The NHBS Guide to Rockpooling

Rockpooling is an educational and extremely enjoyable wildlife activity that introduces you to a colourful world of creatures that are usually hidden beneath the sea. Rock pools are full of limpets, crabs, whelks, periwinkles and anemones, all of which have fascinating adaptations that allow them to live in this unique place. The intertidal zone is an exceptionally harsh habitat, with animals needing to cope with exposure to saltwater, rainwater, changing temperatures and sun. Rockpooling is a brilliant hands-on activity to introduce children to this unique habitat and discuss how animals and plants cope with living there.

Photo credit: S Webber

Planning a Rockpooling trip

The best time to go rockpooling is in the late spring or summer, when the weather is milder and temperatures are warmer. There are many excellent locations to go rockpooling on the UK coast and, by searching the local area or consulting this list by The Wildlife Trusts, you can find some of the best spots. Once you know which area you are heading to, you need to consult the local tide table. Rockpooling is best done on a low spring tide, because the most interesting range of creatures are likely to be found nearest the sea edge. Pick a day with calm weather conditions and when the low tide point is at a suitable time in the day – you need to time your visit to be there for low tide and then watch carefully for the tide coming back in. Make sure that you take a sun hat, sun cream and wear sturdy shoes, as the rocks can be very slippery.

Rockpooling equipment and method

Photo credit: S Webber

Bucket – a clear or white plastic bucket is great for storing your finds temporarily.

Net –a net can help with catching crabs when used carefully, but avoid scraping along rocks.

ID guide – there are a range of ID guides including laminated FSC sheets and seashore identification guides.

Pots – smaller animals can be transferred carefully to pots for a closer look.

Endoscope – peer deep into the depths of the rockpools and record images and videos with a handheld endoscope.

Approach rock pools carefully, as animals can be wary of noise and shadows appearing above them. Dip your bucket into the water to catch mobile animals or carefully search through with your hands. If you fill your bucket and pots with a little seawater then you can keep any creatures you find in there for a short period of time while you identify them. Watch out for crab claws as they can nip, and anemone tentacles as they can sting. Do not remove any creatures that are attached to the rocks as they may have a specific place that they attach to until the tide comes back in. Turn over stones to find crabs and have a good look to see if there is anything hiding in the seaweed. Once you have finished looking, make sure you return the animals gently back into the pool.

Common UK Rock Pool Inhabitants

Green shore crab (Carcinus maenas)

Photo credit: John Haslam via Flickr

Hermit crab  (Pagurus bernhardus)

Photo credit: Peter Corbett via Flickr

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common blenny  (Lipophrys pholis)

Photo credit: Duncan Greenhill via Flickr

Beadlet anemone  (Actinia equina)

Photo credit: Deryk Tolman via Flickr

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snakelocks anemone  (Anemonia viridis)

Photo credit: NHBS (taken with Video Endoscope)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flat top shell  (Steromphala umbilicalis)

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

Limpet  (Patella vulgate)

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common periwinkle  (Littorina littorea)

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

 

Recommended reading and equipment

The Essential Guide to Rockpooling
#243734

 

 

 

NHBS Rock Pooling Kit
#247074

 

 

Rock Pool Extraordinary Encounters Between the Tides
#249715

 

 

 

The Rocky Shore Name Trail
#228841

 

 

Rocky Shores
#242624

 

 

 

Bloomsbury Concise Seashore Wildlife Guide
#245646

 

 

 

RSPB Handbook of the Seashore
#241750

 

 

 

White Plastic Bucket
#197160

 

 

60ml Collecting Pot
#199488

 

 

 

Hand Held Magnifier
#202230

 

Video Endoscope
#243795

 

NHBS In the Field – Video Endoscope

Video Endoscope

Bank Vole (Myodes glareolus) – Photo: Claire Spelling (www.flickr.com)

An endoscope (or more correctly a borescope) is an optical device with an eyepiece or display at one end and an objective lens or camera at the other end, linked by an optical or electrical cable that relays the images. They have a broad range of applications, from medical investigations to drain inspections and are fantastically useful for ecologists as they give visibility of inaccessible places such as mammal burrows and bat roosts (for licensed bat workers only). They have the added advantage of minimising disturbance by being less intrusive than visual inspections and many handheld units can now capture still images and video footage for a permanent record.

Video Endoscope

The innovative Video Endoscope is a pocket-sized inspection camera that is ideal for examining crevices, cavities, burrows and nests. It is very ergonomic with a clear, user friendly interface and durable design. The semi-flexible 1m camera tube neatly coils into a cleverly designed groove at the back of the device and it has a protective carry case, making it very portable. The 3″ screen has an HD resolution with 720P and the camera has six LEDs with adjustable brightness control and digital 2x zoom, to ensure the picture is clear. This endoscope records still images and video on to a MicroSD card and is powered by 4 x AA batteries. We took the endoscope out to field test it in a pond to look for tadpoles and to examine nests in nest boxes.

How We Tested

The Video Endoscope camera is IP67 water resistant so we wanted to test its performance when recording underwater. It also has adjustable LED brightness so we wanted to test it in dark conditions. We chose a pond on a farm in West Dorset known to have some tadpoles and selected some nest boxes in a nearby area to examine for nesting activity. We used a 16GB microSD card and 4 x new AA alkaline batteries.

What We Found

Tadpole – image captured by Video Endoscope

The Video Endoscope was really easy to set up and use. The controls are clear and the menus are simple to navigate. It was simple to switch between photo and video mode and to control the LED brightness and zoom. This meant that our attention was focused on capturing the best possible footage in the field. The images and videos we recorded underwater were clear and sharp, in spite of the debris in the pond and we got some good footage of tadpoles.

It is quite difficult to control the full length of the cable as it is flexible, so we found it was necessary for the observer to be stood quite still. This was particularly evident when trying to use the endoscope in nest boxes. This is shown by the difference between the two videos below – in the first one you can just glimpse some eggs but we didn’t manage to count them properly and it was hard to capture them in subsequent videos.

