Camera trapping in the Forest of Dean
This week’s blog is a guest entry from Gareth Jones, who uses camera traps and more to monitor the wildlife where he lives – find out more on his website, trailcamwildlife.co.uk…
My name is Gareth Jones and although born on the edge of London, I now live in the Forest of Dean.
My interest in wildlife was re-awakened around 10 years ago when Badgers were visiting my townhouse near Stroud, Gloucestershire.
All of our bins were being ransacked. I suspected Badgers, but, the neighbours suspected people that had had one or two too many drinks! Whilst a bungee stopped the Badgers from ransacking my curry takeaway leftovers, I was interested to see them. I got a CCTV camera, a cable, a video adapter and iCatcher.
The quality compared to today’s HD cameras was frankly terrible. I thought it was great and I soon started to feed the badgers on my patio and film them.
I moved to the Forest of Dean in 2006. The lady who had lived in the house before us showed me a well-worn path up a bank and said she did not know what had created it. I immediately knew it was a Badger and set up my system to show her.
My wife took pity on me and for my birthday in 2007 bought a StealthCam and so started my love affair with trail cams and camera traps!
I am not sure Amanda knew what she was letting herself in for once I had that first one, but she certainly does now!
The Stealthcam had a trigger time which being kind was slow, being more objective, it was terrible. The C cell batteries only lasted around 2 weeks (I got re-chargeables very quickly!). However, the visible IRs and how Stealthcam used them produced some of the best quality night time video I have seen on a trailcam.
I captured Badgers, foxes and rabbits but my best and most exciting capture was this:
Bushnell Trophy Cam
Next, I bought a Bushnell Trophy Cam. This had 640 x 480 video or 8MP stills and is a lot smaller than the Stealthcam. The batteries lasted for around 6 months and the trigger time was also faster.
The longer battery time allowed me to site the camera somewhere and forget about it for a few weeks, which allowed the animals to become used to it. It was a pretty reliable camera. The quality of the video clips though was not as good as the Stealthcam, although you didn’t need a badger to sit down and have a picnic to trigger it either!
I started buying more and more cameras in my quest to find the best camera I could get my hands on. Trailcams were still virtually unheard of in the UK and poo poo’d by lots of “wildlife” people.
What the trailcams allowed me to do, then and now, is stake out a site and capture the wildlife visiting without the time needed to do it “manually”. I would never have seen the wildlife around this beautiful area without them.
Furthering my quest, I imported a Reconyx PC900 (which is a trailcam you cannot get in this country). My advice however is not to do this as you get stung for import duty and VAT. A cost effective camera trap suddenly became a lot more expensive, however it is a great camera!
Features-wise, it does not do video but the trigger is fast and accurate.
It has a weird detection circuit but once you have that sussed, for your target species, you will get a shot!
The Reconyx is also known for being well built and being able to withstand any weather thrown at it.
I have tried some other manufacturers too; for example the Uway NX80, which had great daytime video. Unfortunately, it hardly ever worked.
One of my mantras is “you can have the best video quality in the world, but, if it does not capture the animals it is pointless”. This is the closest I got to capturing any wildlife with the Uway!
I also use a genuine Ltl Acorn. I like it for the quality of its daytime video and trigger speed. It can also send an email or MMS when triggered. Around here it’s very rare, even with a great aerial, to get a signal good enough for that. It means that I tend not to use it which is a waste really.
To give you an idea, here is a muntjac visiting our garden;
I now mainly use Bushnells. I have 4 Bushnell HDs deployed around various parts of the area and I also lend some out.
What I like about the Bushnells is that they are very reliable. I have had them out in all weathers, covered in snow for months and going underwater in floods.
The most I have had to do is bring the flooded one home and dry it out so that it wouldn’t go misty in the mornings. I have had a couple that have had problems, but I really do give them some stick!
There are things that the Bushnell could do better, especially the night vision. I always want faster trigger speed but the clarity in good light is superb. I know they are working on its weaknesses and you should keep your eyes peeled this Autumn for enhancements!
One of my favourite Bushnell videos;
Homebrew Camera Trap
I am currently testing a home built Camera Trap that uses a DSLR for pictures. You will have to wait and see the results of this on my twitter and my website!
I still use CCTV style cameras to capture wildlife around our garden. I am working hard to continually improve the quality. I am now using HD IP cameras and custom built lighting to get the best pictures possible.
This next clip of a kestrel was taken with an analogue camera last year. The female was not a very good mum and would not sit on the eggs or even stay in the box. What is remarkable is that the dad was amazing and in this case presented voles, wrapping them around the egg as if to say “look, if you sit on my egg, I will provide for you!”
I updated the camera in the kestrel box this year. Unfortunately the kestrels did not nest. However, to show the quality of the update, have a look at this;
The kestrel box has additional lighting, which is not used in the clip above. This additional lighting makes the day time footage fantastic.
We were lucky to have breeding Tawnies this year, their box has an analogue camera which I will be updating shortly with a twist or two….
The final CCTV style camera I will show you is our Horseshoe Bat Cam! This clip shows a lesser horseshoe and we also have visits from a greater too. Note, if you are filming bats you do need to make sure you are not breaking the law by disturbing them. Natural England are very good at advising and don’t be afraid to ask them. It is better to ask than disturb the bats or any wildlife and also better than a large fine or a trip to court…
Wildlife Watching with Cameras
Here is my advice about watching wildlife with cameras; Yes, children and adults should get out seeing wildlife in the wild. I have seen animals, interactions and behaviours on my trailcams that even professional camera people have not seen through the use of technology. Our understanding of the natural world is much enhanced by cameras. When NatureSpy capture footage of the Yorkshire pine marten it will be 100% proof there is one there, not rumour or “I think I saw” and there are hundreds of projects like that going on. The first time anyone had 100% proof there were otters on our local river was when I caught them on my trailcam.
When it comes to equipment, ask questions; there are lots of people on the internet and especially twitter. Go to the ones your respect and have good footage and ask questions. The people I would recommend, firstly myself (Gareth Jones), Kate MacRae, and NatureSpy all will answer any questions the best we can, if you ask us.
Buy the best you can afford; I cannot count the number of times I have bought something to regret not waiting a little longer and spending slightly more to actually get results I am pleased with rather than being disappointed.
Most of all watch, enjoy and learn from the footage and then care. If we care, we will protect our wildlife from the many challenges it has.
One final video to end on a lighter note. I can only imagine it thought the camera was a hole in the tree!
By Gareth Jones – @tigergaret and www.trailcamwildlife.co.uk
Gareth also features on NatureSpy’s ‘Top camera trappers to follow on Twitter‘ – view the full list here.