NHBS In the Field – Browning Patriot Trail Camera

Browning Patriot Trail Camera

Completely weatherproof and able to run for months on a single set of batteries, trail cameras are now commonly used for wildlife surveys or studying animal behaviour, and are becoming a vital tool for conservation all around the world. They are also incredibly popular with naturalists who are interested in finding out what the wildlife is up to on their local patch.

The Browning Patriot, released this year, is one of Browning’s top of the range cameras. Along with excellent resolution image and video capture (24MP images, 1920x1080p video), the Patriot features Browning’s unique dual-lens technology. This means that a separate lens and sensor system are used for daytime and night time capture, allowing you to capture excellent quality footage whatever the time of day. No-glow LEDs, which are completely invisible to both humans and other animals, are used to illuminate your subject at night up to a distance of 34m. A colour viewing screen, adjustable steel tree bracket and host of advanced camera settings all add to the Patriot’s appeal.

How we tested

We loaded the Patriot with a full set of AA batteries and a 32GB SD card then set the time and date. The camera mode was set to ‘Trail’ which means that it would record still images whenever the motion sensor was triggered by movement. The capture delay (ie the time between images being taken) was set at 5s and the image quality 24MP. Multi-shot mode was set to off (ie the camera would only take a single image per trigger) and the capture timer was set to 12.00am for both the ON and OFF times, meaning that the camera would be active 24 hours a day.

Our initial test took place in a back garden with the camera mounted on a tripod approximately 3m away from a baited tree stump. Ensuring that the camera was angled correctly was very easy, as the background of the main viewing screen shows a live image from the camera. We also conducted a motion trigger test by selecting ‘MOTION TRIGGER’ and then waving a hand above the stump to check that the light on the front of the camera was activated.

For the second field test the camera was placed in a ride that was cut into an area of wetland where there have been frequent otter sightings. Once again the camera was mounted on a tripod but this time the camera was set to record video (high resolution, length 20s, capture delay 5s).

In the third and final test, the camera was sited in an area that had both moving water and vegetation within the motion detection range. This was to provide us with some idea of the camera’s sensitivity and to see whether it would be repeatedly triggered by this motion. The camera was set to record video with the same settings as used previously.

What we found

When sited in the garden, the camera took lots of pictures of birds that were attracted to the bait. The camera triggered reliably and the quality of the images, including the colour reproduction, was good. We were particularly impressed that the images below – although taken first thing in the morning, pointing directly into the sun – were not over-exposed.

Unfortunately, when we retrieved the camera from the second field test, a number of cows had broken into the area from a neighbouring field and knocked over the camera. The footage of the cows, however (despite not being what we had hoped to capture!), was good quality.

In the final test we were pleased to observe that the camera had triggered only with the arrival of the local birds, and we did not have to sift through 100s of videos of empty scenery. The audio recorded with the clip featured below was also very true-to-life.

Our opinion

Although the second, and potentially most interesting, part of our field test was prematurely curtailed, this exercise gave us a good chance to familiarise ourselves with the Browning Patriot and to see the camera in use. First up – the manual. Clearly written and lacking any unnecessary waffle, the manual made setting up the camera incredibly straightforward. In fact, this parsimony also extends to the camera itself – while there are enough options to give you plenty of control over the footage collected, there aren’t so many that it becomes overwhelming.

The front-opening design means that it is really easy to alter the settings even when your camera is strapped in place. Similarly, the bottom-loading battery tray and easily accessible SD card slot mean that these can both be changed quickly in the field without moving the camera. The steel bracket on the rear of the camera means that, when strapped to a tree or post, it grips the surface, making it more stable. For our tests, we attached the camera to a tripod which allowed us lots of control over the camera angle and height. However, as we found out, it also makes it much more susceptible to being knocked over. For locations where security is an issue, a groove in the case that runs beneath the bracket allows it to be secured with a cable lock – one with a maximum diameter of 8mm would be required.

As previously mentioned, being able to view a live image from the camera during setup, along with the motion trigger function, means that you can be sure that your camera is angled correctly. (It’s really important to remember to turn off the motion trigger function before you leave the trail camera, however, as it will stay in this mode until it is turned off manually). The sensitivity of the camera appeared to be set very cleverly, as it was triggered reliably by the movement of birds and other animals, but we experienced very few empty shots or videos, which suggests that the movement of water or vegetation were not affecting the motion sensor.

The only minor limitation we found with this camera is that the Patriot doesn’t have a hybrid mode which means that you have to choose between capturing still images or videos. (Many cameras give you the option to record both and will capture a number of images first before then switching to video record).

