Spring Countryside Camera Trap Surveys

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A few years ago, my passion for wildlife led me to save up to buy a Bushnell Trophy camera trap, to be able to explore the wildlife that can be found in my local area. Since then I have embarked on many adventures and had many hours of fun with it, as it allows you to get an amazing undisturbed insight into the lives of more elusive wildlife.

If you are unsure what a camera trap is, it is a digital camera connected to a sensor that is activated/triggered when movement is detected in front of it. It then takes one or a series of photos, a video of select length or a hybrid of the two, that are recorded on to a memory card for later viewing. They are easy to use and can be left out in the elements for long periods of time. My camera trap was a great investment and has now given me years of pleasure at home and further afield, such as in Costa Rica.

This year, as I have been even more inspired by the coming spring, I decided to spend 10 weeks across the season (21st March to 26th May), completing camera trap surveys on my family’s land, which is set in the beautiful Dorset countryside.

For my surveys, over the 10 weeks, I chose a total of 5 camera locations which were used for varying periods of time. These locations I fondly named: copse cam, sett cam, woodland cam, alley cam and fox cam. I left the camera in each location for between 14 to 42 hours across 1-2 nights depending on my intentions at the time. Now spring has seemed to have come to an end, it is now the time for me to take a look back at a fun, exploratory 10 weeks and reflect on some of the wildlife I got the pleasure of recording.

Copse cam

March 2019

For my first camera location, I chose a small copse situated in a dip within a wheat field that has borders including hedges, trees, a river and a large badger sett. The copse shows signs of use from rabbits and species passing through. The camera was attached to the same tree each time at the centre of the copse, and was either pointed to the west or east to try and capture an idea of activity within the whole area. This location was used for 6 weeks (till 26th April) before the wheat became too long around the copse.

Copse from outside

Over the 6 weeks I used this location, 1 week the camera was not set due to bad weather, and another 2 weeks the camera was not triggered at all. Across the 3 weeks that had some success, 5 species were recorded (all singular individuals) that were:

  • Male and female roe deer

Male roe deer

  • Badger

Badger

  • Carrion crow

Carrion crow

  • Woodpigeon

Woodpigeon

  • Red-legged partridge

Red-legged partridge

A range of animal behaviour was seen on the copse cam, including foraging, resting and fleeing behaviour. Unfortunately due to the growing wheat increasingly isolating the copse, the number of camera triggers, and thus survey success, dropped by 80% over the 3 weeks wildlife was seen. Despite this, I did enjoy the wildlife the camera did capture, as it gave an idea of the wildlife passing through this spot at the beginning of spring.

Favourite photo: an up-close and personal shot of a female roe deer. Other photos captured show that this particular female was possibly pregnant during my surveys.

Doe-eyed (female roe deer in the mist)

Sett cam

For my second camera location, I chose a large fenced off badger sett towards the east of my family’s land. The sett is on the border of agricultural grassland backed by a hedge made up of traditionally known hedge species, including blackthorn and hawthorn. The camera was attached to one of two fence posts spaced approximately a metre apart and facing into the main area of the sett in various directions. This location was used for 5 weeks (till 19th April) until the vegetation within the sett area grew to a height that obscured the view of the camera trap.

Sett in daytime

Over the 5 weeks, one week the camera was not set due to bad weather, leaving 4 weeks in which this location was used. In this time the species seen were (all singular individuals):

  • Badger

Badger

  • Fox

Fox

  • Pheasant

Male pheasant

  • Rook

Rook

The number of times the camera trap was triggered was random in relation to length of time set and survey week. Behaviours recorded included foraging and fleeing behaviour. Again, though this camera location was only used for a few weeks, it was great to see the wildlife there, in particular finally seeing badgers actively living in this sett.

Favourite photo: Though the subject of this shot is less noticeable, I love seeing in this photo the shape of a fox disappearing off along the hedge and field line in the background.

