Spy in the garden

Stuart Edmunds

What lurks in the garden at night? Camera traps are a great way of seeing and learning about wildlife, but they can be quite tricky to set up! Our expert Stuart has some great tips to help you position your cameras to capture a range of garden species.

I live in an urban area, next to a town centre but far enough along a cul-de-sac to escape the traffic noise. We are lucky to be surrounded by well-connected gardens, full of suitable hiding places for wildlife. The mixture of mature trees in a neighbouring garden provide a  home to various birds: pigeons, blackbirds and robins. And the area that I have allowed to grow wild at the rear of the garden often has small mammal trails running through it. An ivy bush that has been left untended for years along the fences is now all that holds the fence together and I often see dunnocks and wrens flitting in and out carrying food and nest materials.

I always intend to put cameras out in the garden, but like so many of us, I am always so limited for time. In light of the current government restrictions, my daily 1-hour commute to work has given me time that I don’t usually have, to experiment with a couple of different models of camera trap.

Bushnell nature view at feeder

Stuart Edmunds

To monitor the bird feeders, I have a Bushnell Nature View, which comes with an attachable lens to allow close-focus recording. This is ideal for recording smaller species at proximity. So, I set up the Bushnell on a post facing the main bird feeder at a distance of 40cm to begin with, then left it for 24 hours before checking the results.

What I hadn’t contemplated was the breeze factor. Camera traps are designed to trigger when any movement is detected, so it is best not to deploy one directly in front of an object that is swaying in the wind. Over 24 hours, an 8gb SD card was filled with footage of an empty, swinging bird feeder (squirrel proofed with a cage). But one bird did make a trip to the feeder during that time- an adult dunnock. The presence of the camera trap seemed to deter the many blue, great and coal tits that I usually watch in the garden and the dunnock nearly always feeds on the ground, picking at the seeds that have fallen from the feeder. So, it was interesting to see that in the absence of the other species, the dunnock quickly adapted to feeding directly from the source of seeds.

Like other wildlife, garden birds soon begin to relax in the presence of a camera trap once they realise that it isn’t a source of danger. With an adjustment made to the feeder to put a halt to the constant swinging, the camera recorded blue tits making a return for a meal, first of all very tentative in their approach, but gaining confidence as the day wore on. And the other birds have started to return too, I even watched a pair of goldfinches attempting to get to the seed, but they were soon chased away by a hungry great tit before the camera could record them! I now look forward to checking the “feeder cam” each day and will be sharing the results on social media over the next few weeks.

But it isn’t just the birds that I am keen to record. I also want to know if the resident hedgehogs have started to venture out from their winter slumber. In addition to the feeder camera, I also set up a new Browning Recon Force camera trap (available in the SWT shop to buy when we reopen) to view any activity on the ground.

Browning camera trao at water bowl

Stuart Edmunds

To film hedgehogs, voles and mice, I like to install a camera trap as low to the ground as possible, so I set the Browning up on a stake around 25cm high. During dry spells, like the one we have encountered this week, it is a good idea to put out a water source for garden wildlife. A range of wildlife will often stop by for a drink or to bathe when it comes across a plate of water, making this an ideal spot to install a camera.

When I’m using camera traps to monitor mammals in the wider countryside, I always find that water sources attract the best variety of species. Imagine how productive a watering hole is on the Serengeti- it will attract wildlife species from many miles away, ranging from wart hogs and antelopes to lions and elephants. We don’t quite have the same range of animals here in the UK, but I have still recorded badgers, deer, foxes and even a goshawk venturing down for a drink at the edge of a small pool of water. Scale that down further and the same is true of a puddle of water on your lawn!

The Browning has been set up for 3 days now and has recorded a number of wild visitors so far, one of which I was delighted to see! You can watch some of the highlights from both cameras  in the video below.

Are you experimenting with camera traps in your garden? If you are, I would love to see some of your footage. Please email me if you have camera trap films and images you would like to share, and we will show as much of it as we can on the SWT social media channels. Happy camera trapping!

Stuart Mammals

Stuart Edmunds

Shropshire Wildlife Trust

stuarte@shropshirewildlifetrust.org.uk