Squirrel Studio Upgrade… with near disaster!

When I set Squirrel Studio up several years ago, I had not quite appreciated how destructive the squirrels can be! I have also moved on quite a bit since I set this box up and I am constantly striving to get a better image in the boxes I have.  A good quality camera is the first step, but then the lighting in the box determines how good the image can be. Many boxes have little windows in them to increase the light coming into the boxes and the blue and great tits do not seem to be worried by this additional light.  In some of my boxes, I use a small LED unit to provide additional lighting and these LEDs use a light sensor so the lights are on during the day and go off at night.

In a box as big as the Squirrel Studio, the lighting needs to be a bit more substantial. I have lights in one of my larger boxes that the squirrels built a drey in and they were not disturbed by them at all. I wanted to add them to this box. Several weeks ago, they had managed to get hold of one of the cables I had used to provide additional IR in the Squirrel Studio and had chewed through it. 

The only way to set this up efficiently was to get the box down and do it properly, so everything was hidden in a new false ceiling. I checked the camera and there did not appear to be any squirrels in the box.  We set the ladder and climbed up to remind ourselves how we had affixed this box to the tree. We had used coach bolts.

Martin went to start to loosen the bolt and it suddenly just sheared off, meaning the box swung and he was balanced on the ladder, with a squirrel box on his head! Balancing precariously, he managed to hold on whilst I raced to the garage and grabbed some rope to tie through the box to stabilise it so we could remove the bottom bolt. Opening the inspection door at the bottom, to tie the rope through, a squirrel tail came out… there was one in there!

So, we were suspended up a ladder, with a squirrel box dangling dangerously and a squirrel IN the box! It was not moving and I had not seen it on the camera, so we presumed it was ill or injured. Moving its tail carefully, we returned the inspection door and tied the rope through the top of the box. Removing the bottom bolt, we then managed to winch it back down the ladder to the floor.

We placed it on the floor and returned inside to look again on the camera to see if we could see what the squirrel inside was doing.  Amazingly, after a few minutes it appeared from the bedding, had a stretch and a yawn, did a bit of grooming, then looked out. He seemed somewhat surprised to see that his tree top view was now replaced by a ground view. After a few minutes he left the box! I don’t understand why he did not move when we touched his tail and opened the inspection door… may be he was in a very deep sleep!

I carried the box back to the garden and took a couple of pictures of the nest they have built inside so far.

I then  started to begin the adaptations and improvements. The box had a wooden false ceiling and the camera poked through a hole within that. The other bits I had added were screwed on inside the box, hence the issues I had had with chewing.  I unscrewed the wooden false ceiling and replaced this with a 4mm perspex one. This would mean I could add lights inside the ceiling and them not be accessible by my pesky squirrels!

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I have some white light LEDs on a strip that Dave Brining kindly made up  for me… they are the same as the ones I use in my Prickly Diner and Burrow Box. These were plugged into a power splitter and a light sensor. This would ensure that the lights would go off at night. They would then be replaced by a strip of IR LEDs to ensure a good IR coverage at night.

I attached the camera onto a hole in the centre and fixed it using Sugru…. a totally amazing material that can be moulded and then will bond to anything. If you have not seen or heard of it before, take a look at their amazing website and order yourself a pack!  I moulded 4 little feet and then fixed them to the camera. I then pressed them onto the perspex so the lens just poked through the hole.

I then spread the lights out to create even coverage and used a portable mini screen to check how the image was looking. I fixed the sensor box inside this ceiling so the sensor poked out a hole at the side. I also placed an IR strip in the roof cavity as well….. all looks a bit muddled as there is not much space, but the day and night-time images looked good!

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Finally, we checked that the roof fitted back on, then heaved the whole thing back up the tree and fixed it all back into place. I popped a few peanuts in the box and on the ‘veranda’ to tempt them back in. It will be interesting to see how long it is before they return. I have had stock doves, squirrels and jackdaws in this box. It is now upgraded to be ready to give a much better image, so we’ll have to wait to see who decides to move in…. watch this space!