 

However for checking quickly in a nest box to see if it was occupied it performed excellently. The adjustable LED brightness was particularly useful when checking the nest boxes and looking under rocks.

We edited the videos using Microsoft Video Editor, which meant that we could flip the image when it was recorded upside down, as it is quite difficult to keep the image the right way up when the camera cable is fully extended. The endoscope does have an image flip function, which is very handy when you have the camera positioned well but the image is inverted.

Our Opinion

Snakelocks anemone (Anemonia viridis) – photo captured by Video Endoscope

The Video Endoscope is a fantastic, versatile piece of field equipment that could be useful in many different survey scenarios. It is particularly impressive when used underwater as the photos we took in a rockpool survey last year demonstrate. It is very portable because the cable coils neatly into the body of the endoscope and the controls are simple to use. The quality of the still images and the video footage are fantastic, and the adjustable LEDs mean that you can get decent images from quite dark spaces. For more information, or to purchase a Video Endoscope, please visit our website or contact us.

 

Gardening for Wildlife: Creating Habitat

In the first of our two-part series, Gardening for Wildlife: Providing Food, we looked at how to attract wildlife to your garden by including plants for pollinators and providing food for birds and mammals. In the second of our two-part ‘Gardening for Wildlife’ series, we look at how to create nesting or overwintering habitat effectively for the wildlife that visits your garden. Natural nesting sites for birds, insects and mammals have become rare in the broader landscape due to changes in farming, woodland management practices and building construction techniques. Wildlife-friendly gardens can provide fantastic habitat for invertebrates, birds, amphibians and mammals by making a few simple changes and by letting a bit of wildness back in.

Mining Bee © Ed Phillips

Insects

It is easy to provide habitat for insects in your garden just by leaving the lawnmower in the shed. Setting aside a patch of grass to grow longer should encourage wildflowers to grow in your lawn, and will provide food and shelter for insects and small mammals. Creating a log pile in which beetles, woodlice and earwigs can shelter is also an easy way to increase garden wildlife habitat. You can provide additional nesting space for solitary bees or overwintering quarters for other insects by creating or installing an insect house. These can be homemade and constructed to your own design, or you can purchase purpose made houses. These are particularly important for solitary bees, who use tunnels in wood, mortar, plant stems or artificial houses to nest. They lay eggs and place a food source in a series of cells, and then block the entrance with materials such as mud, leaves or fine hair. Other nest sites can be provided by leaving dead wood and stems standing and leaving a patch of bare earth or mud bank for mining bees.

Vivara Pro Seville Nest Box

Bird Boxes

Providing bird boxes in your garden can be an excellent way of helping wildlife, as natural nest sites can be rare due to changes in house construction and woodland management techniques. There is a vast array of nest boxes available for many different species of birds, so it is worth knowing which bird species visit your garden before selecting a box. A good place to start is by providing a nest box with a 32mm entrance hole that is suitable for house sparrows or blue and great tits, who are enthusiastic occupiers of nest boxes. Most nest boxes are made of breathable materials such as wood or wood fibres mixed with concrete (Woodcrete or WoodStone). The advantage of Woodcrete and WoodStone nest boxes is that they are much more durable and can last for 10 years or more. Purpose-built nest boxes are available for many different species such as swifts, treecreepers and even robins. For more details on our most popular nest boxes, please see our series of blog posts on nest boxes suitable for different locations. For more details on where to hang your nest box, please see our blog post

Image by Peter O’Connor via Flickr.

Mammals

Gardens are extremely important for hedgehogs and can provide excellent opportunities for foraging and hibernation. Leaving a pile of fallen leaves or a log pile can give them a place to shelter during the daytime or you can choose to invest in a hedgehog nest box. These can provide a safe place for hedgehogs to sleep or hibernate – there is even the option of installing a nest box camera so that you can watch footage of them using the box.

Hedgehogs can travel up to 2km each night, eating as they go. Allowing them to move freely between gardens is important to ensure that they can obtain enough food and find safe spaces to sleep. If you have a garden fence, cut a hole at the bottom measuring 13 x 13cm to allow hedgehogs to pass through on their nightly wanderings. You could also remove a brick from the bottom of a wall or dig a channel underneath. 

Bats also use gardens for foraging, so increasing the number of invertebrates in your garden will help to attract them. Bats naturally roost in a variety of spaces including holes in trees. With natural cavities being rare, providing a bat box can be a great way of helping them and our series of blog posts on the top bat boxes for different locations, and our advice on where to hang your bat box is a great place to start. The best time to watch them is at dusk when you can sit in the garden and see them whizzing around catching mosquitoes. Alternatively, you can invest in a bat detector and identify the species visiting your garden. For both bats and hedgehogs, connectivity to other patches of suitable habitat is key. Hedgehogs use hedgerows or need access through fences to be able to visit multiple gardens, and bats use treelines and hedgerows when foraging.

Image by Erik Paterson via Flickr.

Amphibians and Aquatic Invertebrates

The easiest way to help aquatic invertebrates and amphibians is by creating a pond or small body of water. Even if you have a small garden, you can create a mini pond with an old belfast sink or a washing up bowl. Choose a warm, sunny spot that will be good for dragonflies and tadpoles, consider planting a few native freshwater plants and wildlife such as pond skaters, damselflies and water beetles should soon find the spot. Please ensure that ponds are positioned with safety in mind if you have children, and that you include rocks or sloping edges so that wildlife can get in and out. There are fantastic guides to creating a pond available, such as the Wildlife Pond Book, and once your pond is up and running you can even try some pond dipping. It is not recommended to collect frogspawn from the wild, but you can encourage amphibians into your garden by providing damp areas such as log piles or a frog and toad house.

