NHBS Guide to Bat Survey Equipment

Common Pipistrelle by Meneer Zjeroen on Flickr

With Spring around the corner and the bat survey season fast approaching, it is a great time to make sure you have everything ready for the busy months ahead. Over the winter we have been busy reviewing our current products, cataloging new products and even designing our own products. Here, we have picked out some exciting new products as well as some old favourites to take a look at.

The NHBS Harp Trap – Coming Soon!

Over the last few months, the NHBS manufacturing team have been working hard on developing the NHBS Harp Trap. We are currently in the process of testing and trialing our harp trap ready for its release in the coming months. Designed and built on-site at our workshop in Totnes, our three-bank harp trap will feature some innovative designs such as a winding line carrier and anti-tangling system that makes assembly and disassembly, easy and efficient. Made mostly from aluminium, the trap is surprisingly lightweight at just 15kg, whilst remaining sturdy and durable during use. The harp trap is 190cm long and has a catch area of about 4m². The catch bag is approximately 60cm deep and its entrance is about 39cm wide. When collapsed, the catch bag wraps around the disassembled frame and is held tightly with Velcro straps so that it can be neatly stored and carried in its bag. Initial feedback on its design and function has been very positive and we are excited to develop our design based upon suggestions from professional bat workers. Our standard trap will be a three bank, but if you would like a bespoke two or four bank trap, please contact us so that we can discuss your requirements.

BTHK Tree-Roost Net

Based on the design by Henry Andrews from the Bat Tree Habitat Key (BTHK) project, the BTHK Tree-Roost net is uniquely designed for trapping bats as they emerge from tree roost sites. The net is set up against a roost site prior to dusk so that it will catch any bats that emerge, keeping them safely in the bag ready for identification, measuring and ringing. The diamond shape of the net head can pivot and collapse inwards to ensure that the net fits flush against any tree, making it safer for bats and easier for surveyors. The net bag is made from fine woven nylon mesh that is soft and will not damage the delicate wings or feet of bats. The net bag can be easily removed for cleaning and features a clear plastic rim that fits around the collar and prevents bats from climbing up and out of the net when it is in place. The length of the handle is 4 meters (breaks down into 3 sections for ease of transport) and the depth of the bag is 1 metre. You may also be interested in the book Bat Roosts in Trees which is a guide to finding tree roosts.

Anabat Scout – Coming Soon!

The Anabat Scout is the latest bat detector by Titley Scientific. Due for release this March, the Scout is designed with UK and European bat biologists in mind and is tailored for active bat surveying. It can record both full spectrum and zero crossing files and stores them on a SD card with every file geo-tagged. The Scout has heterodyne, auto-heterodyne and frequency division audio that can be played through earphones or its own built-in speaker. The in/out bat counter is ideal for emergence surveys and will automatically timestamp and geo-tag every count. The small OLED screen displays crucial information without being too bright or distracting and the Anabat Scout will be compatible with Anabat’s free Anabat Insight software for viewing and analysing your data. Easy to use and versatile, this new detector is set to become popular with bat ecologists who are looking for an active survey detector.

Elekon Batlogger M

The Elekon Batlogger M is great for active surveying and full spectrum recording. The weatherproof FG Knowles microphone has a range of 10–150kHz and can record in 16-bit full spectrum. The Batlogger M also logs the GPS coordinates (via an integrated GPS receiver), and environmental temperature at the time of recording. Different recording settings (scheduled, permanent, or triggered), and different trigger thresholds (for call identification) can be set up and the device comes with its own powerful but user-friendly call analysis software package

Echo Meter Touch 2 Pro

The Echo Meter Touch 2 lets you record, listen to, and identify bat calls in real-time on your iOS or Android device. All you need is your Android or Apple device (see the nhbs.com website for compatible models), your Echo Meter Touch 2 Pro, and the Echo Meter Touch App which is a free download from the iTunes Store or Google Play Store. When plugged in, the Echo Meter Touch 2 enables you to listen to bats in real time, view live sonograms in full colour, record onto your device and identify calls to species level in seconds. If your device has GPS functionality, the Echo Meter Touch will also log the recording location and path of the recording session. There are two versions available in both an iOS version and Android version. Both versions allow you to listen to calls in real time expansion and heterodyne and you can playback in real time expansion, heterodyne or time expansion modes. The trigger sensitivity and sample rate are adjustable and three gain settings allowing users to optimise their detector to their target bat species and ambient conditions.

SM4BAT FS

The SM4BAT FS is a full spectrum detector for passive surveying use. Robust and weatherproof, it will record 16-bit full spectrum calls and can store up to 512GB of data. A versatile scheduling function allows you to set when you want to record and the battery can last up to 450 hours. The SM4BAT FS is easy to fit to a tree or post and is compatible with a variety of accessories such as GPS unit and microphone extension cables. The SMM-U2 ultrasonic microphone is available with the SM4BAT FS and is a highly sensitive microphone that produces high quality, low noise bat recordings over long distances. Easy to set up and producing detailed call recordings for analysis, the SM4BAT FS is ideal for unattended use in the field.

Anabat Swift

The Anabat Swift from Titley Scientific is based on the excellent design of the Anabat Express, but has the advantage of recording in full-spectrum, as well as zero crossing. Users can choose between sample rates of 320 or 500kHz and data is saved onto an SD card. Two SD card slots are available, allowing you to save more bat calls without changing cards. The Swift also has a built-in GPS receiver that automatically sets the clock, calculates sunset and sunrise times and records the location of the device. It will also record automatically from sunrise to sunset every night (based on GPS coordinates) as one of the automatic recording settings.

BatLure

The BatLure can be used as a lure to improve catch rates of bats for survey or research, to attract bats to new artificial roosts such as bat boxes or constructed hibernacula, with bat detectors at training events or prior to bat walks and for calibration of bat detectors. The Batlure can playback sounds with frequencies of up to 100kHz and is capable of playing both real time and time expanded recordings of bat vocalisations. It is very compact and robust and has a tripod attachment mount, making it easy to set-up in your desired location. It plays sounds from an SD card which is supplied complete with several pre-loaded recordings. Users can also add their own recordings onto the card.

