Bat Monitoring with BBC Midlands Today

Today, I joined the SilverTrees Bat Monitoring Team… Rose from Staffordshire Bat Group and Rob Winstanley, to take a look at the bats present in the bat boxes at SilverTrees. You may remember I also joined them back in May on their Spring monitoring. Today, we were joined by David Gregory-Kumar and the BBC Midlands Today Team for a piece that will go out towards the end of October.

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Rose and Rob check all the boxes at SilverTrees in Spring and Autumn , noting what species are present. In some instances, the individuals are weighed and measured to give an indication of the healthiness of the population and also to help with ID on some species. At this time of the year, the bats are preparing for hibernation. We are hoping that the long summer has meant plenty of insects to ensure that the bats reach a healthy weight to see them through the winter months. Bats, however, have a limit to the amount of fat they can lay down as they still need to be efficient hunters and that means being able to fly! Being too heavy would mean that they would not be able to fly well. Most of the bats will not actually hibernate in the bat boxes at SilverTrees. Bat boxes like this are generally used as summer roosts and they will have a favourite place for them to spend the winter. This could be in a tree, loft space or similar.

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We did find a couple of boxes with numerous Pipistrelles huddling together. Sometimes these are a male with numerous females. Bats mate at this time of year and the female then stores the sperm until the spring. As soon as conditions are good, the female bat needs to become pregnant and, after a long hibernation, they don’t want to be looking for a mate at this time. It makes sense to mate in the Autumn when they are fat and healthy after a long summer of feeding and then to ‘choose’ when to initiate the pregnancy! The bat is then pregnant for between 6 and 9 weeks, depending on species, climate and availability of food. The females often gather in a ‘maternity’ roost where the youngsters are left whilst their mothers hunt for food. They are suckled until they are 4-5 weeks old when they venture out to hunt for themselves.

We worked our way around the bat boxes, with Rob climbing up, carefully blocking the entrance with a duster before opening slowly and peeping inside. If there were bats present, Rose (who is qualified in Bat monitoring) would go and check and, in some cases, bring an individual down for weighing and measuring. 

Being able to see these amazing creatures in the hand is the highlight for me! 

David weighs one of the bats

David weighs one of the bats

Weighing the Noctule

Weighing the Noctule

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Rose measure the Noctule’s forewing

A stunning Noctule

A stunning Noctule

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What a stunning face!

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A healthy Noctule Bat

I will update this blog post as soon as I have the final numbers in from Rob and Rose, but we found numerous Pipistrelles and were delighted to locate a very healthy looking Noctule who looked huge compared to the tiny Pips!!

Thanks to all at SilverTrees and to the Midlands Today Team… I think it will make a really interesting piece for the show and, as always, I learnt loads … that’s what joining events like this is all about!

Rob, chief ladder-climber!

Rob, chief ladder-climber!

 

Ever had a Vole in your Bath??

My Mammal Box HD is  working really well and I am thrilled with the footage that I am capturing. This is a project that will grow and develop over the next year or so as the removable ‘sets’ give me loads of opportunities to try out all sorts of different scenarios! You can find out more about this box and how I designed and made it on the page on my website by clicking the image below.

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The main aim of this project was to recreate different natural type scenarios, where I could place food and film them interacting with the space. I have been experimenting with some natural Autumnal harvest; blackberries, elderberries, damsons etc to see what they like to eat and have captured footage of wood mice, bank voles and shrews in these spaces.

 

The idea of creating little home scenes has been a bit of fun and it still makes me smile seeing the voles sitting on a little armchair.  Tina, who has been creating these mini scenes for me, contacted me to tell me that she had made another one , after seeing the vole cleaning himself in our sitting room set-up. She arrived to discuss some more projects we have and brought out a wonderful bathroom scene!!! I could not believe the detail and how Tina had even made a little toothbrush and toothpaste for the bathroom shelf! This was going to be fun!

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The bath was a perfect place to put lots of seed and the basket also provided a space. I lifted the toilet seat and popped a couple of peanuts in there… would the mice and voles find them???