Watching Wildlife

Having attracted wildlife to your garden, there are several ways you can get fantastic views up close.  Binoculars give you a great view of wildlife that is further away, but with close focus distances now much improved, they also offer a great way of magnifying insects and aquatic invertebrates. Read our blog post to find out how to choose a pair of binoculars. Alternatively, trail cameras can be used very effectively in gardens to record garden visitors such as hedgehogs and birds. These standalone weatherproof cameras use passive infrared to detect passing warm-bodied animals and take either still photographs or videos. Options include the Bushnell NatureView Live View, which has interchangeable lenses for excellent close-up feeder shots, and the Browning Recon Force Edge which offers amazing 60fps video footage. For more information on trail cameras, see our blog post on how to choose a trail camera. For a really close-up insight into what the wildlife in your garden is doing, consider installing a nest box camera. See our guide on how to choose a nest box camera for advice on the different options. A hedgehog nest box camera can also give you really amazing footage of hedgehogs feeding and nesting.

By providing food resources and suitable habitat for wildlife, you can ensure that your garden becomes a sanctuary for the animals around you and a spectacle of nature right on your doorstep.

Recommended Reading

The Wildlife Pond Book
#246688
£11.99

 

 

 

 

Guide to Garden Wildlife
#246618
£9.99

 

 

 

 

Making Wildlife Ponds
#231864
£9.99

 

 

 

 

Nestboxes: Your Complete Guide
#241181
£10.95

 

 

 

 

RSPB First Book of Pond Life
#202385
£4.99

 

 

 

 

FSC Freshwater Name Trail
#175156
£3.30

 

 

 

 

Recommended Garden Products

Bee Brick
#244140
£24.95

 

 

BeePot Bee Hotel
#244760
£39.95

 

 

 

Bee and Bug Biome
#245924
£19.99

 

 

 

 

Red Mason Bee Nest Box
#217452
£10.99

 

 

 

 

Vivara Pro Seville 32mm WoodStone Nest Box
#234956
£21.95

 

 

 

Traditional Wooden Bird Nest Box
#193705
£12.50

 

 

 

 

WoodStone Swift Nest Box
#217160
£34.99

 

 

Vivara Pro Barcelona WoodStone Open Nest Box
#234963
£21.95

 

 

 

House Sparrow Terrace FSC Nest Box
#201458
£37.50

 

 

Hedgehog Nest Box
#179141
£45.95

 

 

 

 

Igloo Hedgehog Home
#216719
£19.50

 

 

 

Large Multi-Chamber WoodStone Bat Box
#246918
£47.99

 

 

 

 

 

Magenta Bat 5 Bat Detector
#171849
£86.95

 

 

 

 

WoodStone Frog and Toad House
#209839
£17.99

 

 

 

NHBS Pond Dipping Kit
#244947
£31.99

 

 

*** Please note that all prices in this post are correct at the time of publishing and may change at any time. ***

Gardening for Wildlife: Providing Food

Spring is blooming all around us, with primroses, wood anemones and blackthorn flowering now and foxgloves on their way. Birds are building nests ready for eggs and the sky will soon be full of wheeling summer migrants such as house martins and swallows.

Wood anemone. Photo: S. Webber

With many of us being confined to our homes, those of us lucky enough to have a garden or outdoor space will probably be spending a lot of time outdoors. Being surrounded by nature is a fantastic way to boost our mental wellbeing, and gardens can be an invaluable resource for wildlife. By following some basic principles, you can turn your garden into an oasis for wildlife and enjoy some brilliant wildlife spectacles up close.

Planting for wildlife

Attracting insects to your garden is one of the primary ways in which you can help wildlife and also increase productivity of plants and trees. You can provide vital food resources for bees, butterflies, nectar-drinking moths and other insects by planting pollinator friendly plants with high levels of pollen and nectar. Lavender, verbena and buddleia are well known for attracting bees and butterflies, but other plants can be equally important, such as goldenrod for hoverflies and late flowering plants such as ivy.

Peacock butterfly on buddleia. Photo: Andrew Fogg, www.flickr.com

The Royal Horticultural Society has a fantastic database of plants for pollinators so that you can choose plants that will flower across the seasons to provide a year-round resource for pollinating insects. Increasing the insect diversity in your garden will also encourage insectivorous birds and mammals into your garden. 

 

 

Wildflower borders and meadows

Another option is to create a wildflower border by scattering either annual or perennial wildflower seed mixes on to bare soil. It’s a low maintenance option that will provide invaluable habitat for insects. The UK has lost 96% of its species-rich meadows so these are a beautiful and valuable addition to the garden and broader landscape. It’s best to choose a mix of native plants such as poppies, cornflowers and corn marigolds (annual) or ragged robin, buttercups, yellow rattle, knapweed and grasses (perennials). If you wish to create a permanent area of meadow grassland with perennials then the RSPB has a guide to creating a wildflower meadow. Wildflower seed mixes can be ordered online.

Wildflower meadow. Photo: cristina.sanvito, www.flickr.com

Seeds and fruit

It is also good to think about plants and trees that will produce fruits and seeds for birds. Native species such as hawthorn, elder, and rowan provide a fantastic autumn feast of berries, and if you leave the heads on sunflowers after they have flowered, goldfinches can take the seeds. Fruit trees such as crab apple offer blossom for insects and birds in the spring, and fruit for species such as blackbirds in the autumn. The wild type native trees and shrubs usually attract more birds than some of the cultivars, so they are worth seeking out. Most of these plants and trees can be ordered online.

Feeding birds and mammals

Finally, providing supplementary food for birds and other wildlife can help increase their overwinter survival prospects and give you the most dazzling display of wildlife behaviour.

Greenfinch and goldfinches on a seed feeder. Photo: Nick Holden, www.flickr.com

Investing in a wide range of bird feeder types and food sources will ensure the most diverse range of birds visit your feeders. Peanuts are very popular with blue and great tits, sunflower seeds will draw in finches such as chaffinches, greenfinches and goldfinches and nyger seed is a favourite of siskins. During the winter birds need extra calories so suet balls can be supplied in feeders, or apples left out for ground feeders such as blackbirds and redwings. In addition to hanging bird feeders, a bird table will offer space to ground feeders such as robins and chaffinches. Ensure that feeders are placed at height and away from windows, and not too close to cover, to avoid sudden predator attacks. Birds and mammals also need fresh water so offering a water bath with sloping sides is important, as well as providing a fascinating focal point for watching your garden wildlife.

