30 Days Wild Activities – Bat Walk

The hours around sunset are the best time to see and hear bats. Image by O Haines.

Looking for some inspiration for activities during 30 Days Wild? Why not take a stroll around sunset and see if you can find some bats. If you have a bat detector then you can also listen to the ultrasound calls they produce and have a go at working out which species you’re seeing and hearing. Plus, an evening walk also gives you a chance to see what other nocturnal animals are out and about – owls, foxes, badgers and toads are all more active at night and, if you’re lucky and in the right place, you might also be fortunate enough to hear a Nightjar.

 What you need:
The Echo Meter Touch 2 connects directly to your phone or tablet.

• Bat detector – For beginners, a heterodyne detector is a great choice as they are economical and easy to use. Simply tune it to the frequency that you want to hear and then listen through the speaker or with a pair of headphones. If you want something a little more advanced, the Echo Meter Touch 2 connects directly to your phone and lets you view and record the bat calls, as well as suggesting the most likely species that you’re listening to. (If you don’t have a bat detector, you can still go for a walk at dusk and look for bats flitting beneath the trees and across the surface of the water).
• Torch – Not for seeing the bats but for finding your way safely in the dark!• Warm clothing and sensible footwear – Make sure you have enough warm clothes for when the temperature drops after sunset, and footwear that’s suitable for the chosen terrain. A thermos with a hot drink is also a good idea!
• Guide to bat frequencies – If you’re less familiar with bat detecting then a list of the frequencies at which you are most likely to receive the strongest signal for each species is a good thing to have with you. This simple pdf can be printed out to carry with you, or why not take a look at this guide from the Bedfordshire Bat Group for more detailed information on identifying bats using a heterodyne detector. The FSC Guide to British Bats is also a good choice and provides lots of information on identifying bats in flight.

When to go:

Bats are most active from April to September and the best time of day for seeing and hearing them is around sunset. If you’re walking to a location where you will be using your bat detector or hoping to see bats, then make sure you set off with plenty of time to get there before the sun sets. And don’t forget your torch – even though it will be light when you set out, you’re likely to need it on the way home.

Where to go:
Woodlands, parks and gardens are all good spots to look for bats. Image by O Haines.

Parks and woodland, especially those with aquatic areas such as ponds and lakes, are great places to find bats. If you can find a walk that covers a variety of habitat types then this will increase your chances of seeing/hearing more than one species. Make sure that the route you choose is safe and accessible and that you know where you’re going – places can look very different at night than they do in the day and it’s easy to lose your sense of direction if you’re not on a clearly marked path.

If you don’t want to venture far from home, then you can also look and listen out for bats in your garden. Near hedges or trees is usually a good place to focus your attention.

What to do:
The Magenta Bat 5 is ideal for bat walks

Once sunset is approaching, simply turn your bat detector on, keep as quiet as you can and watch and listen for any bats. The earliest species to emerge tend to be the pipistrelles and noctules. Of these, common and soprano pipistrelles are the most frequently seen. For this reason, it is worth setting your detector to 45 or 55kHz (or switching between the two periodically) to see if you can pick up any sounds. If you can see bats flying but don’t hear any sounds at these frequencies, then try scanning through all frequencies slowly to see which produces the most significant and clear response.

Daubenton’s bat. Image (a).

If you are near water and see bats skimming the surface, then these are likely to be Daubenton’s bats. As with the common pipistrelle, Daubenton’s bats produce the strongest echolocation signal at around 45kHz. (They also tend to emerge later than pipistrelles, so you may have to wait until later in the evening to catch a glimpse of these!).

Once you become used to using your detector, you will become accustomed to the different types of noises produced by different species and, in combination with where and how the bats are flying, will become more confident in deciding which species you are looking at and listening to.

Find out more:

If you want to find out more about bats, the Bat Conservation Trust website is a great resource and offers information on all 18 species of bat found in the UK. They also provide a list of local bat groups and coordinate the National Bat Monitoring Programme. Surveys cater to different levels of experience and knowledge and are fun and rewarding to carry out. Some don’t require any equipment, so you can take part even if you don’t own a bat detector.

Head over to nhbs.com for our complete range of bat detectors and take a look at our blog post for more tips for beginners

The RSPB website is a great place to hear common bird songs and will help you to distinguish between different types of owls. The most common species you are likely to come across are Barn Owls and Tawny Owls. You can also hear an example of a Nightjar call on the website. 

Further reading:

A Guide to British Bats
#129064

This fold-out guide includes 16 species of bats that live and breed in Britain and has two parts: a guide to identifying bats in flight using bat detectors, flight patterns, size, habitat and emergence time after dusk; and a key labelling the different body parts of a bat for identifying them in the hand.

 

The Bat Detective
#79534

This book takes the reader through both the theoretical and practical aspects of the use of the bat detector and covers all aspects of bat identification in the field, including `jizz’, flight style, foraging behaviour, roost finding, echolocation, and basic survey technique. As each topic is explained, references are given to the relevant tracks on the CD.

British Bat Calls
#181961

Covers topics such as the properties of sound; how bats use sound; bat detection methods; recording devices; analysis software; recording techniques and call analysis. For each species found in the British Isles, information is given on distribution; emergence times; flight and foraging behaviour; habitat; and echolocation.

 

Image credits:
(a) n51_w1150 from the Biodiversity Heritage Library via Flickr

30 Days Wild – Our local wildlife photos

Image by O Haines

Throughout June, thousands of people will be taking part in The Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild. Designed to improve our health and wellbeing, as well as being good for the planet, this annual challenge tasks us to do one wild thing a day for the whole month. Sign up on the Wildlife Trusts website and receive a free downloadable pack of goodies to help you plan your activities.

Here at NHBS we rarely need an excuse to get outside for a spot of wildlife watching. And as lots of us are currently working from home, we’ve been enjoying the opportunity to take stock of the nature that’s much closer to where we live. We’ve also been sharing our wildlife photos, all taken in gardens or on local walks. Scroll down for some of our favourites from the past month.

Why not let us know in the comments about what activities you get up to in June – we’d also love to see some of your photos!

Oli has been busy in the garden with his moth trap – a recent catch included this oak beauty, a couple of early greys and a stunning puss moth. A felt refuge tile also attracted a lovely group of slow worms.

Oak beauty – Image by O Haines
Early grey and puss moths – Image by O Haines
Slow worms – Image by O Haines

While dismantling an old shed in her garden, Natt discovered this cheeky creature. She also captured an image of a vibrant brimstone moth.

Common frog – Image by N Mawson
Brimstone moth – Image by N Mawson

Toby came across this group of hungry mouths in his stables.

Chicks – Images by T Drew

Phil was excited to see that his solitary beehive had attracted some inhabitants.

Solitary bee – Images by P Horswell

After creating a hole in his fence to help hedgehogs move from garden to garden, Paul was rewarded with this welcome visitor. (With drastic reductions in road traffic, hedgehogs are one of the species that are expected to be benefiting from the lockdown!)

