NHBS: In The Field – IP Nest Box Camera

IP Nest Box Camera

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

IP Nest Box Camera

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

Setting Up

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

IP Nest Box Camera Setup

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

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

Anycam.iO
iSpy
Gamut CMS5 – link to download

What We Found

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Opinion

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

NHBS Guide: Where to hang and how to maintain your bat box

Natural roosting sites for bats are in decline due to changes in building standards and countryside management practices. Installing a bat box is a simple and affordable way of providing much needed roost space for a variety of species and now is the ideal time to install one, before bats fully emerge from hibernation. However, placing your bat boxes in the correct location and at the correct height is essential to encourage bats to occupy them. With this in mind, we have put together some answers to the most frequently asked questions about bat boxes – covering where and when to put up your boxes, cleaning and maintenance, and the legalities of checking whether they are occupied.

Which bat box should I purchase?

Bat boxes can be placed in trees, on walls and on or in the brickwork of buildings. To help you choose the most suitable bat box based on where you want to locate it, take a look at our three-part series designed to help you make the right choice:  

 

Top 10 Bat Boxes for Trees and Woodland

Top 10 Bat Boxes for Walls and Fences 

Top 10 Bat Boxes for New Builds and Developments

When is the best time to put up a bat box?

Bat boxes can be installed at any time of year, but they are more likely to be used during their first summer if they are put up before the bats emerge from hibernation in the spring. If you are installing bat boxes as part of an exclusion project from a building, it is best to erect the boxes four to six weeks before the exclusion. 

Schwegler 1FF Bat Boxes

Where should I hang my bat box?

All bat boxes should be positioned at a height of 3-6 metres (the higher the better) in an open, sunny position (6-8 hours of direct sunlight, or in a location where it receives the morning sun if this is not possible). Try to install the bat box where it will not be disturbed by bright lights at night such as porch or security lights. 

The most common location to hang a bat box is on a tree using a strong nail that is at least 85 mm in length. It is important to use aluminium nails, as these will not damage a chainsaw (or chainsaw user) should they be left in the tree when it is felled. For more details on how to hang your bat box to a tree, wall or fence, please read our blog on where to hang and how to maintain your nest box, which, although mainly focused on bird boxes, is equally relevant for bat boxes. 

How do I check whether the box is occupied?

Many bat boxes have an opening at the bottom and do not require any maintenance as the droppings will simply fall out of this space. If cleaning is required it is essential that you ensure that the box is not occupied before carrying out any maintenance. Once bats have inhabited a roost site they may only be disturbed by licensed bat workers. If you are unsure whether your bat box is occupied the best way to check for box occupancy is to observe the box at dusk (15 minutes after sunset for around 30 minutes) to watch for any bats leaving. Additionally, you can look under and nearby the box for guano (bat droppings). If there are bats present, wait until later in the season and then check again. It’s also a good opportunity to use a bat detector to identify the bats in your box – take a look at our guide on bat detecting for beginners.

Large Multi Chamber Bat Box

How do I maintain my bat box?

The best time to clean the majority of bat boxes (those suitable for summer roosts) is during the autumn or winter. Once you have ensured the bat box is not occupied you can open the box and clean out any droppings. Whilst you are cleaning the bat box it is a good idea to look for any damage, as this may mean it is unlikely to be used. The most likely damage will be broken seams around the roof, because the constant heating and cooling during the day can warp the wood slightly. To repair this, we would recommend using a roof sealant. 

Head over to the NHBS website to browse our full range of bat boxes. If you have any other questions or would like further advice, please get in touch with our team of Wildlife Equipment Specialists (email: equipment@nhbs.com or phone +44 (0)1803 865913).

 

This Week in Biodiversity News – March 16th

 

Ecologists in England and Scotland, in collaboration with ecologist Christopher Sutherland and Joseph Drake at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, report on a new tool for identifying an “entire community of mammals”, including elusive and endangered species that are otherwise difficult to monitor, by collecting DNA from river water. 

