Listening In The Field: Thoughts on Field Recording

Separating the Signals From the Noise
Image from Wild Soundscapes: Discovering the Voice of the Natural World

 

 

 

 

 

NHBS equipment team member Johnny Mitchell, developed a keen interest in sound design and field recording whilst studying contemporary music. He continues to be fascinated by the technical challenges of field recording and its use for ecologists. With the recent publication of Joeri Bruyninckx’s Listening In The Field, interest around this subject continues to grow, so Johnny has provided some thoughts about the art of wildlife sound recording along with some excellent book recommendations.

‘In its broadest sense, field recording is the act of capturing sound outside of a traditional recording studio environment.

We live, it seems, in a culture that values vision and image above all other senses. In our increasingly noisy society, and as the cacophony of human-induced noise increases around us, it can be easy to forget the value of simply listening as a way to engage with the natural world.

One of the most evocative and earliest examples of field recording can be can found in the BBC recordings of Cellist Beatrice Harrison who, whilst playing in the garden at her home in Oxted, Surrey, noticed that the nightingales in the woods around her responded to, and even echoed, the notes of her cello. Broadcast just two years after the Birth of BBC radio in the early 1920’s, it was the first time that wildlife had been broadcast over live radio in the UK, and it proved to be so popular that the recordings were repeated every spring for the following 12 years.

Listening In The Field: Recording and the Science of Birdsong
Hardback | May 2018
£26.99

 

 

Advances in high-quality, portable audio equipment have led to a fascinating cross-pollination between artists, musicians and scientists. In his new book, Listening in the Field, Joeri Bruyninckx traces the development of field recording and its use in field ornithology. Drawing on expertise from experimental music to serious science, it provides a thorough and wide-ranging investigation into the power of sound and listening.

Anyone looking for further reading on the subject would do well to look to the work of Bernie Krause; in particular The Great Animal Orchestra and Wild Soundscapes.

In The Great Animal Orchestra, Krause, a former musician/composer and now leading expert in soundscape ecology, details his experiences in over 40 years of collecting wild soundscapes and explores what these can tell us about the health of various biomes.

 

Wild Soundscapes offers the reader both a philosophical guide and practical handbook- it is a highly readable and invaluable guide into the many techniques and different types of audio equipment available to anyone making their first forays into the field.

 

Krause encourages us to take a widescreen view of the soundscape as a whole rather than focusing on single species. Whilst listening to his recorded sounds and visualising them using spectograms, Krause also developed his ‘niche hypothesis’ – discovering that many creatures have developed temporal and frequency niches in which to communicate. What we would perceive as a chaotic web of sound is, he argues, highly ordered, and organisms in a soundscape structure their vocalisations over both frequency and time.

Tragically, over half of the soundscapes in Krause’s archive have either been dramatically altered by human activity or silenced altogether. However, as interest and technology advance it is fair to say that we are coming to understand and value the natural soundscape around us and our effect upon it’.

Field Recording Equipment

At NHBS you will find a great range of microphones, recorders and accessories for field recording.

Hi-Sound Mono Parabolic Microphone
H2a Hydrophone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sennheiser MKH 416-P48 U3 Microphone
Basic Stereo Hydrophone

 

 

 
Tascam DR-05 Handheld Recorder
Tascam DR-40 Handheld Recorder
Further reading:

The Sound Approach to Birding: A Guide to Understanding Bird Sound
Hardback | Dec 2006
£29.95

 

In The Field: The Art of Field Recording
Hardback | May 2018
£11.99

 

 

Further listening:

Browse our range of wildlife audio CDs and listen to the sounds of the Amazon, the pure voice of the nightingale or the frog calls of Madagascar.  Find the full list here.

 

Enjoy being in the field, there really is plenty to listen to.

 

Please note that prices stated in this blog post are correct at the time of publishing and are subject to change at any time.

 

The NHBS Guide to UK Amphibian Identification

 

The UK is home to seven native species of amphibian. Over the winter, these frogs, toads and newts have all been hibernating, but it will soon be time for them to venture out to their breeding ponds and pools. If you’re lucky, you will be able to spot them when you’re out and about.

In this blogpost we will provide you with some of the key characteristics of each species which will help you to identify exactly what you’re looking at. For those of you who are keen to find out more, we have also provided a list of field and identification guides at the bottom of the page.


