Worcestershire Record No. 20 April 2007 pp. 19
I have recently purchased two CCTV cameras for my daughter who is at present bed-bound, so that she can watch wildlife in and around our garden from her bedroom. This has proved to be a most interesting and fascinating pursuit, which has implications for recording wildlife in both senses of the term!
I have a black and white infra-red wired camera with 40m lead, and a colour infra-red wireless camera with a range of up to 100m. Pictures can be seen on a television in the house where I can switch from one camera to the other, and I can record clips using a DVD or video recorder. In addition, the wireless receiver has a bleeper that sounds in the house when there is movement in front of the camera. I also have an additional infra red light to boost the illumination at night.
During the last couple of months I have been moving the cameras around to record a variety of animals both day and night. With a little ingenuity and a lot of wire, I have easily recorded Great Spotted Woodpeckers feeding at the nut basket and Siskins, Bramblings, Goldfinches and Jays coming for seed on the ground. But by leaving it out at night I can now prove what I suspected, that there are a succession of mice feeding at our nut basket for most of every night! Also, I have recorded the aggressive behaviour of a male Blackcap at our feeding station. He terrorised the garden for a week in January with his shrill calls as he flew at any bird that tried to feed on the hanging feeders. Recording birds coming to windfall apples in cold weather and , and foxes and badgers foxes at night has been interesting too.
I have recorded Buzzards that come to feed in the garden, and close examination of the recordings means that I can now identify individuals and compare their behaviour. The automatically recorded time and infra-red facility mean that I can keep a record of arrival times and record these birds at dawn and dusk too. I was amazed to see that the resident female Kestrel comes, as well as the Buzzards, to feed on both raw meat and cooked chicken carcasses, when it is virtually dark sometimes.
One morning I noticed that our sack of CJ Wildbird Foods Hi-energy No-mess seed had been nibbled open in an outbuilding. I realised that small mammals had probably been feeding on this free meal for some time, so I set the cameras up to watch. I had a succession of mice and voles, then along came a much darker and smaller one with a long snout! This little one made repeated visits removing material from the site and occasionally staying to feed. At first, believing shrews to be completely carnivorous, I wondered if there were perhaps woodlice or spiders in amongst the seed. Investigation proved that this was not the case, and the shrew must be feeding on the seed. I then contacted CJ Wildbird Foods to enquire if they added anything that might attract insectivorous birds (and perhaps carnivorous small mammals). They assured me that nothing else had been added and kindly provided me with a list of contents and some samples. I then set up a choice feeder to see what the shrew was taking. It was always the chopped peanuts during the time that I watched it. I then mixed up the order of food, but haven’t seen the shrew since! (This was the day when daytime temperatures changed from –2ºC to +6ºC so perhaps it was then warm enough for the shrew to search out invertebrate food). I recorded it feeding from 30th January 2006 to the 5th February 2006.
As a follow on to that, I contacted Dr. Johnny Birks of the Vincent Wildlife Trust and sent him the DVD recording. He kindly identified the following small mammals coming to the seed between 2nd and 11th February 2006: Yellow-necked Mouse, Wood Mouse, Bank Vole, Field Vole and Common Shrew. He had never heard of a vegetarian shrew either!
I am now purchasing a camera in a bird box and I hope to be able to use it to watch a bird's nest in the spring and small mammals at other times. Wig Wam Wild Cams are kindly going to customize the box so that I can attach a pipe coming up from the bottom of the hedge to encourage small mammals to use it when the birds are not in residence. I hope to be able to report on the success of this at a future date!
Thanks are due to Andy Purcell for showing me how CCTV cameras can be used for wildlife watching in the first place, to Martin George from CJ Wildbird Foods for his help and interest, and to Jason Alexander from Wig Wam Web Cams for technical advice. I am indebted to Johnny Birks for checking the identification of the small mammals and for sharing my enthusiasm!
Picture via CCTV showing a shrew visiting a choice feeder; its sharp nose is clearly seen. The shrew nearly always took the chopped peanuts. Picture Rosemary Winnall.
Picture showing one of the two cameras and the choice feeder. Picture Rosemary Winnall.
Choice of food on offer. Picture Rosemary Winnall.
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