The white stork is returning to the wild in the south of England for the first time in several hundred years. Hunting and loss of habitat are the main factors that have led to their near extinction. After a successful breeding programme in Oxfordshire they are returning to West Sussex. 

Projects to reduce grass cutting and increase the diversity of plants and wildlife along Britain’s roads are having dramatic results for local ecology, seeing the return of butterflies and invertebrates in large numbers. 

 In Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, a complex experiment is working to rebuild the park’s fauna, first by reintroducing herbivores; and, more recently, by establishing a healthy population of carnivores on an ecosystem that has learned to live without them.

7 Female Nature & Science Writers to Read for International Women’s Day

To celebrate International Women’s Day we have put together a selection of incredible nature and science writing books from some brilliant female writers. 

Tamed: Ten Species that Changed our World

by Alice Roberts

In Tamed, Dr. Alice Roberts uncovers the amazing deep history of ten familiar species with incredible wild pasts: dogs, apples and wheat; cattle; potatoes and chickens; rice, maize, and horses – and, finally, humans. Alice Roberts not only reveals how becoming part of our world changed these animals and plants but shows how they became our allies, essential to the survival and success of our own species – and to our future.                                                            

Poached: Inside the Dark World of Wildlife Tracking

by Rachel Love Nuwer

In Poached, science journalist Rachel Nuwer takes us on a harrowing journey to the frontlines of the illegal wildlife trade, exploring the forces currently driving demand for animals and their parts – such as the widespread abuses of Chinese medicine and the links with drug trafficking and international crime cartels – and introduces us to the individuals battling to save them: the scientists and activists who believe it is not too late to stop the impending extinctions.

Spirals in Time: The Secret Life and Curious Afterlife of Seashells

by Helen Scales

Helen Scales tells the story of the seashell, showing how these simple objects have been sculpted by fundamental rules of mathematics and evolution, how they gave us colour, gems, food and money, and how they are prompting new medicines and teaching scientists how our brains work. Seashells offer an accessible way to reconnect people with nature, helping to heal the rift between ourselves and the undersea world. 

H is for Hawk

by Helen Macdonald 

Destined to be a classic of nature writing, H is for Hawk is a record of a spiritual journey – an unflinchingly honest account of Macdonald’s struggle with grief during the difficult process of the hawk’s taming and her own untaming. At the same time, it’s a kaleidoscopic biography of the brilliant and troubled novelist T. H. White, best known for The Once and Future King. It’s a book about memory, nature and nation, and how it might be possible to try to reconcile death with life and love.

 

Field Guide to the Ladybirds of Britain and Ireland

by Helen E Roy

Professor Helen Roy’s research focuses on the effects of environmental change on insect populations and communities. This illustrated field guide covers all 47 species of ladybird occurring in Britain and Ireland in a handy and easy-to-use format. Twenty-six species are colourful and conspicuous and easily recognised as ladybirds; the remaining species are more challenging, but the clear illustrations and up-to-date text in Field Guide to the Ladybirds of Britain and Ireland will help to break down the identification barriers.

 

A Crack in Creation: The New Power to Control Evolution 

by Jennifer Doudna

CRISPR is a breakthrough discovery in genetic modification that is causing a revolution. It is an invention that allows us to rewrite the genetic code that shapes and controls all living beings with astonishing accuracy and ease. Jennifer Doudna is the co-inventor of this technology and a scientist of worldwide renown. Writing with fellow researcher Samuel Sternberg, here she provides the definitive account of her discovery, explaining how this wondrous invention works and what it is capable of.

 

Bats: An Illustrated Guide to All Species

by Marianne Taylor

Marianne Taylor has written prolifically on the natural world. This lavishly illustrated handbook offers in-depth profiles of 300 megabats and microbats and detailed summaries of all the species identified to date. An endlessly fascinating guide with an introduction exploring their natural history and unique adaptations to life on the wing. Bats includes close-up images of these animals’ delicate, intricate and sometimes grotesque forms and faces, each shaped by evolution to meet the demands of an extraordinarily specialized life.

