Saturday 20 April 2024

An update from OtterCam

The dog otter turns up regularly on the cameras, usually at night and usually just hurrying by. This visit was very early in the morning.  The camera found enough light to work in daylight colour mode, but only just, so the image quality isn't very good.  The otter was very aware of something up the bank, perhaps a fox or a badger, although I just wonder if it might have been the other otters because I think I can hear a faint squeak from a cub.  If so, they didn't show on any of the cameras.  Eventually he decided it wasn't something to worry about and swam off.

Last weekend there was another daytime recording, this time of two otters.  The likely thing is that these are the mother and one cub and the other stayed out of view.  I did wonder if it might be the two cubs out on their own but they aren't calling and are still a bit young to leave their mother.

Ten minutes later one of the cubs turned up on its own and was calling, so I think it must have got left behind.

Then a couple of nights ago the family went by all together.  Otter cubs are said to stay with their mother for "about a year".  I think these are nine months old so they'll probably be around for a few weeks yet.

Tuesday 16 April 2024

A siskin spring

After a waxwing winter this is a siskin spring.  I usually see a few of these beautiful finches each year but the last few weeks have been exceptional.  My BTO GardenBirdWatch (GBW) records show the first arrived in the first week of January and numbers built up to 22 by the end of March.  The bird in the photo above had the misfortune to bang his head on the kitchen window but he seemed to make a full recovery.

I have two six port seed feeders, amongst others, but never quite managed a photo with six siskins in one go - there's always a hungry goldfinch spoiling the show.  

I am not the only one to have seen a lot of siskins this year.  The BTO GBW website shows records for the North East.  This is the number of gardens seeing siskins - twice as many as average.

And this is the number per garden, four times higher than average.

My impression that this is a particularly good year for siskins is backed up by this graph showing data from the last 25 years.

I read that the probable explanation for the influx is the persistent wet weather.  Sitka spruce pine cones open in dry weather but remain closed when it is wet so the siskins run short of food and turn to gardens instead.  They mostly live and breed in the conifer forests in Northumberland so I expect they will disappear shortly.

Wednesday 10 April 2024

News from the weasel wall

Because the trail cameras in the camera boxes have been seeing weasels and stoats fairly regularly I set up a camera to watch the newly extended weasel wall.  And on the first day there was a stoat.

The camera in this position was picking up lots of false triggers (it turned out to be a fault in a new camera) so I moved it to the other side.  This video shows a male weasel, which was followed 90 minutes later by a male stoat.

Next time it was the stoat again.  It seems to enjoy the safety of the wall.

Since then both the stoat and the weasel have appeared every few days and from their size I think both animals are male.  Both will have large territories and be using the wall as one of several bases around their patch.

I would prefer a female as that would increase the chance of seeing youngsters later in the year (weasels and stoats lead solitary lives so I think it is unlikely males and females would both be in the wall).  Both stoats and weasels have their young about now so it is unlikely there is a litter in the wall just now.  Females of both species move their kits to new nests fairly frequently so I live in hope.  Finally, here's a video of (a weasel) coming and (a stoat) going.  The weasel activity was all within a minute but I have edited out the gaps where it was inside the wall.

Thursday 4 April 2024

OtterCam in March

The dog otter has been a regular on the cameras, coming by at least every couple of nights, always in the dark.  This is a favourite scent-marking spot.

The cameras didn't see any sign of the mother and cubs for two or three weeks after my last otter post but they have been back regularly in recent days.  The cubs are probably 8-9 months old and are more or less full grown.  In the next video the mother brought the cubs down for a sniff around but they then came back up the bank.

The dog otter and the others don't interact (on the cameras at least) but they keep track of each other by scent marking.  The next time 
the dog otter came down the bank and left his scent mark before slipping into the water.  The female followed a couple of hours later with one cub lagging behind as usual.  The first cub was interested in the scent but the others not so.

And here are two more example of similar activity at the same spot.

Otters are very tolerant of my cameras, usually ignoring them but this time the dog came over to check it was mine, as did his cousin.

Finally a couple of recent daytime sightings of the otter family but in not very good light.

Friday 29 March 2024

News from WeaselCam

I have rabbits in the garden, which is a problem as they tend to eat everything and I am worried they will eat the meadow.  Some are small(ish) so I set a trap, baited with carrot, hoping to catch one.  When I looked through the kitchen window the next morning I could see the trap was empty but as I watched a weasel appeared.  It went through the camera box and as it emerged I was willing it not to go into the rabbit trap.  But being curious by nature of course it did.  I went out to release it within a minute or two and it didn't seem distressed, just trying to work out how to escape.  Once I had opened the door it ran, but only as far as the camera box where it turned round to have a good look at me.  Even when it had gone through to the other side it turned round to check on me.  Then I picked up the trap and walked back to the house but as I did so the weasel was still watching me from the other side of the drive.  It didn't seem spooked and was back to the camera box twice that afternoon.

Here's the video.  Listen after the weasel leaves the camera box and you can hear the trap snap shut.  There was a wren in the hedge just above, calling alarm.