Newts

Newts are members of the salamander family and have a lizard-like body shape. They are semi-aquatic, spending part of the year on land, returning to the water in spring to breed. Eggs are laid in the water where they hatch into tadpoles and then proceed to develop front and back legs, along with gills for breathing. They leave the water in late summer once their gills have been lost.

The three species of newt which are native to the UK are the Smooth Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris), the Palmate Newt (Lissotriton helveticus) and the Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus).

Smooth Newt:

Image by gailhampshire via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Look for the pale spotted throat. Image by gailhampshire.

• Size: Grows to around 10-11cm in length.
• Colour: Males brown/olive; females light brown. Belly is usually yellowy orange with black spots. The throat is pale with darker spots.
• Skin Texture: Smooth
• Habitat: Spring to early summer in ponds and pools (frequently found in garden ponds). Late summer under logs and stones near to water.
• Other notes: The male has a wavy back crest during the breeding season.

Palmate Newt:

Image by Laurent Lebois via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Look for the pale throat without spots and a dark stripe through the eye – this can help you to distinguish it from the smooth newt. Image by Laurent Lebois.

• Size: Grows to around 7-11cm; slightly smaller than the smooth newt.
• Colour: Males olive brown; females yellowish brown. The throat is white/pale pink and does not have spots or speckling. The eye has a dark stripe running horizontally through it.
• Skin Texture: Smooth
• Habitat: During the breeding season (early March to late May) in shallow ponds, often in heathland bogs. During summer in woodland, ditches and gardens near to water.
• Other notes: During the breeding season, the male palmate newt has a ridge running along its back and a tail which ends in a filament. Its back feet are also webbed.

Great Crested Newt

Much larger than the smooth or palmate newt, the male has a large crest which is broken where the tail meets the body. Image by Chris H.

• Size: Up to 15cm in length. Females may be even larger than this.
• Colour: Dark brown or black with white/silver dots on sides. Underside is orange with black spots. Pale throat.
• Skin Texture: Warty
• Habitat: March to May in deep ponds with vegetation. Great crested newts often range further than smooth or palmate newts during the summer and can be found in gardens, ditches and woodland.
• Other notes: The male has a very distinctive crest during the breeding season which is broken at the point where the tail meets the body. The crest also has a silver stripe.


Frogs

Frogs are short-bodied, tailless amphibians that largely lay their eggs in water. These eggs hatch into aquatic larvae, known as tadpoles, before metamorphosing into froglets and then adults.

There are two native species of frog in the UK: the Common Frog (Rana temporaria) and the Pool Frog (Pelophylax lessonae).

Common Frog

Keep an eye out for dark patches behind the eyes and dark barring on the back legs. Image by Erik Paterson.

• Size: Adults grow to 6-9cm in length.
• Colour: Olive green to yellow-brown. Usually spotty or stripy with dark patches behind the eyes and darker barring on hind legs.
• Skin Texture: Smooth and moist.
• Habitat: From late February to early October in all sorts of ponds and pools. Common in gardens.
• Other notes: Moves by hopping. Common frogspawn is gelatinous with black embryos and tadpoles are initially black but turn speckled brown. (This is a useful way of distinguishing them from toad tadpoles, which remain dark until development).

Pool Frog

• Size: Adults grow to 6-9cm in length.
• Colour: Usually brown with dark spots. Light yellow back stripe.
• Skin Texture: Smooth and moist.
• Habitat: Currently only present in localised spots in East Anglia.
• Other notes: Males have prominent vocal sacks on the side of the mouth.


Toads

Toads are characterised by dry-looking, warty skin and short legs. They usually move via a lumbering walk, as opposed to the hopping motion used by frogs. As with frogs, most toads lay their eggs in water. These hatch into tadpoles before growing legs and metamorphosing into the adult form.

Within the UK there are two native species of toad: the Common Toad (Bufo bufo) and the Natterjack Toad (Epidalea calamita).

Common Toad

The common toad moves with a lumbering walk and has distinctive bulges on the back of its head. Image by stanze.

