Rural Dorset vs. Urban Manchester: Wildlife Camera Trapping in 2021

Series in collaboration with guest writer Emma Rogan

Fox cubs playing in secluded hedgerows, badgers wandering along field margins, and male pheasants displaying in woodlands. Wildlife cameras are a great way to capture the behaviour and presence of wildlife, and can open up a hidden world not so easily accessible in person. More often wildlife cameras are associated with exploring the rural, but they are also a great way to explore the world closer to home. Hedgehogs snuffling through gardens looking for food, birds jostling for space on feeders, or even rodents clearing up after avian visitors. Camera trapping allows us to connect to nature wherever we live, from rolling hills to suburban oases.

Last time in Rural vs. Urban, we embraced autumn in all its colours and forms, with the main focus being the plant and fungi stars of the show. Dorset-born naturalist Laura delved into the magnificent and colourful display autumn had to offer, and found inspiration in the season, from her writing to her baking. Joining Laura for this series, Manchester-born wildlife enthusiast Emma explored the history and culture rooted in the plants she discovered, and found a much-needed moment of calm in her busy day-to-day life. Though both found differences in their comparative landscapes, they both found fungi to be fascinating and wondrous, but an area of knowledge in need of improvement.

In this next instalment of Rural vs. Urban, we explore the use of camera traps in the two different landscapes and see how they have allowed Laura and Emma to connect with their local wildlife. We will see how species may differ between the city and countryside, as well as behaviours and even interactions between species. It will be interesting to see what we may learn from looking back at fantastic camera trap photos from both locations, as they help us to uncover the secret lives of wildlife. Join us on our adventures to find out what we discovered!

Laura’s Camera Trapping in Dorset

Over the last few years I have become well known online for my camera trap photos exploring the lives of the wildlife living on my family’s land in Dorset. In particular, each spring I keep my camera trap out 24/7, moving it between locations, to capture spring unfurling for my animal neighbours. By doing so I have gained a lot of enjoyment from seeing what I could discover, and have been able to expand my own knowledge of my local wildlife and their hidden lives. To experience some of my previous camera trap adventures, check out my earlier blog posts from 2019 and 2020.

Last year, in 2021, my camera trap did not fail to amaze me and allowed me to continue my adventure exploring and capturing local wildlife. Throughout the spring my camera moved between 6 different locations across 250 acres, varying from badger setts to woodland. Between these locations I captured a total of 13 different species in 2021, which were rabbit, badger, roe deer, fox, partridge, pheasant, grey squirrel, magpie, blackbird, field vole, hare, woodpigeon, and the humble bumblebee.

One of my highlights from 2021 was capturing some new species for my collection, even if my first photos of them were blurry . These included my first hare (or the back of one!), a field vole climbing up cow parsley stalks, and even a bumblebee buzzing about. This is one of the reasons I get excited when checking my camera trap photos, as you never know what you may discover!

Another part of camera trapping in 2021 was getting to further experience animal species living side by side in harmony. For example, at one badger sett I saw a family of badgers sharing their home with rabbits and a family of foxes. Also, at another location, I got to see fox cubs learning about their surroundings and interacting with other species, such as roe deer. Very cool!

One of my favourite parts of 2021 though, has to be all the fox families I discovered! During this year, the most commonly seen species on my camera trap, to my surprise, was the fox (at every location!). In some cases I specifically aimed to capture this species, such as staking out a possible fox den, but in others foxes just happened to be living there or passing through. So by the end of spring, I had discovered 3 litters of fox cubs and a number of frequently used fox trails. What was most special of all was getting to experience fox cubs exploring their natural habitat and interacting with each other without me disturbing them. Magical!

After camera trapping in spring, my camera trap was given a well earned break until November. To round off the year, I staked out my garden to check out the birds that call it home. To find out more, stay tuned for next week’s blog post!

Emma’s Camera Trapping in Manchester

Although the past two years have been strange and sad in many ways, my little rectangle of garden has been a constant source of joy. During the first lockdown I started to spend a lot more time in the garden, which made me curious about the lives of the insects, birds, squirrels and foxes that also call our garden their home. So, in December 2020, I got my first wildlife camera!

The first time I left my camera out overnight, I was delighted to have captured a variety of animals including squirrels, the neighbour’s cat and a fox. It’s far from unusual to spot a fox late at night in my area, but something about seeing a fox going about its usually secret business made this sighting feel special. “I got a fox!” I yelled excitedly down the stairs. From that point onwards, I had caught the camera trapping bug.