The Accidental Countryside: interview with author Stephen Moss

Stephen Moss is a naturalist, broadcaster, television producer and author. He is the original producer of the BAFTA award-winning series Springwatch and has worked with David Attenborough, Chris Packham, Alan Titchmarsh, and other leading naturalists. Passionate about communicating the wonders of nature, he also lectures in Nature and Travel Writing at Bath Spa University. Originally from London, he lives with his family on the Somerset Levels and is President of the Somerset Wildlife Trust.

In The Accidental Countryside: Hidden Havens for Britain’s Wildlife, Stephen writes about the secret places, that are often overlooked when it comes to protecting habitats and wildlife. Stephen has given his time to sign copies and answer our questions about these vital habitats in our hidden corners. 

 

What inspired you to write about the ‘hidden havens’ for Britain’s Wildlife?

I’ve always been fascinated by these forgotten and secret places, that are often overlooked when it comes to protecting habitats and wildlife. As I say in the book, I first got my passion for the natural world by visiting the gravel pits near my suburban home; today I live near the Avalon Marshes in Somerset, another post-industrial habitat, created from disused peat diggings. During my career at the BBC Natural History Unit, I often filmed at these edgeland locations, as they harbour such a range of interesting wildlife, and are often more accessible to people than classic nature reserves in the countryside. 

Of all the places you visited, which habitat surprised you the most regarding its biodiversity?

That’s a tricky one, as I think they all surprised me in some way or another. The Avalon Marshes is probably the most packed with wildlife – three species of egrets, marsh harriers, bitterns and the famous starling murmurations on winter evenings – but I also loved the Montiaghs (in rural Northern Ireland, where peat was dug by hand), Parc Slip in South Wales (a former open-cast coal mine) and best of all, Canvey Wick in Essex, Britain’s first brownfield nature reserve, and a paradise for invertebrates including rare dragonflies and damselflies.

Avalon Marshes

Your book features exceptional and inspirational people that have found ways to make the most unlikely places wildlife friendly. Is it possible to highlight just one project that has succeeded against the odds?

Again, the Avalon Marshes stands out: once the peat had been removed, we were left with an ugly, scarred and wildlife-free landscape, which it was suggested could be used as a landfill site for Bristol’s domestic waste. Thanks to a local campaign, they were instead turned into nature reserves; thirty years later this is one of the best places for wildlife in the whole of the UK. Others include Canvey Wick, which again could have fallen to the developers; the roadside verges of Blandford Forum in Dorset, which are now awash with wildflowers and butterflies each summer; and the RSPB’s Window on Wildlife at Belfast Docks, home to breeding Arctic Terns.

A Murmuration of Starlings

Is there one habitat that you think hasn’t reached its wildlife friendly potential?

That’s easy! The rest of the ‘official’ countryside – the 70% of the UK that is used for farming. Of course we need to produce food, but not at the expense of wildlife, which is what is happening on the vast majority of farms at the moment. Some visionary farmers are working with conservationists to buck the trend – for instance, the Marlborough Downs Nature Improvement Project in Wiltshire – but most are simply fulfilling the consumer and supermarkets’ demands for cheap food, whatever the cost to the environment. 

You have been writing for many years and unfortunately, wildlife has suffered a substantial decline over the last few decades. Has your recent experience writing The Accidental Countryside left you more optimistic or more pessimistic regarding the future of wildlife in the UK?

I’d love to live in a country where the sites I feature in The Accidental Countryside are not important because the wider countryside has been transformed into a haven for wildlife. But I’m not holding my breath, despite the things we hear from the government. Now, more than ever, we need to understand that a healthy, wildlife-filled environment is not some ‘bolt-on extra’ to our lives, but essential – to the health and well-being of nature, of ourselves, and of course for the planet as a whole. So I have to be optimistic: there is no other choice!

Are there any books or projects that you are currently working on that you can tell us about?