• Size: Females grow up to 13cm whilst males are smaller and usually reach only 8cm.
• Colour: Brown to grey-green. Paler on the underside.
• Skin Texture: Dry-looking and warty.
• Habitat: From late February in damp, shady spots near to breeding ponds. During the summer in woodlands, gardens and fields.
• Other notes: The common toad has amber eyes with a horizontal pupil. Moves with a lumbering walk or small hop. Eggs are laid in strings in a double row. Upon hatching the tadpoles are dark and, unlike frog tadpoles, remain so until they develop. 

Natterjack Toad

The natterjack toad has a yellow stripe down the spine. Image by Bernard Dupont.

• Size: Females grow up to 8cm whilst males are slightly smaller.
• Colour: Pale brown/green, often with brightly coloured red or yellow warts. Yellow stripe down the spine.
• Skin Texture: Dry-looking and warty.
• Habitat: Coastal dunes and lowland heath, often in open, unshaded habitats. The natterjack toad is very rare in the UK.
• Other notes: The natterjack toad has amber eyes with a horizontal pupil. Moves with a running motion, rather than hopping. Lays strings of eggs in a single row.


Further reading:

 

Amphibians and Reptiles

Amphibians and Reptiles
A comprehensive guide to the native and non-native species of amphibian and reptile found in the British Isles. Professor Trevor Beebee covers the biology, ecology, conservation and identification of the British herpetofauna, and provides keys for the identification of adult and immature specimens as well as eggs, larvae and metamorphs.

Britain's Reptiles and Amphibians

Britain’s Reptiles and Amphibians
This detailed guide to the reptiles and amphibians of Britain, Ireland and the Channel Islands has been produced with the aim of inspiring an increased level of interest in these exciting and fascinating animals. It is designed to help anyone who finds a lizard, snake, turtle, tortoise, terrapin, frog, toad or newt to identify it with confidence.

 

FSC Guide: Reptiles and Amphibians

A Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Britain and Ireland
This laminated pamphlet is produced by the Field Studies Council and covers the 13 species of non-marine reptile and amphibian which breed in Britain, as well as the five species which breed in Ireland. These include frogs, toads, newts, snakes and lizards.

 

Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of Britain and Europe
This excellent field guide covers a total of 219 species, with a focus on identification and geographical variation. The species text also covers distribution, habitat and behaviour. Superb colour illustrations by talented artist Ilian Velikov depict every species.

 

The Amphibians and Reptiles of ScotlandThe Amphibians and Reptiles of Scotland
This book is designed to be an interesting and informative guide to the amphibians and reptiles that are found in the wild in Scotland. The authors have focused on those species native to Scotland, plus those which are non-native but are breeding in the wild.

Made by NHBS – The Ichthyoplankton Net

These bespoke nets, made by NHBS, are being used by ZSL in an ongoing project to monitor juvenile and larval fish populations in the Thames.
The Ichthyoplankton Net

Earlier this year we were contacted by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) who were interested in working with us to make a bespoke aquatic survey net.

Their specifications required the net to have a square frame with a four point bridle and connections for a flow meter. It also needed to have a diving vane which would ensure that it could be towed stably at a set depth, and a screw on cod end with a bag made from 53µm and 250µm mesh. Following these guidelines, our engineer and seamstress got to work and within a couple of weeks a detailed specification was agreed. The nets were then manufactured and two were sent to ZSL in February.

First draft of the net design

Several months later we were delighted to receive some photos from Anna Cucknell, who manages ZSL’s work on fish conservation in the Thames, showing the nets in use.

 

 

“It was great to work with NHBS, who listened to our specific needs to design bespoke sampling nets for juvenile fish, and used their experience to adapt our designs to fit our needs. Our juvenile fish surveys on the Thames are the first of their kind, in scale and resolution and we hope the results from which will be applicable in the Thames and further afield to help drive conservation and better management of our estuaries for all fish species”.
Anna Cucknell, Thames Project Manager, Zoological Society of London

Ichthyoplankton Net in the Thames
Nets are towed both at the surface and at a depth of two metres. Combined with data from seine and intertidal nets, these surveys provide a comprehensive picture of larval and juvenile fish populations.
Fish Conservation in the Thames

The nets we made for ZSL are being used for an ongoing project to monitor the use of the Thames by juvenile fish.

