A Week of Wildlife Activities at Yew View!

Last week, after a 3 week absence at Yew View, I spent the whole week there! This time, I was able to combine house-sitting (and looking after all the animals) with some other wildlife projects, some of which are difficult to achieve when I only do one day a week.

I had a selection of friends lined up to join me in the week, to help out on some projects and we kicked off on Bank Holiday Monday. We were blessed with lovely warm and calm weather and, a I had planned a moth trap and some small mammal surveying, I couldn’t believe my luck. Friends Rob and Dave joined me on site and we prepared for the night’s tasks.

To do the small mammal survey, Rob had brought along 40 mammal traps. Each of these was carefully primed with hay for bedding and enough food to last a mammal all night. We would put them out last thing before dark and collect them first thing in the morning, to ensure any trapped mammals would be in the trap for as little time as possible.

We headed out on site and chose a variety of habits in which to place the traps…

We wanted to set some in the reeds around the wildlife pond. This is where we have recorded harvest mice and it would have been amazing to capture some. Rob had a brill little cane and plastic set up that allowed us to raise the traps up safely above the water in the reeds…

We also set up the moth trap out in the open at the bottom of the steps. We are quite late in the season, but thought it would be worth a try!

With such a lovely warm evening and the moth trap on, we headed out with the bat detector. We were able to watch some Soprano pipistrelles whirling around the trap, taking advantage of the moths. We picked up Common and Soprano pipistrelles, some Daubentons and we think some Leislers as well.

First thing in the morning, we headed to collect the traps. For each, we logged what species we had by tipping the trap contents into a plastic bag and, sometimes popping them in a tank for a little while so we could take a closer look.

As expected, our main captures were wood mice, with a few bank voles as well…. it is a privilege to be able to take a close up look at these species before setting them free again where they were captured.

In some cases, the wood mice had discovered the food and then collected materials to block the entrance, so nothing else could find and eat it. I have recorded this ‘stashing’ behaviour in my mammal boxes as well!

We had an incredible capture rate of over 50% which is an indication of the very healthy populations of wood mice and voles we have! We captured 18 wood mice and 2 bank voles, with some traps also being triggered but the occupant escaping.

Next was the moth trap! We had decided we would not count and record everything, due to time restrictions, but would concentrate on the more interesting species, that I would also try to get some photos of. I was using the little Olympus TG-5 that I had taken to Costa Rica as its macro facility is excellent. I really like the focus stacking option that, if the subject is still and you can get the camera steady, produces excellent results. It takes multiple images and then combines them, in-camera, to produce a composite image made up with multiple images with a shifting focus throughout the scene.

These images show a standard macro shot, followed by the focus stacking image.

Poplar Hawk Moth

Single macro image

Macro focus-stacking

Burnished Brass

Single macro image

Macro Focus-stacking

Burnished Brass Duo!

Single macro shot

Macro Focus-stacking

Snout

Snout from side

Square spot rustic

Poplar hawk moth

Dark barred twin spot carpet

Green carpet

Spectacle

Lime emerald

Common wainscot

The list of species included: Lime Emerald. Lime speckled pug, Angle shades, Common wainscot, Yellow underwings, Setaceous hebrew character, Spectacle, Brimstone moth, Early thorn, Purple thorn, Common white wave, carpet moth, Flame shoulder, Green carpet, Gold spot, Burnished brass, Dark barred twin spot carpet, Straw dot, Clouded bordered brindle, Square spot rustic, snout, tawny speckled pug.

Thank you so much to Rob and his great moth trap and expertise in identification.. especially as it was his birthday… cake was in order… of course!

It was a great start to the week. The skies were blue and the swallows are starting to gather on the wires, with almost 50 at one point! We have our last youngsters just fledged and I had to rescue one that had got stuck in the corner of the garage… such a tiny little body and so light! I can’t believe this tiny form can make it all the way to Africa!!

The site is looking beautiful and it is full of fruit… too much of a temptation… snacks galore and a wicked apple and blackberry crumble!

I spent quite a lot of time working through the cameras from the last three weeks or so. We lost a week of footage when a change of server meant we lost the cams for a bit, but there was still plenty to see.

Our kingfishers have been making sporadic visits as the river is really low and they like hunting in the river when this is the case. We did welcome this visitor to the post though!

Another exciting bit of footage showed that, whilst I had been away, a squirrel had taken up residence in our Tawny box with her young family. Initially, I presumed it was the female who gave birth just as I left. She had had 3 young. The babies in the tawny box looked about 4 weeks old. They have knocked the camera and the focus is a little out but, as I watched, I realised there were not 4 babies in here… but 6!!! That is an amazing litter and they are very comical.. and quite lively!

My next subject of interest was the Yew View badgers.  I was delighted to see that we still had some individuals who were using the chamber during the day. I could actually do with them not being in there for a day so I can clean the camera as it is rather splattered with mud from their shakes when they come in. I obviously can’t take the camera out to clean it, when they are in the chamber.

We are getting loads of footage, of course, and I have lifted a few of the best moments. It’s always good when there are two individuals, as we get lots of grooming and interaction.

I think these last two individuals are youngsters. They were very playful in the sett chamber, playing, biting and rolling around together; a delight to watch.

Before I went away, I wanted to try to understand the dynamics of the badgers in this area. The setts at Yew View are used as satellite setts; outlying additional places to sleep over and rest. They are often used by individuals who have been ousted from the main sett. I located the main sett in woodland nearby. It is a large sett, with over 15 active entrances. I set up  number of Bushnell and got some lovely clips showing every day activity…

I am keen to understand more about the badger community and their movements and how this impacts on the setts we have at Yew View.

Another thing I was keen to try, being on site for more than one day, was some DSLR camera trapping and the badger feeding station seemed a good place to start as I already have lights there that the badgers are used to. I have never done any camera trapping using flashes, so was excited to try it out. A big thanks to Tim, who came to help me and to get me going. We set it up at the feeding station with 2 flashes and the camera set low, next to the existing camera.

Once it was dark, we experimented to try to get the sensor in the right position and the flashes producing the right amount of light…I crept in to mimic the badger and we checked the settings.

Then, it was a matter of leaving it and keeping our fingers crossed! I could not wait to check the camera in the morning…. and was pretty pleased with my first attempts… I could really get into this!

I think I could get hooked on DSLR camera trapping!

Another potential subject could be the otters… if they started visiting a little more frequently and I was sure the river wasn’t going to rise! For the moment, I am using the wired camera that is on a floating platform and we have a couple of individuals visiting a few times a week at the moment…

Another job at this time of the year, is to clean out the nest boxes. Old nests harbour mites, fleas and do not create a healthy environment for a new family. For this reason, I always take out old nests and brush out the inside of the boxes. One nest I found had taken advantage of the  dogs’ tennis balls around the site… a rainbow nest!

The week ended with a BBC cameraman, Simon, spending a day at Yew View, getting some scenery shots for a piece that should be seen on our screens later this year, fingers crossed. More details later in the Autumn…. his brief was to get shots that showed YewView as a wildlife haven…. that wasn’t difficult at all!

There is always so much happening at Yew View….. it was a pleasure to spend a whole week with its wildlife 🙂