Exploring With My Camera Trap Spring 2021

After I click open the file on my camera trap, I press next through a male pheasant strutting his stuff and a female roe deer passing through, until a photo makes me stop. There towards the back of the shot are two small brown shapes. I move through the rest of the photos as day passes into night, and watch as these two rough and tumble through the photos, exploring, playing and watching their wild neighbours go past, ending with one sitting stock still in front of the camera. My camera trap had successfully found my first litter of fox cubs of the year!

The last few years I have become known for my exploration of my family’s farm in Dorset using a camera trap. My camera trap allows me to delve into the lives of my wild neighbours without intrusion or disturbance of their natural behaviour, and to use my photos to inspire others to open their eyes and be motivated to conserve our local wildlife. It is always a rollercoaster of emotions, never knowing what my camera trap might find, but in the end it is a very rewarding experience. If you are interested in getting your own camera trap or knowing how to make the most of your own, check out my ‘How to… Use and Make the Most of a Camera Trap’ guide for some more information.

My camera trap has been a very useful tool for me over the last few years, so since 2019 I have spent my spring seasons moving my camera trap around different sites across 250 acres of farmland, taking in different species and behaviour. In 2019, I saw 12 species of birds and mammals, including families of badgers and a family of three fox cubs. In 2020, my camera trapping got even more interesting, with badger cubs, a couple of litters of fox cubs, and lots of roe deer sightings. The most enjoyable shots are always the most unexpected though, despite from time to time getting a photo bomber or two, for example in the form of our farm cat!

This spring I have been out and about once again on the farm with my camera trap. This year I selected six different sites across our land, with the hope of capturing some of the normal sights, along with some new ones. As the spring has now come to an end, activity has dropped across these sites, and thus it is time to see how spring has been captured by my camera trap this year.

Camera Trapping Spring 2021

Quarry Field Badger Sett

My first camera trapping site this year was an active badger sett to the east of my family’s land. It sits between a silage field and a maize field in a wide and thick hedgerow, and is a great crossroads for animals passing through. I have used this site in previous years for camera trapping, with varying success, such as last year’s highlights of badger cubs and a lively, lone fox cub.

This year I set my camera trap up at the sett for a week (3rd-10th April), moving the position and angle every other day to increase my chances of capturing wildlife. It paid off as I had a successful first week, with rabbits, roe deer, badgers, and a fox.

Due to seeing a lone fox cub at this site last year, the presence of an adult fox at the sett once again led me to return with my camera trap seven weeks later for another week (27th May-1st June). My hunch paid off as my camera trap returned photos of two fox cubs playing, living alongside a badger family, and being fed by a parent.

Gill Hill Copse

For my next site, I set my camera trap up within a copse surrounded by a cow grazing field west of the Quarry Field badger sett. During early spring this is a great site to capture wildlife moving through the landscape as the copse is a great stopping place. I have used this site before, and last year I saw species, such as roe deer and foxes.

This year I used my camera in the copse for just one week (11th-18th April), but moved its position within the copse every couple of days. I captured photos of a territorial male pheasant, an adult badger, a grey squirrel, an adult fox, and a rather comical sequence of photos of two female roe deer being spied on by a hiding male. As vegetation in the copse grows up and spring progresses, camera trapping success decreases at this site, but it was nice to see some life early on this spring.

Dorset County Council Wood

For my third site, I set my camera trap within a small, young wood that can be found at the centre of my family’s land, bordered by a road and a meadow. I have used this wood before, with some positive sightings in 2019 of foxes and badgers passing through.

This year I tried the wood again for a couple of days (19th-24th April), with some overall disappointing results. A male pheasant and magpie were seen, with an adult fox being seen twice, but overall the wood was quiet, reflecting a lack of diversity evident in this unmanaged woodland. I did not return to the wood again during this spring as a result.

Badger Field Sett

For my fourth camera trapping site, I returned to an active badger sett towards the centre of my family’s land. The sett is bordered by grazing land on both sides, and is set within a wide, thick hedge, extending out into the field on its east side. Last year I used my camera trap to look within the sett and to the sett entrances on either side, and saw adult badgers, badger cubs, and an adult fox. This was unsurprising as the sett is a thriving mixed site for badgers, foxes and rabbits alike.

This year I positioned my camera trap first on the western side of the sett (25th-27th April), before positioning it directly within the area above the sett (4th-7th May). Pointing my camera trap at the animal track running along the side of the sett, I captured an adult badger, adult fox, and my first hare! Above the sett, my camera trap was more active, capturing lots of badger activity, woodpigeons, blackbirds, and red-legged partridges, and a surprising sighting of a field vole climbing vegetation. It was a lovely sequence of photos!

Badger Alley

For my fifth site, I chose to return to one of my favourite locations, the familiarly known Badger Alley. Badger Alley is an enclosed footpath that has dug out animal holes along half of its length, split into two old badger setts. In 2019 this was a super site for seeing badgers wondering its length, but last year it was obvious that wildlife numbers had declined, badgers in particular.