The Tidal Thames is home to more than 100 fish species including many that are commercially important such as Dover sole and European seabass. It also provides critically important habitat for rarer species, including European smelt and European eel.

Like most estuaries, the Thames provides invaluable spawning, migratory and nursery grounds but, despite this, the region is poorly studied. The ZSL project hopes to remedy this by providing essential information about the health of fish populations in the estuary, and to assess how these are affected by water quality and local developments.

Boat-based sampling for juvenile fish

The project, funded by Tideway, involves both boat-based and foreshore sampling and, excitingly, also provides an opportunity for volunteers to get involved via its citizen science scheme. Volunteers can help with a variety of tasks including measuring, identifying and counting the fish.

For more information about the Tidal Thames fish conservation project, head over to the ZSL website

Interested in getting involved? Sign up here to volunteer.

Have a bespoke project in mind? Contact our engineer, Thomas to discuss your requirements (email thomashk@nhbs.com or phone 01803 865913).

 

Books for Foraging

Blackberries by Jared Smith (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Foraging was my first introduction to the natural world.

While sounding slightly trite, this statement is non-the-less true. I grew up in a town, like most of us do, and before I started foraging for nothing more exciting than blackberries I didn’t pay much attention to ‘nature.’

So, what did foraging teach me about the natural world that climbing trees and making dens couldn’t?  Simply the realisation that blossoms provide pollen to pollinators such as bees, enabling the trees and shrubs to produce fruit. Eureka! So, that’s what bees are for! Then there are the seasons: not just for influencing the contents of the wardrobe, seasons were the on/off or pause for everything. I began to get excited, I discovered wild mushrooms, I was twelve and I’ve been foraging ever since.

Are we foraging too much?

Foraging is quite a controversial issue. There are lots of passionate arguments for and against it and a quick browse of the subject on the internet will tell you more. Like many, I am concerned that professional foragers can damage the natural environment. It seems logical that stripping out all the mushrooms or sea kale from a small area will damage that environment in some way. Surely foragers just need to abide by good practice, it’s the practitioner’s actions not the practice itself that can cause problems. Then there is the notion of sustaining oneself with ‘wild food.’ At best this notion is romantic, more likely delusional. My love of foraging is wholly based on getting outdoors and learning about nature – foraging is not an alternative to going to the shops.

Is it dangerous?

Firstly, you do need a book, especially if you are foraging for mushrooms; mis-identification can and does have dire consequences. You need to be careful and acquire knowledge with experience. You discover a sought-after Boletus edulis, considered the king of all mushrooms and totally delicious (I can vouch that they are). However, before you enjoy your gourmet mushroom, make sure the stem doesn’t turn blue when cut, otherwise you’re eating Boletus erythropus and are in for an unpleasant stomach ache. More serious consequences can occur from eating the morbidly named destroying angel, Amanita bisporigera, or the death cap, Amanita phalloides. Please be very familiar with both before you eat wild mushrooms.  A book will suffice as a identification checklist, but the best way is to find a specimen and take note of all its pertinent features, cross-referencing with more than one book if possible. Once you can confidently identify a destroying angel or a death cap, you can be confident the mushroom you are planning to eat isn’t one of them.

Away from the more well documented mushroom poisoning, you might find yourself spending your evening taking the tiny stalks out of every single elderberry in the clusters you’ve picked – the leaves, twigs, branches, stalks, seeds, and roots of Sambucus plants can contain a cyanidin glycoside, so it’s best to be safe. Oh, and you need to cook the berries too. You don’t have to take risks though, as the Woodland Trust has planted many community orchards in towns, resulting in enough blackberry and apple jam to last you a whole year.

Which books should I use?

There are lots of books available and we have compiled a short list here for you to browse. In no particular order, the following contain interesting and practical information on foraging:

Collins Food for Free
Richard Mabey
Paperback | 2007

 

 

Foraging: A Practical Guide to Finding & Preparing Free Wild Food
John Lewis-Stempel
Paperback | 2012

 

Collins Fungi Guide: The Most Complete Field Guide to the Mushrooms and Toadstools of Britain & Ireland
Stefan Buczack
Paperback | 2013

 

Edible Seashore
John Wright
Hardback | 2009

 

 

Hedgerow
John Wright
Hardback | 2010

 

 

Wild Food: A Complete Guide for Foragers
Roger Phillips
Hardback | 2014

 

 

Being outside in all weathers, learning about nature, connecting with the natural world, acquiring more and more knowledge and experience: whether you are in town, country or even the city there will be plants growing everywhere that you can eat. It’s fun, slightly dangerous and can give children their first and lasting experience of connecting with nature.  It did that for me and has stayed, and will stay with me all my life.