Cunning fox

Woodland cam

For my third location, I chose a small area of secondary woodland not far from my house, bordered on its edges by a private lane, meadows and more woodland. The woodland consists of wild cherry trees and predominantly oak trees. For the entire period of 10 weeks, the camera trap was moved between different trees and aimed in different directions to cover a variety of areas within the woodland.

Over the 10 weeks, the lives of 4 common species within this woodland were recorded. These were:

  • Badger (1-2 individuals in a photo)

2 badgers

  • Fox
  • Rabbit (included alongside a pheasant in a couple of shots)

Rabbit

  • Pheasant (1-2 individuals in a photo)

The number of times the camera trap was triggered was random in relation to length of time set and survey week. What is interesting though, is that foxes were seen passing through the wood over the first 5 weeks (March into April), but not in the last 5 (April into May). This differs to what was seen for badgers, where compared to the first few weeks, badgers were seen mainly in the last 4 weeks (May) and in increasing numbers, which would correspond with breeding stage and foraging tactics. It was great to see the badgers in this way.

Favourite photo: My favourite photo has to be from when I increasingly caught sight of the badgers in the woodland, as it filled me with excitement every time I saw these photos.

Badgered

Alley cam

For my fourth location, following week 6 (27th April), I chose one of my favourite sites on my family’s land, fondly known as Badger Alley. I refer to a 1-3m wide, rarely used bridle/footpath that is enclosed overhead by the tall hedges growing on either side (creating a tunnel effect). Along this path, an active badger sett and a deserted sett can be found, which are shared by other species, such as rabbits and foxes. The path is also rich along its length with a variety of plant species. In the end, I chose to position my camera trap to be able to take in part of the active sett as well as the path along side it to see what I could see.

Alley cam

Over the 5 weeks from 27th April to 25th May, the camera trap recorded a total of 6 different species, which were:

  • Roe deer

Female roe deer

  • Fox
  • Badger (1-3 individuals in a photo)
  • Rabbit (1-2 individuals in a photo)
  • Woodpigeon

Woodpigeon

  • Grey squirrel

Grey squirrel

The number of times the camera trap was triggered was random in relation to length of time set and survey week. A range of behaviours were observed in the photos, my favourite being grooming, bonding/socialising, hunting and play behaviour. It has to be sad that I particularly enjoyed using this location for my camera trap surveys!

Rabbit grooming

Favourite photos: When the badgers joined in with showing why Badger Alley was given its name!

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Fox cam (Note: date of photos are incorrect= 2019 not 2018)

For my final camera location, as a one-off (week 8: 10th May), I chose to investigate a potential fox den within the badger sett that borders the wheat field where the copse mentioned is found. This sett is fairly large, is fenced off from the adjacent wheat field whilst being backed by a wide, traditional hedgerow. In particular, a large part of the sett runs within the hedgerow itself, and in places there are open cavities at the centre of the hedge which are popularly used by wildlife.

Sett= location of fox cam

Before I chose this location, my mum had mentioned to me that she thought that she had seen signs of a female fox feeding cubs in this location, and so I decided to set up my camera with the purpose of investigating if this was true. Read on to find out the result!

I can now reveal that this camera trap set up was a complete success! I caught a vixen and her 3 cubs on camera, as well as a cheeky magpie and an unexpected great tit. The foxes triggered the camera 127 times over 27 hrs, making for a greater insight into their behaviour, social relationships and private interactions. Very exciting!

Favourite photos: The fox cubs!

Fox cub

Sleepy cub

 

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Playful cubs

Summary

This spring I really enjoyed embarking on the completion of camera trap surveys and being able to analyse what species can less obviously be seen around me. In total, my camera trap caught sight of 12 different species of birds and mammals, with lots of different individuals being recorded within this.

I hope you enjoyed a small sight into my camera trapping fun and may be inspired to take exploring your local area to the next level. Camera trapping may not be for you but there are lots of other things out there waiting for you.

 

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