Hedgehog – Image by P Williams

Chris discovered this nest, packed with eggs.

Robin’s nest – Image by C Cooper

Luanne caught some great moths in her garden in north Wales – including this eyed hawk moth and buff tip.

Eyed hawk moth and buff tip – Images by L Wilkes

Tabea took this lovely picture of a stonefly while on a local walk.

Stonefly – Image by T Troya

Angeline captured some great images of insects enjoying the local flora.

Images by A Rietveld

Nigel found this tiny slow worm in his garden and also discovered a bumblebee nest in his compost bin.

Slow worm and bumblebee images by N Jones

While working from home, Elle has been enjoying watching the birds visiting her collection of feeders.

Sparrow on feeder – Image by E Mason

Finally, Guy captured this charismatic shot of some of the frequent visitors to his local rooftop.

Gulls – Image by G Freeman

Have you spotted anything exciting in the garden or while on walks this spring? If so, we’d love to hear about it and to see your photos!

 

Anabat Swift Firmware Update – May 2020

A new firmware update (V1.6) is available for the Anabat Swift. This update will introduce the following changes:

• Spanish language added.
• Low battery warning messages clarified
• Bug fix: “Constant Recording” didn’t always start when expected
• Bug fix: Display of months in the schedule editor
• Several usability improvements
• Improved menu layout

 

This update should be installed on all your detectors as soon as possible to ensure that they continue to run smoothly. Full instructions below.

Method 1 – Using an SD Card

Step 1 – Download the update file using this link and copy it to the root directory on your SD card. Make sure the file is named swift.adx. You can use the same SD card to update multiple Swifts.

Step 2 – Insert the SD card and fresh batteries into your Swift then power it on. Make sure that there isn’t a second SD card in the Swift. After a short time the following message will appear: “Swift update 1.6 available. Would you like to update?” Press “Yes” to start the update. Do not remove the batteries or power off the detector while the update is being installed. The red Mode lights will flash in sequence while the update is being installed. When the flashing stops, your Swift will restart with the new firmware. You may get a message about a new “bootloader available”; if so, please proceed with this update by pressing the “Upgrade” button.

If your Swift doesn’t detect the software update on the SD card, it may be using a very old firmware version. If this is the case you will need to follow Method 2 (below).

Method 2 – Using Insight and a USB cable

If you haven’t used your computer to update your Swift previously, you will need to follow Step 1 to install the necessary software on your PC. If you’ve already done this before, skip ahead to Step 2.

Step 1 – Install the required software as follows:

For Windows PCs, click here to download and run the following program to install the Anabat Swift USB Driver for Windows. Mac users don’t need to install this driver.

Next, click on one of the following links to download and run the installer for Anabat Insight. Please choose the download that matches your Operating System version.

• Anabat Insight for 64-bit versions of Windows 10, 8, & 7  (most computers)
Anabat Insight for 32-bit versions of Windows (usually older computers with less than 4GB RAM)
Anabat Insight for Mac

Step 2 – Ensure you are connected to the internet. Run Anabat Insight and install any Insight updates that are available. This will be indicated by a green bar near the top of the program window. Ensure the Swift’s battery holder is fitted with fresh batteries.

Step 3 – At the top of the Insight screen, click on the menu that says “Devices”. You should see “Swift” under this menu. Click on “Swift”. (*If you don’t see this then you may have an old firmware version that requires an extra step – in this instance, see below for further instructions).

Step 4 – A window will appear displaying your current firmware version and the latest version available from Titley Scientific. Press the “Download” button to download the new firmware to your computer. Once downloaded, you can press the “Start” button to install the new firmware on your Swift. Once complete, the text “Finished” will appear.

Step 5 – Once the installation is complete, remove the batteries and then reinsert them to restart your Swift with the new firmware. You may get a message about a new “bootloader available”; if so, please proceed with this update by pressing the “Upgrade” button.

*Additional step for old firmware versions
This step may be required before step 3 if you have a particularly old firmware version. Please follow the steps below and then resume the above procedure from step 3.
1. Remove the battery holder from your Swift.
2. Hold down the power button (in the centre above the screen) while re-inserting the batteries. Make sure to hold the button down for a few more seconds after getting the batteries in place. The screen on the Swift will remain black. (This step is required for this firmware update only and will not be needed in the future.)

Troubleshooting

If your Swift fails to turn on after the update, try removing the main battery pack and the clock battery (coin cell) for a few minutes. Reinstall the batteries and then try again.

If you are still encountering any difficulties with this process, please contact Andrew Dobson (andrew.dobson@titley-scientific.com) for assistance.

The NHBS Guide to UK Butterfly Identification

Orange Tip image by L Wilkes

Butterflies are an iconic and popular sight during the spring and summer months. They are also important indicators of a healthy ecosystem and provide valuable environmental benefits such as pest control and pollination. As food for birds, bats and other mammals they are a vital part of the food chain and have been used for centuries by scientists to investigate navigation, pest control and evolution, as well as countless other subjects.

In the UK there are currently 57 resident species of butterfly and two regular migrants. Of these, it is estimated that 76% have declined in abundance, occurrence or both over the past 40 years. Almost all of these losses can be attributed to man-made changes such as habitat destruction and pollution, along with larger patterns of weather and climate change.

Recording and monitoring butterflies is a vital step in ensuring their conservation. Contributing to citizen science projects such as Butterfly Conservation’s Butterflies for the New Millenium, the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme, or via the iRecord app are vital to gain a picture of how our butterflies are faring. Although at this time it is not possible to travel to survey and record butterflies, sightings within your garden or on your own land, as well as those spotted on local walks, still provide a valuable source of data. (Please read the most recent Covid-19 statements on each of these websites before undertaking any surveys.)

In this article we have compiled a short guide on which butterflies you are likely to see outside this spring/summer, as well as some tips on the features by which you can distinguish certain species.

Gardens

For many butterflies we need look no further than our back gardens. In the UK many generalist species of butterflies survive and thrive in the network of gardens that stretch out across the country. These species are drawn in by the bountiful supply of nectar offered by flowering plants such as Buddleia, which are seldom without a visiting Red Admiral or Peacock. Gardens with unmanaged patches are even more favourable, as these can provide larval host plants such as thistles and nettles, the latter of which are used by four different butterfly species.