Overall we were very impressed with the Browning Patriot and would wholeheartedly recommend it for professional or personal use. The images and videos were good quality, the camera was easy to set up and position and the price (currently under £200) is very competitive. We’re eager to continue using this camera and still have high hopes for getting some footage of our elusive otters. Check back soon to find out if we’re successful!


The Browning Patriot is available through the NHBS website and is also available as a starter bundle which includes 8 x Lithium AA batteries and a 32GB SD card.

To view our full range of trail cameras, visit www.nhbs.com. If you have any questions on wildlife recording or would like some advice on the microphone for you then please contact us via email at customer.services@nhbs.com or phone on 01803 865913

The NHBS Guide to Rockpooling

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

Photo credit: S Webber

Planning a Rockpooling trip

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

Rockpooling equipment and method

Photo credit: S Webber

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

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

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

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

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

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

Common UK Rock Pool Inhabitants

Green shore crab (Carcinus maenas)

Photo credit: John Haslam via Flickr

Hermit crab  (Pagurus bernhardus)

Photo credit: Peter Corbett via Flickr

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common blenny  (Lipophrys pholis)

Photo credit: Duncan Greenhill via Flickr

Beadlet anemone  (Actinia equina)

Photo credit: Deryk Tolman via Flickr

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snakelocks anemone  (Anemonia viridis)

Photo credit: NHBS (taken with Video Endoscope)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flat top shell  (Steromphala umbilicalis)

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

Limpet  (Patella vulgate)

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common periwinkle  (Littorina littorea)

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

 

Recommended reading and equipment

The Essential Guide to Rockpooling
#243734

 

 

 

NHBS Rock Pooling Kit
#247074

 

 

Rock Pool Extraordinary Encounters Between the Tides
#249715

 

 

 

The Rocky Shore Name Trail
#228841

 

 

Rocky Shores
#242624

 

 

 

Bloomsbury Concise Seashore Wildlife Guide
#245646

 

 

 

RSPB Handbook of the Seashore
#241750

 

 

 

White Plastic Bucket
#197160

 

 

60ml Collecting Pot
#199488

 

 

 

Hand Held Magnifier
#202230

 

Video Endoscope
#243795

 

The NHBS Guide to UK Seaweed Identification

Seaweeds by Windel Oskay via Flickr

Seaweeds, or marine macroalgae, are plant-like organisms that live in coastal areas, usually attached to rocks or other substrates. They are divided into three taxonomic groups: brown, red and green. Broadly speaking, species fall into the group that most closely matches their colour. However, the groups also differ in more complex structural and biochemical features, such as their photosynthetic pigments and cell structure. While green and red seaweeds are classified in the Kingdom Plantae, which also includes all of the world’s land plants, brown seaweeds belong to the Kingdom Chromista and are more related to algae, diatoms and protozoans.

British and Irish seas are home to more than 600 species of seaweed; this is more than 6% of the known species globally. They are incredibly important ecologically and provide both food and shelter for numerous other creatures. In fact, one of the great pleasures of studying seaweeds is the many other species that you find along the way.

If you find yourself enjoying your seaweed studies, why not contribute to the Natural History Museum’s Big Seaweed Search. It only takes around an hour and will provide valuable data that can be used to research the effects of environmental change on our seashore communities.

When and where to find seaweed

Seaweed is present all year round. At low tide, more of the shore will be exposed which means that you are likely to find a greater range of species. This is also the only time that you are likely to spot a glimpse of those seaweeds that thrive in the lower intertidal zone. Sheltered shores tend to provide a better location for many species, as most cannot survive the battering of the waves in more exposed locations. However, there are a few species that are specially adapted to live on exposed shores so it’s always worth a look there. Similarly, as most species require a firm substrate to anchor to, rocky shores will be home to more seaweeds than sandy or muddy ones.

Ten common species to look for

Brown seaweeds:

Bladder wrack (Fucus vesiculosus)
Bladderwrack from the Dr. Mary Gillham Archive Project via Flickr.

ID notes: An olive-brown seaweed that has branching fronds with smooth edges. Paired air-filled bladders run along the length of the fronds on either side of the central rib. 15-100cm in length. The number of bladders present is related to the exposure of the shore; in very exposed places this species may grow without any bladders and will also be much reduced in length.

Distribution: Found on rocky shores between the high and low water line.

Knotted wrack (Ascophylum nodosum)
Knotted wrack from the Dr Mary Gillham Archive Project via Flickr.

Also known as: Egg wrack

ID notes: This yellow-brown seaweed has long fronds reaching up to two metres in length. Single large air bladders appear at regular intervals along its length.