So a lucky close encounter (for me).  I won't try the trap again but I still hope to get rid of the rabbits - a job for the stoat perhaps?  It is still around but usually avoids the camera box and is almost too quick for the other camera.

The weasel in the trap was male - broad and muscular.  I am learning to recognise them as they are turning up fairly regularly on the cameras.  Here is a female, smaller and much slimmer than the male.  The Mammal Society website says she weighs 55-70g (only twice as much as a vole or mouse) and he is 105-130g.

And, for comparison, here is the male.

I also have another new camera box.  This one is made so the camera can see through both entrances.  It is wider than the others but also shorter, which creates a problem with the camera's limited field of view.  The solution is to use a clip-on wide angle lens plus a close-focus (+0.5) lens, all held together with Blu-tack and gaffer tape.

I heard a mouse in the attic so I set a trap and caught the mouse.  I put it in the new camera box, hoping to get a video of the weasel collecting the mouse.  However, it was no real surprise that the weasel came in so quickly that it was already turning to leave with the mouse by the time the camera was recording.

Here's the video, not quite as good as I had hoped.

These videos were edited with the help of a new AI programme to improve image quality.  It certainly improves them here and it will be interesting to see if the quality is maintained once they have been compressed by YouTube/Blogger.  One downside is that the file size is massively increased and with my BT Superslow Broadband it has taken nearly nine hours to upload these four short videos.  I hope you enjoyed them. 

Sunday 24 March 2024

Unusual garden birds

The pond in my meadow is just entering its third season.  It was made for wildlife, particularly dragonflies, but this wasn't quite the wildlife I had in mind.  Last week I looked out of the window to see two drake mallards walking along the drive.  I picked up a camera and when I opened the door I could see a female swimming around in the pond.  At first one of the drakes was trying to keep the other one away from her but soon they were all in the water.  The female didn't seem interested in the drakes and was either feeding in the pond or falling asleep.  Here are a few photos.

On balance I don't think the ducks will be good for the pond, so if they return I shall discourage them.

Friday 15 March 2024

News from StoatCam

I now don't know whether to call this WeaselCam or StoatCam as both weasels and stoats are turning up regularly.  Perhaps SmallMustelidCam?  The camera position within the box seems a bit better now but the camera's trigger time remains an issue.*

On one exciting day this week two stoats and a weasel all visited in the same morning, the stoats only 10 minutes apart.  The second one was paler with partial ermine colouring and was noticeably smaller so I think the first was a male and the second female.  I now know it was the female whose partially white tail showed briefly on a camera last month.  This is tha male.

And this is the female.

The video shows them first in real time and then with two zoomed-in slow motion replays. Unfortunately neither stoat went into the box so the inner camera wasn't triggered by either of them.  I suspect the male left a scent mark as he turned round in the pipe because the female seemed very interested in the scent.

I read a report from Ireland that showed that stoats were only detected by the Mostela camera 50% of the time compared with an external camera (
Croose E et al. 2021).  And research from the Netherlands which found that a 10cm entrance pipe was significantly better than an 8cm pipe (Mos J & Hofmeester TR. 2020).  The pipe these two stoats went into is 16cm but narrows to 10cm inside so perhaps that put them off.

On a previous occasion a stoat (I think the larger male) went into the box so quickly that he was already behind the camera by the time it was recording.  (I wonder if this is a tactic to try to ambush any prey that might be inside.)  The video shows him running out.  The outside camera also missed him going in but did see him exploring the outside.

And here's the weasel visit.  I like weasels because they often run in and out more than once which gives the cameras a better chance.  This time the inner camera missed the first pass but did catch the weasel the second time.  There is a puzzling distinctive straight-edged mark on the flank and judging by the under-chin markings (gular spots) this is a weasel I haven't seen before.

A couple of days ago the cameras made two recordings of weasels within two hours.  I suspect these are two different animals although it is difficult to be sure.  I think the first one is smaller so they are likely to be female and male.  The first one didn't go right inside and wasn't detected by the inside camera.  The second one went through so quickly that it wasn't seen either.

The recordings also give us the opportunity to compare the size of a (male) stoat and a (presumably female) weasel.  I posted this picture on the Mammal Society Facebook page where it attracted a lot of interest.  As above, the pipe's internal diameter is 160mm.

Here is another version - male stoat, male weasel and female weasel.  Unfortunately the female stoat didn't stand up in the same way as she came out so I can't add her in.  I hope she'll be back to pose properly.

* All trail cameras have a "trigger time" - the delay between detection and the start of recording. Trigger times are shorter for photos (typically ~100ms) than for videos (~400ms).  The target also has to move in one of the detection zones - the trigger sensor doesn't "see" the same area as the camera lens.  In a Browning, which I use and which has about the fastest video trigger time, the three detection zones are in the centre and at either side.  I suspect that my camera position in this new box means that an animal in the pipe is in between the centre and side trigger zones, thus delaying a response.  I'll have to try adjusting the position a bit to see if I can improve things without spoiling the view.

1.  Croose E et al. (2021)  Mammal Research
2.  Mos J & Hofmeester TR. (2020)  Mammal Research