Ecotone Ultra Thin Series M mist net for bats

The Ecotone Ultra Thin Series M is ideal for catching bats and is available in 2 mesh sizes. Both are made from nylon (0.8mm monofilament) and have 4 shelves. Available in lengths from 3m to 21m, you can pick the mesh size and length that best suits your survey and situation.

 

Explorer Premium Digital Endoscope Camera

The Explorer Premium Digital Endoscope is lightweight and easy to operate. It can record still images or video on to a microSD / microSDHC card (not included). The screen can be detached whilst the camera is in operation and viewed up to 10m away. The camera head has a diameter of 9mm and the cable is 91cm long, giving easy access to nest boxes, burrows, nests, crevices etc. Lighting levels can be adjusted to minimise disturbance to animals.

Accessories

Below are some accessories that may come in use when surveying bats:

Petzl Actik Headtorch
£39.95

Stainless Steel Hand-Held Counter
£7.50

Animal Handling Gloves
£5.69 5.99

dialMax Vernier Dial Caliper
£29.99

ETI Hygro-Thermo Pocket Sized Hygrometer
£21.95 26.99

Small Mammal Holding Bag
£3.60

Telescopic Inspection Mirror
£14.99 16.99

High Flier Mist Net Support System (for Bats)
 from £695.00

Further Reading

Below are some books that may come in use when surveying bats:

Bat Roosts in Trees£39.99
British Bat Calls £18.99
Bat Surveys for Professional Ecologists£29.99
The Bat Worker’s Manual£17.99

A note on licensing

Please note that in the UK, all bats and their resting or breeding places are protected by law. Any bat survey work must be undertaken by a licensed bat ecologist and when purchasing certain products, we ask you to confirm your lisence or give an appropriate reference. For more information, please visit https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/bat-licences.

NHBS Guide to newt survey equipment

 

Great Crested Newt. Image  by Lottie

Great Crested Newts are the UK’s most strictly protected amphibian, requiring licensed ecological surveys if a development may affect them. As the first signs of spring emerge, ecologists are preparing for the start of this year’s newt survey season. Below, we have compiled a list of the most common newt survey methods and the equipment needed for each, so that you can ensure you have everything you need as the survey season approaches.

Netting

Netting for adult and larval newts can be a useful tool in both survey and relocation. Here at NHBS, we have designed an amphibian net specifically for the safe and efficient capture of newts. The net bag is attached by a wide velcro collar which prevents newts from becoming caught between the frame and the bag. The bag can also be removed from the frame to be disinfected between sites. The seams have been carefully placed so that they do not come into contact with the front edge of the net, and the material of the bag is a soft 2mm mesh. The net head is 300mm wide and comes with a sturdy, wooden 1.2m handle. We also sell a diamond-shaped amphibian net that comes in either standard depth or deep. Its shape is ideal for easy and safe capture for amphibians and is also available in a collapsible frame for easy transport between sites.

eDNA

The presence of Great Crested Newts can be determined by analysing pond water samples for newt DNA. This process is known as eDNA sampling and is a recent but very effective way of newt surveying that causes very little disturbance to the newts themselves. Provided that the sampling and analysis protocol complies with DEFRA guidance and that samples are collected between 15th April and 30th June, then eDNA test results are accepted by Natural England and Natural Resources Wales. This year, NHBS has once again teamed up with eDNA laboratory, Nature Metrics to deliver a complete Great Crested Newt eDNA analysis service. Combining our expertise in sourcing, packing and shipping equipment with the excellent laboratory proficiency of Nature Metrics, this partnership facilitates a fast and efficient service. If you would like to find out more about the eDNA services that Nature Metrics provide, please visit www.naturemetrics.co.uk

Dewsbury Trapping

The Dewsbury trap is an innovative design of newt refuge trap that is exclusive to NHBS. The clever design of this trap ensures that any trapped newts have access to both fresh air at the top of the trap and a thermally stable refuge at the bottom of the pond. They can be easily deployed from the edge of the pond meaning that not only is this trap safer for newts, but it is also safer and more convenient for surveyors too. In preliminary trials the Dewsbury trap was found to be more effective at catching newts than traditional bottle trapping methods and can be left unattended for up to 24 hours meaning night visits are not necessarily required.

Please note: we recommend that you contact your national licensing authority (Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage, etc) before you purchase this trap. The Dewsbury Newt Trap is not included within either the Level 1 or Level 2 Natural England Class Survey Licence and a separate licence is required

Bottle Trapping

Bottle trapping is a popular method of surveying for both detecting and assessing populations. It can, however, become quite labour intensive, especially if you are looking to cut bottles into traps yourself. To save yourself some valuable time, we sell pre-cut bottle traps with the head inverted and ready to deploy. These can be bought in packs of 40 or 120 and are cut from 2l PET bottles with a 28mm neck diameter. Alternatively, we sell the whole bottles if you would rather cut the traps yourself.

Torching

Torching is a less invasive and effective method of counting/observing newts without the need for capturing them. Torches are recommended to be between 500,000 and one million candlepower and need to ideally last several hours at a time. The Cluson CB2 range is very popular among ecologists and provides 1 million candlepower with long lasting battery life and an easy-to-use pistol type grip. For a more lightweight and economical option, the LED Lenser is a powerful torch that offers up to 450 lumens and a sharply focused circular beam that can last up to 300 hours on a low power setting.

 

Drift Fencing

Fencing can either be used to temporarily exclude or contain newts in mitigation projects. It can also be used to aid the capture of newts for relocation and is typically a short barrier with the base buried underground. Our Tristar Newt Fencing comes in rolls of 100m, is made of UV stabilised polythene sheeting and tinted green. It is designed to resist weather damage and has a life expectancy of 5 years, making it ideal for temporary mitigation projects during development works. It is easy and simple to put up and can be fixed into place with our soft wood stakes.