Camera trapping has allowed me to get to know the unique personalities of our garden visitors, and also to see how their behaviour towards us changed over time. Our lovely Mrs Blackbird used to wait until we’d gone back inside before she’d sneak up the side of the garden to eat her evening plate of mealworms, but now she feels brave enough to hop around the empty plate chirping indignantly until someone gets the message. We also realised that Mr and Mrs Blackbird would always come for their dinner one at a time, and would only eat half the plate each! Now that’s true love.

My most exciting capture came on an equally exciting day. On the morning of the day I was due to get my Professional level ACA results, I checked my camera and was amazed to see that a badger had stopped by for a drink! The badger must have brought good luck with him, as thankfully I passed the exams. I was also delighted to see a hedgehog wandering through my boyfriend’s garden one night. We named him Podge, and for a while he was an extremely cute regular visitor. Finally, I can’t talk about camera trapping without mentioning my love for our magpies, who have kept us well entertained all year swaggering around the garden and stealing all the snacks we put out!

One thing I’ve learned from my experience camera trapping this year is that although cities may be full of people, we have a huge variety of wildlife roaming around just outside our front doors. I hope that more people will feel inspired to get to know the wild visitors passing through their streets and gardens, and even leave out some food and water to make them feel welcome!

The Wonders of Camera Trapping

Camera trapping is a learning experience and an eye-opening adventure, providing an unedited and up-close view of the more secretive lives of our wild neighbours. For Laura, camera trapping in 2021 continued to expand her record and understanding of the animals that call her local area home. Moving forward she would like to begin collecting videos of her local wildlife and buy a new camera trap to expand her camera trapping efforts.

Giving nature a home is something every one of us can do. For Emma, camera trapping taught her that even a small green space in an urban landscape can support a huge variety of wildlife; bees, badgers, woodpeckers, nuthatches, squirrels, hedgehogs and many more! In 2022, Emma wants to make her garden a haven for wildlife, and hopefully capture a frog moving into the frog pond she and her mum built.

At a time when nature is struggling most, it is important for us all to do our bit. Sometimes it is difficult to know how, but if you can understand your local patch better, this can become a lot easier. Using a camera trap is a great and easy way to do this, allowing you to create that connection with your local wildlife, however big or small. If you would like to know more or are inspired to try it out yourself, check out Laura’s blog post about ‘How to… Use and Make the Most of a Camera Trap‘.

Wildlife Photos for 2021

Last year was an unusual one for us all, as we got used to a new reality, but for me it was also a year of colour, amazing wildlife, and fabulous adventures. I learnt alot and was able to continue to grow as a person, which includes my skill in wildlife photography and passion for communicating nature with you all. To celebrate, here’s a collection of my nature photos spanning 2021, capturing a range of themes, species and stories, and holding a feel good factor. Enjoy!

January

I began my year taking advantage of frosty mornings to capture the birds relying on our garden during the winter. Here a starling looking magnificent in its speckled plumage.

February

In 2021 I made it my mission to take my first up close photos of snowdrops. I enjoyed the challenge, brightening up a gloomier start to my year.

March

As the first signs of spring began to arrive, my focus turned to the ground and colourful spring flowers. Here a celandine peaks out its sunshine head from a thick cluster of green leaves.

April

As spring burst into life, my focus turned to the animal species now becoming active in the rural landscape. Here is a relaxed hare (and pheasant) that I ended up spending a sunny afternoon watching feed on this hillside.
Each year grey wagtails are becoming a more and more frequent sight on my family’s farmland. We now have a soft spot for them as they brighten gloomy winter days and add a flash of colour in spring sunshine.

May

In 2021 I bought my very first macro lens which I was very excited about. It was great fun to head out with no set challenge, and just see what I could find!

June

Last year was definitely the year of butterflies for me. I had alot of fun expanding my knowledge of species and getting to see an increasing number living on my family’s land, such as this meadow brown.

July

A series of photos that I took of this ladybird became some of my favourites for myself and my family in 2021!
Another one of my 2021 favourites, a spectacular marbled white!

August

There’s something special about a sunrise over water with pinks, oranges and yellows streaked across the sky like a watercolour.

September

One of my favourite places to be is between two ears exploring the countryside. Here I also had the golden glow of a setting autumn sun to make my ride even more magical.

October

Autumn has some of the best sunsets, with everyday promising something different. Here an oak tree holds on to its leaves as autumn continues its advance through the landscape.

November

A magical part of late autumn is seeing the sun rise over dewy fields covered in a blanket of wafting spiders’ webs. These are produced by thousands of small spiders active before winter arrives.

