: Not as sensitive as the higher spec models or indeed the Bresser, the 5210 was significantly less sensitive than the 6210.

These two neat and small cameras run on 8AA batteries with easy setup and reply. Surprisingly good image quality and well balanced exposure. A great little model for garden use but I would recommend the 6210 over the 5210.

Hawke ProStalk PC 4000

Pros: Cheap and small

Cons: Very poor image quality and detection rates. No replay facility.

A small camera, taking 4AA batteries and easy/moderate setup. Despite a user error of my part during the first trial, the camera proved to be very poor at detecting animals. Generally a disappointment.

Spy Point HD 7

Pros: Moderate detection abilities, easy setup and handy setup instructions on inside of backing case

Cons: large, poor clip mechanism for shutting the case

Large but only takes 6 AA batteries. The setup is an alternative approach to most of the cameras but very easy. The output is fairly middle of the road; it’s not the worst, and its by no means the best. Detection rates appeared average.

Minox DTC 650

Pros: easy setup, excellent trigger speed and detection rates, high image quality, prolonged battery life, replay facility

Cons: large

This is a brilliant camera. On top of the list of pros above it matched the Bushnell in terms of its detection rates, in fact actually recording more triggers than the Bushnell in total though the two are on a very even par. Given the cost, ease of set up and performance this camera has a lot going for it.

Bushnell HD Natureview 119439

Pros: easy setup, excellent trigger speed and detection rates, prolonged battery life.

Cons: large, Images frequently under-exposed, no replay facility on this model (but there is on other similar ones)

An excellent larger camera and long been used by scientists and amateurs alike. Whilst the detection range and ability is excellent, the image was frequently under-exposed making analysing pictures very difficult. This combined with a higher price tag bought the overall rating of the camera down

Moultrie 150 Pano

Pros: A fantastically large detection zone (150o), which undoubtedly picks up animals other cameras wouldn’t, large flash range.

Cons: Very large and heavy and seemed to get moisture on the lens more than other cameras. Uses C batteries.

Despite advertising the silent movement of the sensor as it pans between the three 50o detection areas I could still hear it and it was obvious from images triggered on other cameras that animals could also hear it. That said the detection range is huge. The camera runs on 6C batteries which combined with its size makes it a hefty piece of kit. The setup was moderately easy

This Rabbit was only detected by three cameras including the Moultrie  despite crossing the detection zone of all the cameras. Did it move too quickly? The image produced by the Moultrie shows its massive detection sweep.

This Rabbit was only detected by three cameras including the Moultrie despite crossing the detection zone of all the cameras. Did it move too quickly? The image produced by the Moultrie shows its massive detection sweep.

Minox 1000

Pros: Similar in spec to the DTC 650, which see.

Cons: Expensive, and the photo/video replay to PCs and mobiles didn’t work for me as is not Mac compatible, slower trigger speed than DTC650

Seems to be more of a fancy gimmick with not much practical application unless you want to know what’s visiting your garden there and then whilst you recline watching X-factor. Other manufacturers also offer pictures/videos straight to your phone or computer. The camera itself is very good though the trigger speed is slower than the DTC650. Given the choice I would be going for the 650.

Overall verdict

Calculating value for money is difficult and arbitrary, and very much depends on what you intend to use it for. For the benefit of the review I have named my personal top models and reasons below:

Overall top model: Minox DTC 650 (also best higher spec model)

Best cheap model: Acorn Ltl 6210 or for even cheaper garden use the Acorn Ltl 5210

Best travel model Acorn Ltl 6210

For monitoring the Reconyx (not tested here) are by far the best, but the Minox DTC 650 or the Bushnell HD Natureview would both be suitable.

If you want anymore information, or help with monitoring and training, then please get in touch with us at Biome Consulting.

Happy Camera trapping!

 

 

Mammal of the Month: Mountain Hare

Dan Brown

The Mountain Hare is a beautiful and charismatic mammal, symbolic of bleak upland landscapes in the UK, yet often overlooked in favour of larger carnivores or cuter, cuddlier mammals. It most definitely deserves more appreciation, protection, and far less persecution 

A new year and a new feature – ‘Mammal of the Month’. The concept isn’t too difficult to grasp, a featured mammal from the UK or Western Palearctic each month with a bit of info on ID (where necessary) status, where and how to see it, and conservation. Feel free to request a species, though I will try and keep them representative of the season.