Pitfall Traps

Often, pitfall traps are used alongside drift fencing in order to trap and translocate newts in relocation projects. They consist of a container that is buried underground often flush with the edge of drift fencing. Both square buckets and round buckets have been shown to be effective and we supply several options depending on your preferences.

Accessories

Below are some accessories that may come in use when surveying Great Crested Newts: 

 

Light & Dry Micro First Aid Kit
£15.95 16.99

Bamboo Canes
From £13.00 for 100

dialMax Vernier Dial Caliper
£29.99 45.00

Snowbee Granite PVC Thigh Waders
£40 (various sizes)

Snowbee Lightweight Neoprene Gloves
£12.95 (various sizes)

Replacement Amphibian Net Bag
£26.99

Broad Spectrum Disinfectant Tablets
£19.99

Breaksafe Thermometer
£7.50

A note on licensing

Please note that Great Crested Newts and its habitat are protected by law. Any Great Crested Newt survey work must be undertaken by a licensed ecologist. Different levels of license are required for different survey and mitigation methods. For more information, please visit https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/great-crested-newt-licences#great-crested-newt-survey-and-research-licences

Rocky Shores: an interview with John Archer-Thomson and Julian Cremona

Rocky Shores is the seventh installment of the popular British Wildlife Collection.

Image result for rocky shores bloomsbury

The exciting environment of the rocky shore receives a space in the limelight with this new volume. The authors guide the reader through all aspects of the rocky shore including geology, ecology and natural history. It would make a fantastic addition to any naturalist’s book shelf.

 

 

John Archer-Thomson

John Archer-Thomson and Julian Cremona have spent their lives in environmental education and conservation. They are a former deputy head and head respectively of the Field Studies Council’s Dale Fort Field Centre in Pembrokeshire. John is now a freelance coastal ecologist, photographer, writer and tutor, while Julian is the author of several books on exploration, nature and photography.

Julian Cremona

To introduce the authors and their book, we took the opportunity to talk to them about their inspiration for this volume and ask for tips for how we can get involved with rocky shores. Both authors will be signing copies which are available to pre-order on the NHBS website.

What drew you both to this habitat and inspired the production of this fascinating book?

©John Archer-Thomson

As we say in Chapter 1, we were both born near the coast and grew up loving the sea and so were always drawn to the intertidal, especially as many of the inhabitants are quite weird. From the earliest days with the Dorset Wildlife Trust John enjoyed communicating his love of the shore and the importance of its conservation and the need to respect the natural world. As a child Julian collected all manner of natural material from the shore and after graduation taught seashore ecology in Dorset. We see Rocky Shores as an extension of this mission.

How did you even begin to write this book on such a wide-ranging topic?Forty years of running inter-tidal field courses tends to focus attention on making shores accessible to newcomers, we approached the book from a similar standpoint. John particularly likes molluscs, seaweeds and lichens; Julian, all types of invertebrates especially insects, and as ecologists we love the way the component parts of the system interact, John is also particularly interested in how humans are affecting the shore while Julian has spent much of his life travelling the coast of the British Isles. Thus certain chapters suggested themselves!

What was your most exciting find on a rocky shore that people should look out for in the future?

©Julian Cremona

For John it has to be echinoderms in general and Julian likes the more microscopic life living amongst seaweeds in rock pools. We don’t quite know why, but the little pseudoscorpion called Neobisium maritimum always causes excitement for both of us. They are tiny, only a few millimetres long, quite uncommon and may be found by observing the Black Lichen Lichina pygmaea in which they sometimes hide.

I recommend this book as a fantastic in-depth overview, but what would you suggest readers do to further their rocky shore learning?

John runs a “Rocky shore invertebrates” course for the Field Studies Council at Dale Fort Field Centre. This looks at the ecology of the shore, zonation patterns, adaptations of organisms to this extreme environment and of course the ‘plant’ (and planktonic) life that supports this biodiversity: come on this. Alternatively, there are fold out (FSC) keys for a more do-it-yourself approach, in fact, two of these have been produced by Julian’s daughter Clare Cremona including the Rocky Shore Trail. In 2014 Julian produced a large book called Seashores: an Ecological Guide, which has a huge number of photos to help with the identification of commonly found species and explains how they interact on the shore. A Complete guide to British Coastal Wildlife by Collins and the excellent A student’s guide to the seashore by Fish & Fish. For a more academic, but still very readable, account try The Biology of Rocky Shores by Little et al, Oxford Press.

Although adaptable, rocky shore inhabitants are not invincible, what do you think is the biggest threat to the rocky shore ecosystem and are some species more at risk than others?

©John Archer-Thomson

That’s easy: us. There are too many human beings gobbling up habitat, consuming resources, changing the climate, raising sea levels, acidifying the ocean, over-fishing, polluting with plastic, agricultural and industrial chemicals and so on. Stressed ecosystems tend to be species poor but there are often large numbers of a few fast growing, tolerant species that do well. Northern, cold water species are already suffering range contractions as the climate warms, whereas the opposite is true of southern, high temperature tolerant forms, including invasive species from warmer climes.

Staying on the theme of the future, what is next for you both – another book perhaps?

For John this would be intertidal and sublittoral monitoring and photography. Running courses for the FSC. Talks for local natural history groups. Magazine articles and an update of “Photographing Pembrokeshire” by John & Sally Archer-Thomson, Apple iBooks. Julian has a trio of specialist photography books being published by Crowood press. The first two on extreme close-up photography have already appeared and the third will be published at the beginning of April. He continues to develop new ways to photograph wildlife, especially the “very small”. Coupled with this 2019 includes running further workshops, lecturing and travel – for the wildlife!

Other books by Julian Cremona

Extreme Close-Up Photography and Focus Stacking – Julian Cremona

Beyond Extreme Close-Up Photography – Julian Cremona

Rocky Shores is published by Bloomsbury Publishing and signed copies are available for pre-order, while stocks last.