Hedgehog. Photo: milo bostock, www.flickr.com

Gardens have been shown to be an increasingly important habitat for hedgehogs and with their numbers in steep decline, feeding hedgehogs can give them a much needed extra food resource. Leaving food such as tinned dog or cat food (excluding fish flavours) or cat or dog biscuits will encourage hedgehogs to visit your garden, particularly if there is access from neighbouring gardens via a ‘hedgehog highway’ hole in the fence. Hedgehog feeding stations or nest boxes can provide a useful way of protecting the food from other garden visitors.

Watching wildlife

Having attracted wildlife to your garden, there are a range of ways you can get fantastic views up close.  Binoculars give you great views of wildlife that is further away, but with close focus distances now much improved, they also offer a great way of magnifying insects. Read our blog post to find out How to Choose a Pair of Binoculars. Alternatively trail cameras can be used very effectively in gardens to record garden visitors. They are standalone weatherproof cameras that use passive infrared to detect passing warm-bodied animals and take either still photographs or videos. With options including the Bushnell NatureView Live View, that has interchangeable lenses for excellent close up feeder shots, and the Browning Recon Force Edge that has amazing 60fps video footage. For more information on trail cameras, see our blog post on How to Choose a Trail Camera.

Recommended Reading


Wildlife Gardening
#244291
£14.99

 

 

 

 

Wild Your Garden
#249932
£12.99  £14.99

 

 

 

 

The Garden Jungle

Pb   #249709  £7.99  £9.99

 

 

 

 

 

Guide to Garden Wildlife
#246618
£9.99  £12.99

 

 

 

 

 

 

Butterfly Gardening
#226117
£9.99

 

 

 

 


Making Garden Meadows
#212003
£9.99

 

 

 

 

Wildlife Gardening Products

 

Droll Yankees Lifetime Seed Feeder

From £19.99

 

 

 

Defender Metal Seed Feeder
#238813
£15.95  £17.50

 

 

 

 

 

 

New York Slate Hanging Bird Table
#236543
£26.99

 

 

 

Droll Yankees Bird Lovers Suet Ball Feeder
#176819
£7.99

 

 

 

 

Challenger Peanut Feeder
#238828
£2.99  £6.95

 

 

 

 

 

 

Defender Metal Niger Feeder
#238816
£19.50  £21.95

 

 

 

 

 


Echoes Bird Bath
#195520
£25.96  £37.99

NHBS: In The Field – IP Nest Box Camera

IP Nest Box Camera

Providing a nest box for birds is one of the easiest ways that you can help wildlife in your garden or compensate for lost nesting sites as a result of development. Adding a nest box camera gives you a unique insight into the fascinating processes of nest building, egg laying, incubation and chick rearing. The IP Nest Box Camera is the ideal camera to use if you wish to live stream footage from the camera on to a PC, smartphone, tablet or to a website. The high definition camera provides 1920 x 1080p colour footage during the day and black and white footage at night and the high quality video makes it perfect for enthusiasts and researchers alike. We decided to test the IP Nest Box Camera to examine how easy it was to set up and use.

IP Nest Box Camera

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The small camera plugs directly into your router or network switch via a 20m Cat6 ethernet cable with waterproof connector. Following setup on your PC or via an app on your mobile device, live streaming can begin. We tested only PC viewing and recording. If viewing on a PC, most camera access software will allow both motion detection and scheduled recording.

There are many nest box cameras available that will cover a wide range of requirements, and our blog post on Watching Wildlife – How to choose the right Nest Box Camera can help you decide between the different options.

Setting Up

Before you install the camera in the nest box it is a good idea to wire it all up and check everything is working. We followed the Green Feathers Quick Start Guide instructions to connect the Cat6 cable between the camera and the PoE injector and between the injector and the router / switch, and then connected the injector to a power supply using the supplied adapter. We downloaded three camera access software programs to trial, Gamut CMS5, iSpy (both as recommended by Green Feathers) and Anycam.iO.

IP Nest Box Camera Setup

We installed the camera in our Camera Ready Nest Box and found that the easiest way of installing the camera into the box lid was to attach the camera bracket to the lid first and then to attach the camera to its bracket afterwards. It is best to have the camera pointing directly downwards and not angled.

After the box was installed in position, we connected everything up and downloaded software to connect to the camera. We have tried three software programs, all of which are free to download, although additional features may require payment.

Anycam.iO
iSpy
Gamut CMS5 – link to download

What We Found

The camera was really easy to connect up and access across the network. The main software we used to configure the camera was the Gamut CMS5 software and we followed the supplier instructions for how to add an HD IP camera to the Gamut software. There are many configuration options and we updated the time and date on the camera and added it to the software without any problems

We discovered a difficulty with the Gamut software, however, in that you cannot record to a subdirectory, you either need to record to an empty storage device that is mounted on its own drive or a partitioned and empty C:/ drive. For this reason we also tried the iSpy software, following the supplier instructions for how to configure an HD IP camera to record to a Windows PC. This was a very easy process and we managed to get the software to record with motion detection with no difficulties.

We also tested recording on the Anycam.iO software, which was very easy to install and set up. Recording and taking snapshots images are easy but you have to pay extra to get the motion detection function.

The Anycam.iO software was by far the easiest to use, with a really simple interface and really good resolution images and video. It is immediately obvious how to take a snapshot photo and how to record manually and if you pay the extra for the motion detection it is really easy to configure. One thing we did find is that you have to be careful with the ‘Archive’ setting on the Recording menu because it limits how much footage it will store unless it is set to ‘Unlimited’.

The images below were all taken with the Anycam.iO software and you can see the quality of the colour and resolution.