December

To round off the year, one of my wildlife activities was to plant some new fruiting trees and shrubs down in my family’s conservation field (here a crab apple). Tree planting is definitely a rewarding activity at this time of year!

Here’s to new adventures in 2022!

Rural Dorset vs. Urban Manchester: Autumnal Plants and Fungi

Series in collaboration with guest writer Emma Rogan

Autumn is a time of plenty, painted with fantastic colours, such as leaves changing, berries and nuts adorning unveiling branches, and the emergence of marvellous mushrooms. Wherever you go during this time, autumn may be moving at a different pace, but the vein of change runs throughout. In Dorset, autumn begins with the first blackberries in August, the start of the migration of birds to warmer climes, and the beginning of a bite in the early morning. In Manchester these signs can also be found, but the change in season is more easily spotted by the increasing carpet of amber leaves on the pavement. For nature, this time of bounty and activity foreshadows the days of dormancy to come.

Last time in Rural vs. Urban, Dorset-born naturalist Laura was joined by Manchester-born wildlife enthusiast and friend Emma, to explore the magical minibeasts that could be found in their local patches. From grasshoppers to froghoppers, both Laura and Emma were amazed by the variety of species they found in such a short space of time! No experts on minibeasts, just enthusiastic adults, their eyes were opened to this miniature world by slowing down and focussing on the smaller things. In this way, we can gain a lot, from escapism to inspiration.

In this next instalment of Rural vs. Urban, we move into autumn with Laura and Emma exploring their home areas to see in the change of the seasons. As colours change and leaves fall, what will location and season mean for the plant and fungi life observed? What treasures will be discovered as we go back to the golden days of autumn?

Laura’s Plants and Fungi in the Countryside

This year autumn could be felt in cold mornings and stormy weather, but did not start showing its true face until October. I first took in the change of the season with a walk to my local woods on the 6th October, seeing the ruby red gleam of Hawthorn berries and a spectacular sunset of chilly blues and pinks. I was finally inspired explore all that autumn had to offer.

So, on the next day, I ventured out into my family’s land to take in all that nature had to offer, as autumn made its slow decline towards putting the landscape to sleep. Leaves were yet to start falling on this day, other than being ripped from their branches in strong winds, but were beginning to show a change in colour. Purples, reds, yellows, oranges, browns, and also the spectacular pink of Spindle leaves. By far the most common trees to be found in my local area though, are Pedunculate Oak, Field Maple, Hazel, Blackthorn, Elder, and Hawthorn; Oaks being a personal favourite.

The warm weather this autumn has meant that it has felt even slower in its start. So it was not surprising on my walk to find a variety of flowers still out, ranging from Herb Robert and Wild Marjoram to Meadow Cranesbill and Rough Hawkbit. With their presence at least, they will have provided an extended food source for wildlife that were yet to hide for the winter, for example Small Tortoiseshell Butterflies that were still on the wing. They also added colour to the magnificent display of nature’s bounty this autumn, which included the rich reds of Rose hips and the deep blues of sloes.

The warm and damp weather also provided the perfect conditions for fruiting fungi, an area where my knowledge is yet to fledge. Two species I did learn on my exploration though, were the pale, peeling Shaggy Inkcap and the unusual hulking forms of Bracket fungus, possibly Southern. Looking for fungi showed me that every day is a learning day and that our knowledge is ever expanding!

To round off my autumn adventure, I picked some apples from our apple trees to make a family favourite, an apple cake. The cake was simple to make, but went down a treat!

Emma’s Urban Plants and Fungi Adventure

For me, no time of the year evokes a feeling of new beginnings more than September. Perhaps it’s a throwback to when September meant the start of a new school year, but the changing of the season always lifts my spirits. Autumn is the season of hot chocolate, curling up with a book, re-watching Gilmore Girls for the fourth (okay, sixth…) time, and wrapping up warm to head out for a walk in the crisp autumn sun! Which, on September 26th, is exactly what me and my partner did.

Our first stop, as usual, was the beloved Parsonage Gardens in Didsbury. This beautiful walled garden provides a home for an amazing variety of trees, looked after by a dedicated team of volunteers. My favourite is the old mulberry tree at the entrance to the gardens, but we also found a corkscrew hazel, a yew tree with bright red berries, some bamboo, a sargent’s rowan tree, a Chinese dogwood, and some ferns! I love ferns because of how ancient they are. With a fossil record dating back to the middle Devonian (383-393 million years ago) they are one of the oldest groups of plants on Earth. A piece of ancient history on our doorstep!