LOOK OUT FOR:

1. Large White: Large and often found near brassicas and nasturtiums
2. Small Tortoiseshell:
Medium-sized, often bask in open sunny spots
3. Red Admiral: 
Large and territorial with unique black and red colours
4. Painted Lady:
Large fast flyers with very angular wings
5. Small White: Medium-sized with yellowish under-wings, eat brassicas
6. Peacock:
Large, dark butterfly with distinct eyespots on its wings

Grasslands, Parks and Fields

Grasslands are an incredibly valuable habitat for many of the UK’s moths and butterflies. Semi-natural grassland, pasture, arable land, urban parkland and any areas with rough unmanaged grass will all support a variety of butterfly species. In the height of summer these areas can be teeming with Skippers, Common Blues, Ringlets and Meadow Browns. Be sure to inspect any flowering plants (particularly thistles and knapweeds) as these can act as vital nectaring points for many butterflies. Pay close attention for the fast and subtle movements of smaller species as these can often disappear against such a busy environment. A prime example of this is the Small Copper which is notoriously hard to spot due to its minute size, fast flight and discrete colouration (when its wings are closed).

LOOK OUT FOR:

1. Meadow Brown: Very common, with dull orange patches on the wings
2. Green-veined White: Have a distinct green colour around the wing veins
3. Small Copper: Small and fast, has deep brown and bright orange wings
4. Common Blue:
 Small with a vivid blue colour and unbroken white border
5. Six-spot Burnet (moth): Has distinct pattern, often feed on Thistles
6. Ringlet: Common, wings can appear black and have distinct yellow rings
7. Marbled White: Large slow flyers with a unique chequered pattern

Hedgerows and Woodland-Edge

Edge habitats are well known for their butterfly diversity and abundance, housing many threatened and elusive species. There are a few species which you are likely to see in these areas, however, bear in mind that species such as the Brimstone, Speckled Wood and Gatekeeper can also occur in several other habitats. Sunny areas with flowering shrub such as Bramble are hotspots for activity, particularly for Gatekeepers. Holly Blues may be hard to spot as they are mostly arboreal, only descending to feed on flowering plants such as Ivy. Woodland interiors are unlikely to yield many butterflies, particularly those with little light and/or limited forest floor plants, however open sunny glades are worth visiting.

LOOK OUT FOR:

1. Brimstone: Large with a powdered yellow/green colour and slow flight
2. Comma:
 Large with a uniquely scalloped wing edge and fast flight
3. Gatekeeper: Small size, often found around hedges with bramble growing
4. Holly Blue:
 Very small, flying around tree tops, especially those with Ivy
5. Speckled Wood
: Medium size, very territorial and regularly sun bask
6. Silver-Y (moth): Fast flying with a distinct silver ‘Y’ on the upper wing

Butterfly Conservation

Thanks to Butterfly Conservation for letting us use their images throughout this article. For more information on UK butterflies and how you can help them, please visit Butterfly Conservation.org. Here you will find a wealth of information to help you find and identify butterflies and moths.

Butterfly Field Guides

Guide to the Butterflies of Britain and Ireland
#245262
The illustrations in this guide, from originals painted by Richard Lewington, show 58 British butterfly species. The paintings are a quick identification aid to the butterflies most likely to be seen and all are drawn to life size.

 

 

Pocket Guide to the Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland
#245485
This handy pocket-sized book has become the essential guide to identifying the butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland. It contains over 600 superb illustrations of the life stages of each species, together with beautiful artworks of butterflies in their natural settings.

 

Butterflies of Britain and Europe: A Photographic Guide
#245243
Packed with beautiful photography, this is the definitive guide to all 482 species of European butterflies (42 more species compared to the first edition) with additional information on over 60 species found in the far east of Europe, stretching as far as the Urals and Caucasus.

 

Collins Butterfly Guide
#173624
This comprehensive guide describes and illustrates about 440 species, depicting both males and females and – where there is significant variation – subspecies. Distribution maps accompany every widespread species.

 

 

The Butterflies of Britain & Ireland
#245487
Provides comprehensive coverage of all our resident and migratory butterflies, including the latest information on newly discovered species such as the Cryptic Wood White and the Geranium Bronze. The definitive book on the subject, it includes fully updated distribution maps.

 

Field Guide to the Caterpillars of Great Britain and Ireland
#248267
This beautifully illustrated field guide covers caterpillars of the moth and butterfly species that are most likely to be encountered in the British Isles.

 

 

The NHBS Guide to UK Wild Flower Identification

 

Germander speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys). Image by L Wilkes

Plants and fungi are not only beautiful and interesting to study, but they also provide the building blocks on which all of our other wildlife (and ourselves) depend. Monitoring their abundance and diversity is key to understanding the health of our habitats. Plus, there are numerous studies that suggest that being around plants has benefits for our mental wellbeing, including improved concentration and memory as well as a better overall mood.

Spring and early summer are the perfect time to study your local plants as many will be in flower at this time, making them much easier to identify. (For other times of the year, a guide such as the Vegetative Key to the British Flora is invaluable – but it may take a bit of practice. For beginners, we suggest starting during the flowering season).

In this article we’ve featured a number of wild flowers that you’re likely to find, either in your garden or when out walking. These are separated into Town and Country/Woodland, but bear in mind that there will be some overlap, so it’s worth looking at both lists. Chances are that you’ll also find a few species that aren’t included here – you can find lots more information on the Plantlife website, including ways to submit your findings to their records. Or why not check out one of our wild flower ID guides listed at the bottom of the post?

Town

Here you will find nine of the most common species that you’re likely to encounter in urban areas. Pay particular attention to parks, waste ground and walls, and don’t forget to check the pavement cracks too.

LOOK OUT FOR:

 

Image by Catherine Singleton via Flickr

1. Daisy – Bellis Perennis
Flowers March-October.
Easily recognisable flower with a yellow centre and numerous white petals. Abundant in short grass such as parks and garden lawns.

 

 

Image by Far Closer via Flickr

2. Silverweed – Potentilla anserina
Flowers May-August.
Common on bare or well-walked ground such as the sides of tracks. Easy to recognise due to the silver-white underside of leaves.

 

 

Image by Siaron James via Flickr

3. Bramble – Rubus fructicosus
Flowers May-October.
Very abundant on waste ground as well as on heaths and in hedgerows and woodland. Thorny shrub with white or pale pink flowers.

 

 

Image by Judy Gallagher via Flickr

4. Scarlet Pimpernel – Anagallis arvensis
Flowers April-October.
Commonly found in gardens as well as arable fields, dunes, cliffs and heathland. Low growing and sprawling. Flowers are red with a purplish base.

 

 

 

 

Image by cazstar via Flickr

5. Rosebay Willowherb – Chamerion angustifolium
Flowers June-September.
Abundant on disturbed ground, verges and railways. Produces tall spires of purplish flowers. Often found in dense stands.

 

 

Image by Franco Folini via Flickr

 

6. Ivy-Leaved Toadflax – Cymbalaria mularis
Flowers May-September.
Often found on old walls and in pavement cracks. A straggly plant with ivy-like leaves and small lilac flowers with a yellow spot.

 

Image by Dean Morley via Flickr

7. Buddleia (Butterfly Bush) – Buddleja davidii
Flowers June-October.
Likes dry, disturbed places such as waste ground, railways, walls and roofs. Long sprays of purple, white or lilac flowers; a favourite of butterflies.

