The NHBS buyer’s guide to Plankton Nets

Following the acquisition of EFE & GB Nets earlier this year, NHBS now manufactures a wide range of plankton nets at our workshop in Devon. Nets are available with an opening diameter of 250mm, 300mm or 500mm and with mesh sizes ranging from 10µm to 500µm.

250mm and 300mm diameter nets
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250mm diameter plankton nets are available with 10µm to 250µm mesh

250mm and 300mm diameter nets have a stainless steel frame to which a 500mm long bag is attached. They are supplied with a harness and seven metre long towing line which can be used to tow the net behind a boat or from a suitable bank or jetty.

The standard cod end is fitted with a filter in the same mesh size as the main part of the bag. However, various alternatives can be selected at the time of ordering. Options include a clear extension tube, collecting bottle, tap valve or large filter fitted in place of the standard filter. It is also possible to have weight loops added to the end of the net (weights not included) or a stainless steel swivel to be used on the harness in place of the standard nylon ring.

The heavy duty upgrade uses heavy duty nylon for the net collar and cod end collar and also includes fully taped seams.

500mm diameter nets
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500mm diameter bags have industrial nylon collars and reinforced seams

500mm diameter nets have a stainless steel frame and 1900mm long bag and a three point harness with swivel connector. All seams are reinforced and the collar is made from industrial nylon for added strength and durability. The cod end of the bag is fitted with a heavy duty screw-on filter in the same mesh size as the bag. This net is not supplied with a towing rope and so users will need to supply their own rope or chain which can be fitted to the harness.

As with the smaller plankton nets, various adaptations are available in order to create a net which is suited to your sampling needs. A flexible cod end extension allows a greater sample volume to be collected and also lets you connect a different filter type. A replacement cod end cap provides a closed ended option and results in a sample size of 700ml and a quick release bag is ideal for collecting fry or elver or for when a rapid changeover of bags is required.

Net bags and the educational plankton net
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Educational plankton net

As well as standard plankton nets, we also stock a range of plankton net bags designed to fit onto the professional hand net frame. These fit onto the frame in the same way as the standard hand net bags, and have a detachable screw-on filter in the centre. An educational plankton net with 150µm mesh is also available for school use or for those who require an economical net for trial sampling.

 

 

 

Browse the full range of plankton nets at NHBS

CCTV for Wildlife Monitoring: An interview with Susan Young

susan-young
Susan Young – Author of CCTV for Wildlife Monitoring

Susan Young is a writer and photographer with a background in physics and engineering. She is the author of the fantastic CCTV for Wildlife Monitoring published earlier this year. This great handbook provides lots of practical information on the use of CCTV for survey and research.

Your book on CCTV for Wildlife Monitoring, published earlier this year, is packed full of practical information for the researcher or amateur naturalist interested in using CCTV to monitor wildlife. Could you explain a little bit about your professional background and how you came to write this book?

I have had a very varied career and have always tended to look for new ways to do things. After graduating, I worked using applied physics in the manufacture of aero engines, and later, after a Masters in Engineering Management, worked in a large electronics company. For the last 15 years I have been a writer and (mainly) wildlife photographer, and found my experience of great value with the more technical aspects of photography.

After using various photographic systems for recording wildlife, I came to believe that CCTV had many applications for both the amateur and professional naturalist. As I have always enjoyed doing something different, I spent the last few years researching CCTV systems for use with wildlife.

I wanted to test CCTV in more formal environments and thus I volunteered for Natural England and the Wildlife Trust. With Natural England I have been researching the use of an underwater system for studying fish in rural rivers, and have also developed a system for monitoring rock pool life. With the Woodland Trust I have developed a portable CCTV system for bat monitoring, which is being used for a research project at the moment, and which can greatly reduce the need for night emergence surveys.

With this research I became convinced that there were many applications where CCTV could be of great benefit, but that the lack of clear, relevant technical information was a barrier to wider use. The more I discovered about CCTV, the greater my enthusiasm for the subject, and the greater the number of applications that became apparent. For this reason I decided to write CCTV for Wildlife Monitoring with the aim of encouraging wider use of what I believe is a valuable tool.

Do you feel that there is a need to bridge the knowledge gap between manufacturers/engineers and the individuals using field equipment? As an extension of this, do you feel that it would improve the quality of research or survey data if people had a better understanding of the functions and limitations of their kit?