We captured some fantastic video footage of the blue tits first visiting the nest box and then a later video where the female is making her own nest box modifications. The quality of the later recording does seem to have deteriorated, which shows the difference when the light quality coming into the box is poor.

The iSpy software had many more configuration options than the Anycam.iO software but the recorded footage seemed not to be as high quality. The interface would suit a more professional user as there are many more settings that can be altered.

Our Opinion

We highly recommend purchasing the IP Nest Box Camera if you have the facility to connect a camera directly into a network. The footage is really high quality, with excellent resolution still images, and the camera provides a reliable continuous live stream. There are a number of different software options to suit a range of users and the camera can be used to capture still images and video with motion detection. We are hoping that our blue tit visitors begin bringing in nesting material soon and we can post updates on nest building. The IP Nest Box Camera is available to buy from the NHBS website. For any advice on purchasing this or other nest box cameras, please do not hesitate to contact our team of Wildlife Equipment Specialists on 01803 865913 or equipment@nhbs.com.

NHBS: In The Field – Pulsar Helion XP50 Thermal Imaging Scope

Pulsar Helion XP50 Thermal Imaging Scope

Thermal imaging technology has become an invaluable tool for researchers and ecologists studying nocturnal, crepuscular, cryptic or reclusive species. Thermal imaging devices work by using an electronic detector to convert heat emitted by the subject into a visible colour pattern. They have a distinct advantage over other night vision technologies in that you can use them during the day and in foggy conditions, as well as in total darkness. This means that they are ideal for surveying bat roosts, detecting nocturnal foraging animals, spotting birds in cover and even nest finding.

Daytime image of a Blue tit (5x magnification)

We tested the Pulsar Helion XP50 Thermal Imaging Scope at night time and in daylight. Our aim was to see if it enhanced our ability to detect and observe animals. We also wanted to examine the quality of the footage it produced. 

Pulsar Helion XP50

The Pulsar Helion XP50 is a powerful thermal imaging scope with 640 x 480 resolution and a detection range of up to 1800m. With a 50Hz frame rate it is great for observing even fast moving animals such as bats. The XP50 has inbuilt memory for storing video and still images, which can then be downloaded later via USB. Alternatively you can live stream, record and store images and video on a smartphone or tablet via the Stream Vision app.

How We Tested

We took the Pulsar Helion XP50 out a few times during daylight and night time to test its capabilities in as many conditions as possible. Steve went out searching for Lesser spotted woodpeckers on Dartmoor, Simone took the scope out to get some night footage of woodcock and we tested the daytime recording functionality again near the NHBS head office. 

To get night time footage we tested the XP50 on a very drizzly, foggy evening in January, on agricultural land in Dorset that is managed organically. We knew this was a good area for overwintering woodcock and hoped to spot some foraging along with other wildlife. The scope is an all-in-one unit, so we just took it in its case and didn’t need any other accessories.

What We Found

We found the scope easy to use one-handed, particularly due to the strap and the design of the button interface. It was simple to switch magnification zoom setting, take still images or videos, change colour palette and look at the stadiametric rangefinder one handed, meaning we could maintain our focus on the wildlife in front of us. All of the menu options appear on the screen and on recordings so you know what settings you had when you took the footage. The detection range was impressive and we easily spotted larger animals such as deer and hares when scanning the fields in the dark.

Night time image of a woodcock (5x magnification)

The WiFi streaming was exceptionally easy to set up and a fantastically useful tool to allow other people to view what was happening through the camera. It also allows you to control the camera and record footage. Downloading images from the internal camera memory via USB was very simple afterwards.

Daytime use

We obtained good daytime footage of squirrels and passerines such as blue tits, robins and blackbirds, with the scope making it very easy to pick out birds moving through the leafless tree canopy. The mallards on the river near NHBS head office were easy to spot without the scope but it did help us find a hidden teal and a moorhen that we would have missed otherwise. 

Night time use

Night time image of standing deer (5x magnification)

The XP50 came into its own at night and we picked up many animals that were missed when we surveyed the area with a lamp, even small animals such as mice and meadow pipits. We detected animals through the fog, drizzle and some ground cover with ease. We spotted roe deer, hares, rabbits, mice, meadow pipits, woodcock and a barn owl. The bird species were easy to follow when flying and provided smooth video footage due to the fast frame rate.

Our Opinion

We think that the Pulsar Helion XP50 is an absolutely fantastic thermal imaging scope and would be a great addition to any researcher or ecologist’s survey equipment collection. The standout features are the detection range, the one handed operation and the streaming function. We would advise users to memorise the shortcut buttons before you go out as it can be difficult to remember how to switch modes in the field. The magnification zoom was useful if animals were fairly close but the footage became very blurry if they were further away so we tended to stick to 2.5x or 5x. Camera shake also becomes a real problem at the higher magnifications and a tripod would have improved our recorded footage quite dramatically. Thermal imaging technology opens up a world of possibilities for night time wildlife watching, bird ringing and surveying and we think this is an excellent scope for all of these purposes.

Night time footage of hares (5x magnification)

For more information on night vision technologies and the NHBS range, please see our blog post
NHBS Guide to Night Vision and Thermal Optics.

The Pulsar Helion XP50 is available from the NHBS website. For assistance with any queries regarding our range of thermal imaging cameras, please do not hesitate to contact our team of Wildlife Equipment Specialists.

Installing nest box cameras at NHBS

Now is the time of year when many bird species are starting to defend territories more noisily and to look for suitable nest sites. To coincide with National Nest Box Week (14th to 21st February), we have been busy selecting our favourite nest boxes, updating our advisory blog posts on where to site nest boxes and how to put them up, and installing our own nest box cameras at our warehouse in Devon.

Great tit eggs – Photo: S. Webber

At this time of year, the birds will currently be exploring nest sites and should start bringing nesting material into the boxes in the next couple of weeks. 

Incubating great tit female – Photo: S. Webber

Given that it has been a mild winter, the breeding season should start earlier this year, but we still would not expect the first eggs to appear until April. This means that there is still time to get a nest box up in your garden to provide much needed nesting space for birds. You could even consider enjoying this amazing spring spectacle up close with a nest box camera.