 

Image by Melanie Shaw via Flickr

8. Feverfew – Tanacetum parthenium
Flowers July-September.
Found in walls, pavement cracks and on waste ground. Flowers similar to a daisy but with shorter, broader petals. Aromatic leaves.

 

 

Image by Andreas Rockstein via Flickr

9. White Clover – Trifolium repens
Flowers May-September.
Found in most types of grassland as well as on waste/disturbed ground. Globular clusters of flowers on long stalks; usually off-white or pale pink. The leaflets usually have a pale chevron shape near the base.

 

 

Country/Woodland

This list features nine species commonly found in the countryside and wooded areas. Hunt along the hedgerows and meadows as well as on river banks and in woodland clearings.

look out for:

Image by saydelah via Flickr

1. Cow Parsley – Anthriscus Sylvestris
Flowers late April-June.
Extremely common during May on roadside verges and in woodland rides and clearings. White flowers radiate out from the stem on spokes. Fern-like leaves.

Image from Lawn Health via Flickr

2. Germander speedwell – Veronica chamaedrys
Flowers March-July.
Common in grass and roadside verges. Bright blue flower with a white eye on a sprawling stem. Leaves oval and toothed.

 

Image by Amanda Slater via Flickr

3. Meadowsweet –Filipendula ulmaria
Flowers June-Sept.
Likes damp ground such as roadside ditches and wet woodland. Long stems with clusters of cream, fuzzy flowers which smell of honey or almonds.

 

Image by Melissa McMasters via Flickr

4. Herb Robert – Geranium robertianum
Flowers April-October.
Likes banks, woods, gardens and walls. Purple flowers with lighter stripes on petals. Whole plant may sometimes turn red.

 

Image by Siaron James via Flickr

5. Bugle – Ajuga reptans
Flowers April-June.
Common in damp deciduous woodland and other shady places as well as unmanaged grassland. Forms long stems with rosettes of green-purplish leaves and blue flowers marked with white.

 

 

 

Image by muffinn via Flickr

6. Red Campion – Silene dioica
Flowers April-October.
Likes hedgerows and woodland clearings. Five-petalled pink/red flowers on long stems with opposite leaves.

 

Image by johndal via Flickr

7. Greater Stitchwort – Stellaria holostea
Flowers late March-June.
Common in hedges and verges as well as in woodland. White flowers with five petals, split halfway to the base. Sprawling with narrow leaves.

Image by johndal via Flickr

 

8. Yellow pimpernel – Lysimachia nemorum
Flowers May-September.
Fairly common in moist, shady woodland (deciduous). Low growing/sprawling with yellow star-shaped flowers.

Image by Katja Schulz via Flickr

 

9. Lesser Celandine – Ficaria verna
Flowers February-May.
Likes slightly damp soil in woods, fields and churchyards. Yellow flowers on long stalks and glossy heart-shaped leaves.

 

Further reading:

The Wild Flower Key: How to Identify Wild Flowers, Trees and Shrubs in Britain and Ireland
#143162

 

 

 

 

Collins Wild Flower Guide: The Most Complete Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain and Ireland
#225655

 

 

 

 

Harrap’s Wild Flowers: A Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain & Ireland
#245027

 

 

 

 

Guide to Flowers of Walks and Waysides
#236523

 

 

 

 

 

Pocket Guide to Wildflower Families
#229143

 

 

 

Wild Flowers of Britain and Ireland
#198409

Please note that this book is currently out of print – however, second-hand books may be available online.

Author Interview: Neil Middleton, Is That a Bat?

Neil Middleton is the owner of BatAbility Courses & Tuition, a training organisation that delivers bat-related skills development to customers throughout the UK and beyond. He has studied bats for over 25 years with a particular focus on their acoustic behaviour. Neil is the lead author of the popular Social Calls of the Bats of Britain and Ireland (2014) and in 2016 he wrote The Effective Ecologist which tackles the challenges facing ecologists as they endeavour to perform to the highest standard within their working environment.

His latest book, Is That a Bat?, published in January, provides a technical, yet accessible, guide to understanding and categorising non-bat sounds. Including a downloadable audio library, this ground-breaking book is designed to help bat workers be more confident in analysing their recordings, and also discusses the wider conservation benefits of studying non-bat sounds.

We recently caught up with Neil to chat about the book and about nocturnal sounds and their analysis.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Where did the idea for this book come from? And do you feel that this is a subject/area of study which has been largely overlooked?

The idea came from a number of different directions during the years prior to my starting work on this project. As someone doing lots of sound analysis for bats and also seeing the kind of queries that would get sent to me, it was apparent that bat workers spent at least some time, unproductively, trying to work out what species of bat it was, when it turned out not to be a bat at all.

Additionally, whilst working in darkness we often hear other sounds that get ignored or written off as ‘of no interest’. These sounds (eg a Schedule 1 bird species) could actually be very relevant to the project we are working on and the reason why ecologists are being sent to a site in the first place.  Saying ‘I don’t know. It’s not a bat, so it doesn’t matter’ isn’t really the best approach to take. When people see something, they tend to react more positively, as opposed to when they hear an unfamiliar sound. In darkness, however, sound is usually all you get. So, this put ‘in the frame’ the thoughts I had regarding audible sound encountered during darkness.

Finally, I had been asked many times over the years, questions such as, ‘do mice make high frequency sounds?’  Until relatively recently I didn’t have a proper answer to that question and probably, to be honest, didn’t even think that I cared or that it mattered when it came to doing bat work. I could not have been more wrong.  Not only mice, but all of our small terrestrial mammals make ultrasonic sounds that can get picked up by bat detectors, and many produce sounds that are quite similar to some of the echolocation pulses or social calls produced by bats.

Having written this book (and completed the immense amount of research that it has inevitably involved) do you now find yourself looking at and treating your own recorded data differently?

Oh yes, most definitely. I am now very nervous about being certain about anything slightly unusual. When I deliver presentations, I often use the expression, ‘You only know what you know’.  I feel this underpins my whole thought process now, as it also follows therefore that ‘You don’t know what you don’t know, and how much there is still to find out’. I honestly think, in some respects, we are only scratching the surface when it comes to our knowledge of bat-related sound, as well as all of the other species and things that make noise within a bat’s soundscape. I think we are sometimes far too sure of ourselves for our own good.

Following on from that, it also has consequences to our, sometimes misguided, reliance on automated classifiers. I get quite unsettled when I hear some people talking about complex stuff (eg separating Myotis species with high degrees of confidence) in such an authoritative manner. I have always preferred a more cautious approach, and even more so now. If anything, having now done this project, I would say that I have backtracked, in some respects quite far, from stuff that I once thought I knew reasonably well.

How do you feel about auto-ID software? Do you have concerns that it gives users a false sense of confidence in their results? And do you feel that, as technology becomes more advanced, it might be at the expense of expertise in both fieldcraft and analysis?