NHBS Guide to small mammal survey equipment

Small mammals are common and widespread across many of our terrestrial ecosystems. They play a crucial role in ecosystem food-webs as key prey species for many carnivores and are also useful as indicator species for agricultural change and development. Consequently, surveys of small mammal populations can be a useful tool for ecologists, researchers, and conservationists alike.

Small mammals are most commonly monitored through the use of live traps. These allow a range of species to be monitored simultaneously and also allow biometric data such as weight and sex to be collected. In addition, estimates of population size and structure can be calculated using capture-mark-recapture (CMR) techniques. However, other more passive monitoring techniques such as dormouse nest tubes, hair tube, and footprint tunnels are also available. Below we will take a look at some of the most popular small mammal survey equipment.

Longworth Traps

Longworth traps have been widely used in the UK for many years. They are made from lightweight yet durable aluminium and have been consistently well documented in scientific literature and ecological reports.

The trap consists of two parts: a tunnel which contains the door tripping mechanism, and a nest box, which is attached to the back of the tunnel. The nest box provides a large space for food and bedding material to ensure that the trapped animal is comfortable until release. The sensitivity of the trigger mechanism can be adjusted depending on the target species, although Pygmy shrews have been known to be too light to trigger the mechanism. The door can be locked open for pre-baiting for ease of use.

The Longworth trap comes as two options: with a shrew hole or without a shrew hole (Please note that shrews are a protected species so ensure you are aware of the relevant laws in the country in which you are trapping).

Sherman Traps

Sherman Trap

Sherman traps are another popular live-trap which can be folded flat for ease of transport and storage. They work by a trigger platform which causes the entrance door to shut when an animal runs into the trap. Sherman traps are formed of one compartment and because of this, it can be difficult to add food/bedding into the trap without interfering with the trigger platform. The traps may also distort over time with repeated folding. Sherman traps come in a variety of sizes and lengths so that you can find a trap to best suit your target species and can be purchased as either an aluminium or galvanised version which is more resistant to rusting.

NHBS Water Vole Trap

If you are looking to trap and survey water voles, we offer a water vole trap which comprises an extra large (XLK) Sherman trap with its rear door removed and an attached nesting compartment. This trap is suitable for water vole survey, such as capture, mark, recapture studies, as well as water vole relocation projects.

 

Footprint Tunnel

Footprint tunnels are a less invasive method of surveying small mammals. Species presence/absence can be determined by examining the footprints made by mammals that have walked over an ink pad to reach the bait left in the tunnel. This method is especially useful for determining the presence of hedgehogs that are not otherwise easily ‘trapped’. The tunnel comes with a UK mammal footprint identification sheet; however it may be difficult to distinguish between some species of smaller mammals.

Squirrel Hair Traps

Squirrel hair traps are another non-invasive survey method that is designed for red squirrel survey. When squirrels pass through the baited trap, their hair is collected on sticky tabs within the tube. These hairs can then be analysed to determine whether red squirrels are present in the area.

 

Dormouse Tubes

Dormouse nest tubes are a cheap, easy and very popular method of determining the presence of dormice within a habitat. The tubes consist of a wooden tray and a nesting tube. Dormice make nests in the tubes and it is these that are used as indicators of their presence in the habitat. Dormice are legally protected in the UK and must not be handled unless you have a licence to do so. Nest tubes can be set up and checked without a licence until the first evidence of dormouse activity is found. After that, only a licensed handler can check them.

Accessories, guides and books

Below are some accessories, guides and books that are commonly used for mammal survey and monitoring:

 

Small Mammal Holding Bag
£2.50

Pesola Light-Line Spring Scales
From £35.00

Pesola PTS3000 Electronic Scale
£126.00

Heavy Duty Extra-Large Polythene Sample Bags
£0.70 per bag

Animal Handling Gloves
£5.69 5.99

Marking Flags
£2.50 for 10

Britain’s Mammals
£13.99 17.99

The Analysis of Owl Pellets
£4.99

Britain’s Mammals 2018
£17.99

A Guide to British Mammal Tracks and Signs
£4.50

A note on licensing

Please note that some small mammal species are protected by law (e.g. shrews and dormice in the UK) and you must obtain a license from Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage or the Natural Resources Wales if you set traps with the intention of trapping any species of shrew. Please ensure you are aware of and meet the requirements of any relevant laws in the country in which you are trapping. Please visit https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/survey-or-research-licence-for-protected-species for more information.

NHBS Field Sessions: Waterway Surveys for Daubenton’s Bats

NHBS’ staff members are wild about wildlife! To showcase this, we are encouraging our team to write blogs about their experiences with nature.

During the Summer months, Jon Flynn, a member of NHBS’ Wildlife Equipment Team attended a number of Waterway Surveys for Daubenton’s bats (Myotis daubentonii). Read more about his survey experiences below:

Stretch of the River Teign captured by Westcountry Rivers Trust via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
Stretch of the River Teign captured by Westcountry Rivers Trust via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

“On Monday 6th July I took part in a Waterway Survey for Daubenton’s bat along a stretch of the River Teign in Devon. The survey is completed twice per year in conjunction with the Bat Conservation Trust and is part of an ongoing data collection programme for bat species around the UK. The lead for this particular survey was John Mitchell who has been surveying this particular length of the Teign, near Teigngrace, for a good number of years. It was my third survey there.

The survey was due to start 40 minutes after sunset, so we met at 9.00pm and made our way along the edge of a maize field to arrive at our first stopping point. This was to be a transect survey which meant walking a length of the river bank and stopping at ten predetermined points to record bat activity at each one. We stood at the river’s edge and immediately noticed that the river level was a lot lower than it was during our last visit a year or so ago. We recorded air temperature and cloud cover and, as we prepared, various species of bats could already be seen zooming around the trees and openings as they commenced another night of nocturnal foraging. The air was very warm, still and humid, and flying insects were everywhere including a host of moths and some less welcome biting species.