Yes, I am just about to deliver the third in my series of ‘Bird Biographies’ for Square Peg (Part of Penguin Random House). Following bestselling books on the Robin and the Wren, I am now writing about that classic sign of spring and summer, the Swallow. I am a late convert to Swallows – only since I moved from London to rural Somerset in middle age have I grown to appreciate this classic bird of the British countryside. Writing this book, I have also grown to appreciate that the swallow is, as the writer Collingwood Ingram once noted, “beyond doubt the best known, and certainly the best loved, species in the world.”

 

The Accidental Countryside: Hidden Havens for Britain’s Wildlife                              Hardback,  published February 2020           £13.99 £16.99

 

 

Also by Stephen Moss: 

The Wren: A Biography                                                           Hardback,  published November 2018                                    £12.99 

 

Mrs Moreau’s Warbler                                                                                  Paperback,  published April 2019                                                  £7.99 £9.99

 

Wonderland: A Year of Britain’s Wildlife, Day by Day                    Paperback,  published April 2018                                                             £9.99 £12.99

 

Wild Hares and Hummingbirds: The Natural History of an English Village                                                                                 Paperback,  published September 2012                                                   £7.50 £9.99

 

  

Cambridge University Press: Publisher of the Month

 

Cambridge University Press (CUP) published its first book in 1534, making it the world’s oldest publisher. Since then it has been at the forefront of scientific research, publishing ground-breaking works such as: Newton’s Principia Mathematica and Noam Chomsky’s Language and Mind.

NHBS is pleased to announce Cambridge University Press as our Publisher of the Month for March.  We are offering up to 40% discount on a selection of their new and bestselling books throughout the month; making this a perfect opportunity to explore their vibrant publishing history.

Just Published and Forthcoming Highlight

From accessible books on climate change, works on barn owl ecology and textbooks on the fascinating subject of mycology,  there are plenty of forthcoming books for the beginning of 2020 to augment their recent bestsellers in conservation, ecology and natural history.

The Citizen’s Guide to Climate Success: Overcoming Myths that Hinder Progress

Paperback| February 2020| £13.49 £14.99

 

Barn Owls: Evolution and Ecology – with Grass Owls, Masked Owls, and Sooty Owls

Hardback| March 2020| £39.99 £44.99

 

21st Century Guidebook to Fungi

Paperback| Due May 2020|£44.99 £49.99

 

Bestsellers from Cambridge University Press

Save 40% on classic  Cambridge University Press books in our backlist bargains sale, as well as some recent bestsellers on price offers until March 31st.

Ecology and Conservation of Forest Birds
Paperback| March 2018| £35.99 £39.99
Part of the bestselling  Ecology, Biodiversity and Conservation series. This is a unique review of current understanding of the relationships between forest birds and their changing environments.

 

Habitat Suitability and Distribution Models: with Applications in R
Paperback| September 2017| £35.99 £39.99
Introduces the key stages of niche-based habitat suitability model building, evaluation, and prediction required for understanding and predicting future patterns of species and biodiversity

 

Human-Wildlife Interactions: Turning Conflict into Coexistence
Paperback| May 2019| £31.49 £34.99
The latest in the Conservation Biology series explores a variety of theories and methods currently used to address human-wildlife interactions – one of the most urgent issues facing wildlife management and conservation today.

Rewilding
Paperback| January 2019| £34.49 £37.99
The latest addition to the Ecological Reviews Series, Rewilding discusses, analyses and summarizes the conservation concept of rewilding.

 

Wood Ant Ecology and Conservation
Hardback| July 2016| £37.99 £62.99
Get a great deal on this study of The Wood Ant – a keystone species in woodland ecosystems.

 

 

British Plant Communities, Volume 1: Woodlands and Scrub
Paperback| April 1998| £56.99 £62.99
Volume 1 in the British Plant Communities series; the first systematic and comprehensive account of the vegetation types of Britain

 

Browse all Cambridge University Press books

Cambridge University Press is a contributing publisher to the Gratis Book Scheme.