To answer the last part of this question first, yes on both accounts. I go into quite a lot of detail within the book as to why I think this way. The pages in the book regarding these areas were written and revisited many times during the process. When I look at my first draft of those pages (which I still have) it is interesting for me to see the journey I have been on and how my thinking changed during the process.

My viewpoint on automated classifiers at the start was quite negative in all respects. In some respects, the classifier challenge isn’t related purely to bats. If only it was, it would be so much easier. I was horrified to find classifiers confidently identifying lots of non-bat-related sounds as bats. This was the point for me where this work moved well into the ‘essential reading for bat workers’ category, as opposed to a ‘nice to know’. I remember that day extremely well. I was in a hotel room, near Gatwick, doing analysis of harvest mouse calls. They looked a bit like common pipistrelles, and the three classifiers I used that day all agreed! After publication, I was especially pleased to see that some of the reviews have very much labelled it as ‘essential reading’, for a number of reasons (ie not just the scenario discussed here).

But putting all that aside, for the moment, my final conclusion (for the time being?) is that there are definitely better classifiers than others, and there are different ways in which classifiers do things that will produce different results. I also feel that classifiers used sensibly, by experienced people (ie those who possess all the ‘essential’ knowledge), with audits in place, can be extremely powerful and useful. However, just like a human, a classifier has got so many things loaded against it arriving at the right answer (much of which is discussed in the book). So, it is fair to say that classifiers can come up with completely wrong answers. It is also fair to say that humans, even with experience, can also come up with completely wrong answers.

Therefore, neither approach is perfect, but the thing I now feel strongest about isn’t the classifiers themselves but, firstly, the lack of training people get in understanding how these systems work ‘behind the scenes’. And secondly, the lack of technical knowledge and experience of bat-related acoustics demonstrated by some of those who use these systems. I think it is too easy for organisations to give this important and often complicated work to junior members of the team, furnishing them with classifiers etc. It is then as easy for an inexperienced person to use these systems, write reports and influence decisions that are being made, without they themselves (or their bosses) appreciating that perhaps they or the classifier is getting it wrong (back to ‘You only know what you know’). Ultimately, during any project, the human decides (or at least they should). They decide what classifier to use. They decide the methods to use. They decide to blindly accept what the system is telling them, or not. They decide to do a proper manual audit of the results, or not. They decide what goes into a report and whether or not to be cautious with their interpretation. In the book I say something along the following lines:

‘Our bat detectors and associated software should be regarded as educated idiots. Very intelligent, but on occasions totally lacking any common sense. There is one part of the process, however, where ‘common sense’ needs to be applied. This is the part where a human decides what to do next. You need to keep pressing that ‘Common Sense’ button before jumping in with wrong conclusions and inappropriate decisions.’

Too many people blame a classifier for making mistakes, when in fact we should perhaps be collectively looking in the mirror. It is a tool, and like any tool there are right ways and wrong ways, right times and wrong times, to use it. ‘It’s a bad workman who blames his tools’. I think if you use a good classifier appropriately, and the methods/results are audited by an experienced person, the combination of the two, each allowing for the other’s weaknesses, can work well.

Do you think that increased awareness of the other noises recorded during bat surveys has wider implications for conservation? For example, can you provide us with a situation where bat survey recordings might be useful for other species/purposes?

Definitely. This is one of the main threads within this work and the examples are numerous. We live in a country which, relatively speaking, isn’t that diverse when it comes to night-time species (bats, other mammals, birds, insects…). But even in the British Isles we have bush crickets, moths, birds, shrews, voles etc that can all be identified either audibly or from the analysis of bat detector recordings. Now take this approach into more diverse parts of the world. We haven’t really begun to scratch many of the surfaces, as far as I can tell. Even just looking at the UK, I don’t believe for one second that ‘Is That A Bat?’ is anywhere close to the total picture of what we may encounter acoustically during darkness. There is so much more to find out and this knowledge will almost certainly lead to better decision making and associated benefits for conservation.

Bat survey technology is constantly progressing, and there is a lot of recording equipment and analysis software on the market. It’s not surprising that it can be confusing for even the most experienced ecologist. What advice would you give to an aspiring bat worker who wants to gain experience and skill?

Listen and learn from lots of different experienced people. Take all of their thoughts and blend these with your own developing technical knowledge and experience. Understanding how bat echolocation works and how this links to behaviour is an essential foundation that should be in place before someone begins to attempt to identify bat calls to a species or group level.  For example, the answer is often as much to do with where a bat is (relative to surroundings), as it is to do with what a bat is.

Be wary of anyone who tells you they can identify every bat call, or that the system they use is always right. Don’t be afraid to just call it what you know it is (eg Myotis), as opposed to trying to always get it diagnostically to species level (eg it’s a whiskered bat). In any case, for some jobs you won’t need to know the precise species on every occasion. Why risk your credibility when there is no reason to do so. When you start appreciating the reasons why you can’t identify every bat, you are beginning to become an experienced and respected bat worker. People who don’t really understand this subject are afraid not to identify everything. People who really understand this subject know that everything can’t be identified (not at this stage anyway!).

What was the most interesting, bizarre or unexpected non-bat sound you came across during the research and writing of this book?

I think my favourite is the Long-Eared Owl juvenile call, when slowed down 10 times. This is something many bat workers do with bat calls in order to make them audible, and with an unusual recording it might be how you would first listen to it before realising that it’s not a bat. It still makes me smile, for no scientific reason whatsoever.  It just reminds me of ‘Casey Jones & The Cannonball Express’ (the whistle from his steam engine). I know some of your younger readers will need to Google ‘Casey Jones’.

Finally – a question we ask all our authors – what is next for you? Do you have plans for further books?

Yes, two others. But I am scared to say too much at the moment for a number of reasons, including that once you say out loud what you are doing, the pressure is then piled on to get it done. I am just recovering from this one! So, I need some time to carefully consider which of the two ideas comes next and how to marry up the huge amount of time it takes to produce a book with other commitments.

…………………………………………………………………………………………….

Also by Neil Middleton:

Social Calls of the Bats of Britain and Ireland
#212405
Brings together the current state of knowledge of social calls relating to the bat species occurring within Britain and Ireland, with some additional examples from species represented elsewhere in Europe. Includes access to a downloadable library of calls to be used in conjunction with the book.

 

The Effective Ecologist
#226648
The Effective Ecologist shows you how to be more effective in your role, providing you with the skills and effective behaviours within the workplace that will enable your development as an ecologist. It explains what it means to be effective in the workplace and describes positive behaviours and how they can be adopted.

Watching Wildlife – New Browning trail cameras for 2020

Browning trail cameras are becoming an increasingly popular choice for conservationists and naturalists in the UK and Europe. Combining innovative design, quality workmanship and materials with competitive pricing, their high-quality specifications and comprehensive range of features make them ideal for monitoring wildlife. They are easy-to-use with minimal setup required and feature robust, camouflage casings together with a whole host of standard and additional features. Below we will showcase the new Browning cameras that are being released in 2020.