 

A New Home for Old Pallets

Preparing pallets for the walkway. Photo by David Price.

The accumulation of stacks of pallets is an unavoidable part of working in a fast paced and varied retail environment. So when we were contacted by Keith Grant from the Slapton Ringing Group to ask if they could take some off our hands, we were both delighted to agree and eager to learn about the site where they would be put to use.

The Slapton Ringing Group is based at the Slapton Ley National Nature Reserve. This beautiful site is located on the south coast of Devon and contains the largest lake in the south west, separated from the sea by just a narrow shingle bar. Its location, together with the unique habitat conditions, makes it an extremely important place for local and migrating bird populations.

A job well done. The completed walkway leading to the ride. Photo by David Price.

The Slapton Ringing Group have been surveying birds at Slapton Ley since the 1960s, and for the last six years the site has been designated as a BTO Constant Effort Survey (CES) Site.

A regular rotation of willow cutting is undertaken at the site, which maintains the vegetation and helps to avoid major changes in species composition. A carefully constructed pallet walkway allows access to the ringing rides for the volunteers that meet here regularly throughout the ringing season.

The pallets salvaged from NHBS were used to replace old ones which have an obviously limited lifespan due to the constantly wet conditions. It is a pleasure to know that some of our “waste” is being used to support such a fantastic and long-running project.

For more information about bird ringing in Devon, take a look at the Devon Birds website.

UK’s first ever Deaf-led bat walk

As part of their Heritage Ability project, Living Options Devon recently hosted the UK’s first ever Deaf-led bat walk at the Love Parks event, in Cockington Park, Devon.

NHBS are delighted to have been able to loan them an Echo Meter Touch bat detector from Wildlife Acoustics, which allowed the attendants to view live sonograms on an iPad – whilst receiving further information in British Sign Language from the guide, Alasdair Grant.

Heritage-Ability-bat-walk

This fantastic event was part of a whole day of activities helping to make heritage sites more accessible for disabled and Deaf people.

Alasdair, Deaf Alumni Programme Manager for Deaf Unity, who is working towards his bat license, led an inspiring bat walk which one participant said was “a memorable and unique experience”.  The walk included watching soprano pipistrelles and lesser horseshoe bats exiting their roosts in outbuildings in Cockington Court, and common pipstrelles, serotine and noctule bats feeding in the park and lakes area.

The walk provided a unique opportunity for Deaf people to see and learn more about the lifestyle of our British bats and how to identify different species using bat detectors with visual sonograms rather than by sound. The Echo Meter Touch connects to an iPad to provide an excellent and very accessible visual display of bat calls in real time.

Living Options and Deaf Unity very much hope to run further bat walks in the future and would be delighted to advise other organisations and bat groups on how to lead bat walks for Deaf people.

The Heritage Ability Project supports heritage sites in South West England to improve accessibility for disabled people. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the project is currently piloting different approaches with partner sites including museums, country parks, nature reserves and historic houses.

Best bat detectors for bat walks

Echo Meter TouchEcho Meter Touch

This tiny ultrasound module connects directly to your Apple device and lets you listen to bat calls in real time as well as viewing a live sonogram on your screen. Ideal for bat walk leaders, the Echo Meter Touch provides you with plenty of real time information to share with your group, as well as letting you record and classify calls so you can provide a later update of all species heard during the walk.

 

Elekon Batscanner

Elekon Batscanner

The Batscanner is one of the simplest bat detectors on the market – simply turn it on and listen. The device will automatically tune to the frequency of the bat call nearby and will display this frequency on the LCD screen whilst playing the sound back at an audible level.

 

SSF Bat2SSF Bat2

The SSF Bat2 cleverly scans all frequencies simultaneously and will jump to the peak (loudest) frequency at the touch of a button. Pre-programme up to four fixed frequencies and view a small spectrogram of the received call. Ideal for beginner or seasoned bat walkers.