One of the most rewarding CUP-NHBS collaborations has been in the form of the Gratis Books Scheme. Since 1999, with support and assistance from the British Ecological Society, this scheme has been sending free copies of books to conservationists in developing countries who would otherwise be unable to obtain them.

 

Author Interview: Mike Potts, Untangling the Knot, Belugas & Bears: My Natural World on Film

Film-maker Mike Potts.

Mike Potts’ career as a wildlife cameraman took him to many of the world’s most spectacular locations and involved filming with Sir David Attenborough.

Mike has signed copies and answered questions about his new book, Untangling the Knot, Belugas & Bears: My Natural World on Film, giving readers the chance to travel with him and share his incredible experiences.

 

Mike on location with Sir David Attenborough.

What made you pursue a career as a wildlife cameraman?                         From an early age I developed an interest in natural history and photography, particularly of birds. I was fortunate in being able to turn a passionate hobby into a profession from early beginnings with the RSPB  Film Unit.

How did you manage a work-life balance when your work took you far away for significantly long periods?

My wife, although working herself, was able to run things at home in my absence.

 

Mike signing copies of his new book

Today, there is GPS and the internet: 30 years ago that technology wasn’t as advanced. What difficulties did that present and how were they overcome? (I’m trying not to say, did you ever get ‘lost’?)

In the early years of my career, before mobile phones, we would often be out of contact for many days, or weeks, when out in the field camping. On some trips, we did have the use of the early satellite phones, so at least there was some contact. Having a local biologist that was familiar with the terrain was essential, otherwise getting lost was a real possibility. It did happen in Australia when I was lost on my own in a tropical forest for several hours, quite scary!

Walruses at Round Island, Alaska

Was there one exceptional location you filmed in that stood out from all the rest?

Alaska particularly has many special memories. I spent over a year there working on three 50 minute programmes. If I had to choose one location, it would be the McNeil River in SE Alaska; here brown bears gather in summer to feed on salmon moving upriver to spawn. Sometimes, over 50 bears can be seen in the river, and standing shoulder to shoulder use various different techniques to capture the fish that are so essential to put on fat for their winter hibernation.

What does ‘Untangling the Knot’ in the title of your book refer to?

Some years ago I worked on a film called ‘Untangling the Knot’, which was about the bird, the Red Knot. It has a long migration from its wintering grounds in South America to breeding grounds in the high Arctic of Canada. So ‘Untangling the Knot’ was the story of the feeding habits, complex migration routes, and remote breeding areas of these great travellers.

 

If someone was inspired to pursue a career filming wildlife, what advice would you give them to get started?

When I started my filming career in 1978 everything was shot on film, which was expensive, as was the equipment to shoot it with. The only way to prove your ability was to shoot a sequence and try to get it seen by wildlife producers at the BBC Natural History Unit or the RSPB film Unit. There were not any wildlife film courses back then. Now there are many more people interested in becoming wildlife cameramen, so the competition is great. What advice would I give? One advantage now with the proliferation of video cameras at low cost is that it is possible to go out and shoot a sequence at no great expense. Choose a subject that you have good knowledge of and try to shoot it differently from what has been done before, then get it seen by someone within the business. If you have access to a scarce or unusual subject, even better, especially if it is on your doorstep (always check licence requirements). You can of course try and get a placement on a ‘wildlife film making’ course but that doesn’t mean a job at the end of it. Virtually all cameramen are freelance, so work is never guaranteed. Good luck.

Can you recall any one moment or experience in your career that encapsulates all that being a wildlife cameraman involved?

I think the most rewarding experience was filming Birds of Paradise in New Guinea. Sitting in my tiny mosquito-filled hide in the pitch-black, 150 feet off the ground, I wondered quite what I was doing there. Then as the dawn began to break and the chorus of tropical birds started I knew why. Shortly afterwards as the first Greater Birds of Paradise appeared the excitement was overpowering. Several males with their golden plumes were bouncing around just 60 feet in front of me, courting the growing number of females nearby. This made all the 3.00 am starts, the long walks through the forest and the exhausting tree climbing worthwhile.

