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 Trap Surveys

M2E43L126-126R396B311

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!

M2E1L0-3R350B300

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

 

M2E52L162-162R389B314

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.