As we walked down the hill to Fletcher Moss Gardens, we passed the Church of St James on Stenner Lane. St James is the second oldest church in Manchester, dating back to 1275. I paused for a moment to admire the ivy spilling over the walls surrounding the church garden, before continuing on. The species we encountered as we wandered through Fletcher Moss ranged from the small (forget-me-nots) to the large (silver birch). We also found another rowan tree, the bane of witches! Rowan has an illustrious history in British folklore as red was considered the best colour for fighting evil, so it was planted by houses so that it’s red berries could protect the occupants from witches.

Our walk took us further into Stenner Woods, where we were on the lookout for fungi. This is not my area of expertise, but I’ve done my best to identify what we found! Growing on the side of a fallen log was a small mushroom which I think is a type of inkcap, and on top of another log was a large, flat mushroom with a white underside which I think is a giant polypore. Like Laura I spotted some bracket fungus, although the fungus looked to be past it’s best so I was not sure of the species! While searching through the woodland for fungi, I also came across an abandoned spider’s web adorned with raindrops which looked like crystals.

We ended our plant and fungi hunt by walking through the iconic poplar grove which leads from the river back to Stenner Lane. I had a lovely time on my autumn adventure, but I think I need to brush up on my fungus identification skills!

Autumnal Plants and Fungi

Autumn is usually defined as the season between summer and winter when leaves change colour and fall, the weather becomes cooler, and a time of full maturity is reached, such as crops becoming ripe. Autumn is so much more than this though, with it often being a favourite time of year for many, encapsulated in a feeling of cosiness, plentifulness and change. For Laura at this time of year, the sunsets are spectacular, the nights full of starry skies, and surroundings full of natural food on offer. For Emma, frost sparkles on bright leaves, the morning air becomes crisp, and the smell of hot chocolate is a welcome aroma.

This season is also a time for plants and fungi to reach the ends of their annual cycle and go out with a bang. As Laura and Emma found, autumn is a vibrant season before winter’s slumber descends on the landscape. It was interesting to see some variation between the two locations though, such as in Manchester more exotic species thrive and autumn marches forward earlier than in Dorset. This would be due to the naturally milder climate found in an urban setting, but temperatures tending to be colder in the North-West than the balmier South-West.

Still there were treasures to be found in both locations, with plants and fungi taking centre stage. Colourful, bountiful and spectacular, such species capture the imagination and provide a lifeline in nature. Engulfed in the cold and storminess of winter, we can now look back on the golden glow of autumn days with a smile, before we begin to look forward to the return of new life once again.

Rural Dorset vs. Urban Manchester: Magical Minibeasts

Series in collaboration with guest writer Emma Rogan

Rolling green hills, trees sprawling across the landscape, hedgerows thick with plant and animal life, flowers growing up here and there, and rivers flowing through it all. The light of an orange sunset cast out over the city by a soaring glass tower block, the lonely lights of a crane against an evening sky, busy streets lit up for Christmas filled with music and laughter. Everyone’s idea of idyll varies, but for nature any landscape could provide a home. Let us explore.

Growing up within her family’s 250 acres of land, for naturalist Laura, rural Dorset is home. In what may be called the ‘middle of nowhere’ for an urban adventurer, Laura grew up alongside wildlife from barn owls and hares to grass snakes, damselflies, and oak trees. With parents that nurtured her to take an interest from a young age in looking after the wildlife they saw on their doorstep, this landscape has made her the conservationist and scientist she is today. Now her home provides inspiration for her photography and writing, including her Laura’s Wild World blog. Check out her blog here.

Guest for this series and wildlife enthusiast, Emma grew up in Manchester and will always be a city girl at heart. As a child she loved to watch nature documentaries and daydreamed about faraway places, but over time she fell in love with the wildlife that also calls Manchester its home. Emma has spent the past year documenting the lives of the insects, birds, squirrels and foxes that stop by her little rectangle of garden, and exploring the local woods alongside the River Mersey with her mum. Check out her page here.

In this brand new blog series, we take a look at the local wildlife that can be found in two very different home locations. Though at a contrast with each other, we will see how nature can make its home in both rural and urban landscapes, and the wealth of life that can be explored on anyone’s doorstep. At a time when it is so important that we protect and conserve the natural environment around us, let us inspire you as we take an adventure to explore a smaller side to nature.

Laura’s Countryside Minibeasts

Today was a warm and breezy day, perfect for walking through my family’s Dorset farmland in just a T-shirt and shorts. It was the kind of day though when you could feel the first breath of autumn in the air, kept at bay by the bleaching late-August sun. Pushing the cooler days to come to the back of my mind, I set out to try to see what smaller creatures I could find out in nature.