 

 

Magenta Bat 4 and 5

Magenta Bat Detectors

The Magenta Bat 4 and Magenta Bat 5 are our most popular detectors for beginners. Affordable to buy and simple to use, they convert the call produced by the bat into a sound which is easily heard through the speaker. Simply tune to the required frequency using the large dial on the front of the unit. The Bat 5 also has a digital display which makes tuning the detector even easier.

What’s new for 2016 – Bat detector news

Elekon Batlogger C
Elekon Batlogger C

The bat survey season is just beginning and since our last update in November 2015 many of the new bat detectors have arrived in stock and we have received some customer feedback and updates on specifications from manufacturers. The total count of new bat detectors now stands at six – three passive full spectrum recorders from Elekon, two passive recorders in the Song Meter family from Wildlife Acoustics, and the handheld Anabat Walkabout from Titley Scientific.

Song Meter SM4BAT
Song Meter SM4BAT

We have had the Wildlife Acoustics SM4BAT FS in stock on and off now for the last few weeks (supplies have been limited) but we now have plenty on the shelves. We are really impressed with these units – they are smaller, lighter and easier to programme than the old Song Meters and have massively improved battery life (up to 45 nights for the FS and 70 nights for the ZC). They come in a strong lockable enclosure that can easily be chained to a tree and include a 3m microphone cable when purchased with the SMM-U1 microphone. The ZC units have not arrived yet but are expected in early April. The SM4BAT detectors also include an incredible three year warranty (excluding the microphones).

Wildlife Acoustics have also announced that they are phasing out the EM3+, the SMZC and the SM2BAT+, which are being replaced by the Echo Meter TouchSM4BAT ZC and SM3BAT / SM4BAT respectively.

Elekon Batlogger C
Elekon Batlogger C

Elekon have now released three new passive bat detectors within the last few months which are based around the very highly regarded Batlogger M handheld bat detector. The Batlogger C is probably the highest specification bat detector on the market today – it has everything you would expect from a high end passive detector including programmable recording schedules, fully weatherproof enclosure, and high quality full spectrum recordings as well as many extras. These include optional sms and/or email messages reporting the status of the unit and the number of recordings made as well as the amount of power remaining. Furthermore, because the Batlogger C also has in-built GPS it can send you an alert if the unit is moved. A wide range of power options are available: a 50 hour rechargeable battery is included and there is space for a second. Mains power is also an option as is solar power which requires the addition of the Batlogger C solar panel. When used with two 50 hour batteries, just half a day of sun in every 10 days should be enough to keep the Batlogger C powered indefinitely.

Elekon Batlogger A+
Elekon Batlogger A+

Also from Elekon, the Batlogger A family – the A and the A+ are new miniaturised passive bat detectors. Both are programmable, are housed within a small weatherproof enclosure and include a Knowles FG microphone on a 2m extension cable. The Batlogger A will record for up to 30 hours on eight AA batteries (e.g. three 10 hour nights). The Batlogger A+ was created after a customer contacted Elekon to say that the Batlogger A looked perfect for installing up trees and in other inaccessible location but that ideally, the battery life should be longer. In response the team at Elekon quickly created the new Batlogger A+ which is slightly larger than the Batlogger A but includes the same rechargeable lithium ion battery used in the Batlogger C. This will power the A+ for up to 70 hours. Stock of both models are fairly limited so please contact us soon if you would like to place an order.

Anabat Walkabout
Anabat Walkabout

A few software glitches delayed the release of the Anabat Walkabout in 2015 but this incredible new bat detector has now been in stock for several months. The touch screen Android tablet based bat detector not only records any passing bats but also lets you view the sonogram in real time in both full spectrum and zero crossing formats. A GPS, lux-meter, thermometer and humidity sensor are all in-built so not only will each call be geo-tagged but you will also be able to collect the full range of environmental data for each transect without needing any additional tools. A fully charged unit will last for around eight hours. The Walkabout bundle will soon also include a copy of Analook Insight analysis software to allow you to view and analyse full spectrum and zero crossing recordings.

If you would like any help, advice, or a short loan of one of our demo bat detectors please get in touch with our Wildlife Equipment Specialists on 01803 865913 or customer.services@nhbs.com.