In meeting both professional and amateur naturalists, I have often heard it said that manufacturers/engineers do not understand their problems. Without that understanding, they are unable to advise on the areas of use. In addition, the biological sciences are not generally taught with an emphasis on technology, which can leave graduates unfamiliar with technical language. Companies such as NHBS and, hopefully, books like mine, can help to bridge what is a very large gap in communication.

I feel very strongly that there could be great steps forward in research and survey methods if people were more aware of the possibilities of their equipment, together with an understanding of the limitations. For the keen naturalist, there is also a great number of applications for filming for pleasure.

We have found trail cameras to be extremely popular both with amateur naturalists and researchers. How do you feel these compare with CCTV systems and in what types of situations would you recommend each of them?

This is a difficult question to answer briefly!

I have used trail cameras for many years and without doubt they are of great value for indicating the presence of wildlife, especially in remote areas, but their short filming time makes them less practical for monitoring. CCTV is much more flexible and responsive, and has the capability of giving higher quality images, especially at night. CCTV can be used with underwater cameras, and with cameras that fit into small spaces such as bird or mammal boxes.

One of the main advantages of a CCTV system is that it can be set up to record at certain times as well as being triggered by motion or event. The wide range of CCTV cameras means that variable focus lenses can be used, allowing one to zoom in to the subject, noise reduction can produce clean images and features such as ‘smart IR’ prevent over exposure of nearby objects, a problem with night images with trail cameras.

If mains power is available, the advantages of CCTV become more apparent. Recent technology means that HD cameras can be used, giving high quality HD videos, and images can be viewed live on a monitor. If the internet is also available, images can be viewed remotely by smartphone, tablet or PC.

HD analogue video (AHD or, more recently, HD-TVI) is an amazing step forward in CCTV, giving videos of great quality at a reasonable cost and without the complexity of more traditional HD methods which require some knowledge of computer networks.

You have a vast amount of experience in the field using CCTV and must have collected huge amounts of footage from this. How does it make you feel when you are reviewing your videos and come across something amazing? Do you have a single favourite video or image?

There is nothing to beat the excitement of coming across a video of something unexpected. The otter swimming underwater was caught by accident while filming fish and is very short, but still very exciting, and something I never really expected to get, although I was always hoping. I try to plan a CCTV session to reduce the number of ‘empty’ videos and to make sure that I review small numbers without letting them build up over days. That way, the excitement is always there.

Finally – if you could set up a CCTV system anywhere in the world, where would you choose?

I would choose the UK. UK wildlife is very elusive and offers a great challenge. I am an ‘otterholic’ and would love to set up cameras on the Shetland islands. I have photographed otters with a DSLR, but there is nothing to beat the excitement of filming otters in action.

CCTV for Wildlife Monitoring is available from NHBS.

 

What’s new for 2016 – Bat detector news

Elekon Batlogger C
Elekon Batlogger C

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

Song Meter SM4BAT
Song Meter SM4BAT

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

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

Elekon Batlogger C
Elekon Batlogger C

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

Elekon Batlogger A+
Elekon Batlogger A+

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

Anabat Walkabout
Anabat Walkabout

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

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

 

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

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

With spring rapidly approaching, now is the ideal time to start thinking about nest boxes for your local birds. With this in mind we have put together some answers to the most Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about nest boxes – covering where and when to put up your boxes, cleaning and maintenance as well as dealing with predators.

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

When is the best time to put up nest boxes?

Traditionally people have put up nest boxes in the early spring to ensure that they are ready for the breeding season.  However, there really is no ‘best’ time to put up nest boxes.  By putting up nest boxes in the autumn you can provide much needed winter refuges for roosting birds and increase the chance of them staying and nesting there when spring comes around.  However, any box erected before the end of February stands a good chance of being occupied.  Even after February there is still a chance of occupancy; tits have been known to move in during April and house martins as late as July.  Whatever the time of year, your nest box is likely to be used for roosting so shouldn’t stay unoccupied for long.  Therefore, put your nest box up as soon as it is available rather than leaving it in the shed!

Where should I hang my nest box?