Journeying along tracks, through grass fields, over rivers, through tall maize, past a chalk ridge, and back home to my garden, my quest bore more and more fruits along the way. With every turn I got to experience a colourful and spectacular diversity of butterflies from small coppers to peacocks, got to be serenaded by grasshoppers singing their chirping tune, and to be joined by crane flies lazily hanging in the hazy golden light as I walked along on my own.

As my minibeast list grew, I stopped here and there to take a closer look, such as to gaze at beautifully banded snails hanging from nettles, or to photograph minibeasts, such as the curious looking froghoppers making maize leaves their home. I was loving it! The main highlight of my adventure though, had to be discovering a treasure trove of dragonfly and damselfly species on and around the pond in our conservation field. One minute I would see the golden-brown of an unknown dragonfly fly past me, before catching sight of common blue demoiselles dancing in the air and red-veined darters defending territories over the water. I was amazed at how many beautifully-coloured species I saw in such a short space of time!

When I set out on my minibeast adventure, I was not entirely sure what I would find at this late stage of August. Whatever I thought though, by the end I was having a really great time, seeing some cool minibeasts ranging from busy honey bees enjoying a medley of flowers to many butterflies adorning buddleia bushes like gemstones. It really brought home that you never know what you might find until you open your eyes to the world around you. I am no invertebrate expert, but I was still able to take in all the wonders this mini world had to offer. It was a great break from life, though more importantly, a game changer!

Emma’s Minibeast Hunt in the City

Unbelievably, the afternoon I’d planned to go on my Minibeast Hunt was beautifully warm and sunny with a slight breeze. This is a rarity in Manchester! I gleefully pulled on my walking boots and headed out with my other half to Fletcher Moss, a nearby park and woodland alongside the River Mersey. We spent an hour wandering through the Parsonage Gardens, down to the river (down, down, doooown by the riveeeer – any Baldur’s Gate 3 fans?), and through the woods, making a brief stop for ice cream along the way!

The Old Parsonage and it’s beautiful walled garden was left to the citizens of Manchester by Alderman Fletcher Moss in 1919, and has since become a much-loved community space which is carefully looked after by volunteers. The garden was buzzing with pollinators drawn in by the variety of flowers, the echinops was particularly popular! It’s always lovely to see bees out and about in Manchester, as bees are the symbol of our city.

We then walked down the hill and took a winding path towards the river. The first stop on our riverside walk was Simon Bridge, a green iron bridge across the River Mersey which was gifted to the people of Didsbury by Henry Simon in 1901. Plenty of bees, wasps and hoverflies flew past us as we walked, but our second stop came when we heard what we thought was the singing of a grasshopper! This necessitated ten minutes of searching and more than a few curious glances before we found the little guy sat solemnly on a blade of grass.

As we wandered on, our path took us away from the river and back up into Stenner Woods, a small area of woodland in the original Mersey Valley flood plain. It was at this point that a dragonfly decided to join us! Unfortunately, he wouldn’t stay still long enough for me to take a picture. We also came across a snail clinging to a thistle, and a ladybird nestled between the spines of a teasel, and a very hungry group of mint leaf beetles. Butterflies were noticeably absent, as we spotted only one female meadow brown butterfly during our walk. Our final stop was at a small pond area, where we saw what seemed to be hundreds of pond skaters!

I’ve been fond of bees for quite a few years (I even wrote my dissertation on bees!), but I don’t often take the time to pause and notice the other minibeasts that live in my local area. This minibeast hunt was a great opportunity to challenge myself to look closer, and I felt very lucky to gain a snapshot into the lives of these smallest of animals.

Minibeasts

When people think of animals they usually think of lions, bears or elephants, for example, forgetting the smaller less observed animals in nature. The minibeasts we walk past each day though, can be equally majestic and awe-inspiring. Butterflies in spectacular colours, weird and wonderful froghoppers, or wriggling hard-working earthworms. All play an important role in nature, but tend to go unnoticed and be underappreciated.

On both Emma and Laura’s minibeast adventures though, they found taking the time to focus on the smaller things eye opening. They might live in very different areas, but the green spaces they both have access to show an amazingly similar host of minibeasts. From grasshoppers to dragonflies, amazing minibeasts can be found anywhere. By challenging yourself to look closer at the smaller things in life, you can learn a lot, be provided with inspiration and even experience a moment of distraction and escape. Minibeasts are colourful, unusual, and awe-inspiring, so why not stop and find out what you could discover too?