As the light faded it was time to start. With bat detectors switched on and earphones in place, we directed a torch beam on the river’s surface and awaited the arrival of the first Daubenton’s.

Looking for bats at twilight by Nic McPhee via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
Looking for bats at twilight by Nic McPhee via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

The Daubenton’s bat is a species which typically occupies riparian woodland.  They often roost in trees along the river bank and hunt by skimming low over the surface of the water for insects. They can take prey from the water’s surface using their feet or tail membrane.

As bats skimmed through the torch beam we were able to count them. We counted the number of passes that we observed and for this a clicker counter is always useful! The bats that we heard but did not see were also recorded as additional information. I set my Magenta 5 at 50hz and listened whilst John relied on his trusty and more accomplished Bat Box Duet.

After four minutes on the stopwatch we finished counting, compared counts and wrote down results. At stop number 1 there were certainly bats present, but they were swooping around quite high above the water surface and not showing the typical behaviour of Daubenton’s – John was dubious that they were our target species so we recorded them only as potential sightings.

Using GPS devices and torches we left for Survey Point 2 further down the river bank and repeated the same process as before. At this location there was no denying that these WERE Daubenton’s bats, as the torch beam caught their pale almost white ventral fur, confirming their identity. Our detectors were full of noise too, including the typical intense zap as a bat homed in on prey.

A close-up of a Daubenton's bat. Image captured by Gilles San Martin via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
A close-up of a Daubenton’s bat. Image captured by Gilles San Martin via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

On we progressed with eight more stopping points to go. Occasionally our river bank scrambles took us through thickets of invasive Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glanduliferaand Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) a sobering reminder of how our countryside is changing. The night remained still and warm and it almost felt like we were in a different country.

After eight more stops my watch said 11:20pm. It was good to see that bats were in profusion that night, as John stated ‘It was one of the best ever totals, with one stopping point recording over 50 passes!‘.

Two weeks later and we repeated the process. But this second night felt noticeably cooler and there were fewer insects on the wing. Nevertheless bats were still out and about in reasonable numbers and an average score was calculated between the two Waterway surveys.  Overall there were encouraging signs that the Daubenton’s bat continues to do well along this particular stretch of the Teign.”

To find out more information about the various bat detectors available, go to our website. To find out more about how you can help bats in your local area, have a look at our handy guide.

If you like the idea of taking part in Waterway Surveys (or other kinds of bat surveys) then contact the Bat Conservation Trust or have a look at their website here. It’s great fun and you can put your bat detector to important use!

The 100 best articles for ecologists

Keeping up to date with the latest research is a key part of any career in science. However, the push for researchers to publish early in their career and at frequent intervals means that there is now a seemingly unconquerable body of literature available to sift through. Because of the time-consuming nature of reading, processing and assimilating all of this information, the unfortunately result is that many researchers only find time to read the “hot” papers that are well publicised, or they focus primarily on papers that are recent and well-cited.

Image by brownpau via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
The days of searching through library index cards are now a distant memory.

The advent of online journals also means that the days of physically searching for articles using paper records and traipsing around library stacks to locate a particular journal edition are a thing of the past. One result of this is that students and researchers who use the same or similar online search terms are likely to be directed to the same sub-set of papers, to the exclusion of other thematically similar but less relevant articles.

On the face of it, this may seem like a good thing, but it ignores the fact that methodological and conceptual insights are often to be found in papers which are not directly related to one’s own research; papers that would have been found more frequently when searching in a “bricks and mortar” library. It also means that older papers, which are still of importance for providing a good grounding in both methods and concepts, may be overlooked. By ignoring these older papers, the risk of repeating work that has already been undertaken or explored, is also higher.

With these concerns in mind, Franck Courchamp and Corey Bradshaw from the Université Paris-Saclay in France and Flinders University in Australia have taken it upon themselves to produce a list of the top 100 articles that every ecologist should read. Their key objective was to propose a list of seminal papers that, regardless of date of publication or specific subject area, would provide ecologists with a well-rounded understanding of ecology.

To create this list, they first assembled a long-list of 544 paper which were nominated by a group of 147 ecology journal editorial members; individuals that were recognised as experts in their field and who have an excellent knowledge of publications in their subject area. This list was then ranked via random-sample voting by 368 ecology experts and the top 100 papers collated into a comprehensive and varied reading list.

A century and a half after its publication, Darwin’s paper on natural selection remains a key ecology text.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the number one paper on the list was Darwin and Wallace putting forth their theory of natural selection. Published in 1858, this entry also represents the oldest paper on the list. More surprising was the average age of the top-ranked papers, with a huge number of them being from the 1960s and 1970s whilst very few were included from the 21st century. Most of the papers were not published in journals with a particularly high impact factor and, in many cases, they did not receive an unduly high number of citations, indicating that citation-based selections are not always the most appropriate when selecting papers for background reading.

The final list provides ecologists with an excellent starting point for establishing a well-rounded understanding of basic ecological theories. Whether you’re an early-career scientist, a well-established researcher or even a keen amateur with an enquiring mind, there is plenty here to expand your knowledge.

The list of 100 papers, together with a description of the methods and discussion of the subject, is published in Nature Ecology and Evolution and is available to view online.

 

 

The Importance of Nest Sites for Birds and Bees

Changes in land use can result in strong competition between species that have historically survived alongside eachother, such as goldfinches and chaffinches. Goldfinch by Tony Smith is licenced under CC BY 2.0.

Over the last century, land use in the UK has changed drastically. Small mixed-crop farms, traditionally separated by lanes, hedgerows and wild meadows have been replaced with larger, more specialised facilities. At the same time, the density of grazing animals such as sheep and cattle has also risen substantially. This combination of land-use change and agricultural intensification has contributed significantly to habitat degradation and biodiversity loss, and has led to huge, often dire, changes for the wildlife that call these places home.

Understanding these processes is of huge importance to conservationists, and a considerable amount of research has been conducted into the broad scale effects of land use changes on biodiversity. It is less well understood, however, why seemingly similar species can be affected to a different extent by local changes in their habitat.

