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?

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Trail-Cam season

The best thing about late autumn early winter, is that it's time to get the trail cameras out and situate them in some interesting areas. I spend the summer months making mental notes of places I visit that I would like to put a trail camera in. Pete also has a list of places he fancies setting a trail camera at, and we also have favourite spots from previous years.

We positioned two cameras recently and left them out for 12 days. One was in an old favourite spot, a nice way to start the trail camera season off, and the other in a new location. At the end of the allotted time, we collected the cameras in, and went to the pub for the evening along with my laptop to wade through just short of 900 pictures.

The new location did produce some interesting results, but the tried and tested spot again produced the goods. Day and night visiting foxes, a pair of badgers, one being a old acquaintance from encounters involving actual observations when badger watching, and previous captures on trail camera. I have recorded this particular badger with the light stripe on its back and flank at two different setts some distance apart.

An Old Friend

I believe the current smaller sett that is located near this trail camera was probably an emergency refuge or satellite sett in the past, but as the population of the original sett increased, these badgers relocated on a more permanent basis.

Badgers in the mist

Foxes were also busy in the area, this is a natural animal highway and no pre-baiting or artificial feeding was carried out. From the pictures, it looks like three different foxes regularly pass through the area. This is one of them, the most photogenic and a real poser.

The real surprise was what looks very much like a Polecat. I will have to put a camera back in this area to try and recapture it and hopefully get some clearer images.

I'm looking forward to seeing what the trail cameras record this winter.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

A Privilege

Still trying to photograph the badgers I watch on a regular basis with my bridge camera. It poses a variety of challenges in total darkness, but it's fun trying. I have spent many enjoyable hours watching badgers and really wanted to capture some of the moments on camera.

This particular cete of badgers have allowed me some fantastic views and the opportunity to study their behaviour at relatively close quarters. 

IMG 6973




The only thing that should ever be fired at a badger is the shutter of a camera. It is an atrocity that this government continues to pursue a cull of healthy badgers in a misguided attempt to bring bovine TB under control. 
The only thing that will reduce TB in cattle herds is improvements in farming techniques, increased biosecurity and testing of cattle herds and stringent controls over the movement of cattle in conjunction with increasing use of vaccination.

I do not imagine for a moment the government believe that this cull of our badgers will eradicate or even reduce TB in the nations cattle herds. They do however believe that the rural and farming vote can be maintained by peddling this propaganda and deceit.

A quote I came across recently illustrates this well

"I think the most interesting observation was made to me by a senior politician, who said, 'Fine, John, we accept your science, but we have to offer farmers a carrot.  And the only carrot we can possibly give them is culling badgers"

Professor John Bourne Former Chairman, Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Keep an eye out for Brian.

Local Sett blog


Well unfortunately it’s that time of year again, the time when rifles are at the ready and pointed at our badgers. The cull has not only returned, it has been extended to three new counties.

The cull targets for badgers to be killed in each county is frightening, and the fact this slaughter continues, a national disgrace.

Badger cull targets for 2016

Devon: Minimum 3,358, maximum 4,558

Cornwall: Minimum 2,173, maximum 2,950 

Gloucestershire: Minimum 1,691, maximum 2,628 

Dorset: Minimum 1,672, maximum 2,350

Herefordshire: Minimum 872, maximum 1,183

Somerset: Minimum 75, maximum 544

Source: Natural England

There is no published data what-so-ever from the government to even tentatively support the Government’s stance that badgers spread Bovine TB to cattle. Not a shred of real evidence at all!

I feel it speaks volumes that the authorities involved in the cull have not tested any of the badgers already slaughtered to ascertain if they are actually infected with TB. I believe this is because they are fully aware that they are killing completely healthy badgers. If there was substantial published data to show this, I believe public opinion on the matter would significantly increase in opposition to this inhumane slaughter. The government just doesn’t want a paper trail of factual scientific data proving that the vast majority of badgers killed are perfectly healthy animals.

I heard Meurig Raymond, president of the NFU speaking on BBC Farming Today recently. When asked why there is no factual published data of any sort to substantiate claims that Badger culling is indeed reducing the spread of TB to cattle herds, he replied that the Anecdotal evidence demonstrated that the cull was indeed effective.

Anecdotal evidence! Unbelievable!  

If you care to look into a real definition of Anecdotal evidence it will highlight that such evidence is, not necessarily true and certainly not reliable. It is completely based on personal opinion and has no real factual data or scientific research to substantiate it. By its very nature, anecdotal evidence tends to be cherry picked to support a personal belief, it isn’t factual and cannot be proved or disproved. In other words, it isn’t really evidence at all.

On Tuesday evening Aug 30th, the cull again started in Gloustershire. I felt I would like to do more than make donations and sign petitions, so late afternoon on the 31st August found me joining the M5 heading towards a predetermined meeting point of the Gloustershire Against Badger Shooting (GABS) group to offer some assistance in patrolling the cull areas. A 120 mile round trip from my home here in Staffordshire.  As I left the house, my wife gave me two instructions. 

1. "Remain law abiding.". - Not a problem, as GABS is a peaceful, law abiding campaign group. who ensure that their presence during cull periods is always via public footpaths.

2. “Look out for Brian May!”  I said I’d keep an eye out for him.


I was made very welcome on my arrival by a group of seasoned GABS volunteers. These people really deserve our thanks. Giving up their free time and patrolling large areas of countryside at their own expense in all weathers. Staying out in the fields late into the night and still going to work in the morning. They try to be a constant presence during the cull periods, patrolling fields and monitoring setts in the cull areas every evening of the cull period in an attempt to save our badgers.

They were very well organized, and we were split into groups to cover different areas of the cull zones known to contain active setts.



On the night in question, no shooting was seen or heard in the area we covered. Active setts were checked and we had a good walk around the fields and footpaths by torchlight. I particularly enjoyed walking in some outstanding countryside, seeing pipistrelle bats hunting around the fields and the great conversation. I also felt that I was helping in some small way.  We didn’t see any badgers and although I was very vigilant, I didn’t see Brian May either.

I would urge anyone who feels strongly against this cruel and inhuman culling policy to contact the Badger patrol and join them for an evening or two. It will be an experience you won’t forget, and you will meet some very friendly and like minded people. 

Like me, you may initially feel that turning up to assist the badger patrols for one night is an insignificant act in the grand scheme of things. However, the total sum of many small acts can bring about massive change, and that is exactly what our wildlife and specifically our badgers need. I encourage anyone with an interest in our countryside and the welfare of our badgers to take part in at least one evenings patrol in one of the  six target counties. You will I’m sure be made as welcome as I was. You will enjoy the company of like minded people while walking the countryside at night, you may even see a badger. So please give it a try and appreciate that you will be helping to save our badgers, and while you’re at it, don’t forget, keep an eye out for Brian!