Winter in the Scottish uplands can be seriously hard going, and there are very few animals that stick it out but the Mountain Hare is one. The white winter pelage and their ability to sit motionless for hours can make detecting them almost impossible. Photo: Chris Townsend (www.wisebirding.co.uk )

Winter in the Scottish uplands can be seriously hard going, and there are very few animals that stick it out but the Mountain Hare is one. The white winter pelage and their ability to sit motionless for hours can make detecting them almost impossible. Photo: Chris Townend (www.wisebirding.co.uk )

So to kick off it feels very appropriate, given the weather, to start with the Mountain Hare (Lepus timidus). A brilliant and charismatic species that frequently goes under the radar of naturalist and suffers massively at the hands of land managers and keepers. In the UK they occur throughout the higher areas of Scotland (population approx 360,000), and have been introduced into England where they are still present in the Peak District (although the population may only number 500). Introduced populations in North Wales have all become extinct. In Ireland they are distributed throughout, from sea-level to the highest peaks, whilst on the continent they are distributed across northern Europe, a range that extends right across to the Pacific. Further south they are restricted only to high ground (up to 3000m) in the Alps.

Robins brilliant shot nicely illustrates the amazingly dense, and long haired paws (https://www.facebook.com/RobinHoskynsPhotography and http://www.robinhoskyns.co.uk/)

Robins brilliant shot nicely illustrates the amazingly dense, and long haired paws (https://www.facebook.com/RobinHoskynsPhotography and http://www.robinhoskyns.co.uk/)

The mortality among hares is very high, if you’ve ever driven along the A9 you cant help but see road-kill Mountain hares every few miles. However if they make it to adulthood their dispersal abilities are pretty remarkable. One animal was recorded moving 300km! Whilst generally solitary, they can aggregate into groups in excess of 100 animals during the winter months. Mountain Hares are predominantly active at night, and encounters in the day are often of animals flushed from a sheltering spot in a peat hag, or from under a boulder.

Mountain Hares are well known in the UK for their transformation between summer and winter coats. They are perfectly adapted to cold snowy winters, moulting in a thick white coat, whilst in summer this white coat is lost and replaced with a schisty-brown pelage, better suited to the earthen and rocky tones of the Scottish peaks during the ‘warmer’ months. Interestingly very few of the Irish animals moult into a white winter coat. Camouflage is crucial in Scotland where Mountain Hares form a substantial part of the diet of Golden Eagles.

The transition between Winter, Spring and Summer can be a tough one for Mountain Hares as their perfect camouflage takes a while to adjust to the receding snow lines. Photo: Robin Hoskyns (http://www.robinhoskyns.co.uk/) and (https://www.facebook.com/RobinHoskynsPhotography)

The transition between Winter, Spring and Summer can be a tough one for Mountain Hares as their perfect camouflage takes a while to adjust to the receding snow lines. Photo: Robin Hoskyns (http://www.robinhoskyns.co.uk/) and (https://www.facebook.com/RobinHoskynsPhotography)

A summer Mountain Hare can be equally difficult to spot as a winter animal. The white tail is a dead giveaway though!

A summer Mountain Hare can be equally difficult to spot as a winter animal. The white tail is a dead giveaway though!

Mountain Hares and Grouse moors have an intricate relationship and one which frequently betrays the hares. Hares prefer the areas of recently burnt heather adjacent to longer heather for cover, identical to the optimal requirements for grouse management. The decline in grouse moors has had a strong negative effect on the abundance of Mountain Hares, and this coupled with the frequent intensive persecution of hares by estate managers to reduce competition with grouse, can cause local declines in the population. Raptor Persecution Scotland have blogged about this issue on several occasions with the latest last autumn:

https://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/2014/09/28/mountain-hares-massacred-on-lammermuir-grouse-moors/

There’s even a petition currently circulating endeavoring to end these intensive culls:

https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/protect-the-mountain-hare-3

Indeed even away from intensive grouse moors I’ve been told that in the 1990s and early 2000s there was a concerted effort, at least on some of the Argyll hills, to reduce Mountain Hare and Rabbit numbers. The cull was so successful that both species are now extinct in the areas I’ve worked and maybe not coincidentally Golden Eagles at certain territories have failed to produce any young for at least 10 years.