1B Schwegler Nest Box
1B Schwegler Nest Box

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

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

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

For many species the height of the box is not crucial.  However, by placing it at least several metres off the ground you can help prevent predators and human interference.  The direction of the entrance hole is also not too important but it is beneficial for there to be a clear flight path to the box.  Crucially, the box should be sheltered from the prevailing wind, rain and strong sunlight, so in most UK gardens aim for an aspect of northerly, easterly or south-easterly.  If possible, position the box with a slight downward angle to provide further protection from the rain.  Wherever you position the box, try to ensure that you can still get access to it for maintenance.  And finally, if possible, try to put it somewhere where you can see it so as to maximise your enjoyment of watching wild birds in your garden.

Is there anything else I can do to deter predators?

Entrance hole protection plate
Entrance hole protection plate

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

Box design can also help deter predators.  An entrance hole reinforced with a metal plate will prevent grey squirrels and some avian predators from enlarging the hole and gaining access to the nest.  Schwegler’s wood-concrete boxes are too hard for any predator to break through.  However, you can also reinforce a nest box yourself with metal protection plates or provide additional protection with prickly twigs.  Not only can these prevent predators from getting to or finding purchase on the nest box, but they can also help insulate the box from the weather.  Deep boxes may prevent predators reaching in and grabbing nest occupants, although some tits have been known to fill up deep boxes with copious quantities of nesting material.  An overhanging roof will also help prevent predators reaching in.  If using open-fronted nest boxes, a balloon of chicken wire over the entrance can prevent some predators gaining access, although weasels will still be able to slip through.  If you live in an urban area, cats are likely to be the most common predator.  Gardeners have long since used various methods to exclude these unwanted visitors, such as pellets, electronic scarers and even lion dung (available from your nearest obliging zoo), all with varying degrees of success, so you may want to do some experimenting.

How do I manage the nest box?

A well-designed nest box will only need one annual clean in the autumn. It is important not to clean out nest boxes before August as boxes may still be occupied.  Wait until autumn and then remove the contents of the box, checking first that the box is definitely unoccupied.  Scatter the contents of the box on the ground some way from the box to help prevent parasites re-infesting the nest box.  Use a small brush or scraper to remove debris from the corners.  Do not wait until the winter to clean out nest boxes as birds may already be roosting in them.

How many nest boxes do I need?

House Martin Nests
House Martin Nests

The exact amount of boxes required will depend on the species and the surrounding habitat.  As a very general rule of thumb, start with ten assorted small boxes per hectare (ensure uniform spacing between boxes).  Keep adding several more boxes each season until some remain unused and hopefully you’ll hit on the correct density of boxes.  However, even if you only have space for one box, remember that one box is better than no box (providing it’s suitably located).  Many UK bird populations have plummeted to worryingly low levels and they need all the additional nesting habitat they can get.

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

Further information about individual nest boxes, including advice on positioning, can be found alongside each nest box in our range.  If you have any other questions then please get in touch with customer services.

 

What’s new for 2016 – Torch news

LED Lenser P17.2 and H7.2
The LED Lenser P17.2 and H7.2 are just two additions to our lighting range.

Ecologists use torches for a wide range of applications including newt surveys, for note taking and safety during nocturnal surveys and to look for roosting bats and other creatures within lofts and other confined spaces. Each application requires different things from the torch – high power for newt surveys, a red filter to preserve night vision, light weight and / or hands free operation to reduce fatigue, a long operating time, lower power settings to reduce disturbance and an LED bulb to reduce heat output. So far, we know of no single torch that combines all of these attributes in an affordable package but progress is being made. Here we introduce three new torches from the LED Lenser range that we have heard great things about and one new lamp and two new torches from Cluson.

LED Lenser P7.2
LED Lenser P7.2

The LED Lenser P7.2 is a hugely popular, general purpose handheld LED torch. Despite its compact size (it weighs just 175g!) it is very powerful, boasting 320 lumens when used at its highest setting.  It has a robust but ergonomically designed weatherproof casing (IPX4 rating) and is great for prolonged use in the field. At the high setting (320 lumens, 260m beam) four good AAA batteries will last for two hours and at the lowest power setting (40 lumens, 100m beam) the batteries will last for 50 hours.