Distribution: Found on the mid-shore on sheltered rocky coasts. Knotted wrack is very long-lived (up to 15 years) in comparison to other algae; this allows it to become dominant on many sheltered coastlines. When the tide goes out it often forms huge piles.

Spiral wrack (Fucus spiralis)
Spiral wrack from the Dr Mary Gillham Archive Project via Flickr

Also known as: Twisted wrack

ID notes: Spiral wrack is generally a pale olive-brown and grows up to 40cm. As the name would suggest, fronds are generally (although not always) twisted and have smooth edges and a distinct central rib. When mature, fronds have yellowish, paired swollen tips; these are the reproductive structures.

Distribution: Found high on the rocky shore, just below the high-water mark.

Serrated wrack (Fucus serratus)
Serrated wrack by aka CJ via Flick

Also known as: Toothed wrack or saw wrack

ID notes: This brown seaweed forms branched fronds 50 to 80cm in length. Edges are serrated.

Distribution: Found on sheltered and semi-exposed rocky shores just above the low water mark. Fucus serratus is often the dominant algal species found at this point on the shoreline.

Oarweed (Laminaria digitata)
Oarweed by Leslie Seaton via Flickr

ID notes: Oarweed has dark brown-green fronds that are up to two metres in length and split into long finger-like blades. Attaches to the rock with a claw-like holdfast which allows it to survive in rough subtidal conditions.

Distribution: Grows in dense beds in the lower intertidal and shallow subtidal zones (at a depth of up to 20m). Often all that can be seen of this species are the tops of the fronds during low tide.

Sugar kelp (Saccharina latissimi)
Sugar kelp by brewbooks via Flickr

Also known as: Sea belt

ID notes: Forms long undivided blades that are yellow-brown in colour and have ruffled sides. Grows up to five metres in length.

Distribution: Found on the lower shore and in deep rock pools. Mostly on sheltered shores and can be found up to a depth of 30m.

Green seaweeds:

Sea lettuce (Ulva lactua)
Sea lettuce by seaspicegirls via Flickr

ID notes: Sheet-like light green seaweed which grows up to 25cm in length and 30cm in width. Very delicate and almost translucent; almost like floppy lettuce leaves.

Distribution: Found attached to rocks or floating in rock pools.

Gutweed (Ulva intestinalis)
Gutweed by AuT CRONE via Flickr

Also known as: Grass kelp

ID notes: As the Latin name would suggest, gutweed resembles the intestines of mammals and consists of inflated hollow fronds which have bubbles of air trapped along them. Bright green and grows up to 40cm in length.

Distribution: Occurs in a wide range of intertidal habitats including rockpools and on sand or mud. Can also be found growing on shells or other seaweeds.

Red seaweeds:

Carrageen (Chondrus crispus)
Carrageen from the Dr Mary Gillham Archive Project via Flickr

Also known as: Irish moss

ID notes: Dark reddish-purple branching seaweed which appears iridescent when submerged. Turns green with exposure to bright sunlight.

Distribution: Rocky shores and estuaries, on rocks and in pools in the lower intertidal and upper subtidal zones.

Purple laver (Porphyra umbilicalis)
Purple laver from the Dr Mary Gillham Archive Project via Flickr

ID notes: Forms fronds of variable shape which are thin and membranous. Olive to purple-brown in colour and up to two metres in length.

Distribution: Found in the mid to upper shore, generally on mussel-covered rocks. Common on exposed coastlines.

Further reading

A Key to Common Seaweeds
#118696

This laminated guide from the FSC will help you to identify 36 of the most common seaweeds.

 

Seaweeds of Britain & Ireland
#235692

This photographic guide aims to demystify seaweed identification for the non-specialist. Over 235 species are described in detail, with colour photographs, information on habitat, distribution and confusion species.

 

The NHBS Guide to Pond Dipping

For many naturalists, some of the most exciting encounters with wildlife as a child were around the edge of a pond, with a net in hand and a sampling tray filled with murky water. It is an excellent activity for children of all ages and is a great way to introduce them to a wide range of plants, insects and amphibians. It offers the opportunity to learn about food chains and food webs as well as discovering some of the amazing insect transformations during their lifecycles. For school groups, a pond dipping trip will satisfy many of the criteria for learning about life processes and living things, and it can also be used to provide inspiration for art, maths or English projects. Younger children will enjoy drawing or painting pictures of the creatures they find, as well as writing stories about their experiences.

Don’t forget that pond dipping isn’t just for children. For adults feeling out of touch with nature, it is an ideal way to reconnect. Ponds, pools and small lakes are also an integral part of our ecosystems and surveying the plant and animal diversity within them is an important way of assessing their health. If you are interested in volunteering as a pond surveyor, take a look at the Freshwater Habitats Trust website for more information.