An Eaglet in Argyll surrounded by a surplus of Mountain Hares and Rabbits in 1981

An Eaglet in Argyll surrounded by a surplus of Mountain Hares and Rabbits in 1981

The same Eaglet a few weeks later, fat on lagomorphs. Now both Rabbits and Mountain Hares are virtually extinct in the area through human persecution

The same Eaglet a few weeks later, fat on lagomorphs. Now both Rabbits and Mountain Hares are virtually extinct in the area through human persecution

If you want to enjoy these cracking Lagomorphs whether in their winter white or summer schist, sites worth a visit include Long Gutter Edge, Derbyshire; Findhorn Valley, Highland; and Cairngorm Ski Carpark. For more information see ‘Where to Watch Mammals: Britain and Ireland’ R Moores 2007.

You’ll also have the added bonus of enjoying a few classic upland birds as well, especially at the Scottish sites.

Shorter ears and a greyer, more schisty-colouration to the pelage separate Mountain Hares from Brown Hares

Shorter ears and a greyer, more schisty-colouration to the pelage separate Mountain Hares from Brown Hares

Run Rabbit Run! If the camouflage fails then they still have the ability to out-run any predators or photographers!

Run Rabbit Run! If the camouflage fails then they still have the ability to out-run any predators or photographers!

 

Leona, Lydia & Mako – the tale of a turtle and two sharks

Dan Brown

We tend to think our British and Irish seas are fairly unremarkable but a beached Mako Shark, a glancing blow by a Great White, and a Loggerhead Turtle certainly prove this isn’t the case! 
The female Mako on Barmouth beach. Image credit Llew Griffin

The female Mako on Barmouth beach. Image credit Llew Griffin

The marine news has been coming thick and fast this autumn. Hot on the heals of the Pygmy Sperm Whale in Gwynedd a stunning female Mako shark sadly washed ashore on Barmouth beach, also Gwynedd. Mako’s are uncommon visitors to our waters and have sadly declined by around 50% as a result of fishing practices. For more info on them see here

These sharks are closely related to Great White Sharks are simply phenomenal predators. Interestingly another was caught off the Pembrokeshire coast last year which could indicate a slight warming of our oceanic waters.

The female Mako on Barmouth beach. Image credit Llew Giffin

The female Mako on Barmouth beach. Image credit Llew Giffin

This animal was autopsied by Marine Enviromental Monitoring and found to contain a Harbour Porpoise.

The Harbour Porpoise found during the autopsy of the Mako. Image courtesy of Marine Environmental Monitoring

The Harbour Porpoise found during the autopsy of the Mako. Image courtesy of Marine Environmental Monitoring

On a happier note, its great to be able to report that Lydia, the Great White Shark, that teased with Irish waters earlier this year, is still fighting fit and looking to start a return journey back our way. She’s currently hanging out on the Grand Banks and in theory she should start heading east again soon. How close will she come this time around??

Lydia was the first documented Great White Shark to cross the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. From her tagging off Florida she has cruised north and east before returning to her original tagging location and starting the entire circular migration again. There is every chance that she, or other Great Whites could make into Irish Oceanic waters such as the Porcupine Bight off Co Kerry. We can only keep our fingers crossed as I for one would do anything to see a Great White in British or Irish waters! For more info and some pretty great images have a look here:

Not a job for the faint hearted! Lydia sporting her brand new tags off the Florida coast

Not a job for the faint hearted! Lydia sporting her brand new tags off the Florida coast

They always do things bigger in the US!

They always do things bigger in the US!