Recent additions to the Browning range include the Strike Force HD Max, Dark Ops HD Max, Recon Force Edge and Spec Ops Edge. Two further models, the Patriot and Recon Force Edge 4K, are also due to be released later in 2020. These cameras offer many of the great features currently present in the Browning range, but with a few exciting improvements, such as dual-lens technology, adjustable (and quicker) trigger speeds and long-range invisible infrared LEDs.

Dual-Lens Technology

Browning are one of the only camera manufacturers to use dual-lens technology. Currently available in several of their models, including the new Patriot, these cameras have a specially tailored lens and sensor combination for capturing daytime images. A second, military-grade sensor and lens allow the camera to take crisp night-time images with the use of infrared illumination. This dual-lens system means that footage can be taken in a range of light conditions without ever compromising on quality.

The Patriot is the latest addition to the dual-lens family of Browning cameras. Combined with the ability to capture 24MP images and 1920 x 1080p videos, the image quality from this camera is pretty hard to beat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trigger speeds

The Strike Force HD Max and Dark Ops HD Max, as well as the Spec Ops Edge and Recon Force Edge cameras, all feature adjustable trigger speeds of 0.2/0.3/0.4-0.7 seconds. Being able to alter the trigger speed allows you to tailor the camera to suit your location and target animal. This may take a little practice and experience, but even the tiniest tweak can make a difference to the composition of your image. At best it can mean the difference between capturing a great shot and being left with an image of a vanishing tail.

The Patriot features a trigger speed of just 0.15 seconds – ideal for capturing even the fastest moving animals.

Invisible infrared illumination

The Dark Op HD Max, Patriot and Spec Ops Edge all offer completely invisible night-time illumination. Provided by an array of infrared LEDs, this has obvious benefits when recording nocturnal wildlife. The camera will remain completely invisible, even when recording, making it more likely that you will capture several images of your subject. (It is also more likely that the animal will be filmed behaving naturally, rather than fleeing from the camera flash). Invisible LEDs also help to keep your camera safe from theft and vandalism; provided that it is sited in an unobtrusive spot and/or is well camouflaged, it is unlikely to be spotted, even when recording at night.

It is worth noting that invisible LEDs generally have a shorter illumination range than standard LEDs (usually by around 6-10m), and this should be taken into consideration when choosing and using your camera. For those wanting the best of both worlds, the Browning Patriot offers no-glow LEDs which illuminate up to 34m, a distance that is comparable to many standard LED cameras.

Standard camera features

All of the cameras in Browning’s range come with several excellent features as standard. Illumasmart technology automatically adjusts the infrared flash to make sure that your night-time footage is bright enough, without being over-exposed. Smart IR video tells the camera to continue recording as long as the animal is active within the sensor range. SD card management options let you overwrite old images on the SD card, allowing your camera to continue recording as long as the batteries will last. Some of the cameras, including the Recon Force Edge and soon-to-be-released Patriot, also include a built-in tripod, making setup in the field quick and easy.

The table below provides you with a quick comparison between the six new camera models. Or click on the images beneath to visit the product pages at nhbs.com where you can find full product descriptions and specifications along with up-to-date pricing.

Strike Force HD Max
#249809
• 18MP images, 1600 x 900p HD video
• Adjustable 0.3s-0.7s trigger speed
• ‘Zero-blur’ night-time images
• Smart IR video

 

 

Dark Ops HD Max
#249810
• 18MP images, 1600 x 900p HD video
• No-glow infrared LEDs
• Adjustable 0.3s-0.7s trigger speed
• ‘Zero-blur’ night-time images

 

 

Recon Force Edge
#249813
• 20MP images, 1920 x 1080p video
• 0.2-0.7 adjustable trigger speed
• Colour viewing screen
• Tree mount bracket

 

 

 

Spec Ops Edge
#249812
• 20MP images, 1920 x 1080p HD video
• Adjustable 0.2-0.7 second trigger speed
• No-glow night vision LEDs
• Colour viewing screen

 

 

 

Patriot
#249811
• 24MP images, 1920 x 1080 HD video
• 0.15 second trigger speed
• Dual-lens technology
• No-glow infrared LEDs

 

 

 

Recon Force Edge 4K
#249815
• 32MP images, 4K video
• 0.4-0.7 second adjustable trigger speed
• Colour viewing screen
• Built-in tree bracket

 

 

Head over to nhbs.com to explore the complete range of Browning cameras or take a look at our Watching Wildlife guide on how to choose the right trail camera.

 

Our ten favourite spring garden activities for children

This spring is destined to be a different and difficult one for most of us. Some things, however, remain the same – the leaves and buds on the trees are unfurling, the flowers are blooming, and the outside world is gearing up for a new year of growth and renewal. If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, then getting the children outside each day is a great way for them to burn off some energy and to get some fresh air and vitamin D.

With this in mind we have put together ten of our favourite garden activities, most of which are suitable for children (and adults) of all ages – although supervision may be required for the younger ones.

  1. Learn about the insects and bugs in your garden

Insects and bugs are fascinating to children of all ages. As soon as the weather warms up in spring, the garden fills with the buzzing of flies, bees and wasps, whilst the soil teems with beetles, worms and other creepy crawlies. A butterfly or sweep net is ideal for catching flying insects and those in the long grass, while a pooter can be used to pick up tinier specimens. Or simply get down on the ground with a hand lens and see what you can find. There are lots of great field guides that will help you to identify your specimens. FSC guides, such as the Woodland Name Trail and Guide to the Butterflies of Britain and Ireland provide a great starting point. Or, for a more in-depth investigation, the Guide to Garden Wildlife covers not only insects and bugs, but also birds, mammals and amphibians. It also provides suggestions for some great nature-related activities.

  1. Install a nest box (and watch the eggs hatch from the comfort of your home)
Image by gordon.milligan

It’s never too late to install a nest box. Even in late spring you may manage to entice a breeding pair of birds in time to lay a late clutch of eggs. At the very least, you will provide a useful winter roost space and the box will be ready for the breeding birds next year. You can even equip your nest box with a tiny camera which will allow you to watch all the nesting, rearing and fledging action from the comfort of your home. Kits are available which contain everything you need to get started; choose from wired, wireless or Wi-Fi options. See our blog post on nest box cameras for more information.

  1. Learn to identify plants

Rummage around in the wilder parts of your garden and you’re likely to find a wide range of plants that your little ones can study and try to identify. Even in the most manicured of outdoor spaces, you’re sure to find some ‘weeds’ that will provide a useful starting place. This is a great way to learn about common and Latin names and to study the different parts of flowers. The Pocket Guide to Wildflower Families will help you to identify the family to which your flower belongs, and the Collins Wild Flower Guide is a beautifully illustrated guide for those wanting a more in-depth look.