What are your current plans and are there any future projects you can tell us about?

I am now retired from filming, and although I have been trying to get a film off the ground on the Albatross, it is difficult to get the substantial funding for these projects. For the last 2 years I have been writing the book and having exhibitions of my photographic work.

 

Untangling the Knot, Belugas & Bears: My Natural World on Film
Paperback,  published February 2020              £16.95 £20.95

Mike has spent more than 30 years as a wildlife cameraman. A highlight of that career was filming the Birds of Paradise and Bowerbirds with David Attenborough.

 

Further reading…

Journeys in the Wild: The Secret Life of a Cameraman
Hardback,  published August 2019,

£13.99 £16.99

Gavin’s book, Journeys in the Wild, is available from NHBS and you can read more about his life as a cameraman in our blog post from last year.

This Week in Biodiversity News – 3rd March

 

Images of wild western lowland gorillas in central mainland Equatorial Guinea have been captured by camera traps for the first time in over a decade. The exciting discovery made by conservationists at the Bristol Zoological Society (BZS) and the University of West England, confirms the continued existence of gorillas despite heavy hunting pressure.

An exciting new campaign has been launched this week, to gather images of native oysters by the Native Oyster Network – a collaboration between international conservation charity ZSL (Zoological Society of London) and the University of Portsmouth, to help preserve the UK’s native oyster populations. Find out how to get involved here

The UN chief urges for a “more caring” relationship with nature as part of World Wildlife Day 2020, an important global event that takes place every year on the 3rd of March, to celebrate and raise awareness about wild animals and plants. Find out more on the World Wildlife Day website

The Taita Hills of South Eastern Kenya is an important bird and biodiversity area and is named after one of the rarest birds in the world: the Taita Apalis, Taita White-eye, and Taita thrush. Severe habitat loss in the area has made this bird species endangered. Read here about BirdLife Africa’s initiative to protect the Taita and other bird species, by working with local communities in the area. 

Researches at Tel Aviv University (TAU) have just discovered a unique non-oxygen breathing animal. The parasitic, tiny relative of the jellyfish that dwells in salmon tissue, breaks away from the assumption that aerobic respiration is ubiquitous in animals. This discovery bears enormous significance for evolutionary research. 

 

Bone Building Books: an interview with author Lee Post

We recently became aware of a fantastic series of manuals that give readers instructions on how to clean, prepare, and articulate animal skeletons. We caught up with the author, Lee Post, a self-professed bone man, to ask him more about these guides and his work.

Hello Lee, thanks for the opportunity to ask you some questions. How does one become a bone builder? Was this always something you were interested in or did you fall into this more or less by accident?

Project Orca and the team of students and retired folks that help build it. © Lee Post

As a child, growing up, I was a classic nature nerd. My room looked more like a Victorian curio cabinet than some place someone might actually sleep. Anything related to the animal kingdom was something I was interested in collecting. The ultimate treasures were bones and skulls. But I had never thought about articulating anything myself. My passion for articulating skeletons grew out of a move to a small town in Alaska that had a very progressive little natural history museum. I had a part-time job in the winter and volunteered the rest of my time at this museum. I was given an opportunity to research and articulate a 17 foot Stejnegers Beaked Whale the staff had collected and cleaned. That was my first winter project. My research into how to articulate that skeleton came to a lot of dead ends and some questionable advice. I could find nothing in print on building whale skeletons. With a background in bicycle mechanics and carpentry, and a lot of suggestions from local craftsmen and women, I got that skeleton together, and from then on I never stopped working with bones. Collecting, cleaning, building, illustrating, curating. It was being in the right place at the right time under the right circumstances. In other words, a total accident.

What made you decide to write manuals on constructing and articulating skeletons?