You can literally follow her on Twitter @RockStarLydia as well as White Shark research in general @A_Whiteshark, and @OCEARCH

And lastly Leona, the Loggerhead Turtle. She was found back in November 2013 on the beach at Seafield, Quilty, Co Clare in poor health. She was taken to Galway Atlantiquarium where she was treated and slowly gained strength and mass. Fast forward a year and with a lot of effort and support all round, including an Aer Lingus flight, Leona has found herself back in the waters off the Canary Islands complete with a satellite tag. After a superstar wave off she has been making good progress and is currently heading south off Tenerife. It will be fascinating to see where the next year of her life takes her. You can read a full story of her recovery on the IWDG page here.

Leona the Loggerhead Turtle at her weakest in November 2013

Leona the Loggerhead Turtle at her weakest in November 2013

Leona's track since being released on 4th December on Gran Canaria

Leona’s track since being released on 4th December on Gran Canaria

For up to date movements and more information on the tracking of Leona check out the webpage here. Or to follow her movements on twitter find her @Leonaslog

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.

The most elusive of whales makes landfall on Angelsey & then Gwynedd

Dan Brown

It’s been a chock-a-block autumn for cetaceans but the recent stranding of a Pygmy Sperm Whale has drawn the most attention

First apologies for yet another blubber-loving post! I had intended on focusing on something furrier but unless you’ve had your head in the sand you cant help but have heard of the recent flurry of whale activity around the British coast, culminating in the stranding in of a Pygmy Sperm Whale on Anglesey, then Gwynedd, recently.

Pygmy Sperm Whale stranded on Newborough beach, Anglesey (photo Bem Murcott/Sea Watch Foundation)

Pygmy Sperm Whale stranded on Newborough beach, Anglesey (photo Bem Murcott/Sea Watch Foundation)

It’s been a remarkably varied autumn in many ways. For starters Humpbacks have been putting in an appearances, well, more like putting on shows for those in Norfolk, Skye, Caithness and Shetland, not to mention the regular Southern Irish animals. The former animal appears to be returning animal from last year, and whilst arriving a week later than in 2013, it seems to have departed on exactly the same day as it did in 2013, 17th November. Norfolk continued its great run of sightings with a Minke and then the welcome documented pod of Pilot whales, which pushed south down to Essex where they were successful herded back out to sea.

But back to Anglesey where the Pygmy Sperm Whale live stranded on Newborough beach. The animal was located and tended to very rapidly, and all credit to those involved, they managed to refloat the animal and off it swam. Sadly a few days later a second attempt at sunbathing for this animal proved rather too successful and it succumbed. Luckily the animal was discovered by Rhys Jones and Eddie Urbanski on Dinas Dinlle, Gwynedd, and they were able to inform the relevant authorities.

Pygmy Sperm Whale, Dinas Dinlle, Gwynedd. Nicely illustrates the unusual head shape (Photo: Rhys Jones)

Pygmy Sperm Whale, Dinas Dinlle, Gwynedd. Nicely illustrates the unusual head shape (Photo: Rhys Jones)

Whilst a sad event, it represents a great opportunity to find out a bit more about these amazingly rare and little understood animals. This is only the 11th stranding of this species in the UK in 25 years. A field necropsy conducted by Zoological Society of London and MEM found the animal to be a juvenile male and in moderate nutritional health. Whilst there was a large piece of plastic in the second stomach this was not thought to be the cause of the animals death and it is hoped that further tests will ascertain the exact cause.

The Kogia’s (Pygmy & Dwarf Sperm Whales) are quite remarkable animals. They are some of the most unobtrusive cetaceans and Dwarf, in particular, is widespread and in theory quite common. Most live sightings involve animals logging at the surface from which they sink without disturbing the water surface, to feed on cephalopods at great depths. There is evidence to suggest that they favour the slack areas of water to log in (these are often visible as silvery lines across the surface of the ocean). These slack lines occur when water masses of differing salinity meet. The resulting acoustic distortion allows the animals to rest in relative safety from sonar-dependent predators. Another string to their defence bow is the evolution of these species to resemble sharks with a pseudo-gill line, pointy snouts and prominent teeth.