The LED Lenser P17.2 has a higher specification than the LED Lenser P7.2 with a powerful beam of 450 lumens that can reach 420m. It is constructed from tough, aircraft-grade aluminium with a dust and water resistant coating (IPX54 rating) and a smart, anti-slip black matte finish. The P17.2 has a fast focusing mechanism which enables the use of one hand to hold the torch and focus the beam simultaneously. Power, Low Power and Boost modes can be selected using a large dynamic switch that is designed for single handed use and for users wearing gloves. Perfect for carrying out newt surveys. Three D-cell alkaline batteries will power the P17.2 for 300 hours at the lowest setting (50 lumens, 140m beam) and for an impressive 30 hours on the highest setting (450 lumens, 420m beam).

We have also added the LED Lenser H7.2 Head Torch – a great little head torch with an extremely powerful 250 lumen maximum beam. Its lightweight (165g) and clever design make this torch extremely comfortable to wear and easy to use. Choose between eight light functions ranging from the most powerful 250 lumen, 160m beam setting to a comfortable 20 lumen setting for reading and note taking. Four good quality AAA batteries will power this head torch for seven hours on the maximum setting and for 60 hours on the lowest setting.

Cluson CB3 LED
Cluson CB3 LED

The Cluson CB3 LED Lamp combines the legendary features of the CB1 and CB2 High-Power Lamps with an LED lighting system. The 25W bulb uses half the power of the 50W Xenon bulb in the CB2 and produces an impressive 750m beam and four hours of continuous illumination (compared with just 1.5 hours for the CB2). For those of you that already own a CB2 the great thing is that you can buy the new lamp head on its own – more than doubling the performance of your old CB2 for a fraction of the cost of a new lamp.

The RE1T Red Eye and the Pro Scanner ML1000 Torches from Cluson use the same aircraft grade alloy body and rechargeable Lithium-ion batteries to produce two lightweight (190g) and robust torches that are perfect for surveys. The RE1T includes a red CREE LED giving a 300m beam of red light for two hours on the high power setting (10 hours on low power) and would be great for spotting badgers. The ML1000 also uses a CREE LED to produce a 300m beam of intense white light (1000 lumens), perfect for newt surveys although the battery life at full power is fairly short at 1¼ hours (three hours at low power). One set of Lithium-ion batteries and a charger are included, spare batteries can be bought separately.

How to choose a nest box camera

Bird Boxes
Installing a camera into a bird box is a great way to keep an eye on the nesting birds in your garden. Image by Simone Webber.

Deciding which nest box camera to choose involves a complicated tiptoe through competing technologies and equipment. Before you start watching birds you have to decide what sort of system is best for you and, crucially, how much money to spend.

The first question you need to consider is whether to choose a wired or wireless system.

Wired systems have a cable running from the nest box back to your house or classroom, which carries both power and the television signal. This results in excellent image quality but may not be ideal if you have children or pets in your garden, or if a cable running to your bird box will interfere with the gardening. You will also need to feed the cable into your house, either by drilling a hole in the wall or by feeding it through an open window.

Wireless systems do not require a cable to run between the bird box and the television but instead transmit images to a small receiver situated inside the house. However, a power supply will still be required for the camera (i.e. from a shed or outbuilding) and the signal can be compromised by other wireless devices in the area or by trees and other structures between the nest box and the house.

Next you will need to consider whether you require a complete kit or just the camera.

Nest Box Camera Starter Kit

If you are new to this particular aspect of watching and listening to birds, a complete kit, such as the Nest Box Camera Starter Kit is a good and economical choice. This starter kit includes a bird box with a camera mounted in the roof, which provides colour footage during the day and black ­and ­white at night. A 30 ­metre cable plugs into your television and supplies the camera with power. Another option is the Gardenature Nest Box Camera System, which includes a bespoke red cedar nest box made to RSPB and BTO guidelines. A small sliding drawer at the top of the box houses the Sony CCD camera, which adjusts automatically depending on light levels. A 30 ­metre cable connects the camera to your television.

Nest Box Camera with Night Vision

For the handyman or woman who wants to put a system together themselves, either in a bespoke or existing nest box, the Nest Box Camera with Night Vision is a good choice. The tiny camera will focus from a few centimetres to roughly 30 metres, with high definition for excellent daytime and night ­time images. The camera comes with a 30 ­metre cable and extension cables are available to purchase separately. The Wireless Nest Box Camera Kit is a great option if you want to fit a wireless camera to your own bird box.