What you need:

White tray – Rummage through your recycling bin for an old ice cream tub or place a sheet of white paper in the bottom of a baking tin. Our heavy-duty sampling trays come in three sizes and are sturdy enough to be carried full of water.
Net – For younger children a small aquarium net is ideal. For adults and older children, a larger pond net will allow you to reach further into the pond.
Collecting pots – Although it’s perfectly fine to observe your catch directly in the tray, individual pots, particularly those with a magnifying lid, are helpful for looking more closely at individual specimens.
•  Field guide – A guide to freshwater animals will help you to identify the species that you find in your pond. You’ll find a few of our favourites at the bottom of this post.

When and where to go:

May to August are the best months for pond dipping as this is when most creatures will be active and breeding. Any body of still water is suitable for studying, but make sure that you have permission to access the area and that the bank of the pond provides safe access to the water. Ponds with a variety of vegetation and open water are likely to support a high diversity of species.

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

Pond dipping equipment and books:

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

5. Field Guide to Pond and River Wildlife of Britain and Europe

The Field Guide to Pond and River Wildlife of Britain and Europe will help you to identify more than 200 species that can be found in our freshwater habitats, including marginal plants, aquatic plants, fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals and invertebrates such as pond snails, crayfish, water spiders and dragonflies.

 

6. Economy Telescopic Pond Net
With an aluminium telescopic handle and knotless fine mesh net bag, this pond net will not harm specimens and is guaranteed not to run if holed. Not suitable for heavy-duty use.

7. Ponds and Small Lakes: Microorganisms and Freshwater Ecology

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

 

8. Pipettes
Small pipettes are extremely handy for sorting through and picking up tiny creatures found when pond dipping. They can also be used to transfer samples to microscope slides to look at the microscopic specimens found.

 

9. 125ml Collecting Pots 
These sampling containers are made from see-through rigid polystyrene and have secure screw-on lids. They are recommended for liquids and so are ideal for keeping specimens when pond dipping or rock pooling. Available either singly or in packs of 10, 30 or 100.

 

10. Bloomsbury Concise Pond Wildlife Guide

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

 

Creating your own pond:

During the lockdown imposed by Covid-19, the UK and many other countries have seen a rapid growth of interest in nature, especially found in gardens. It is widely considered that the best way to encourage and benefit wildlife in your garden is by adding a pond. There are many books to help in this process, such as Making Wildlife Ponds or the more complete guide called The Pond Book by Pond Conservation.

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).

 

How to put up a nest box

We have previously looked at the best time and place to install a nest box. Now we’d like to get down to the details, and take a look at the actual process of putting the box up.

For most situations, you will want to put the box on a tree, fence or wall, so we will address each of these individually. (If you have a box that is designed to be built into a house wall or roof, then it is likely that your builder will care of this for you).

The tips below are suitable for both bird and bat boxes.


Fixing to a tree
Tree Sparrow Nest Box

There are several things to be aware of when attaching a nest box to a living tree. The most important is that the growth of the tree will affect the fitting. This means that boxes should be checked at least once a year to make sure that they are still secure. A box which has fallen to the ground is of little use to birds, and one which falls down with a nest and eggs inside is disastrous.

The most common way to put up a nest box is using a strong nail which is at least 85mm 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. Nylon, brass, copper and hardwood nails can also be used but steel nails should be avoided as they will quickly rust, making them difficult to adjust or remove.

Using a screw instead of a nail can also be a good option and means that you can loosen it by a couple of turns every year to compensate for the growth of the tree. Screws are more suitable for hardwood trees as they will be very difficult to adjust in softwood. Make sure that all nails or screws are removed from the tree if the boxes are taken down.

An alternative to using a nail or screw is to tie the box to the tree. Wire and synthetic twine both work well and, if boxes are tied loosely, they can be edged upwards as the tree grows. Boxes can also be hung from a horizontal branch if they come with a suitable hanger (e.g.  Schwegler 1B).

Fixing to a fence
Urban Bird Nest Box

Hanging a bird box on a fence poses fewer problems than siting a box on a tree, as you will not need to worry about the wood growing. Use a strong nail or screw and check it annually to make sure that it still feels secure.