 

 

Choosing the nest boxes and cameras

We chose two of our Camera Ready Nest Boxes because they have a perspex panel in the side to let in extra light, which gives better daytime images in colour, and a camera clip on the lid. We then selected two of our most popular cameras, the WiFi Nest Box Camera, which can stream footage directly to a smartphone or tablet, and the IP Nest Box Camera, which can provide a live stream to a website. There are many options available when it comes to selecting a nest box camera, and our blog post on Watching Wildlife – How to choose the right Nest Box Camera can help you decide between the different options.

The Camera Ready Nest Box and IP Nest Box Camera

How to install the camera in the nest box

The procedure for attaching the camera to the lid was the same for the WiFi and IP cameras. We found that the easiest way of installing the camera into the box lid was to attach the camera bracket to the lid first and then to attach the camera to its bracket afterwards. We unscrewed the camera clip with a large Phillips screwdriver, slid the camera bracket underneath the clip on the inside of the lid and then tightened the clip screw back up again. 

Unscrewing the camera clip and attaching the bracket

Then we attached the camera onto its bracket using a very small Phillips screwdriver. 

Attaching the WiFi camera to its bracket

With the WiFi camera we found that it was best to point the aerial downwards because our nest box roof was sloping. You can check the angle of the camera through the perspex panel on the side – it is best to have it pointing directly downwards and not angled. Ensure that the camera cable is running out of the notch on the back of the box so that the lid fits down snugly.

IP Nest Box Camera in position

Putting up the nest boxes

We sited the nest boxes on the eastern side of the building close to the tree cover along the river. To maximise the chances of occupation, it is advisable to site boxes for cavity nesting birds such as blue and great tits away from prevailing winds, and with a direct flight path to some tree cover. We attached them securely to the wall, approximately 2m off the ground – this is high enough to prevent interference but close enough to reach for monitoring and maintenance. We have put them as far apart as possible from each other and out of the sight of our bird feeder around the corner. We think that it may be unlikely that tit species would nest that closely to each other but if the boxes are occupied by house sparrows then these two boxes could form the start of a colony.

Connecting up the cameras

The IP Nest Box Camera connects via Ethernet cable directly into a router, hub or switch and then you need to choose software to allow you to access the camera feed and live stream to a website. We are currently trialling Anycam.iO. If there is no WiFi network, the WiFi camera can be used as a standalone WiFi source that you connect to directly with your smartphone or tablet. Alternatively you can tether the WiFi camera to your existing WiFi network and access it as a node on the network. The WiFi camera is viewed via an app on your smartphone or tablet and we are currently trialling ICSee Pro.

The current view in the IP camera nest box

 

 

Now we just have to wait and hope that the local birds decide that these are desirable nesting sites! For further advice on nest boxes and cameras, please do not hesitate to contact our team of Wildlife Equipment Specialists.

 

 

 

Recommended reading

 

 

 

Nestboxes
Your Complete Guide
£10.95

 

 

 

 

A Field Guide to Monitoring Nests
£24.99

 

 

 

 

 

Nests, Eggs & Incubation
£23.99  £40.99

 

 

 

 

 

The Blue Tit
£49.99

 

 

 

 

Recommended Products

Nest Box Camera Kit
From £58.99

 

 

WiFi Nest Box Camera
£109.00  £129.00

 

 

IP Nest Box Camera
£100.00

 

 

Side Opening Nest Box
£29.95

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch – NHBS Results

This year’s Big Garden Birdwatch took place from 25th to 27th of January, and having recruited some enthusiastic NHBS volunteers to take part, we thought we would provide an update of our results. We encouraged family members to join in, sat down with binoculars, tea, cake and crumpets and counted the birds that we saw in our gardens. We saw a wide range of species, with blackcap, marsh tit and nuthatch being particular highlights. House sparrows were our most commonly seen bird in terms of numbers, which aligns us with the overall Big Garden Birdwatch results from previous years, and blackbirds were seen in the most gardens. Great tits were more common than blue tits, however, and starlings were only seen in a particularly rural garden. We all thoroughly enjoyed taking part, in spite of the drizzle outside and would highly recommend this as a great activity to introduce children to some of the species visiting their garden.

The most commonly seen species as an average per garden as counted by NHBS staff

Individual Results

Nigel

Nigel had some willing helpers in the form of his three children, who thoroughly enjoyed helping with the count (with some crumpets)

Photo by Nigel Jones

Robin: 2
Wood pigeon: 2
Collared dove: 2
Great tit: 2
Blue tit: 2
Dunnock: 2
House sparrow: 1
Blackbird: 2

 

Catherine

Catherine’s was the only garden to feature a pied wagtail, a very good spot.

Great tit: 6
Blue Tit: 1
Chaffinch: 1
Magpie: 2
Wood pigeon: 3
Blackbird: 4
Pied wagtail: 1

Elle

Elle’s garden produced the only blackcap record and was the only garden with no blackbirds.

Robin: 1
Blue tit: 1
Blackcap: 1
Wren: 1
Wood pigeon: 1
House sparrow: 2

Steve

Steve’s results easily outstripped all our other gardens in terms of numbers and diversity of species. He counted with his very enthusiastic family and the results indicate that this is a garden that is obviously perfect for wildlife. They also contributed a great fantastic marsh tit photo.

Marsh tit by Steve Powell

Blackbird: 1
Blue tit: 6
Chaffinch: 2
Coal tit: 4
Collared dove: 1
Dunnock: 2
Great tit: 3
House sparrow: 5
Long-tailed tit: 7
Magpie: 2
Robin: 1
Nuthatch: 1
Marsh tit: 1
Great spotted woodpecker: 1

Oli

Oli’s garden seems to be very attractive to corvids, being  the only garden to feature jackdaws and crows. He also took a rather nice picture of a wood pigeon.

