Polecat or Polecat Ferret?

Every now and then I capture something surprising on my cameras! Last night, I was working at my desk and I suddenly noticed something appear very briefly on my Fox cam. It was a fleeting glimpse. Luckily, I have iCatcher running on all my cameras, which means they are recording. I can play back the footage. I did this straight away and was amazed to capture this clip!

It is very difficult to tell whether this is a polecat or a cross between a polecat and a ferret. The IR burns out his face as he turns, so it is impossible to see if there is a mask… this is the characteristic face markings of the polecat.

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This predator may account for the apparent drop in rat numbers in my garden….. so I would quite welcome this hunter to keep numbers at bay. I will be placing a series of Bushnells around the area to see if I can capture some more clips.

BBC Autumnwatch hits our Screens… and my Mammal Box HD!

You may have been following the story of my new Mammal Box HD, where I have created little removable sets that slip inside the box, meaning I can change the environment that the mammals interact with.  You can find out more about it by visiting my website page. On here are all the images, videos and the information about how I made it. Click the image below to find out more.

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With Autumnwatch due at the end of October, I had the idea of creating an Autumnwatch scene, with the aim of getting the mice and voles to come in and look like they were guests on the show! Contacting Tina, from the Lichfield Dolls House Club, who has been working on this project with me, we discussed what might be possible. After much research and Google Image searches, we came up with some ideas of things that might be possible and Tina set to work.  

This amazing creation is a testament to Tina’s fantastic skills….. the attention to detail is incredible and she made all the props here, even down to a cup of tea and tiny biscuits on the table! 

We gave the set a few trail runs to get the camera position right and to see if the mammals would perform as we required them to…… they did!!

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This camera view will  be LIVE on my website for the duration of Autumnwatch; 28th – 31st October. Watch out for it on the show too… it may make an appearance!

 

Wild Photos 2014

I was delighted to be invited to present a workshop this year at the prestigious ‘WildScreen Photography Festival’ at the Royal Geographic Centre in London.  I was also at the event representing Bushnell, showcasing their trail cams and some of the footage I have captured with them. 

For those not familiar with the festival, it is a wonderful gathering of wildlife photographers from all over the world, giving workshops, talks and showcasing their incredible images and work. The website can be accessed by clicking on the image below:

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I arrived early on the Friday, ready for the workshop I was delivering in the afternoon. Aimed at those new to trail cams, this workshop aimed to give some insights on the best ways to get the most out of these great bits of kit!

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I had a quick look around Hyde Park and sussed out what wildlife might be around, ready & willing to come to perform in front of the NatureViews trail cams! There were plenty of squirrels, pigeons, magpies and even a couple of Jays that looked possible candidates!

I set the room up with all my kit and a showcase of some of the many clips I have captured.

My workshop went really well and the weather held, meaning we were able to go and experiment out in Hyde Park, setting the Bushnells low on the ground and tempting obliging wildlife in for a snack. What I was aiming to do was to show how the positioning of the trail cam is essential for good captures. Just as with photography, getting on an eye level with your subject can mean much more exciting and intimate captures! We spread out in the park, experimenting to see what we could lure close to our trail cams!

We all had great fun and captured a few funny clips that show how great the 46cm close-up lens is for small mammal and bird captures!

 

 

 

 

 

I then showed the group how to use iSkySoft Video Converter (there is a FREE version!) that is great for simple editing and screen capturing images from your video clips. Here are a few captures from the session. Click on them to enlarge them. These were all captured with the Bushnell NatureView HD and a 46cm lens.

The rest of the weekend was incredible… totally inspiring images and a true passion for wildlife photography in many forms. With a wide variety of  photographers, many of whose work I was familiar, we were treated to  talks from Tim these inspirational people. If you are not familiar with their work, I recommend looking them up!

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I would thoroughly recommend a visit to this event…. you will leave fired up and inspired to further your skills as a photographer. Many of the stories I heard and images I saw this weekend will remain etched in my mind for many years.

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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