This year I spent two stints setting up my camera trap along Badger Alley. Firstly, I spent five days with my camera trap trained on the non-active lower sett, changing the camera’s position after two days (10th-14th May). Amongst photos of a female roe deer and a displaying male pheasant, I got lots of really lovely photos of two fox cubs playing and exploring their world.

I then returned to Badger Alley in June, moving my camera from the non-active lower sett (5th-11th June) to the sett further up (11th-14th June). By now my camera trap found that the family of foxes had moved on, with only the female and new male roe deer appearing at the lower sett. What was really sad, was finding that Badger Alley has now been fully abandoned by badgers, with the higher sett now being home to just rabbits. A slightly disappointing end to my camera trap’s time at Badger Alley!

Monkwood

To finish camera trapping during the spring season, I took a bet on a site where there was a possibility of finding another litter of fox cubs. This site was a hedge in the middle of cow grazing land, where I had not previously camera trapped before. I chose to set my camera trap up on a fence post pointing along the hedgeline where I had found holes into the hedge, and left my camera for a couple of days (14th-16th June).

On retrieving my camera trap, I was excited to find that my instincts had been right and my camera trap had shot photos of two fox cubs and an adult. It was a lovely end to my spring camera trapping season!

Spring Countryside Camera Trapping 2020

Through the stillness of an early morning mist, a shape appears, carefully stepping through the short undergrowth. She weaves through the trees, stopping to pick and browse as she goes. Then she stops, motionless. Ears pricked she listens out into the gloom, something catching her attention. Magnificent silhouette, the more impressive for her swollen belly, a sign of new life to come. Here she is captured, a glimpse of a world unknown, forever immortalised in a frame.

Camera traps provide a window into another world, one that is often unseen and unknown. As technology improves and efforts increase, humans are now capturing the natural world in increasing detail, observing new behaviours, and keeping track of wildlife that would otherwise be difficult to monitor. Camera traps also provide us as individuals with the opportunity to open our eyes to the world that lies outside our doors. To find out more about camera traps, how to use them, and for some inspiration, check out my ‘How to… Use and Make the Most of a Camera Trap’ post.

Since I got my camera trap a few years ago, it has become an important way for me to explore the hidden world around me. In particular, during spring 2019, I spent 10 weeks conducting camera trap surveys across 5 sites on my family’s land in Dorset. It was a lot of fun to see what species I could detect and in what numbers, whilst seeing how things changed over a period of time. For my results, check out my ‘Spring Countryside Camera Trap Surveys’ post on my blog.

Camera Trapping 2020

This year, despite COVID-19 leading to a national lockdown, I tried to utilise the time I got to spend outside to get my camera trap out as much as possible. The result was some successful and really enjoyable camera trap experiences throughout the spring, which helped to keep me going. On my adventures, I chose to focus on a mixture of 5 new and old sites, including Badger setts, a footpath, a Sycamore copse and a meadow. It was great to once again monitor the animal populations on our farm, experience new life, and to see if something interesting might turn up!

Highlights

The real stars of my camera trapping this spring just happened to be our British large mammals. In particular some of my highlights involved fantastic sightings of charismatic Badgers. One of my favourites was capturing 2 cubs playing and fighting outside the entrance of a sett at all times of day in April, with a parent often popping in to check on them. I also had some great luck at another sett in June, where my camera trap captured 2 Badger cubs interacting with each other in their natural habitat, in an open area within a hedge. It was really great to see!

This year Foxes were also popular sights on my camera trap. These ranged from adults and cubs at their dens to being captured on the move, giving me a new insight into their lives and interactions. Roe Deer were also a popular sight on my camera trap as they moved through their habitat and spent time foraging, with does and bucks often being seen separately at these same locations. All wildlife are fantastic to be able to experience in this way though!

When Things Go Wrong!

With the highs of camera trapping, there are always bound to be some lows. With many successful days camera trapping this year, my low came in the form of one project not quite going to plan! After sightings of a new fox den at the border of a hay meadow, I set out to try and get photos of this family. Over the course of two weeks I threw all my ideas and efforts at achieving my goal, but over and over again the cubs alluded me. Instead my camera seemed to spend more time capturing the local Roe deer population in this particular location! Here though are some of the glimpses I did catch of this elusive family:

The Best Bit!

There is always going to be one highlight that stands out from a season camera trapping. For me this year my best bit came in the form of a surprise. Whilst having my camera trap out on an active Badger sett for a week in May and then in June, my camera, amongst many photos of Badgers and their cubs, caught some unexpected shots of a lone Fox cub. In my photos, most days the cub would spend its time sleeping and playing alone in the central area of a hedge above a Badger sett. Sometimes it also made an entrance at night, but it was always seen alone. It was an interesting insight into this cub’s more unusual world.

As the natural world now begins to descend into a deep slumber, get out there now and explore, allowing your surroundings to give you strength, whilst leaving nothing but footprints.