A recent study, conducted by Dr Andrew Higginson at the University of Exeter, suggests that competition for nesting space may be a key factor in the differences observed. His study used a mathematical model to predict the likely outcome when populations of birds and bees are faced with a reduction in suitable nesting sites. Results indicated that larger, earlier-nesting species tend to fare better in these conditions, but at the expense of smaller, later-nesting species who, in the real world, would either fail to find a nesting site or be forced into using a poor quality or risky location.

Dr Higginson’s results illustrate that, whilst two or more similar species can co-exist together very happily when there are sufficient nesting spaces available, as soon as these become limited, competition and conflict become inevitable. In severe situations, species that have historically thrived in the same environment may suddenly find themselves battling for survival.

A key message from the study was that conservation efforts should ensure that priority is given to the creation and maintenance of suitable nesting sites. Conservation practices often focus on provision of food for wildlife, such as planting wildflowers for bees and providing food for our garden birds. Preserving and creating safe and accessible places for these animals to nest, however, is just as critical if we are to ensure their continued survival.

Head over to www.nhbs.com for our full range of bird nest boxes and insect nesting aids, or download our full nest box price list.

 

The NHBS Guide to Small Mammal Trapping

Field vole (Microtus agrestis)

Small mammals form a vital component of our terrestrial ecosystems, both by contributing to overall biodiversity and providing prey for carnivores such as owls, pine martens and weasels. Survey data for many of our small mammal species is insufficient for them to be assessed as part of the UK BAP process and so supporting our national monitoring programme is incredibly important.

One of the most common ways of monitoring small mammals is through the use of live traps. These allow a range of species to be monitored simultaneously, and also allow biometric data such as weight and sex to be collected. In addition, estimates of population size and structure can be calculated using capture-mark-recapture (CMR) techniques. The use of live traps is also a great way for getting volunteers involved and providing them with an up-close experience of the animals they are passionate about.

Live-catch techniques, however, do have a few disadvantages in that populations can be affected by disturbance or mortality. Live-trapping is also unsuitable in certain areas (such as urban or busy rural regions) and requires a relatively large amount of time and expenditure.

Here we will take a look at some of the most commonly available live-traps used for small mammal survey.

Longworth Trap

Longworth Small Mammal Trap

The Longworth trap is made from aluminium which makes it lightweight for field use. This trap has been widely used in the UK for many years.

The trap consists of two parts: a tunnel which contains the door tripping mechanism, and a nest box, which is attached to the back of the tunnel. The nest box provides a large space for food and bedding material to ensure that the trapped animal is comfortable until release.

Advantages
• Widely used for many years; well documented in scientific literature
• Lightweight and durable
• Sensitivity of the trip mechanism can be adjusted
• Door can be locked open for pre-baiting

Disadvantages:
• Expensive
• Replacement parts not available
• Larger species can occasionally trip the trap without being caught
• Pygmy shrews may be too light to trigger the trap mechanism

Sherman Trap

Sherman Trap

Sherman traps work by use of a triggered platform which causes the door to shut when the animal enters. It folds down to a size and shape which is easy to transport.

Sherman traps are available in a range of different sizes to suit the species that you are hoping to catch. They can be purchased in aluminium or as a galvanised version which is more resistant to rusting.

Advantages:
• Lightweight and foldable – easy to transport and store
• Different sizes available, including long versions
• Easy to clean

Disadvantages:
• Difficult to add bedding/food as this interferes with the trap mechanism
• Traps may distort over time with repeated folding
• Danger of long tails being trapped in the door

 

Economy Mammal Trip-Trap

Economy Mammal Trip-Trap

The Economy Trip-Trap provides a cheaper alternative to other mammal traps.  It has a traditional treadle design which closes the door behind the animal when it enters the trap.

This lightweight trap is suitable for short-term or occasional use and is also popular for trapping mice indoors either for surveying or for relocation.

Advantages:
• Cheap and lightweight
• Transparent for easy inspection
• Good for indoor use

Disadvantages:
• Doesn’t work well in wet/humid conditions
• Can’t pre-bait or change trigger sensitivity
• Trapped animals may chew through the trap

Pitfall Traps

P2.5 litre Plastic Bucketitfall Traps consist of a container which is sunk into the ground, into which small mammals can be caught. Traps can be baited if required and drift fencing can also be used to direct animals into the trap.

Small cans or buckets make ideal pitfall traps. If using buckets, lids can be fitted when not in use, which means that traps can remain in situ for extended periods of time.

Advantages:
• Able to catch multiple individuals
• Low maintenance

Disadvantages:
• More labour intensive than box traps to set up
• Trapped animals may attack eachother or be eaten by predators
• May become waterlogged in damp areas or in bad weather

Other survey methods

Other methods of surveying for small mammals include the analysis of owl pellets for mammal remains and the use of dormouse nest tubes. Hair and footprint tubes are also useful as well as searching for field signs such as tracks and faeces.

A comprehensive monitoring programme will most likely involve a combination of these methods, depending on the availability of participants and volunteers and the type of habitat present locally.

If you are interested in becoming involved in mammal survey in the UK, take a look at the Mammal Society website where you will find information on local recording groups, training opportunities and the latest mammal-related research.

Our full range of mammal traps can be found on our website.

 

The Sensory Ecology of Birds: Interview with Graham Martin

The Sensory Ecology of Birds is a fascinating new work that explores the sensory world of birds from an evolutionary and ecological perspective. The author Professor Graham Martin gives us some insights into his inspiration, the incredible diversity of avian sensory adaptations, and how studying sensory ecology can help in developing practical conservation solutions.

 

Professor Graham Martin – Author of The Sensory Ecology of Birds

How did you first become interested in bird senses?

Through owls. As a child I used to listen to tawny owls calling all through the night in a nearby wood and I wanted to know what they were doing and how they did it. My father took me round the woods at night and that experience led me to wanting to know more about the eyesight of owls.