Wood pigeon by Oli Haines

Wood pigeon: 3
Blackbird: 1
Jackdaw: 2
Crow: 2
Great tit: 1

 

 

 

Simone

Simone recruited her two young children to help and they greatly enjoyed watching the birds and using the binoculars (often upside down). They had some trouble understanding why they should try and be quiet. The garden is very rural but small and was the only garden to feature starlings.

Photos by Simone Webber

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

House sparrow: 10
Collared dove: 4
Blackbird: 2
Chaffinch: 2
Robin: 2
Starling: 2

Simone’s results displayed by the RSPB website after entering the data

The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2020

For over 40 years the RSPB has been running one of the largest citizen science projects in the world, the Big Garden Birdwatch. Data is submitted by nearly half a million volunteers who have counted birds in their gardens, allowing a unique and important picture to emerge of changes in abundance and distribution of some of the UK’s most popular bird species. Anyone can sign up online to take part and submit data using a simple online or paper form, and then you can sit back with a cup of tea and enjoy watching the birds in your garden or park, whilst contributing to this amazing project. This year the Big Garden Birdwatch is being run from 25 – 27th January, with results expected to be published in April.

Long-tailed tit: Airwolfhound: www.flickr.com

How to take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch
You do not have to be an RSPB member to participate and process for signing up, counting and submitting records is easy.

  1. Sign up through the RSPB website for either a free postal pack or online results submission
  2. Find a good spot to watch the birds in your garden or a local park and choose an hour between between Saturday 25th and Monday 27th January
  3. Have fun identifying the species visiting your garden during that hour and count the maximum number of each species you see at any one time. For example, if you see a group of three house sparrows together and after that another one, the number to submit is three. This method means it is less likely you will double count the same birds and makes data analysis easier. Make a note of any other wildlife that you spot as well
  4. Submit your results, either on the Big Garden Birdwatch website, or by posting a paper form. Even if you don’t see anything, that’s still useful information
  5. Look out for the results and take pride in having contributed data from your patch

Which species am I likely to see?
The RSPB website has some fantastic guides detailing how to identify the species that you are seeing and once you have signed up, you can download a chart with the most common species and identifying features. Alternatively NHBS stocks a range of bird ID guides that are ideal for beginners and more experienced birdwatchers. One of the first thing to consider is where you are seeing the bird and how it is feeding as this makes it easier to distinguish between ground feeders such as chaffinches, dunnocks, blackbirds and robins, and feeder users such as blue and great tits and goldfinches. If you can hear the birds then listening to the calls they are making is also a really good way to help with identification. The top eight species from last year gives a good idea of some of the species you are likely to see in your garden.

The most commonly recorded species in the 2019 Big Garden Birdwatch. All images from www.flickr.com

Big Garden Birdwatch Results
Over the course of its 40 year history the Big Garden Birdwatch has developed an invaluable database of the numbers and composition of species visiting our gardens and parks. This has allowed the RSPB scientists to identify critical population trends such as a 77% decline in song thrush and starling numbers since 1979, and a 56% decrease in the number of house sparrows since the study started, although this decline has slowed in the last 10 years.

All images from www.flickr.com

With the increase in people feeding birds in their gardens, the diversity of species visiting our parks and gardens has increased. Coal tit sightings have increased by 246% since 1979, goldfinches only began to be sighted in the early 2000s and siskins, bullfinches and bramblings are increasingly common in gardens.

The 2019 results have house sparrows as the most commonly sighted bird for the 16th successive year, with over a million sightings. Starlings and blue tits maintain their second and third places respectively, and the rest of the top ten was also fairly consistent with previous years’ results, featuring blackbirds, woodpigeons, goldfinches, great tits, robins, chaffinches and magpies.

 

All of this vital analysis of our wild bird populations is only possible thanks to the time and enthusiasm donated by the volunteers who take part.

 

Greenfinch and goldfinches on a seed feeder:  Nick Holden – www.flickr.com

How can I encourage more wildlife into my garden?
It is well documented that increasing our interactions with nature can not only benefit the wildlife around us but also improve our own physical and mental wellbeing. Participating in the Big Garden Birdwatch can help you understand how wildlife is using your garden and also give you some insights into how you could make your outdoor space even more attractive to animals.

Improving your garden for wildlife can be as simple as leaving a patch of long grass, providing native trees or plants that are good for pollinators such as lavender, buddleja and verbena, or leaving a woodpile for insects to shelter in. You can also supply nest boxes for birds, bat boxes for summer roosting bats, access panels and shelters for hedgehogs, shelter for frogs and toads and of course bird feeders, which will bring a multitude of species to your garden.

Recommended Products

Opticron Oregon 4 PC 8 x 32 Binoculars

£109.00 £119.00

With Phase Coating for improved sharpness of images, these are fantastic entry level binoculars

 

Hawke Optics Endurance ED Binoculars

£209.00 £229.99

These binoculars have ED glass for brilliant colour rendition

 

 

 

 

Defender Metal Seed Feeder

£15.95 £17.50

Defender Metal Peanut Feeder

£12.95 £14.99

Strong metal feeders with good squirrel resistance

 

 

Britain’s Birds: An identification guide to the birds of Britain and Ireland

£19.99

 

 

 

 

 

Collins BTO Guide to British Birds

£19.99

 

 

 

 

 

RSPB Pocket Guide to British Birds

£6.99

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guide to the ‘Top 50’ Garden Birds

£3.99

How to Choose a Pair of Binoculars

 

With the return of overwintering waders and ducks to the UK, it is a fantastic time to get out with a good pair of binoculars and enjoy the spectacle of thousands of water birds using our estuaries. A good pair of binoculars is an invaluable part of the naturalist’s field kit and they provide some of the most memorable wildlife encounters. There is an overwhelming array of sizes and specifications and it can be difficult to choose between them when purchasing a new pair. In this post we will provide a summary of some of the key features of a pair of binoculars, to help you find the best pair to accompany you on surveys, whilst travelling or when enjoying your local wildlife.