  1. Watch (and listen to) the birds
Image by Airwolfhound

Get to know the birds in your garden by installing a feeder. During the spring there should be plenty of wild food sources for them to use, but protein-rich foods such as black sunflower seeds, mealworm and high-quality seed mixes will provide a valuable addition to their diet. (Avoid feeding fat balls and peanuts at this time of year, as they can be harmful to young birds.) If you’re not sure what kind of bird you’re looking at, the RSPB website has a great identifier tool which includes information on 408 species found in the UK. Once you’ve identified your bird, the website also allows you to listen to its song, helping you to further improve your identification skills.

For a fun garden game, why not play bird bingo? Simply draw a 3×3 grid on a piece of paper, and write the name of a common garden bird in each square. Put a cross in the square when you spot the bird – the winner is the first to cross off all nine squares.

  1. Grow something pretty or edible

If you have space, now is a great time to sow some seeds. Sunflowers and sweet peas provide a great splash of colour in the summer and will provide food for birds (sunflower heads) and pollinators (sweet peas). Peas and beans are both easy to grow in a small space and are happy in pots. Strawberries and bush varieties of tomatoes can be grown in hanging baskets.

Making seed bombs is another excellent activity to do with children and, when planted in the garden, will provide much needed flowers for pollinating insects. The Wildlife Trusts have a recipe that’s simple to make, along with a list of recommended flower seeds to include.

  1. Be a weather watcher
Image by Paper of Light

In most temperate countries (and particularly in the UK), the weather is constantly changing, making it a fascinating thing to track and record. A weather diary is a great way to do this. You can include as much information as you like, or keep it simple with just pictures for the younger children. You could even make a weather board, where the day’s weather is displayed every day. Wind speed, temperature and humidity can be easily measured using an anemometer, and rainfall with a simple rain gauge. (For more economical options, use a large yoghurt container with measurements marked on the side as a rain gauge and a piece of lightweight fabric tied to a pole to track the direction of the wind).

Clouds are also endlessly interesting – learn about the different types with Weather WizKids which has lots of information and explains how they are formed, why they look the way they do and how we can use them to predict the weather. Why not also investigate some of the old-wives tales pertaining to the weather? For example, is it really true that ‘swallows high, staying dry; swallows low, wet will blow’, or ‘Red sky at night, shepherds’ delight, red sky in the morning, shepherds’ warning’?

  1. Make a pond
Image by Alex Thomson

Recent surveys have shown that some amphibians, such as frogs, are now more common in garden ponds than they are in the wild. When planted with a variety of submerged and emergent plants, a pond will provide a complex environment with a variety of micro-habitats, and is also an attractive feature for the garden. Even in a small space it’s easy to use a bucket or other container to create a small aquatic environment which will provide valuable habitat for amphibians, insects and lots of other species. Take a look at the Wildlife Trusts website for a step-by-step guide to making a garden pond (including a handy list of suitable aquatic plants) or this RSPB page for advice on making a mini pond from an old washing-up bowl. Always ensure that younger children are supervised around water.

  1. Weave with nature

Weaving with natural materials is a fun activity and a great choice for several reasons: it is cheap to do and the results, while temporarily beautiful, can be composted, making it the ultimate in sustainable art. To begin, make a simple frame from four twigs, held together at the corners with a small amount of natural twine. Wind more twine from side to side around the frame leaving gaps between each winding, and then repeat in the other direction. Collect a wide selection of leaves, twigs, weeds, flowers, feathers and grass and weave into your frame in a pattern of your choice. For the best results, try and include as many different colours and textures as possible. Hang your masterpiece inside or in the garden to enjoy until the colours fade, and then throw it on the compost heap or in your garden waste bin.

  1. Eat some weeds

Did you know that lots of the weeds in your garden are actually edible? And what’s more, many contain higher amounts of trace elements like iron than their supermarket equivalents such as spinach and kale. Nettles are extremely common, very easy to identify, and can be made into a tasty soup (don’t worry, they lose their sting as soon as they are cooked). Similarly, dandelion leaves, fat hen, hairy bittercress and chickweed are prevalent in most gardens and can be used as salad greens. Children will love knowing that they have picked some of their meal for free, and that they are eating the garden weeds. If you’re unsure about what you’re picking, there are lots of helpful guides and images on the internet. Or you can invest in a book such as Food for Free, Foraging, or the compact and economical FSC’s Guide to Foraging.

  1. Draw from nature
Image from the Biodiversity Heritage Library

Sketching from nature was once a vital part of the naturalist’s skill set. Accurate drawings of specimens, alive or dead, played a vital part in classifying and sharing information about new species. Although this process has largely been replaced by photography, the act of putting pencil to paper and studying a specimen closely enough to draw it accurately can provide an excellent opportunity to study its structure and finer details. Flowers, plants and feathers are ideal starting points as they won’t fly or scuttle away; but insects, birds and other animals can also be fun to try. Keep notes of when and where your drawings were made and, over time, they can form the basis of a wonderful nature journal.

During these troubling times, we hope you can find inspiration in nature and we wish you all the best of health.

For a great selection of garden wildlife books and ID guides, take a look at the Garden Activities for Children collection at nhbs.com.

How to put up a nest box

We have previously looked at the best time and place to install a nest box. Now we’d like to get down to the details, and take a look at the actual process of putting the box up.

For most situations, you will want to put the box on a tree, fence or wall, so we will address each of these individually. (If you have a box that is designed to be built into a house wall or roof, then it is likely that your builder will care of this for you).

The tips below are suitable for both bird and bat boxes.


Fixing to a tree
Tree Sparrow Nest Box

There are several things to be aware of when attaching a nest box to a living tree. The most important is that the growth of the tree will affect the fitting. This means that boxes should be checked at least once a year to make sure that they are still secure. A box which has fallen to the ground is of little use to birds, and one which falls down with a nest and eggs inside is disastrous.

The most common way to put up a nest box is using a strong nail which is at least 85mm in length. It is important to use aluminium nails, as these will not damage a chainsaw (or chainsaw user), should they be left in the tree when it is felled. Nylon, brass, copper and hardwood nails can also be used but steel nails should be avoided as they will quickly rust, making them difficult to adjust or remove.

Using a screw instead of a nail can also be a good option and means that you can loosen it by a couple of turns every year to compensate for the growth of the tree. Screws are more suitable for hardwood trees as they will be very difficult to adjust in softwood. Make sure that all nails or screws are removed from the tree if the boxes are taken down.

An alternative to using a nail or screw is to tie the box to the tree. Wire and synthetic twine both work well and, if boxes are tied loosely, they can be edged upwards as the tree grows. Boxes can also be hung from a horizontal branch if they come with a suitable hanger (e.g.  Schwegler 1B).