What inspired you to write the book and what kind of readers do you think would find it useful?

I have been studying bird senses all of my working career. Nearly 50 years ago I started to get paid for looking into bird senses; it has been a strange and exciting way to spend my time. After such a long time of investigating the senses of so many different birds I wanted to bring it all together, to provide an overview that will help people understand birds from a new perspective. I think anyone interested in birds will enjoy the book and find it useful. No matter which group of species intrigues you most, this book will enable you to see them from a new perspective. Understanding bird senses really does challenge what we think birds are and how they go about their lives.

Sensory ecology is a relatively new field of research; could you explain a little about what it is and what makes it particularly relevant today?

Sensory Ecology is basically the study of the information that birds have at their disposal to guide their behaviour, to guide the key tasks that they perform every day to survive in different types of habitats.  Different habitats present different challenges and to carry out tasks animals need different sorts of information. Birds have at their disposal a wide range of different sensory information, they are not just reliant upon vision. However, each species tends to be specialised for the gaining of certain types of information. Just as each species differs in its general ecology, each species also has a unique suite of information available to them. Sensory ecology is also a comparative science. It compares the information that different species use and tries to determine general principles that apply to the conduct of particular behaviours in different places. For example how different birds cope with activity at night or underwater.

Sensory adaptations to overcome the challenges of being nocturnal in two species, the Kiwi (Apteryx mantelli) and Oilbird (Steatornis caripensis) – photo credit: Graham Martin

Sensory Ecology also looks at why evolution has favoured particular solutions to particular problems.  I think the major result of this kind of approach is that it certainly challenges our assumptions about what birds are and also what humans are. We do not readily realise that our view of the world is very much shaped by the information that our senses provide. We are rather peculiar and specialised in the information that we use to guide our everyday behaviours. My hope is that people will come to understand the world through birds’ senses, to get a real “bird’s eye view”. In doing so we can understand why birds fall victim to collisions with obvious structures such as powerlines, wind turbines, motor vehicles, glass panes, fences, etc. We can then work out what to do to mitigate these problems that humans have thrown in birds’ way.

An understanding of how a species perceives its environment can be very useful in designing practical conservation measures. Could you give us some examples?

Yes, I have been involved in trying to understand why flying birds apparently fail to detect wind turbines and power lines, or diving birds fail to detect gill nets.  These investigations have led to a number of ideas about what is actually happening when birds interact with these structures and what we can do to increase the chances that birds will detect and avoid them.

How do you think that studying avian sensory ecology can enhance our understanding of our own sensory capabilities and interaction with the world?

It gives a fresh perspective on how specialised and limited our own view of the world is. We make so many assumptions that the world is really as we experience it, but we experience the world in a very specialised way. Sensory ecology provides lots of new information and facts about how other animals interact with the world, what governs their behaviour, but equally importantly sensory ecology questions very soundly our understanding of “reality”, what is the world really like as opposed to what we, as just one species, think it is like. This is quite challenging but also exhilarating. We really are prisoners of our own senses, and so are all other animals. Sensory ecology gives us the opportunity to understand the world as perceived by other animals, not just how we think the world is. That is really important since it injects a little humility into how we think about the way we exploit the world.

Could you give us some insight into how birds can use different senses in combination to refine their interpretation of the world around them?

Owls provide a good example. Their vision is highly sensitive but not sufficiently sensitive to cope with all light levels that occur in woodland at night, so owls also rely heavily upon information from hearing to detect and locate moving prey. The nocturnal behaviour of owls requires these two key sources of information but even these are not enough. To make sense of the information that they have available to them the woodland owls need to be highly familiar with the place in which they live, hence their high degree of allegiance to particular sites.  Other birds, such as ducks, parrots and ibises rely heavily upon the sense of touch to find food items. The degree to which this information is used has a knock on effect on how much the birds can see about them. So a duck that can feed exclusively using touch, such as a mallard, can see all around them, while a duck that needs to use vision in its foraging cannot see all around. This in turn has implications for the amount of time birds can spend foraging as opposed to looking around them, vigilant for predators. In many birds the sense of smell is now seen as a key source of information which governs not just foraging, but also social interactions.

Are there interesting examples of species that are specialists in one particular sense?

Usually birds rely upon at least two main senses that have become highly specialised and which are used in a complementary manner. For example, in ibises it might be touch and vision, in kiwi it is smell and touch, in some of the waders it is touch and taste, but in other waders touch and hearing.

White-headed vulture – photo credit: Graham Martin

Probably the most obvious single sense specialisations are found among aerial predators such as eagles and falcons, they seem to be highly dependent upon vision to detect prey at a distance and then lock on to it during pursuit. However, we really don’t know anything about other aspects of their senses and there is a lot left to learn about them.

Can you tell us about any species that you have studied that you find particularly fascinating?

Oilbirds; they are really challenging to our assumptions about what birds are, how they live and what information they have available to them.

Oilbird (Steatornis caripensis) – photo credit: Graham Martin

Oilbirds are the most nocturnal of all birds, roosting and breeding deep in caves where no light penetrates, emerging only after dusk and then flying over the tropical rain forest canopy to find fruit. But they are a form of nightjar! In the complete darkness of caves they use echolocation to orient themselves and calls to locate mates. When searching for food in the canopy they use their sense of smell to detect ripe fruits, they have long touch sensitive bristles around the mouth. And their eyes have sensitivity close to the theoretical limits possible in vertebrate eyes.  They seem to rely upon partial information from each of these senses, and use them in combination or in complementary ways. They really are marvellous, but in truth the senses of any birds, and how they are used, are fascinating and intriguing, it is a matter of delving deep enough, and asking the right questions.

In what kind of direction do you think future sensory ecology research is headed?

We now have available a lot of techniques to find out about the senses of birds, from behavioural studies, to physiology and anatomy. Armed with these techniques, and also with ways of thinking and measuring the perceptual challenges of different tasks and different environments, there are so many questions to investigate. We have some fascinating findings but we have only just scratched the surface with regard to species and it does seems clear that senses can be very finely tuned to different tasks. I like to compare the diversity of the bills that we find in birds with the same diversity in the senses in those species.