How to…Use and Make the Most of a Camera Trap

There is nothing like the exhilaration of camera trapping. Setting up the camera trap/trail camera in a golden location, waiting with anticipation for the camera check day, and riding a rollercoaster when capturing something totally unexpected. Camera trapping is one highly addictive activity!

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So why is camera trapping so popular? Well, camera traps allow us to non-invasively open up a normally unseen world. This is a thrilling thing to be able to do, giving us the addictive ability to observe wildlife up close and personal without disturbance. In this way, camera traps can be used as an important tool to identify the presence or absence of species, monitor animal populations and record interesting behaviour.

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At home on my family’s farm, I use my camera trap to carry out surveys across our land, to find out what wildlife is present, how abundant these species are, and to experience new life in spring in all its glory. However you choose to use your camera trap, I can only say for you to have lots of fun and adventures whilst doing it!

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Buying a camera trap

So where do you start if you do not already own a camera trap? Well all off-the-shelf camera traps have similar components and operate on the same principles: a digital camera connected to an infrared sensor that “sees” warm moving objects. Camera traps typically range from £30 to £1000, meaning there is a lot of choice out there. To find the camera trap that is right for you though, you should consider these key questions:

  • How much are you willing to spend?
  • What are you going to be wanting to use it for?
  • Where are you going to be using it?
  • Do you want to use it during the daytime, night-time (black and white or colour) or both?
  • Do you want to take photos, videos or both?
  • Will you want increased capabilities, such as wireless, geo-tagging or higher detection capabilities?

The camera trap I use is a simple Bushnell model that I bought many years ago now for about £120.

How to use a camera trap to get the best from it

Camera traps have a lot of potential as they can remain operational 24/7 and can be left in the field for long periods of time. To increase your chance of camera trap success though, you need to set it up properly to maximise animal detection. Here are some handy tips to get you started:

  1. Visit your chosen site before setting up your camera trap to make sure it is the best site possible.16_04_20_Farm_Badger_Alley_5
  2. Do not forget to make sure your camera has another battery life and SD card room each time you set it up.
  3. Carefully select where to mount your camera trap, such as a sturdy tree or post, to make sure your camera will be supported and  positioned to take in your chosen field of view.Detection zone
  4. Consider the height of the animal(s) you are trying to capture to increase detection and inclusion in the frame. For the best result, position your camera trap so it sits just below the target’s shoulder height.Camera Height
  5. Camera angle is as important as height when positioning the camera trap. For best result and to increase the detection range, you want the camera trap to aim horizontally at the subject. A stick is a great way to get a better angle for your camera. Camera angle
  6. Think about where you want the animal to be positioned in the frame. Larger animals are easier to detect so will be detected at longer ranges compared to smaller ones, and animals walking across the camera trap’s field of view will be more easily detected compared to walking towards it.Animal Position
  7. Try to reduce the number of false triggers by trimming back vegetation that could trigger the camera if moving in the wind. Do not remove enough to disturb your intended subjects though!
  8. And always do your research! The more you know about a site or species, the more likely you will get results.

Inspiration for camera trap sites and uses

Over the few years I have owned my own camera trap, I have used it for a number of different purposes and in a variety of locations. Here are some examples of my own work to help inspire you:

  • Abroad – In 2017, I was lucky enough to spend 2 weeks in Costa Rica on a field course for my Bachelor’s degree, and so I decided to take my camera trap along with me. This allowed me to get some cool sightings of some interesting wildlife

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  • Badger setts – A popular choice for a camera trap site is at a badger sett. With 3 established badger setts on my family’s land, I have previously had all sorts of interesting results by observing setts in this way. In particular, it has always been great to see how different species cohabit such locations.

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  • Paths – A great place I have found to put my camera trap is on an enclosed footpath on our land. This is because the path, fondly known as Badger Alley, is bordered either side by hedges, is in the vicinity of used and disused badger setts, and is frequently used by wildlife but infrequently by humans. Always be aware of how safe a camera trap may be on footpaths though!

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Garden – One of my all time favourite projects I used my camera trap for, was to get photos of our own special garden visitor in October 2018. I love getting to see the wildlife that is truly on our doorstep!

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  • Woodland – I have previously found that a woodland can be an interesting place to capture wildlife. The result can often be unexpected or interesting, with less of an idea of what might turn up.

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Animal trail – Another great way to try and capture the wildlife that is in your local area is to find and set up your camera trap on a well used animal trail. It is interesting to find out what animals are actually making those tracks!

Specific animals – Often when camera trapping, you want to capture a specific animal, which leads to research and setting up the camera trap in a position where this animal has been sighted. Relating to this, my other favourite camera trap project has been to capture fox cubs above ground and to observe their behaviour. This has resulted in many cute photos over the years!

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Now it’s your turn! Even if you do not own/want to own a camera trap, there are always ways around it, for example why don’t you see if you can borrow one from somewhere or someone.

Though camera trapping does not always go to plan, the results can be truly satisfying. Time to see what you can find!

For more camera trap action, check out my blog post from last year called: Spring Countryside Camera Trap Surveys

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.