Monday, 24 April 2017

Tame Valley Otter

With my trail cameras, I have managed to capture pictures of many local badgers and foxes, a few muntjac, and even a polecat which I have captured on camera twice. However, an Otter by design is a challenge I recently set for myself.

I spent hours walking the banks of our local rivers looking for otter signs and activity. I found spraints, tracks in the mud and even the odd tail drag, but that alone is only half the battle when positioning a trail camera. You also have to consider if the location you have chosen to position the camera allows for the camera to be concealed from human sight. If it isn't, it's quite likely you won't ever see your trail camera again.

I eventually found a promising looking spot of wet sediment just above current water level that was covered in a myriad of animal tracks. I could make out water bird and duck footprints, mixed with rat and a couple of decent looking mink tracks. There were so many tracks it was difficult to be sure of some of them as they all merged together, but there were two tracks that looked like they could have been left by an otter to me. There was no tail drag visible, and only four toes/pads evident rather than the five in a text book otter print, but in reality, text book prints tend to only exist in text books!

I smoothed the mud over and left it waiting to receive more tracks.

I returned a few days later and again it was a mixture of interlaced prints with origins of fur and feather. There was one promising looking print that again looked good for an otter, a good pad size, but again only four toes/pads visible.

I returned later that day and set up a trail camera to see what it would reveal.

First results were poor! The trail camera position needed some refining but, I did learn from the footage where I should put the camera for best results. It also confirmed an otter was indeed passing through this area.
First attempt

I repositioned the camera and left it to its own devices hoping I could get some better results for my efforts.

I was very pleased with my second attempt after repositioning the trail camera. Some decent otter record shots.

Also, a bit of video footage. I am learning the ropes with my new video editing program, this is the best of many attempts.

You can see the otter is cautious approaching the camera and backs away. Maybe it heard the PIR sensor click as it activated, or noticed the dull red glow of the infrared illuminator. Or,  maybe it is just exhibiting natural caution to an unfamiliar object in its territory.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Stonechats on the Patch

I have been wandering around in all my usual areas seeing what's about, but this has been a quiet period from end of February to early March.

There are still a few Goosander about on the local rivers and pools and the Black headed gulls are noisily establishing their nesting sites. Light values for any type of photography have been appalling, but there is literally light on the horizon. The Spring is coming and we should all see a strange glow overhead called the Sun, I even spotted it myself the other day.

We have discovered a well worn trail through a reedbed and decided to place a trail camera there to see what was using it. This is the second time of trying at this location. First time a bramble strand fell in front of the camera and set the motion sensor off until the memory card was full. Over a 1000 bramble pictures!

This time, Storm Doris took its toll on false triggering of the camera as everything swayed about and debris blew past. There were a few decent pictures captured though.

Highlights were a pair of Barnacle Geese that appeared and hung around with the Canada geese.

This one was taken with my camera hand held. They were distant!

  These were Digiscoped

However, a first on the Moors for me were Stonechat's that Pete found while out walking. It started with three nice males and a female, later in the week
a fourth male appeared. They hung around for about a week in the same area but have now moved on.

Canon G3X - hand held. Very distant.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Staying Local

I have been staying very local recently wandering around areas I consider my local patch. I have found a pair of Buzzards that seem to have laid claim to an area of woodland, and a pair of Ravens that have done the same. I will keep an eye on these and see how things develop.

On 4th Feb Pete and I had excellent views of a Red Kite on Old Warks Moors. A first time sighting for us both on this patch. It was being relentlessly mobbed by crows and eventually drifted off with a posse of screaming corvids in pursuit.

Fox sightings are noticeably down, but I expect that is due to the females starting to den up in preparation for the birth of this years cubs.

There have been a couple of local otter sightings reported to me recently, I have yet to see one locally myself this year, my last sighting being in December 2016.

I checked out the local gravel pits on Monday 20th looking for Oystercatchers. I heard one calling in the dark as it flew over on Sunday evening. Sure enough there were a pair at Tameside Nature Reserve. There were also two Shelduck at Tameside, but they departed before I was in a position to photograph them.

A walk along the river also produced one male and two female Goosander.

Tameside is fast shaping up as an excellent oasis for local wildlife thanks to the hard work of the volunteers that constantly strive to maintain and improve the available habitat. The recently created "Tracey Island" is looking good and I have already seen, Little Grebe, Kingfisher and Grey wagtail regularly on and around it. I was also impressed with current work being undertaken in the form of a Sand Martin bank.

Tracey Island

Sand Martin bank  in Progress.

Tuesday evening I spent an hour watching some local badgers worming on the plough. The rain has provided them with a good supply of worms. Some sound or movement undetected by me spooked them and they charged off back towards the sett. I waited five minutes to see if they reappeared. They didn't, so I quietly walked past the sett and to an area I know they visit to feed. I placed a trail camera intending to collect it early morning. A few nice captures!

This has motivated me to get the trail cameras out again. I will set a couple up on some obvious animal highways and see what they produce.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

It's been a while

My first post of 2017 and its been a good start. Between birding, fox and badger watching, setting trail cameras and fishing, I haven't found the time to sit down a write any blog entries. The trail cameras have been out regularly recording what is going on in the hours of darkness. I have a lot of badger footage from a new sett that I am pleased with. The trail cameras have also been showing a lot more nocturnal fox activity than usual.

January is a busy month for foxes with last years cubs being driven off by parents if they are still hanging around. These dispersing youngsters are now looking for their own territory. This is also the height of the fox breeding season. Hearing the repeated contact calls of foxes when out in the dark this month has been interesting.

The males will stay very close to the vixens during January to make sure they are at hand when she is ready to mate. This very active month for our foxes accounts for their regular appearance on the trail cameras and also the variety of individuals recorded.

Early in the new year I also decided to spend a bit of time fishing our local rivers. In cold conditions Chub can often be tempted to feed and so are quite catchable. They are an impressive looking brassy flanked fish and a very worthy quarry. I admire and photograph them, then return them back to their watery home.

Last weekend I noticed reports of large numbers of waxwings in Brownhills town centre. I set off early on Sunday morning and arrived well before light. The illumination of the town by signs and street lights allowed me to wander about looking for the waxwings. It was pretty cold with the car thermometer showing -3⁰C. Eventually before it was light enough to take photographs, I found them. I assume that this was their roost tree for the night, the flock was around 150 individuals strong. As light levels increased the waxwings began to get restless and then, they were mobbed by a pair of magpies which sent them up and split the flock. I did manage a few pictures between my camera and iPhone through the spotting scope


A local dog walker stopped for a chat and was interested in what the birds were. She told me that the row of trees in front of me had been laden with berries, but none were evident now. As the waxwings began to disperse I assumed that they would be very mobile today seeking a new food source. I wonder where they will turn up next?