What about watching on your computer?

All of the cameras and kits that we sell come with either a cable or wireless receiver that will connect directly to your television. If you want to view or save your footage onto your computer then an additional USB capture device is required. These are available both for Windows and Mac operating systems and come with all the software you require to get started.

 

What’s new for 2016 – Bat detector news

Five new bat detectors will become available in 2016 – two new models in the Song Meter family of bat detectors from Wildlife Acoustics, two new passive detectors from the Swiss manufacturer Elekon and the long anticipated Anabat Walkabout. Here we will give you a quick round-up of the key features of each new detector along with news of several detectors which will no longer be available. We will also introduce an exciting new BatCounter and camera trigger.

SM4BAT
The SM4BAT is available in a full spectrum or zero crossing version.

Wildlife Acoustics have brought out a new detector aimed squarely at the consultancy market – the SM4BAT. The SM4BAT is available in two versions – full spectrum (SM4BAT FS) and zero crossing (SM4BAT ZC). Both come in the same dark green plastic case (a bit like a Bushnell Natureview Trail Camera) which is weatherproof, slightly smaller and lighter than the SM2BAT+ and can be padlocked shut to prevent anyone tampering with the detector. Both use the SMM-U1 microphone which was designed originally for sale with the SM3BAT detector. They are also programmable and will record on a single channel for around 30 nights using four D-cell batteries.

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

Batlogger C and Batlogger A
The Batlogger C (left) and Batlogger A (right) offer solutions for a variety of bat survey situations.

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

Also from Elekon, the Batlogger A is a miniaturised passive detector. It is programmable and will record for up to 30 hours on eight AA batteries (e.g. three 10 hour nights). The Batlogger A is housed within a small weatherproof enclosure and includes a Knowles FG microphone on a 2m extension cable.

Anabat Walkabout
The Android based Anabat Walkabout allows you to view live sonograms in the field.

The Anabat Walkabout, a handheld detector for transects and roost emergence surveys is also expected for the 2016 season. This touch screen Android tablet based detector not only records any passing bats but also lets you view the sonogram in real time in both full spectrum and zero crossing formats. A GPS, lux-meter, thermometer and humidity sensor are all in-built so not only will each call be geo-tagged but you will also be able to collect the full range of environmental data for each transect without needing any additional tools. A fully charged unit will last for around 8 hours.

BatCounter
The BatCounter will log the number of bats passing through as well as the direction of their movement.

The BatCounter has the potential to be a very useful tool for both researchers and consultants. It uses a network of infrared beams to count, and log the direction of movement of bats moving through a detection area of 76 x 35cm (standard model) or 36 x 35cm (tree model). It has a GSM function that can send daily reports via text or email and will run for three days on eight AA batteries or for much longer periods using a 12V battery. You can also connect a Nikon or Canon DSLR camera and take pictures of the bats as they pass through the Batcounter.

 

How to choose a pair of binoculars

Image from hawkeoptics.co.uk
Image from hawkeoptics.co.uk

 

A good pair of binoculars are invaluable for identifying all sorts of animals at a distance and are a fantastic addition to the naturalist’s field kit. However, there are many different makes and models available, all with different specifications, and choosing a pair can be confusing. In this post we will take a look at the anatomy of a pair of binoculars and explain the things you need to know in order to make an informed decision about which binoculars are right for you.

Magnification

Binocular models generally have two numbers in their description. The first of these relates to the magnification. (For example, 8 x 42 binoculars will have a magnification of 8x). In general, binoculars have a magnification between 8x and 12x. As you would expect, the higher the magnification, the larger objects will appear when looking through them. As magnification increases the field of view is reduced, although higher quality models maintain a good field of view even at higher magnifications. You will also need to hold your binoculars steady with higher magnifications as hand shake will have a greater effect.

Lens Diameter

Dawn on river scenic
Larger diameter objective lenses provide brighter images during dusk and dawn. Image by Dan Cox via Public Domain Images.

The second number in the binocular model description (e.g. 8 x 42) refers to the diameter of the objective lens. Standard size binoculars tend to have objective lenses of 32mm to 42mm whilst lenses in compact binoculars usually measure 25mm. Larger lenses can dramatically improve low light performance and are particularly good for use at dusk or dawn. The trade off is that larger lenses are heavier.

