We are not alone – They’re in the woods!
Laurence Clark of Castle Vision Photographic is a North Wales-based photographer with a passion for wildlife. His work has been featured on the BBC One Show, ITV and many local publications.
Here, Laurence tells us about his experience of an iWild event and his efforts in making a DSLR camera trap…
It’s 9:00am and I’m in Bishop’s Wood near where I live, binoculars raised, staring into the distant darkness obscured by a mass of greened-up branches and twigs. At my side I suddenly sense the presence of a lone dog sniffing at my leg, shortly followed by an elderly but very spritely lady dressed more suitably I thought for running a marathon than walking a dog. Ignoring the dog the best I could, with binoculars still aloft and a large professional wildlife lens hanging from my shoulder, I prepare myself for that friendly but inevitable question, ‘What have you found?’
Well I wished I had seen something impressive to comment on like a beautiful jay or a bullfinch of which there are many here, or perhaps something really exciting like a sparrowhawk darting gracefully between the trees chasing a condemned pigeon or magpie. But no, in what seemed like a moment of stupidity I uttered the words ‘I’m looking for a camera’!
In fact that was true, though it did get a laugh. Let me explain…..
I would certainly say that finding and photographing wildlife demands a certain set of skills and I definitely class experience out in the field as the main one, whether that entails putting in the many hours (more like years) yourself or learning from local experts on a tour for example. Living in North Wales however does make things much easier as there are so many interesting mammals, birds and insects to find here.
When I first moved to Prestatyn it wasn’t long before I began to photograph and film badgers, foxes and indeed hedgehogs in the back garden. It wasn’t that I had seen or heard of any nearby, it was more a case of wanting to discover exactly what had dug a large hole under our garage and more to the point, what had pushed away a very large plant plot which I had without thinking, blocked it up with! I decided to put some old security cameras to use and rigged them up in the said back garden. Low and behold, I had my very first photo of a badger, the first of many photos and videos to come, all caught on infrared camera traps & DSLRs; both still shots and HD video.
If you are lucky enough to have badgers visiting your own back yard, (and you’d be surprised at how common that might be), then the technicalities are simpler. Just get yourself some cheap peanuts (the ones for birds are fine). Occasionally I will put out 2 or 3 slices of bread with peanut butter as well. Don’t put too much out though. It will all get eaten but don’t forget these are wild animals and they shouldn’t get to rely on people feeding them. Badgers can eat up to 200 worms a night so bird nuts or peanut butter is not exactly a natural foodstuff, but it’s not a problem in small doses and can be beneficial supplement.
The next step is to get yourself a wildlife camera trap. This is by far the easiest way to find out what’s visiting your garden. They come in various types and qualities and NatureSpy do sell them directly which supports their work, but whichever one you choose I can assure you it beats staying up into the early hours when most of these creatures are about and you won’t disturb them either. It’s very exciting the next day too, waking up and finding out what’s been spotted and recorded.
Once you have mastered the settings on your trap such as picture quality, intervals between photos and movement sensitivity you can start experimenting in different parts of your garden or in a particular spot where you suspect something may be visiting. They can be easily strapped to a tree or post and the batteries (of which there usually quite a few) will last a long time. The picture will be visible even when taken in complete darkness due to the infra-red sensor and some new camera traps have very high quality images which will look pretty good even when shown on a large TV.
However, the images won’t be quite up to the standard of a DSLR type camera. To get a high quality night time shot takes a little more inventiveness and cost, not only due to the price of the camera but also because a DSLR won’t be able to take clear photos at night without a decent light source. It will also require an automatic trigger system to operate the shutter when a creature appears, unless you want to stay awake all night waiting for a badger to appear that is…
Once you have a bit of experience and knowledge around camera traps and more importantly understand and respect the sensitivity of badgers, the sky’s the limit. Having filmed badgers over a few years now with low level lighting necessary for high quality images and film, I can pretty much say they aren’t too bothered by it. They may be a little wary at first but they return within minutes and easily adapt, especially when there is a little peanut butter to be had! Badgers are far more likely to be disturbed by unusual smells or sounds and I limit the shutter operation to that effect. Video of course is pretty much silent.
Here is a still taken with the above DSLR shutter trigger at approx. 1:30am (while I was fast asleep!)…
And here is a video from 2012 of 2 badgers fighting over some bread….
Back to the woods! The camera trap I was looking for was part of the iWild North Wales project run by NatureSpy. The team for which I volunteered had installed the cameras 2 weeks before in Bishop’s Wood and I was keen to check that they were still securely locked in place and continuing to record whatever we might find. I suspected badgers would be the main performers in front of the cameras as this area is well known for them and evidence of their activity and clear tracks through the undergrowth are there to be seen by anyone.
However, you can never be sure and we were all hoping for the elusive polecat or a pine marten which are now known to exist only a few miles away in Shropshire; the first sighting in England in over a century in fact. That’s not to say it wasn’t a delight to find foxes and badgers here in good numbers and a special treat was this buzzard sitting right in front of the camera!
As a commercial photographer I don’t get a chance to spend a lot of time recording wildlife but when I do I find it extremely satisfying. The challenging nature of it is also thankfully appreciated by many.
Seeing wildlife in the daytime is fascinating enough for most of us but with this great technology and artistry I think it’s wonderful that we are becoming more aware of our neighbours living out there in the undergrowth. I hope we are all beginning to realise that the world we live in is most certainly not the only one.
Find out more about Laurence’s work at Castle Vision Photographic