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Within just an hour of popping this new scene in, the vole was back in and, as predicted, sat in the bath! You can’t help but smile….. (You may need to turn the volume down a bit as I have not quite got the sound correct in this set up… make sure you select to watch it in 1080P HD as well!)

 

 

 

The vole even discovered the peanuts and opened the toilet lid!

This gave me another idea…. I am going to create some little  containers holding food to test the intelligence of these small mammals… can they figure out how to open the container to get at each food stuff? I am also going to do some experiments to see which foods they prefer. The possibilities are endless… so watch this space… quite literally! 

Filming with Midlands Today

When Midlands Today contacted me to tell me about their week-long feature on Cannock Chase, to be aired mid-October, I knew that Silver Trees Holiday Park would be a perfect location to talk about the wonderful wildlife there. If you have been following my blog, you will know that I have been spending as much time there as I can squeeze in. Using my trail cams there, Rob (who has a caravan there) and I have been setting the Bushnell Trail Cams all around the site and I have captured some really lovely clips of the Fallow with their fawns. 

Trevor (the owner of Silver Trees), Rob and I met the team up at the site and gave them a quick tour. The site is a private site and both Trevor and Rob are constantly working hard to make it a real haven for wildlife.  The site, which has its own nature reserve of SSSI status, has won the highest Gold Standard in the David Bellamy Awards since their participation in 2008.

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The presenter for this piece on the wildlife of Cannock Chase, is Rebecca (Beccy) Wood, who you may have seen on the Midlands Today weather report.  She started the piece down in the valley, with the Fallow in the background…

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We then moved over to an area that Rob has been working hard on, planting lots of nectar rich plants to attract insect and his latest project… a very impressive Bee Hotel! This hotel is nearly finished and full of holes that should be buzzing with solitary bees next Spring!

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Rob also showed Becky one of the latest spots that we set the Bushnell. Using the close-up lens, we set it at a vole burrow and have captured some lovely clips!

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We then moved up to one of Trevor’s stunning wooden lodges, where he explained a little more about the Holiday Park and its ethos.

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Beccy was working hard… relaxing on one of the verandas!

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Following the paths through the bracken, I then took the team to the location where I have captured some of my best Bushnell clips…. a lovely little bracken arena. I had a trail cam in this spot for a couple of months as the new fawns were born. Feeling safe in this spot, the fawns and their mothers appeared in front of my cam well before we usually see them in the open. I explained how I captured the clips and why this site is so important for wildlife.

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The weather was kind to us and we managed to get all the filming done in about 4 hours. Just enough time for a team photo, before they headed off to film another piece in the Chase. Watch out for the piece, that should air in the week beginning the  13th October.

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The BWPA Awards Evening

Yesterday, I travelled down to London to attend the Awards Ceremony for the British Wildlife Photography Awards. Held in the Mall Galleries, it was a wonderful evening showcasing the inspiring images from this year’s competition.  You can view all the winning images on the BWPA website by clicking on the image below:

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On display at the gallery, were all the winning images as well as the Highly Commended images. It was fantastic to see these inspirational images that really showed off the wonderful diversity of British wildlife! It was also wonderful to meet so many keen photographers, all thrilled to have had their images chosen.

It was also special to have my Dad there too, as he achieved a Highly Commended for the 2nd year running with a superb shot of a 0.5mm springtail! Well done Dad! 

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My schools entry was mounted onto a board and looked great! Diane Compton, our Head teacher and Iain Green who had done the photography day with me were delighted to see the kids’ images in amongst these fantastic images from all over the British Isles!

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Chris Packham hosted the evening, giving a fantastic talk and leading us all through the winning images, as well as awarding the prizes.

We were delighted to go up to collect our prize on behalf of all the Year 5 & 6 pupils at Michael Drayton and for me to surprise Chris, as my name had not appeared on his running order. Chris and I have met on numerous occasions, through Springwatch, Autumnwatch and at WildPhotos, but he was not expecting me to pop up at this event!