 

The NHBS guide to newt survey equipment

05_2015_066 by Highways England via Flickr under license CC BY 2.0
Newt survey – image attribution below

The newt survey season is almost upon us and NHBS has been working hard through the winter to increase the range and quality of newt survey products we sell. Read on for a selection of our most exciting new products and news of some old favourites.

Newt survey nets and bags

Amphibian Net
Newt Net

We now sell a specially designed newt net with a 300mm wide head, 300mm deep bag of soft 2mm mesh fabric, and 1.2 metre wooden handle. The net is attached over the frame unlike our standard professional pond nets to ensure that newts cannot get caught between the frame and bag.

Dewsbury Newt Trap

Dewsbury Newt Trap
Dewsbury Newt Trap

NHBS is the exclusive distributor of the Dewsbury Newt Trap. The Dewsbury trap is safer for both newts and surveyors. Fewer traps are required per pond and the clever design allows the newt to either seek shelter at the bottom of the water column or rise to the surface to breathe even if the water level within the pond changes during the trapping period.

Newt Bottle Trap
Newt Bottle Trap

Bottle Traps

We also manufacture the traditional bottle traps. This is not a fun job so allow us to save you a lot of time and effort with our standard 2l bottles sold with the head cut off and inverted. We also sell bamboo canes for securing the traps at the edge of the pond and Virkon disinfectant tablets for sterilising the bottles between ponds.

 

Torches

 We now sell an even wider range of torches suitable for newt survey.

Cluson CB2 Clubman Deluxe Li-Ion 9.2Ah High-Power Lamp/Torch
Cluson CB2 Clubman Deluxe Li-Ion 9.2Ah High-Power Lamp/Torch

Traditionalists can buy the classic high powered Cluson CB2 lamps with either a lead acid battery or a lighter longer lasting lithium ion battery. We also sell the new CB3 lamphead allowing you to increase the light output and battery life of your old CB2, and a new range of powerful hand torches from LED Lenser that are more than adequate for newt surveys and considerably less bulky than the Cluson lamps.

 

Waders and Gloves

Snowbee Lightweight Neoprene Gloves
Snowbee Lightweight Neoprene Gloves

Generally the aim is to stay out of the water but occasionally it may be necessary to enter a pond to retrieve lost traps or to access difficult sites. NHBS sells a wide range of waders including both thigh waders and chest waders.

We also sell some excellent new neoprene gloves with a nylon jersey knit palm material allowing the gloves to be worn without compromising dexterity and a thick neoprene back to provide extra warmth.

Walkie Talkies and Whistles

Mitex General UHF Two-Way Radio
Mitex General UHF Two-Way Radio

Newt surveys are not without risk and the best way to mitigate these risks is to have appropriate safety equipment. NHBS sells Two-Way UHF Radios so that you can keep in contact with colleagues, and emergency whistles to attract their attention if you do slip into the water. We also have waterproof first aid kits that will stay dry no matter how wet you get.

 

 

 

Main image: 05_2015_066 by Highways England via Flickr under license CC BY 2.0

Trees in Winter: another way of seeing

Winter oak refelctions 01 (Image by Jim Champion, via Flickr Creative Commons license CC BY-SA 2.0)
Image credit: see below

Winter woodland has a bare, skeletal charm all of its own, and a walk in the woods is a good time to try to put names to those familiar trees.

Suddenly leafless but not as anonymous as we sometimes think, with a little practice it is surprisingly easy to begin to place those barren winter twigs.

Here is a quick, and by no means definitive, guide to identifying six of the UK’s more common deciduous trees in winter, chosen at random on a midwinter ramble in my local woods.

Oak (below): A rugged twig with fat, oval orange-brown alternate buds, and a characteristic cluster of buds at the tip. The twig of the sessile oak is less rugged than pedunculate oak, but be careful the two species often hybridise and it can be tricky to tell the difference.

Oak

Ash: A twig that looks as if it means business, with black buds in opposite pairs and an unmistakable, fat terminal bud covered in black scales.

Ash

Beech: A slender, rather delicate twig with long, alternate and markedly pointed brown buds. Hornbeam is very similar but the buds hug the twig rather than point outwards, and the twig is noticeably more zigzagged.