Opticron Adventurer
Opticron Adventurer Porro Prism (left) and Roof Prism (right) binoculars

Prism Type

There are two main styles of binocular:  Porro Prism and Roof Prism. Porro prism binoculars have widely separated objective lenses which are further apart than the eyepiece (ocular) lenses. This gives them a “dog-leg” like appearance. Roof Prism binoculars have objective and eyepiece lenses which are in line with one another, resulting in a more streamlined and compact instrument. Traditionally, roof prism binoculars would produce an image that was less bright than that of an equivalent porro prism model, due to reduced light transmission. However, modern binoculars, particularly high quality ones, have remedied this problem through innovations in lens coatings. All of the binoculars sold by NHBS are of the roof prism style.

Glass Type

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

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

 

 

Lens and Prism Coatings

Lens coatings reduce the amount of light that is lost between the objective and the eye (ocular) lens helping to produce a brighter and sharper image. Lenses which are multi-coated have multiple layers of lens coatings. High quality binoculars are fully multi-coated which means that they have multiple layers of coating on all lens surfaces.

Roof Prism binoculars have a particular problem with “phase shift” where the polarisation angle of the prism causes the light passing through to be split into two slightly out of phase beams. This results in an image which has lower resolution and may look slightly blurred. Prism coatings correct this problem by forcing the split light back into phase. Look out for binoculars with Phase Correction (PC) prism coatings.

Other Key Comparison Features

As well as the physical characteristics of the binoculars discussed above, there are a number of other specifications which you might want to consider.

Field of View – The field of view is how wide an image can be seen at a specified distance (usually 1000m). A wide field of view is useful for large landscapes and for fast moving animals.

Close focus – The close focus is the minimum distance at which the binoculars are able to focus. People interested in viewing insects using their binoculars would be advised to choose a model with as small a close focus as possible.

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

Weight – The weight of the binoculars is incredibly important, as it is likely that you will be carrying them around for long periods. Higher quality models of comparable specification will tend to be lighter than more entry-level models, and those with larger objective lenses will weigh more than those with smaller ones.

Price – Although we have mentioned this last, your budget will most likely be one of the key things to consider when choosing binoculars. Entry level models such as the Hawke Optics Vantage or Opticron Oregon 4 LE are great value for money and ideal for the beginner or infrequent user. However, if you are using your binoculars in a professional capacity or will be looking through them for a considerable amount of time each day, then choosing something of higher quality will be beneficial. Top of the range models such as the Zeiss Victory and Swarovski EL produce a superb quality image and can be used continuously for many hours without causing severe eye strain. They also come with the assurance of 10 year warranty. For most users, there will be a model in between these two extremes that will be perfect for you and your budget.

The NHBS Binocular Range

At NHBS we stock a large range of binoculars made by Minox, Hawke Optics, Opticron, Nikon, Zeiss and Swarovski. These range from economical and compact models up to full size, top of the range varieties. All of the models we sell have a roof prism design, come with a case and neckstrap and are waterproof.

Still unsure about which binoculars you need? Contact us on +44 (0)1803 865913 or email customer.services@nhbs.com for some advice.

 

The NHBS guide to buying a hand lens

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

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

Glass versus plastic lens?

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

How many optical elements?

Canon 400mm

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

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

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

Magnification

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

Lens diameter

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

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

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

 

Using your hand lens

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

Keeping your hand lens safe

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

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

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Planning a Fungal Foray

The Amethyst Deceiver (Laccaria amethystina) occurs in both deciduous and coniferous woodlands and is commonly associated with beech. Image by – C_G –, via Flickr Creative Commons (CC by 2.0).

What are fungi and why do they matter?

It has been estimated that the kingdom of Fungi consists of more than five million species ranging from single-celled microorganisms up to the largest living organism on the planet. Fungi are a crucial part of the food web in many habitats and play a vital role in many commercial activities, including the production of pharmaceuticals and food products.

Most fungi grow as microscopic filaments called hyphae which extend to form a large network or mycelium. The part we observe above ground, the mushroom or toadstool, is the fruiting body whose purpose it is to spread spores. These fruiting bodies are only produced when conditions are favourable which means that, at most times, we are largely unaware of the mass of fungal life that is living beneath our feet and in our surroundings.