Close-up of the head showing the pseudo-gill line (photo Bem Murcott/Sea Watch Foundation)

Close-up of the head showing the pseudo-gill line (photo Bem Murcott/Sea Watch Foundation)

Close up showing the remarkable teeth of the Pygmy Sperm Whale (Photo: Rhys Jones)

Close up showing the remarkable teeth of the Pygmy Sperm Whale (Photo: Rhys Jones)

Both these species should be on the radars of anyone exploring the deeper waters off the south-west approaches, western Ireland and south through Biscay and onward to Madeira and the Canary Islands.

If you’re interested in following more about British cetacean strandings in the UK then the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme – UK Strandings page on Facebook is well worth ‘Liking’.

Additionally Seawatch Foundation have an internship for which 2015 applicants may now apply. If you’re interested in learning more about cetaceans and marine mammal conservation then see the link below.

http://www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk/internships/

 

LBJs or small & beautiful?

Dan Brown

From the Sahara to the Arctic small mammals populate the landscape but how often do we actually stop to enjoy and ID them?
Lesser Egyptian Jerboa (Jaculus jaculus): A charismatic desert species throughout the WP and always great to see

Lesser Egyptian Jerboa (Jaculus jaculus): A charismatic desert species throughout the WP and always great to see

I’m sure you’ve had enough of eastern promise and impending Atlantic storms for one autumn, so thought I’d intersperse it with something altogether more furry. And in case you’re wondering if the Beluga’s ID’d on Googlemaps in the last post were present in real life at the end of August – they weren’t (but the place was spectacular for many other things from thousands of sea ducks to tens of Porpoises, Minke Whales & White-beaked Dolphins)!

In general we tend to focus our interest in mammals on the big and charismatic, the rare (generally large things) and the beautiful (again generally bigger things), but what about the LBJs of the mammal world? Well, the more you get to know them the better they get! And without them your mammal list is never going to be very big either!

Striped Filed Mouse (Apodemus agrarius): Mammal Pro -Rich Moores, enjoys some close up views of this eastern rodent in Estonia

Striped Field Mouse (Apodemus agrarius): Mammal Pro -Rich Moores, enjoys some close up views of this eastern rodent in Estonia

Root Vole (Microtus oeconomus): A widespread northern species, but an endemic subspecies is also found on Texel, Holland

Root Vole (Microtus oeconomus): A widespread northern species, but an endemic subspecies is also found on Texel, Holland… a potential split!?

In many areas of the WP they are little studied, range-restricted and often very rare. Identification can be a challenge, and even getting a view is far from easy. Trapping is often the only way forward, live trapping of course! It is likely that there are more species to be discovered within the WP let alone further afield.

Occidental Gerbil (Gerbillus occiduus): A classic example of a range-restrcited WP endemic

Occidental Gerbil (Gerbillus occiduus): A classic example of a range-restrcited WP endemic found only in southern Morocco and northern Western Sahara.

Small mammals make up a large percentage of the WPs list and simply cannot be neglected anywhere. When I first started out mammaling I was unconvinced by these small fluffy things but nights lamping in the Sahara, chasing Jerboas into the oily blackness of the desert, methodically strolling the tundra of Norway for lemmings, and inspecting the array of traps the following morning to see the haul can often prove as exciting as searching the next carnivore. And if you thought they were timid and scared, think twice… I challenge anyone to take on a Hamster or Lemming over a Caracal or Serval!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DR1p8M5i7o0

Make sure you watch this last one with the sound up!

Small mammals have also taken every niche in the WP and perfected living in it to the max. Some species are cyclic in the abundance such as the northern voles and lemmings, others dependent on rains, some nocturnal, some diurnal, many colonial, others solitary. No doubt you’ve seen some, whether it be inside your kitchen or on the roadside in Morocco. So I encourage you to pay a bit for attention to the LBJs of the WP on you travels, and if possible, get a shot or two of them, I’ll do my best to answer any ID queries.

Pika sp: Even a few Pikas make it into the WP though their taxonomy seems to be in constant flux

Pika sp: Even a few Pikas make it into the WP though their taxonomy seems to be in constant flux

 

Spy Hopping: Marine mammals from the air!