 

Fixing to a wall
WoodStone Swift Nest Box

To fix a box to a brick wall will require a power drill with hammer action, masonry bits and a screwdriver. You will also need wall plugs and screws which are small enough to go through the hole in the box. Using the drill, make a hole which is slightly longer than your wall plug. (You can use a piece of tape around the drill bit to indicate the depth to which you need to drill). Insert the plug and then screw in the screw, first threading it through the hole in the box. Having a second person to hold the box will probably be helpful and, if you are using ladders, make sure that you take sensible steps to ensure your safety. Appropriate eye protection and clothing should always be worn.


Head over to nhbs.com for our full range of nest boxes, aluminium nails and ladders.

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

There is a shortage of natural nesting sites for birds and this has played a part in the decline of some of the UK’s most iconic species. It is easy to provide nesting opportunities for birds in our gardens and outdoor spaces, however, and with spring rapidly approaching, now is the ideal time to start thinking about nest boxes for your local birds. Locating your nest boxes correctly is one of the key determinants in how likely birds are to occupy them and with this in mind we have put together some answers to the most frequently asked questions 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, which is packed with essential information.

When is the best time to put up nest boxes?

There really is no ‘best’ time to put up nest boxes.  By putting up boxes in the autumn you can provide much needed winter refuges for roosting birds and possibly 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 if it is sited correctly.  Even after February there is still a chance that they will be used; tits have been known to move in during April and house martins as late as July. 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 the 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 and Vivara Pro 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.

Incubating Great tit – Photo: Simone Webber

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 them.  Boxes in gardens should be located where cats cannot get to them and prickly or thorny bushes can also help to deter unwanted visitors. Some nest boxes also have anti-predator designs (e.gSchwegler’s 1N deep 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 two metres off the ground you can help prevent predators and human interference.  The direction of the entrance hole should be away from the prevailing wind and it is beneficial for there to be a clear flight path to the box.  Crucially, the box should be also 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.  Some species do have specific requirements for where a box should be sited (e.g. house martins and swifts nests need to be sited under the eaves); please see our product details for particular instructions for different species. 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, or invest in a nest box camera, 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 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.  Woodcrete and WoodStone 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.  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.  If using open-fronted nest boxes, a balloon of chicken wire over the entrance can work well.  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.

Great tit eggs – Photo: Simone Webber

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 they may still be occupied.  Wait until autumn and then remove the contents, scattering them on the ground some way from the box to help prevent parasites re-infesting the nest box. Wear gloves and use a small brush or scraper to remove debris from the corners. Boiling water can be used to kill any parasites remaining in the box, but remember to leave the lid off for a while for it to try out. Do not wait until the winter to clean out nest boxes as birds may already be roosting in them. The tit species do a thorough clean out of any old nesting material or roosting debris before they begin nesting again but it will save them energy if you can help out.

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 it is still worthwhile, providing it is suitably located. Many UK bird species 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 the right 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 or would like any further advice, then please get in touch with our team of Wildlife Equipment Specialists.

 

The NHBS Guide to Bat Detecting for Beginners

How to watch bats

Watching bats can be a fascinating and rewarding hobby. If you want to go out and watch bats yourself, you may not have to travel as far as you think. Bats live all over the UK in the countryside, towns and cities. Head down to your local patch of woodland, park or even your own back garden around sunset and watch the sky. Some bats fly quite high in the sky around the tops of trees, others fly lower, even at eye level. If you have a large pond, river or lake nearby, watch the surface of the water and you might see a Daubenton’s bat skim across the surface catching insects. Warm, dry and relatively still nights are best when it comes to bat watching. You are more likely to see bats around sunset and sunrise and they can be seen between March and October. 

An Introduction to Bat Detectors

To really immerse yourself in the world of bats, it is worth using a bat detector.

Bats use calls for communication, navigation and hunting but these are at frequencies above that of most human hearing. So even if you’re watching dozens of bats above you, you’re unlikely to be able to hear their calls. Bat detectors are devices that convert these ultrasonic calls into audible sounds and because different bat species call at different frequencies, bat detectors can even help you identify which bat is calling. Bat detectors are great fun to use and can help you learn a lot about bats. There are several different types of bat detectors on the market, at varying prices and with varying features. We’ve highlighted some of our favourite, entry-level bat detectors below.

Magenta 4 & Magenta 5 – Heterodyne

Our most popular range of beginner detectors are the Magentas. The Magentas are incredibly easy to use with a frequency dial to allow you to tune to a certain frequency, a front-facing speaker so that you can hear the converted bat calls, and a volume dial. They use a method of call processing called Heterodyne which works by tuning to one frequency at a time. The only difference between the Magenta 4 and the Magenta 5 is that the 5 has a digital display of the frequency that you are tuned to whereas the 4 has the frequencies on the tuning wheel which is lit by a small light. You can use Magentas with headphones and even record the outputted calls with a recorder (available separately).