Fixing to a fence
Urban Bird Nest Box

Hanging a bird box on a fence poses fewer problems than siting a box on a tree, as you will not need to worry about the wood growing. Use a strong nail or screw and check it annually to make sure that it still feels secure.

 

Fixing to a wall
WoodStone Swift Nest Box

To fix a box to a brick wall will require a power drill with hammer action, masonry bits and a screwdriver. You will also need wall plugs and screws which are small enough to go through the hole in the box. Using the drill, make a hole which is slightly longer than your wall plug. (You can use a piece of tape around the drill bit to indicate the depth to which you need to drill). Insert the plug and then screw in the screw, first threading it through the hole in the box. Having a second person to hold the box will probably be helpful and, if you are using ladders, make sure that you take sensible steps to ensure your safety. Appropriate eye protection and clothing should always be worn.


Head over to nhbs.com for our full range of nest boxes, aluminium nails and ladders.

The NHBS Guide: Where to hang and how to maintain your nest box

House Sparrow Terrace FSC Nest Box
House Sparrow Terrace FSC Nest Box

There is a shortage of natural nesting sites for birds and this has played a part in the decline of some of the UK’s most iconic species. It is easy to provide nesting opportunities for birds in our gardens and outdoor spaces, however, and with spring rapidly approaching, now is the ideal time to start thinking about nest boxes for your local birds. Locating your nest boxes correctly is one of the key determinants in how likely birds are to occupy them and with this in mind we have put together some answers to the most frequently asked questions about nest boxes – covering where and when to put up your boxes, cleaning and maintenance as well as dealing with predators.

You can browse the full range of nest boxes we sell online and, if you’re keen to find out more, check out the BTO Nestbox Guide, which is packed with essential information.

When is the best time to put up nest boxes?

There really is no ‘best’ time to put up nest boxes.  By putting up boxes in the autumn you can provide much needed winter refuges for roosting birds and possibly increase the chance of them staying and nesting there when spring comes around.  However, any box erected before the end of February stands a good chance of being occupied if it is sited correctly.  Even after February there is still a chance that they will be used; tits have been known to move in during April and house martins as late as July. Therefore, put your nest box up as soon as it is available rather than leaving it in the shed!

Where should I hang my nest box?

1B Schwegler Nest Box
1B Schwegler Nest Box

When it comes to nest boxes, the ‘where’ is much more important than the ‘when’.  Nest boxes must provide a safe, comfortable environment and protect the inhabitants from predators and the worst of the weather.  This may be difficult to achieve; a safe location out of reach of predators may also be exposed to the weather, so have a good think before you start bashing nails in.

Nest boxes can be fixed to walls, trees or buildings and different styles of boxes are available which are suitable for each.  Fixing to artificial surfaces means the growth of the tree does not have to be considered which is useful for Schwegler and Vivara Pro nest boxes which last for at least 20-25 years: a significant amount of time in the life of a small tree.  If you’re planning any building work, remember that some bird and bat boxes can also be built directly into walls and roofs.

Incubating Great tit – Photo: Simone Webber

Locating boxes out of the reach of predators can be a challenge (weasels can climb almost anything), but there are things you can do to make it harder for them.  Boxes in gardens should be located where cats cannot get to them and prickly or thorny bushes can also help to deter unwanted visitors. Some nest boxes also have anti-predator designs (e.gSchwegler’s 1N deep nest box).  It is best to avoid nest boxes that have a combined bird feeder and boxes should not be sited too close to the bird feeders in your garden. Visitors to the feeder may disturb the nesting birds and the feeder could attract unwanted attention from predators.

For many species the height of the box is not crucial.  However, by placing it at least two metres off the ground you can help prevent predators and human interference.  The direction of the entrance hole should be away from the prevailing wind and it is beneficial for there to be a clear flight path to the box.  Crucially, the box should be also be sheltered from the prevailing wind, rain and strong sunlight, so in most UK gardens aim for an aspect of northerly, easterly or south-easterly.  If possible, position the box with a slight downward angle to provide further protection from the rain.  Some species do have specific requirements for where a box should be sited (e.g. house martins and swifts nests need to be sited under the eaves); please see our product details for particular instructions for different species. Wherever you position the box, try to ensure that you can still get access to it for maintenance.  And finally, if possible, try to put it somewhere where you can see it, or invest in a nest box camera, so as to maximise your enjoyment of watching wild birds in your garden.

Is there anything else I can do to deter predators?

Entrance hole protection plate
Entrance hole protection plate

As already mentioned, location is the most important factor when trying to deter predators.  Whilst some mammals can climb walls, a blank wall is fairly inaccessible so can be a good choice.  Ensure that the box cannot be reached by a single jump from a nearby branch or the ground.

Box design can also help deter predators.  An entrance hole reinforced with a metal plate will prevent grey squirrels and some avian predators from enlarging the hole and gaining access to the nest.  Woodcrete and WoodStone boxes are too hard for any predator to break through.  However, you can also reinforce a nest box yourself with metal protection plates or provide additional protection with prickly twigs.  Deep boxes may prevent predators reaching in and grabbing nest occupants, although some tits have been known to fill up deep boxes with copious quantities of nesting material.  If using open-fronted nest boxes, a balloon of chicken wire over the entrance can work well.  If you live in an urban area, cats are likely to be the most common predator.  Gardeners have long since used various methods to exclude these unwanted visitors, such as pellets, electronic scarers and even lion dung (available from your nearest obliging zoo), all with varying degrees of success.

Great tit eggs – Photo: Simone Webber

How do I manage the nest box?

A well-designed nest box will only need one annual clean in the autumn. It is important not to clean out nest boxes before August as they may still be occupied.  Wait until autumn and then remove the contents, scattering them on the ground some way from the box to help prevent parasites re-infesting the nest box. Wear gloves and use a small brush or scraper to remove debris from the corners. Boiling water can be used to kill any parasites remaining in the box, but remember to leave the lid off for a while for it to try out. Do not wait until the winter to clean out nest boxes as birds may already be roosting in them. The tit species do a thorough clean out of any old nesting material or roosting debris before they begin nesting again but it will save them energy if you can help out.

How many nest boxes do I need?

House Martin Nests
House Martin Nests

The exact amount of boxes required will depend on the species and the surrounding habitat.  As a very general rule of thumb, start with ten assorted small boxes per hectare (ensure uniform spacing between boxes).  Keep adding several more boxes each season until some remain unused and hopefully you’ll hit on the correct density of boxes.  However, even if you only have space for one box it is still worthwhile, providing it is suitably located. Many UK bird species need all the additional nesting habitat they can get.

If you are interested in installing a nest box camera into one of your bird boxes, take a look at our “How to choose the right nest box camera” article, for more information on choosing the model that’s right for you.

Further information about individual nest boxes, including advice on positioning, can be found alongside each nest box in our range.  If you have any other questions or would like any further advice, then please get in touch with our team of Wildlife Equipment Specialists.