We have won a truly wonderful prize…. a Canon 1100 DSLR and lens kit  and a Raspberry Pi kit for school. The IT team at school are excited for us to get this Pi kit and I can’t wait to get going on my new Photography Club at school with our new DSLR. A massive thanks to ‘Young Pioneers’ Charity for sponsoring this part of the competition and putting up these great prizes. Find out more about this charity by clicking the link below.

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It was a pleasure to meet inspiration Luke Lancaster who set this charity up after suffering from severe bullying at school.  It is well worth checking out the website and see what fantastic work they do with young people.

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Another great bonus was our lovely images feature also in the coffee table book that is produced each year. Our shots looked lovely! Chris even signed the page for me :o)

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The certificate will also be proudly displayed in school alongside the winning images that we are having printed up.

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It was a wonderful evening… just not enough time to speak to all the people who I  wanted to talk to.. it was just all over way too quickly! Thank to Maggie Gowan and her team for all her hard work in organising this wonderful competition and the evening. It was a wonderful experience and I feel privileged to have been part of it!

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I win the Schools Award in The British Wildlife Photography Awards

 

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I am delighted to be able to announce that the photos I entered into The British Wildlife Photography Awards (BWPA) won the Schools Category! I entered a portfolio of six images of bluebells at Hartshill Hayes. These images were all taken by year 5 & 6 pupils from Michael Drayton Junior School on a photography day organised by myself and Iain Green, a fellow photographer (www.wildwonder.co.uk) Iain and I took four groups of 9-11yr olds out into nearby Hartshill Hayes when the bluebells were in full bloom and talked to the children all about creating a photograph that would represent this amazing natural spectacle.

From framing the shot, spotting good light, looking more closely than they had ever done before and possible going for a completely different angle, the pupils were soon raring to go! Most had never really looked closely at bluebells, despite it being in an area that many of them pass regularly. They were highly enthusiastic and spotted all sorts of wildlife within the bluebells, as well as seeing wonderful opportunities using branches, wood and natural objects to frame their shots.

I was so impressed with the images, that I decided to enter them to this prestigious competition, although it was really difficult to choose just 6 images. The 6 I chose were contrasting images, hopefully to demonstrate the wonderful ‘eye’ the pupils had for spotting a great angle or shot. I am extremely proud of all the children, as there were SO many wonderful images. Our prize of a Canon DSLR camera and lens for school will mean we can do even more photography and hopefully win some more competitions! A big thank you also to Iain, who ran the day with me.

You can read more about the day from my blog post from the day HERE and check out the website by clicking the image below.

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Below are the 6 images I entered……

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I will be travelling down to London on Wednesday , with the Head Teacher, Diane Compton, from school, to the Awards Evening, hosted by Chris Packham….. I can’t wait! :o)

Water Voles Heaven!

If you follow me on Twitter, you will know that I spent a couple of days back at Stow Maries at the end of last week. I had visited the site earlier in the year and had had a totally incredible time photographing Barn owls and Little owls. You can see my blog post about that time HERE.

Stow Maries is a World War 1 aerodrome, that is part-owned by Russell Savory. Russell works tirelessly to manage the site for wildlife and this has paid off, as it boasts all 5 species of British owl, plus numerous other sensitive species, such as hare and water vole. I was very excited to return, especially as Russell had been telling me about the work he had been doing with water voles and I had seen some of the incredible footage he had captured. Russell has worked hard to create habitats that are suitable for water voles and this has included clearing ditches and providing varied water courses with excellent vegetation cover. He has been rewarded with increasing numbers of voles. Spending time setting up such areas and then gradually getting the voles accustomed to his presence has meant that he has built up a pretty unique trust with these mammals…. in the same way that he has hilt up a trust with the owl species. This is not something that happens overnight… it is hours and hours of patience and perseverance.  I was lucky enough to then benefit from his hours spent and I had some truly incredible experiences!