Where and when to look for fungi

The best time to look for fungi in the UK is during late summer, autumn and early winter, when the relatively mild yet damp weather provides ideal conditions for the production of fruiting bodies. Both deciduous and coniferous forests can host an impressive range and number of fungal types. Meadows, parks and moorland are also great places to look.

What you need to find and identify fungi

Conducting a fungal foray is a wonderful pastime, not least because there is very little equipment you really need. A stout pair of shoes and sharp pair of eyes will go a long way – but if you would like to maximise the chance of identifying your finds, then a few additional things may come in handy.

• Basket or box – Traditional fungi collecting baskets are flat bottomed and woven from willow. However, any sturdy box, tub or crate will do so long as it is relatively easy to carry and will prevent your collection from being squashed.
• Paper bags – Useful for storing individual specimens. Don’t use plastic bags if you can help it as they are not breathable and your fungi will become sweaty and slimy.
• Penknife – For lifting specimens from the ground whilst keeping the stem and root intact.
• Hand lens – A lens with 10x magnification is useful for looking at the finer details of your fungi. Try the Opticron 23mm 10x lens which has a robust stainless steel case and a loop for attaching a lanyard.
• Pencil and paper – For making notes of what you find and where it was spotted.
• Field guide – A field guide will help you to identify the fungi that you find. Useful both in the field and for when you get back to your home or classroom. For a small fold-out guide try the FSC Fungi Name Trail. Or for a more comprehensive book take a look at the beautifully illustrated Collins Fungi Guide by Stefan Buczacki or the wonderful photographic guide, Mushrooms, by Roger Phillips.
• Microscope – When used with the Microstand Adapter, the Opticron Gallery Scope can be used for looking at specimens at a greater magnification while you are out and about. When back at home you can also make slides of spores and look at them through a higher powered microscope (x400 – x1000 magnification) – the shape will be a useful aid to identification.
• Camera – For specimens that you want to leave in situ, taking some photographs will be a useful way to aid your identification efforts. A photo of a mushroom you have collected can also help remind you of the habitat and conditions where it was picked.

The Fungi Name-Trail: A Key to Commoner Fungi

Collins Fungi Guide: The Most Complete Field Guide to the Mushrooms and Toadstools of Britain & Ireland

Mushrooms

 

 

 

 

 

What are the key identifying features of fungi?

When collecting or spotting fungi it is useful to make as many notes as you can, as this will improve your chances of identifying your specimen. Try to get information about as many of the following as possible. (Diagrams to help you with terminology and typical types of mushroom morphology can be found in most field guides).

• Date and location
• Habitat – On the ground, on dead/living wood, in leaf litter
• Situation – Was the specimen solitary or growing in a group. If found in a group, were individuals spread out, in a circle, crowded together?
• Cap – Colour, texture, size and smell
• Gills – Colour, size, type (i.e. crowded, spaced)
• Stem – Length, diameter, texture, colour. Does it have a ring or a shaggy appearance?
• Root – Shape, presence of volva
• Spores – The colour and shape of the spore is a key identification characteristic. Spore colour can be easily studied by making a spore print as described below.

How to make a spore print

Spore colour varies significantly between different species of mushroom, and this colour is another identifying feature which will help you to determine which fungi you are looking at. Making a spore print of a fungi that has gills or pores is a very simple process and can be easily accomplished with very basic equipment.

First you will need to remove the stem as close to the cap as possible using a sharp knife. Place the cap, gill/pore side down onto a piece of paper and leave it to sit undisturbed overnight covered with an upturned glass or bowl. When you remove the cap from the paper you should see a pattern of spores where they have dropped onto the paper. Try using different coloured paper or using a piece which is half black and half white to see which shows the spores best. To preserve your print you can coat it with artists spray or even hairspray.

Where to go to learn more

Many local wildlife groups or country parks run public fungi walks during the autumn. Why not check out local events in your area to see if there is anything happening? The British Mycological Society also has a network of recording groups around the country which consist of volunteers that are working hard to share their knowledge and improve awareness of mycology and conservation.

Please take care if you are picking fungi to eat. Many edible species are easily mistaken for inedible or poisonous ones. Consult an expert if you are in any doubt.