Beech

Hazel: The twig is downy all over – although you may need a hand lens to see this clearly – with alternate, pale green to reddish-brown, smallish buds. Catkins are not at the end of the twig, unlike in birch species.

Hazel

Field maple: Hairy twig and buds – again a hand lens is useful – with tiny reddish-brown buds, always in opposite pairs. The terminal bud often has smaller buds on either side, sometimes appearing to be a triple end bud.

Field Maple

Sycamore: Another sturdy twig, with plump pale green buds in opposite pairs. The large green bud scales on the terminal bud are easy to see.

Sycamore

I use an elderly copy of the Forestry Commission’s Know Your Broadleaves for Christine Darter’s fabulous drawings of winter twigs; David Streeter and Rosamond Richardson’s similarly dated Discovering Hedgerows has a useful key.

The stand out recent work is Dominic Price and Leif Bersweden’s Winter Trees: A Photographic Guide to Common Trees and Shrubs one of the Field Studies Council’s AIDGAP Guides, which covers 36 of the common broadleaved tree and shrub species likely to be found in the UK, as well as a few rarer ones. With pictures of bark as well as twigs, and notes on habitat, winter tree-ID suddenly seems much easier. Author royalties from the book go to the Species Recovery Trust

Winter Trees: A Photographic Guide to Common Trees and Shrubs

Main image: Winter oak refelctions 01 (Image by Jim Champion, via Flickr Creative Commons license CC BY-SA 2.0)

The NHBS guide to buying a hand lens

Hand LensThe possession of a hand lens is one of the defining characteristics of a naturalist.

We use them for everything from peering at beetle genitalia and examining floral characters, to examining the arrangement of teeth in small mammal jaw bones. There are a wide variety of hand lenses on the market so how do you decide which lens is best for you? This article contains all the information you need to make an informed choice about which hand lens is most appropriate.

Glass versus plastic lens?

The optical lens in a hand lens can be made from glass or plastic – the plastic lenses are generally more affordable and lighter but are of lower optical quality and more difficult to clean. Good plastic hand lenses, such as the Plastic Double Magnifier, are perfect for youth groups and schools.

How many optical elements?

Canon 400mm

An element is an individual piece of glass within a lens. When you look through a high quality camera lens you will typically be viewing what’s in front of the lens through four to six lens elements, as well as other elements used for focusing and zooming (see image below right).

Paul Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS USM By Paul Chin

Hand lenses are constructed with one (singlet), two (doublet) or three (triplet) lens elements. Each element is specially shaped to correct for a particular type of optical distortion so the more elements, the higher quality the image.

Magnification

A 10x magnification hand lens will be more than adequate for most purposes. Higher magnification lenses tend to be harder to use but are very useful for viewing extremely small objects. If you are unsure of which magnification you need, or think you may need several different lenses, you should have a look at the x10 and x20 Duel Singlet Loupe or even the x3, x4 and x5 Triple Loupe.

Lens diameter

Large diameter lenses provide a wider field of view which means that they are easier to use but they are slightly more expensive to produce.

How hand leOpticron Hand lens, 23mm, 10x magnificationnses are named

Hand lenses are named like binoculars, with both the lens diameter and the magnification included in the name. e.g. the Opticron Hand lens, 23mm, 10x magnification has a 23mm diameter lens and provides 10x magnification.

 

Using your hand lens

Finally, a quick note on hand lens technique. To use your hand lens correctly (this is particularly important when using high magnification lenses) hold the lens close to your eye and then either a) move the subject closer to your eye until it comes in to focus or b) move your head (and the hand lens) closer to the subject until it comes into focus. It’s easy with a little practice so don’t get put off if you find a new hand lens difficult at first. Expect to get close up to what you’re examining – it’s quite common to see naturalists crawling around on the ground to get close to a plant they’re identifying.

Keeping your hand lens safe

It can be very hard to find a much-loved hand lens dropped in long grass or woodland. To prevent this traumatic experience, we recommend a lanyard for your hand lens – this has two functions: a) if you have it round your neck you won’t drop it, and b) if you put it down somewhere the bright blue lanyard is easy to spot.

The table below provides a guide to the hand lenses sold by NHBS. More information and specifications of each can be found on the website.

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