Every bill tells a story about form and function, about evolution, ecology and behaviour. The senses of birds show the same degree of diversity and tuning. So to me sensory ecology is a wide open field with lot of questions to investigate. To appreciate the world from a bird’s perspective will, of course, give us a much better understanding of how to mitigate the problems that humans have posed to birds by shaping the world for our own convenience.

The Sensory Ecology of Birds is available now from NHBS

The NHBS Guide to Pond Dipping

Pond Dipping, Pensthorpe by Spencer Wright
Pond dipping is a fun and educational activity for all ages. Creative Commons “Pond Dipping, Pensthorpe” by Spencer Wright is licenced under CC BY 2.0

Pond dipping is an excellent activity for children of all ages and is a great way to introduce them to a wide range of plants, insects and amphibians. It also offers an opportunity to learn about food chains and food webs as well as discovering variations in lifecycles and the effects of pollution on aquatic life.

For school groups, a pond dipping trip will satisfy many of the criteria for learning about life processes and living things, and it can also be used to provide inspiration for art, maths or English projects. Younger children will enjoy drawing or painting pictures of the creatures they find, as well as writing stories about their experiences.

Don’t forget though that pond dipping isn’t just for children. Ponds, pools and small lakes are an integral part of our ecosystem and surveying the plant and animal diversity within them is an important way of assessing their health. If you are interested in volunteering as a pond surveyor, take a look at the Freshwater Habitats Trust website for more information.

How to pond dip:
  1. Half fill a tray or bucket with water and set aside. Do the same with your collecting pots and/or magnifying pots (if using).
  2. Use a net to dip into the pond. Sweeping in a figure of eight will ensure that you retain the catch in the net. Areas around the edge of the pond, especially near vegetation, tend to be the most productive. Take care not to scoop up mud from the bottom of the pond, as this will clog up your net and make it difficult to see what you have caught.
  3. Gently turn the net inside out into the tray. Once everything has settled, you should be able to view a fascinating selection of pond-dwelling creatures. A pipette can be used to transfer individual specimens to a magnifying pot for a closer look.
  4. Use a guide such as the Freshwater Name Trail or the FSC “What’s in my Pond” pack to identify the creatures found. For adults or older children a more in depth guide such as Ponds and Small Lakes or the New Holland Concise Pond Wildlife Guide will cover a greater range of species.
  5. When you have finished, make sure to return all water and inhabitants to the pond. Trays, pots and nets should be rinsed and dried thoroughly before storage. If you are going to be using nets in different ponds then sterilising using a broad spectrum disinfectant will help prevent the spread of disease.

Please note: Children should always be well supervised and aware of health and safety rules when working near water. Suitable clothing should be worn; wellington boots or other sturdy footwear are recommended.

Pond dipping equipment:

At NHBS we stock both individual and class sized pond dipping kits. These contain nets, trays, pots, magnifier and pipettes, as well as the excellent (and waterproof!) Freshwater Name Trail which will help you to identify the key animals found in UK ponds. Or why not choose from our top 10 list of equipment and books for pond dipping:

  1. Pond Net

Pond Net

Made at our workshop in Devon, the Pond Net is a high quality, lightweight net with a removable bag for cleaning. The bag is made from woven 1mm mesh which is ideal for pond dipping. Also available in a telescopic version.

2. What’s in your Pond?

Find out the names of the insects, plants, amphibians and repiles that you see. Features three of the FSC’s popular fold-out charts: Reptiles and Amphibians (frogs, toads, newts, slow worms, lizards and snakes), Freshwater Name Trail (classic pond dipping guide) and Commoner Water Plants (from lilypads to water mint). Also includes a card-sized magnifier.

3. Heavy Duty Sampling Trays

These strong white trays are ideal for pond dipping as they are robust and stable enough to be carried when full of water. Available in three sizes.

 

4. Bug Pots (Set of 10)

This set of 10 Bug Pots is perfect for pond dipping, as well as general nature studies. Each pot has a 2.5x magnifying lid and a measurement grid of 5mm squares on the base. They are ideal for storing and observing specimens.

 

5. RSPB First Book of Pond Life

Through beautiful full-page illustrations accompanied by key information about each creature, the First Book of Pond Life will help to encourage young children’s interest in the outside world and the wildlife around them. Covers 35 of the most common pond species. Also includes a spotter’s chart for children to fill in and links to internet-based activities.

6. Economy Pond Net

A simple and affordable pond net. Knotless mesh is guaranteed not to run if holed and, importantly, will not harm specimens which are collected in the net. A plastic handle makes it very lightweight. Available in three sizes.

7. Ponds and Small Lakes: Microorganisms and Freshwater Ecology

Suitable for adults and older children, this books introduces some of the less familiar and microscopic species found in ponds such as diatoms, desmids and rotifers. Along with excellent photographs, the book provides useful identification keys so that readers can identify, explore and study this microscopic world. This book is due for publication March 2017.

8. Pipettes

Small pipettes are extremely handy for sorting through and picking up tiny creatures found when pond dipping. They can also be used to transfer samples to microscope slides to look at the microscopic specimens found. These 3ml pipettes are available singly or in packs of 10 or 100.

9. 125ml Collecting Pots

These sampling containers are made from see-through rigid polystyrene and have secure screw-on lids. They are recommended for liquids and so are ideal for keeping specimens when pond dipping or rock pooling. Available either singly or in packs of 10, 30 or 100.  Different sizes of pot can also be purchased.

10. Bloomsbury Concise Pond Wildlife Guide

Packed with information on more than 190 species of animal and plant that inhabit ponds, pools and small lakes in northern Europe. Among the fascinating animals featured are freshwater sponges, hydras, water bears, worms, leeches, water snails, dragonflies and damselflies, frogs and toads, bats, fish, birds, water voles and otter.