Russell has a particular ditch that is great for photography, he keeps it clear of vegetation and places small islands for the voles to sit on. A wooden platform at the other end of the ditch allows you to lay down and view them at a very low angle. Russell kindly lent me his dry suit so I could sit IN the ditch and have a close encounter. If you sit REALLY still, the voles sit and feed less than a metre from you! It was completely AMAZING! 

 I was very keen to get some photos, so lay down on the wooden board at the other end of the ditch… from here I managed to capture some shots of these charismatic little creatures! What a privilege!

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 More images can be seen on my Flick account. 

It was not only the water voles I had the pleasure of photographing, watching and spending time with. We also found a stunning slow worm, which I caught to have a closer look….

Last time I visited, I did a lot of photographing of the owls, which were feeding their young, so very active. With the breeding season now over, the owl activity  has lessened considerably, although we did get to say hello to this little guy briefly!

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I also watched this Little Grebe hunting for food to feed her two young chicks…

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It was not just daytime photography, I also spent some time with Denis, a model helicopter and drone pilot who is working on a rather exciting project with a Bushnell Equinox Night Vision. We had the idea that it would be really cool to be able to fly this piece of night vision kit and record what we saw from the drone! Not as easy as you might think and Denis has done loads of work , building a gimbal and stripping the Equinox down so we could power it from an external LiPo battery from the USB and so he can focus it remotely. It is still work in progress, but we did some tests with it in the dark and I will be uploading some clips soon. It is all very exciting and I look forward to sharing more of this project with you in the future…..

I videoed Denis flying the drone, with my Bushnell Equinox Z. You can see a few clips that Denis put together HERE

I would like to say a massive ‘Thank you’, once again for Russell for sharing his wonderful wildlife patch with me. Russell invests an enormous amount of time, effort and patience, building up the trust of these wild animals and I feel very privileged to be asked to share this with him.  It was a wonderful few days and I have been left with memories that will last a lifetime! Sitting within reaching distance of a wild water vole is very special indeed.

Night-time Visitors!

Many of you will be familiar with the live stream HD feeders cams on the front of my website. If you click on the ‘Watch my other live cameras’, you will be able to see some of the other live streams I broadcast and my night cameras appear on this page. Sometimes, if I am at home, I will transfer this stream onto the front page of my website. I have a selection of night cameras and, at the moment, I have a quad view of the kestrel box, where owls have been known to visit, a mammal box, the Prickly Diner and a Fox Feeding Station. If I am at my computer in the evenings, I can easily switch the live cameras to a full screen if I see the foxes have arrived or the hedgehog makes an appearance.

This year there are 3 young foxes regularly visiting my feeding station. These are this year’s youngsters and they squabble and argue just like human siblings! I put some dried dog food out every night… enough for a snack but not enough to stop them getting out and hunting for themselves.

This video shows the kind of action you can expect each evening. They usually appear just after dark and will often return several time during the night to see if there is any food left!

The other visitors that you are likely to see are in Prickly Diner. This hedgehog feeding station has lights and a nest box camera inside. If you are lucky, you will see the hedgehogs visiting. You may also see rats who also visit this box. I started putting out a bowl of sunflower seeds in there, as well as the hedgehog food. The rats prefer those and tend to leave my hedgehog food alone then, for my prickly visitors!

This clip shows my latest hedgehog visitor who has made several appearances per night for the last few nights. I hope he is fattening up for the winter!

These cameras are all wired back to my office and into a PC. This PC runs a piece of software called ‘i-catcher Console’. It monitors all of my cameras 24-7 and is motion detection software (just like CCTV systems). When it picks up motion, it records the footage. I can access this footage and take a still or a video from it and this is how I capture all my clips. I don;t have to sit up all night waiting to press the record button…. the system makes it easy!

The first thing I do every morning is check what has happened over night. Every now and then you capture something unexpected… one time I looked through the fox footage and was amazed to see a badger appear and feed alongside the fox! Without this software, I would have never have know that this happened! If you are watching the cameras and see something interesting, just drop me a tweet (@katemacrae) or an email wildlifekate@live.co.uk.

 

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