Batscanner – Super-Heterodyne

The Batscanner is one of the easiest detectors to use, automatically scanning the whole frequency range and adjusting accordingly when it detects a bat, displaying the peak frequency on the digital display. This means you don’t have to tune anything and you won’t miss a bat because you’re tuned to the wrong frequency. The call output is clear and the Batscanner intelligently filters out non-bat low frequency calls giving you a clean, noise-free output.

Baton & Duet – Frequency Division

The BatBox Baton is perhaps even more simple to use than the Magentas, with just 1 button operation – the on/off button. You do not need to tune this detector – it will automatically detect all frequencies simultaneously as it works through ‘frequency division’, where all ultrasonic calls are divided by a factor of 10, pushing them into the human hearing range. Audio is played through the front facing speaker and when the Baton is plugged into a computer, you can see sonograms (visual representation of bat call) on the software included with the Baton.

The BatBox Duet is a similar but more sophisticated detector that is great if you want to take your bat detecting to the next level. It used two modes of call processing: with heterodyne, you can tune the detector with the frequency dial and this is displayed on the backlit screen, much like a Magenta, but the detector also processes the ultrasonic sounds in frequency division mode and this can be captured using an audio recorder (available separately).

Echo Meter – Full Spectrum

The EchoMeter is a completely different type of bat detector but one that is very popular and has many amazing features, ideal for all levels of bat enthusiasts. It plugs into a compatible phone or tablet and with the help of a free app, turns your phone/tablet into a fully functional bat detector. The app displays live sonograms of bats and an intelligent algorithm identifies the most likely bat species based on the calls, all in real-time. The app can GPS tag your sightings and you can record, replay and download bat calls.

How can I help bats?

It is easy to encourage bats into your garden and there are many things you can do to help your neighborhood bats. Changing the way you garden and putting up a bat box can help tremendously. Have a read of our guide to helping your local bats for some ideas and inspiration.

Other useful equipment and books

Listed below are some great kit and books to get you started or develop your knowledge on bat detecting and bat watching:

DIY bat detector
£24.98
If you have some basic soldering skills and fancy having a go at a DIY project, our DIY Bat Detector Kit has everything you need to build your own, simple heterodyne bat detector.

 

Zoom Handy Recorder: H1n
£95.00
This small, handheld audio recorder is ideal for plugging into your bat detector and recording the bat calls you are hearing. Recordings are stored on an SD card and can then be viewed on a computer to analyze further.

 

Petzl Tikkina Headtorch
£19.99
This handy headtorch will keep your hands free when you’re trying to change settings or navigate in the dark. The Petzl Tikkina has a bright, clean 250 lumen beam and has a simple, one-button operation.

 

A Guide to British Bats
£3.50
FSC’s ‘A Guide to British Bats’ is a fold out, laminated guide to help you identify bats through physical appearance and call frequency.

 

British Bat Calls: A Guide to Species Identification
£31.99
This practical guide is perfect for learning more about bat detectors and bat species identification. It covers topics such as how bats use sound, bat detection methods,  analysis software, recording techniques and call analysis.

 

The Bat Detective: A Field Guide to Bat Detection
£24.99
This field guide is perfect for beginners wanting to start learning how to identify bats from their calls. As each topic is explained references are given to the relevant tracks on the CD. The 48 tracks found here are the first ever compilation of British bat recordings on CD.

Invertebrate Survey: Moth Trapping

Many of us delight at butterflies visiting the flowers in our gardens, be it the drunken admirals of autumn or the spritely orange-tips in spring, yet some of us still seem to shudder at the thought of dingy moths bothering our windows at night or worse still munching our clothes to dust in our cupboards. In the middle of June, armed with two moth traps and a couple of trusted field guides, I attended an open garden in Somerset ready to join the #Mothsmatter conversation initiated by Butterfly Conservation to dispel the moth myths and encourage a fascination for these insects.

All the essentials for cataloguing a moth catch!

Setting up a Skinner moth trap in a covered porch over a couple of cold nights, I wasn’t entirely sure what species would be flying, but sure enough in the morning as I lifted the lid and slid the egg boxes out, there were some delightful species to see. Visitors in the garden were suffice to say, in awe of the moths the light brought in; the Poplar Hawk-moth and the Eyed Hawk- moth, the Fox Moth with his rabbit ear antennae and the remarkable Buff-tip.