Dan Brown

New aerial survey techniques for monitoring marine birds are proving to be valuable tools in monitoring other marine wildlife

It’s amazing what you can find on GoogleMaps. With an impending visit to Norway I thought I’d have a look for potentially suitable Beluga areas in the north of the country. Belugas love shallow bays so using the satellite imagery to identify suitable sites is a great starting point before actually getting out in the field and finding the real thing. Ninety seconds of searching later and this is what appeared on the screen…

https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@69.7898558,30.8214049,304m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en

It looks very much like a pod of Beluga at the mouth of a shallow sandy estuary! Belugas typically form tight pods and spend much of their time close to the surface. I’ll tell you in a couple of weeks whether they were still there!

But there’s a more mileage in these aerial images than you may think. If you follow anything marine-based or environmental on twitter you may have seen some superb aerial images of marine wildlife from our UK waters recently. These images were shot by the HiDef (http://www.hidefsurveying.co.uk) team as part of a European Shag survey of waters around the Isles of Scilly for Natural England. You can follow them @HiDefSurvey

 

Risso's Dolphin: 16km WNW of Bryher, Isles of Scilly 12/06/2014. 3m long; grey and white mottled body; prominent ‘melon’ and indistinct beak; tall falcate dorsal fin

Risso’s Dolphin: 16km WNW of Bryher, Isles of Scilly 12/06/2014. 3m long; grey and white mottled body; prominent ‘melon’ and indistinct beak; tall falcate dorsal fin

Harbour Porpoise: Dogger Bank June 2012. Mother (1.8m) and calf – small size, indistinct beak, fairly uniform colouration, dark pectoral fins

Harbour Porpoise: Dogger Bank June 2012. Mother (1.8m) and calf – small size, indistinct beak, fairly uniform colouration, dark pectoral fins

Aerial surveying of marine wildlife has become increasingly common and provides a superb way of documenting and monitoring a range of marine species.  All surveys follow pre-determined transect routes using a small aircraft flying at close to 2000 feet carrying four super high definition cameras. These cameras take digital video footage at several frames per second providing a snap shot of seabirds and other marine wildlife on or close to the surface of the sea.

Northern Right Whale: mother and calf  east of Virginia, USA. Mother (identified from images as ‘Blackheart’) 14.0m, calf 6.5m, identified by barnacles on lips and narrow upper jaw

Northern Right Whale: mother and calf east of Virginia, USA. Mother (identified from images as ‘Blackheart’) 14.0m, calf 6.5m, identified by barnacles on lips and narrow upper jaw

Whilst you may expect that monitoring seabirds and marine mammals (as well as turtles & sharks) would be impossible using aircraft so high above the sea, it is surprising how frequently they are encountered when analysing the images, and how easy they are to identify.

Fin Whale: east of Virginia, USA 15/02/2013. 16.5m Long slim body, small dorsal fin far back on body, white lip on right side.

Fin Whale: east of Virginia, USA 15/02/2013. 16.5m Long slim body, small dorsal fin far back on body, white lip on right side.

Common Dolphin (10): Outer Bristol Channel on 25/05/2009. Average 2.2m long, typical ‘hourglass’ pattern on side, pale pectoral fins, large splash from recent breaching

Common Dolphin (10): Outer Bristol Channel on 25/05/2009. Average 2.2m long, typical ‘hourglass’ pattern on side, pale pectoral fins, large splash from recent breaching

These recent surveys have identified three species of cetaceans around the SW English coast as well as Blue Shark, Sunfish and Leatherback Turtles, even though they are not the target of the surveys, showing how valuable this new technique is and how important our coastal waters are for marine wildlife. We can no doubt look forward to more fascinating marine revelations and a better understanding of the distribution and abundance of many species.

Leatherback Turtle: 20km west of Isles of Scilly 02/07/2014. 2m long (= adult) with prominent ridges down back

Leatherback Turtle: 20km west of Isles of Scilly 02/07/2014. 2m long (= adult) with prominent ridges down back

Blue Shark: 16km south of Western Rocks, Isles of Scilly 02/07/2014. 1.8m (=immature) slim snout, blue-grey colour, long pectoral fins

Blue Shark: 16km south of Western Rocks, Isles of Scilly 02/07/2014. 1.8m (=immature) slim snout, blue-grey colour, long pectoral fins