For years I’d been cleaning and articulating a skeleton or two each year. This led to a 3-year Pratt Museum, Homer High School collaborative project, in which I worked at the school with all kinds of interested students. We articulated a 41 foot long sperm whale in the school, and the

Gray whale project. © Lee Post

following year students worked on about a dozen other skeleton projects, ranging from sea otters to a moose, to porpoises, to a porcupine. The exhibited work they did in their school was open to the public over the following couple of summers. Teachers and educators from lots of places that saw those exhibits wanted to know how they could do similar projects with their students. I had kept a notebook on almost every skeleton I worked on and from those made some crude, hand-lettered, illustrated manuals on how to prepare and build animal skeletons. My day job was working in a bookstore, and there were no books in print on working with bones. This was 20 years ago. Later, an intersection of those hand-printed, photocopied notes, and me, and a talented lady (now my wife) who knew how to do desktop publishing, resulted in the birth of the Bone Building Books about 15 years ago.

Who buys these guides? Do you find that they are used by museum curators, or mostly by individual naturalists? And what has the feedback been?

The manuals were originally written for teachers and students who wanted to do a museum quality skeleton on a limited budget, with materials they

Lee petting a sea lion done by a group of students and docents at a Marine Life center. © Lee Post

should be able to find even in a small town. Over the years, the manuals have been enlarged and corrected and improved each time I have worked on that type of skeleton. I’m always trying different materials and testing new techniques. Today they are used by everyone from teachers to museum workers, to home hobbyists to University projects with students. The other group of people who were getting these were bone collectors and zoo archaeologists who really just wanted to look at the pictures. They had no interest in the articles or in building a skeleton. And the manuals didn’t even have a centerfold. The feedback has been very enthusiastic. For many hobbyists and home naturalists who have wanted to get accurate information on how to prepare the bones and build the skeletons, these have been their bibles. When people get stuck, they often e-mail me. That’s often a clue I didn’t explain something well enough, and the next revision will try to remedy that.

What advice do you have for aspiring bone builders?

Don’t plan on doing this for a career. You would likely starve. But if this is your interest and passion, there is enough information out there these days that you should definitely pursue that interest. There are no skeleton police. There are no university degrees in this. Many of the best skeleton articulations of land mammals are being done by home hobbyists. You too could be doing that.

A deer that a high school student collected and assembled. © Lee Post

From the short video clip of Indie Alaska that I saw, it seems you teach courses to students. Do you also offer workshops for museum professionals?

A wolf that a 6th grade class in Alaska cleaned and articulated as part of a week-long class project. © Lee Post

Many of my favorite projects have been done with groups of interns and docents in museums and marine-life centers. On occasion, the paid staff have joined in, but usually, the staff has too much other work to be able to take the time off to do much hands-on work building a large skeleton. My favorite projects are when I have an enthusiastic group of volunteers and an organization with someone who wants to organize a large skeleton build project. Then, I get to teach and be the foreman and boss around the volunteers, who get the thrill of working with real bones and being part of a team that builds a world-class skeleton.

Are there any particularly challenging skeletons you worked on, or any particular animal skeletons you would still love to tackle?

I’m still sorting out sea turtle skeletons. They have very unusual bones. I’ll be trying to figure out a crocodile skeleton soon. I’m always interested in working on new marine mammal species. They are the animals I have the most experience with.

You have now written nine guides to specific animals and animal groups, plus a general reference book, the Bone Builder’s Notebook. Are there plans to write any more guides?

I’m doing a lot of illustration work on bird bones. I can imagine these might

A lynx skeleton. © Lee Post

one day get compiled into some type of identification guide to bird bones. I’m also getting more and more requests for information on articulating reptiles. I live in Alaska, and there is a serious lack of reptiles in my area. However, I’ll be working on some large reptiles in Mexico in the near future, and I never know when I’ll get so inspired that I might try to write something useful on how those bones fit together.