We are becoming well aware that UK moths are in decline with an overall decrease in numbers by 28% since 1968, and over 60 species becoming extinct in the 20th century. Moths are a key indicator of environmental health and, as vital as they are to other creatures as a food source (their declines are impacting on breeding birds and bats) they are also vital for the pollination of native flora, an essential element to the tapestry of wild life. There is also evidence to suggest that climate change is shifting the habitable ranges of many of the moths that call the UK home, and while this can produce some spectacular species visiting from continental Europe, many of the species that have relied on the temperate climate in the UK are being forced out northward.

With a recent trend in wildlife gardening and more strict rules on chemicals used in agriculture, there is hope however that we can retain and rebuild some of the moth populations that are so vital in our countryside. Butterfly Conservation have a wealth of information available on their website about the trends of moth populations and, very importantly, what you can do to take action, join the conversation and promote moths at https://butterfly-conservation.org/moths/why-moths-matter

If you are interested in learning about which moth species are visiting your garden or local wild places, light trapping is simple and loads of fun. At NHBS we supply a range of moth traps suited for a number of habitats and a wide selection of amazing field guides to aid in identifying the moths you find. Below we have listed some of our favourite traps and provided a little more information on the differences between them, however if you wish to see our full selection of moth traps please visit our website.

Robinson Moth Traps

These large traps are renowned among lepidopterists because they offer the highest attraction and retention rates available. These traps are fitted with either mercury vapour or actinic electrics. Mercury vapour bulbs offer greater brightness than actinic bulbs and consequently they will often attract more moths. However actinic electrics may be favourable in areas where the brighter bulbs may cause disturbance; they also run cold and do not need to be shielded from rain, unlike mercury bulbs which are likely to shatter when used without a rain guard.

Heavy Duty 125W MV Robinson Moth Trap

 

* Price: £465.00 inc VAT
* Dimensions: 50 (h) x 60 (w) cm
* Weight: 7.9kg
* Electrics: 240V mains electric
* Also available with actinic electrics

Skinner Moth Traps

These traps are precursors to the Robinson, and as well as being a more economic choice, they allow the catch to be accessed while the trap is running. They feature a plastic or wooden box with a light fitted to a cross member above a long slit through which moths fall and become trapped. A highlight of this box are the transparent panels that make up the trap lid. These can be removed to access the catch while the trap is running, which is great for real-time surveys and demonstrations. These traps can be easily collapsed down for easy storage and transport.

Compact 20W Skinner Moth Trap (240V)

* Price: £179.00 inc VAT
* Dimensions: 32 (h) x 35 (w) x 35 (d) cm
* Weight: 3kg
* Electrics: 240V mains electric
* Alternative battery-operated units also available.

 

 

Heath Moth Traps

These traps are favoured for their lower cost and compact design which makes them highly portable (excellent for use in remote areas) and easy to store; some are even small enough to fit into a rucksack. They are usually battery powered and feature a low wattage light source of between 6 and 20 Watts (however some mains operated traps can reach 40 Watts), and consequently these traps have lower catch sizes and retention rates than Skinner or Robinson models.

Compact 20W Actinic Heath Moth Trap (240V)

 

* Price: £149.00 inc VAT
* Dimensions: 47 (h) x 25 (w) x 25 (d) cm
* Weight: 3kg
* Electrics: 240V mains electric
* Also available as a battery-operated unit.

 

 

Suggested books on Moths


Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland

Paperback | Nov 2018| £27.99 £34.99
A comprehensive guide with full colour illustrations and up-to-date information on the taxonomy, ecology and distributions of the UK’s macro-moths.

 


Concise Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland
Paperback | Oct 2018| £13.99 £16.99
This compact guide features full colour illustrations and concise descriptions for almost all British and Irish species of macro-moths

 

Emperors, Admirals & Chimney Sweepers | The Weird and Wonderful Names of Butterflies and Moths
Hardback | May 2019| £24.99 £29.99
A beautifully written book that seeks to explore the origins and meanings of the names of our butterflies and moths.

 

The Moth Snowstorm | Nature and Joy
Paperback | Apr 2016| £9.99
Drawing on a wealth of memorable experiences from a lifetime of watching and thinking about wildlife and natural landscapes Michael McCarthy presents a new way of looking at the world around us.

 

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

Introduction to sound recording

NHBS Equipment Specialist Johnny Mitchell, explains the ins and outs of acoustic recording in the field and highlights key equipment items to get you started.

 

In recent years advances in portable recording equipment have led to an increase in the exploration of listening as a method of engaging with as well as studying the natural world. This blog looks at a number of different equipment options across a range of budgets and objectives while briefly outlining some of the main technical considerations.