Once you have decided on your budget, there are a few key metrics that will help you decide which pair of binoculars will suit you best. With binoculars it really is worth paying as much as you can afford as the glass, lens coatings and specifications improve with every step up in price. All of the binoculars in the NHBS range are roof prism binoculars, they are all waterproof and come with a case and neck strap.

Magnification

Binocular models generally have two numbers in their description. The first of these relates to the magnification. (For example, 8 x 42 binoculars will have a magnification of 8x). In general, binoculars have a magnification between 8x and 12x. As you would expect, the higher the magnification, the larger objects will appear when looking through them. As magnification increases, the field of view can be reduced and you will need to ensure that you have steady hands or use some kind of support.

Lens Diameter

Larger diameter lenses provide brighter images at dawn and dusk. Photo credit: Paulo Valdivieso – www.flickr.com

The second number in the binocular model description (e.g. 8 x 42) refers to the diameter of the objective lens. Standard size binoculars tend to have objective lenses of 32mm to 42mm whilst lenses in compact binoculars usually measure 25mm. Larger lenses can dramatically improve low light performance and are particularly good for use at dusk or dawn. The trade off is that larger lenses are heavier. The most popular size of binoculars for birdwatching was traditionally 8 x 42, but with advances in manufacture and lens performance, 8 x 32 binoculars now offer fantastic specifications in a more compact body.

Glass Type

The type and quality of glass have a huge impact on image quality. Image by Bicanski via Public Domain Images

The type of glass used to manufacture the lenses can vastly affect the quality of the image. Two types of glass to look out for are extra-low dispersion (ED) and fluoride (FL) glass. These reduce chromatic aberrations giving clearer and sharper colours and reduced colour “fringing”.

 

Fringing is the blurring that can occur between light and dark parts of an image. If your budget allows for an upgrade to ED glass binoculars, you will notice a distinct improvement in clarity compared to binoculars without ED glass. Affordable pairs of ED binoculars include the Hawke Optics Endurance ED, the Nikon Monarch 5 and the Opticron Explorer ED.

Lens and Prism Coatings

The primary difference in performance and the brightness of images between different pairs of binoculars is often due to lens and prism coatings. Light is lost as it travels across every surface inside a pair of binoculars and the aim of a good pair of binoculars is to keep light transmission as high as possible between the objective and the ocular lens. Lens and prism coatings reduce the amount of light that is lost helping to produce a brighter and sharper image. Lenses that are multi-coated have multiple layers of lens coatings. High quality binoculars are fully multi-coated which means that they have multiple layers of coating on all lens surfaces. Roof prism binoculars have a particular problem with “phase shift” where the polarisation angle of the prism causes the light passing through to be split into two slightly out of phase beams. This results in an image which has lower resolution and may look slightly blurred. Prism coatings correct this problem by forcing the split light back into phase. Look out for binoculars with Phase Correction (PC) prism coatings.

Dunlin (Calidris alpina). Photo credit: Ron Knight – www.flickr.com
Key Comparison Metrics

Comparing some of the performance metrics of a pair of binoculars can help when deciding which pair would best suit your purposes. In particular field of view will be useful if you are looking at large landscapes (e.g. whale or sea watching) and close focus is very important if you are looking at insects.

Field of View – The field of view is how wide an image can be seen at a specified distance (usually 1000m). A wide field of view is useful for large landscapes and for fast moving animals. Models with a particularly wide field of view include all of the Kite Optics range, the Opticron Discovery, Traveller ED and Explorer ranges, the Bushnell Prime and Forge ranges and the Swarovski EL and SLC binoculars.

The Opticron Discovery range of binoculars has a fantastic field of view and great close focus.

Close Focus – The close focus is the minimum distance at which the binoculars are able to focus. People interested in viewing insects using their binoculars would be advised to choose a model with a small close focus distance. Models with particularly low close focus include the Opticron Discovery and Traveller ranges, the Swarovski EL and the Kite Caiman binoculars.

Weight – The weight of the binoculars is incredibly important, as it is likely that you will be carrying them around for long periods of time. Higher quality models of comparable specification will tend to be lighter than entry-level models, and those with larger objective lenses will weigh more than those with smaller ones. Binoculars that are particularly lightweight and excellent for travelling include the Opticron Traveller range, the Hawke Optics Nature-Trek and Endurance ranges, and the Nikon Monarch 5 range.

Eye Relief – This is the maximum distance from the eyepiece lens that the eye can be positioned at which the full width of the image is visible without vignetting (darkening of the image around the edges). Longer eye relief is useful for those who wear glasses.

If you have any queries regarding binoculars then our Customer Services team and trained Wildlife Equipment Specialists would be delighted to assist on 01803 865913 or via email at customer.services@nhbs.com.

Recommended Models

Entry Level

Hawke Optics Nature-Trek
One of our most popular models, lightweight with good optical performance

 

 

General Purpose

Opticron Discovery
Phase-coated prisms give optical performance that is a step above entry level, fantastic field of view and close focus

 

Hawke Optics Endurance ED
These affordable binoculars have ED glass to provide crystal clear images, representing great value for money.

 

Travelling

Opticron Traveller BGA Mg
The perfect binoculars for travelling, they have good field of view, great close focus and are amazingly lightweight and compact. For an even more exceptional optical performance try the Traveller ED range.

Mid range

Kite Lynx HD+
These binoculars have an astonishing field of view and exceptional close focus with ED glass for excellent colour reproduction and scratch resistant lens coatings.

 

Nikon Monarch 5
With ED glass for good colour reproduction and dielectric multilayer prism coatings, the Nikon Monarch 5 binoculars provide fantastic optical performance in a lightweight body.

 

Top of the Range

Swarovski EL
The EL binoculars range is hand made in Austria with field flattener lenses, fluoride glass and Swarobright coating to provide an unparalleled optical experience.

 

Banner image features Northern Lapwings (Vanellus vanellus). Photo credit: Tony Hisgett – www.flickr.com