 

You can discover the complete selection of Bone Building Books on the NHBS website

           

 

Herpetofauna Workers’ Meeting 2020

Wind farms, conflicts in conservation, and the use of photo identification as a population monitoring technique were amongst the many themes covered at the 2020 Herpetofauna Workers’ Meeting. Running for over 30 years, this popular event attracts ecological consultants, academics, students, and conservation organisations from far and wide. As the weather worsened with the arrival of Storm Dennis, we settled in for a jam-packed two days filled with presentations, workshops, and poster displays.

Scout Moor wind farm, image by Stephen Gidley via Flickr, (CC BY 2.0)

So how is a talk on wind farms relevant at a herpetology conference? Wind farms cover a large expanse of land and, as Jeanette Hall from the Highland Biological Recording Group explained, could provide a conservation opportunity for Adders Vipera berus. Birds of prey are typically the main predator of Adders, but these predators are present in low numbers on wind farms. If managed correctly, wind farms could offer a suitable refuge for Adders. To test this Jeanette and her team used clay snake models to measure avian attack rates both within the wind farm and on a control site roughly a kilometre away. The models were made to roughly the same size as a yearling Adder, and the attacks were recorded by the presence of talon marks on the clay models.

Despite observing raptors in both sites, they found that attack rates were significantly lower on the wind farm. Interestingly, attack rates were higher in areas where grazing sheep were present.

Sheep grazing, image by David Pics via Flickr, (CC BY 2.0)

With grazing and habitat management in mind, could these vast areas that wind farms cover offer an opportunity for reptile conservation? 

 Clay snake models are one simple but effective approach for measuring attack rates. Suzanne Collinson, from the University of Cumbria and the Cumbria Amphibian & Reptile Group, discussed another interesting technique that she used when studying Slow Worms Anguis fragilis. She used photo identification to study the size and dynamics of a Slow Worm population in a churchyard in Dalston, Cumbria. Slow Worms are a UK Biodiversity Action Plan priority species and protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 due to their overall decline, therefore this population in the village of Dalston is of great interest, especially to the locals. Due to their morphology and cryptic behaviour, mark and recapture is a difficult method to use to survey Slow Worms. In addition to this, the markings on the neck and chin of a Slow Worm are unique to the individual and so, photo identification could offer a viable monitoring method.

Slow Worm, image by Bernard Dupont via Flickr,(CC BY 2.0)

In order to take a photograph of an individual, the Slow Worm would be placed on a clear tray, enabling photographs of the Slow Worm’s ventral surface to be taken quickly. The Slow Worms were found at various shelters or ACO’s (artificial cover objects) that were positioned across the churchyard. Suzanne also measured the body length of each new individual that she photographed and recorded the ambient temperature and the number of ant nests and snails present at the ACO. Suzanne counted 25 individuals in total (the original population estimate was 18) and found that as temperatures increased, Slow Worm encounters decreased. Ending on this note, Suzanne discussed the potential implications of climate change and how future monitoring will be necessary to understand what these future impacts could be on the population. 

 On both days there was a choice of five different workshops, all on very different topics, that we could take part in. On the first day, we attended ‘Managing habitats for conflicting species’ led by Jim Foster and Andrew Hampson from the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust. Faced with a real-time scenario, we discussed in small groups the potential conflicts that could arise and what approach should be used to move forward – our scenario was based at the dunes of Sefton coast, and focused on the population of Natterjack toads that reside there. This was an interesting opportunity to hear what lessons had been learnt from previous conservation projects and how this knowledge can be used for effective conservation planning in the future. 

Sand dunes on the Sefton Coast, image by Natural England, Flickr, (CC BY 2.0)

Of course, this is just a snapshot of the range of topics discussed over the duration of the conference. Hearing first hand what organisations such as the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust and Amphibian and Reptile Groups of UK are doing to conserve reptile and amphibian species in the UK, plus the ongoing research on both British species and those of other countries was fascinating. 

Catherine on the NHBS stand, image by Catherine

You can visit the NHBS website here to browse our selection of herpetology books, as well as a range of equipment required for the surveying or monitoring of reptiles and amphibians