Equipment and Technical considerations

For those interested in having a go at sound recording a handheld recorder is a great starting point and  Tascam have some great entry level options such as the DR-05 and DR-40 both of which allow you to record uncompressed audio. The advantage of this method is that the recorders are highly portable and require very little set up – invaluable if you’re out and need something that can be used at a moments notice.

Tascam DR-05

The built-in microphones will not compete with a professional external microphone and if recording becomes more than a passing interest dedicated microphones can be a great way to optimise your setup for specific recordings. We cover a few of the microphones in our range below with a quick guide to their application. The right recorder should have a logical menu system and inputs that allow for a suitable upgrade path via the connection of external microphones.

Audio Technica AT8022 X/Y Stereo Microphone

I personally enjoy the use of stereo microphones for capturing the ambience of entire soundscapes. The Rode NT4 Stereo Microphone or Audio Technica AT8022 X/Y Stereo Microphone are both great options for this, which contain two microphone capsules in a portable housing.  Both models are examples of condenser microphones which will require external power to function. To provide this, look for a recorder that has XLR inputs and an option to turn on phantom power; the Tascam Dr-40 would be a suitable choice in this instance.

Rode NT4 Stereo Microphon

There are also several options designed exclusively for use in the field. A common type makes use of a parabolic dish, effectively acting as a kind of audio zoom lens making them useful for focusing in on a particular sound-source. Some of these systems require a different type of power known as plug-in power so you’ll need a recorder able to supply this via a 3.5mm mic/line input as found on the Tascam DR-05.

Telinga PRO-X Parabolic Microphone System

The Hi-sound  and Telinga PRO-X systems are good examples of plug-in powered parabolic systems. If your recorder does not have plug-in power, you can use an XLR to PiP adaptor. This connects to the XLR outputs on your recorder and converts the phantom power produced by the recorder to plug-in power which can run the microphone.

Before heading out make sure you have adequate wind protection for your microphones, as even a slight breeze can ruin a recording if it’s not what you’re after! – Parabolic windshields  – Tascam DR-05 windshield .

Parabolic windshields

Finally, we feature static recording devices such as the SM4 Acoustic from Wildlife Acoustics and the Bar-LT from Frontier Labs.  These waterproof units feature built in omni-directional microphones and can be secured to any suitable surface. The long deployment times and scheduling functions make these ideal for long-term bioacoustic studies.

Song Meter SM4 Acoustic Recorder

In the field

To test a small cross section of equipment, I headed to a small forest within the Dartmoor National Park to capture the distinctive call of the Common Cuckoo, armed with a Tascam DR-40,  XLR to PiP adaptor, Hi-Sound Stereo Parabolic system and a Wildlife Acoustics SM4 Acoustic recorder.

I initially walked a narrow path that cut through a steep section of woodland, at this point the cuckoos could be heard faintly calling from lower down in the valley. Locating a suitable tree easily accessible from the path, I decided to deploy the SM4. The SM4 has been designed to be exceptionally quick to set up straight out of the box and for this field test, I set it to ‘always record’ and secured it in place with a Python Mini Cable Lock.

Static recorder in place, I then used the Tascam DR-40 whilst walking through the woodlands to capture the changing soundscapes as I moved away from the sound of the river and closer to the open moor.

Tascam DR-40 in the field

The DR-40 has a clear front facing screen that is easy to read in all light levels, pressing the record button once arms the unit allowing you to see and hear the recording levels. A good pair of headphones is recommended for use with this unit as they are susceptible to a certain amount of handling noise.

I then connected the parabolic to the Hi-Sound parabolic to the Tascam using the XLR to PiP adapter.

Dropping off the path I headed towards the middle of the wood where the Cuckoos could be heard calling in the distance. The high directionality of the parabolic microphone was excellent allowing me to pick out individuals among the woodland birds present.

Late in the evening whilst preparing to pack up I was rewarded with a fantastic display as several cuckoos alighted on the trees around me, a recording of which is included below.

Summary

I highly recommend getting out and exploring natural soundscapes in your local area, especially at this time of year. As with any piece of equipment it takes a few trips to really get a feel of what they’re capable of, but any one of these items could become a reliable piece of gear for your sonic explorations.

To view our full range of sound recording equipment please visit www.nhbs.com. If you have any questions on our sound recording range or would like some advice on the best set-up for your project please contact us via email at customer.services@nhbs.com or phone on 01803 865913.

Further Reading:

Listening In The Field: Recording and the Science of Birdsong
Hardback | May 2018
£18.99 £26.99

Joeri Bruyninckx traces the development of field recording and its use in field ornithology. Drawing on expertise from experimental music to serious science, it provides a thorough and wide-ranging investigation into the power of sound and listening.

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

 

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

 

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