Author Q&A with Michelle Sole: Antarctica: A Bird’s-eye View

Antarctica: A Bird's-Eye View hardback book cover showing an aerial view of the edge of a cliff covered in snow and penguins.This stunning photographic book, written in collaboration with penguinologist Dr Tom Hart, offers a unique view of Antarctica from above and captures the wonders of this magical place, from vast icebergs to penguin colonies in their thousands. Each chapter includes an array of incredible captioned images, taken from both land and air, and describes the resident wildlife and conservation efforts in this remote area.

Black and white photograph of Michelle Sole, author of Antarctica: A Bird's-Eye View, holding a Canon camera and facing the camera.

Michelle Sole grew up living between the rolling hills of England and the alpine wilds of Andorra. In 2011 she moved to South Africa, spending the following six years working as a Safari Guide and nurturing her passion for photography, before becoming a photography guide on expedition ships in Antarctica and the Arctic where she continues to challenge her photography in extreme conditions today. Michelle’s thrill for adventure, nature and the outdoors is evident throughout her photography and writing, and since her career began her work has been published worldwide in papers including Africa Geographic and The Daily Mail.

Michelle recently took the time out of her Antarctica expedition to Snow Hill Island to talk to us about the inspiration behind the book, the challenges she faced photographing such a challenging environment and more.


You began getting into photography when you moved to South Africa in
2011. What encouraged you to take the leap from the sunny African
plains to Antarctica, and how does photography compare from one
environment to another?

I worked as safari guide in South Africa and one of my guests just so
happened to be the president of a polar expedition company and he offered
me a job! The opportunity was too good to pass up and in 2017 I started
working as a photography guide in Antarctica and the Arctic regions.

The photography varies drastically between Africa and Antarctica. In Africa
you are often hiding from the sun and in Antarctica the elements are against
you. The light in Antarctica is a lot harsher than in Africa and photographing black and white penguins on bright white snow takes some practice.

Aerial photograph of the sea withicebergs scattered over it and snowy mountains in the distance taken from a helicopter flying over Cape Tuxen, Antarctica.

On the north side of Zavodovski Island in the South Sandwich Islands, a quarter of a million Chinstrap Penguins are lashed by the Southern Ocean at the base of a snowy mountain with the top covered by fog and big waves at the foot of the slopes.

What was it that inspired you to create this book and capture Antarctica
from the sky rather than focusing solely on more conventional, land-
based photography?

I was approached by Dr Tom Hart from Oxford University to collaborate and
make this book. Tom had over 40,000 drone images from penguin and seal
surveys. These are used to try and gather population trends across different
locations in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. I had a similar number of
images from the ground and a collection from helicopters. The aerial shots really add a different dimension and together with the images from the ground tell a grander and more unique story of the landscapes and wildlife of this remarkable place.

Aerial photograph of Gentoo Penguins making paths between their nests and the water on Useful Island, Antarctica.

Did you face any significant challenges that you had to overcome while
taking photographs in such a remote, harsh and often unpredictable
environment?

Yes! The weather in Antarctica can be brutal. Some days you are battered by
the winds and you can’t feel your finger tips, or you could be in a snow storm with snow collecting on the top of your camera as you shoot. I always carry a towel in my bag to protect my gear. Salt water takes a major toll on photographic equipment and throughout the years I’ve tried to salvage numerous cameras, sadly they didn’t all survive. On top of that, I am often photographing from an unsteady platform a zodiac (a type of rigid inflatable boat) that I am driving on the ocean.

Were you concerned over any possible impacts on the wildlife
that you photographed even though you used drones to capture some images?

Special permission was given to the researchers from the Penguin Watch
team to fly drones for scientific purposes to conduct penguin and seal surveys. The drones were flown at a non disturbance height. This is evident in the aerial wildlife photographs by the behaviour of the animals the seals continue to sleep and the penguins continue to walk on their highways without so much as looking at the drone.

Aerial photograph of a beach with the sand on the right, covered in King Penguins, and a big wave breaking on the right of the photo, with Elephant Seals led sleeping on the waters edge in Gold Harbour, South Georgia.

I was really surprised to see such a wide variety of habitats and species
in your photographs as I, like many, often think of Antarctica and the
surrounding areas as enormous ice-shelves rather than steaming
volcanoes and vibrant pumice rocks. Was there anything that took you
by surprise while you were out taking photographs for this book?

At the time of putting together this book I had six years of experience in Antarctica, so I was familiar with many of the different landscapes. However, on my first trip to Antarctica, like many others visiting for the first time, I was taken aback by the variety of landscapes on the seventh continent. As a guide in this environment, this initial wonder and surprise is something that I see in other people experiencing this for the first time on nearly every trip.

Are you currently planning to undertake any other photography projects
next year that we can hear a sneak-preview about?

As I write this I am currently onboard an expedition ship south bound to the most northerly Emperor Penguin colony in the world Snow Hill Island,
Antarctica. I also work in the Arctic each summer and spend a significant
amount of time out in Africa. Although I have no current plans to produce
books on these areas, my photography portfolio continues to grow.

Three Gentoo Penguins walking towards the camera with their wings spread using a 'penguin highway' track in the snow on Danco Island, Antarctica.


Antarctica: A Bird’s-Eye View has been privately published by author Michelle Sole and is available at www.nhbs.com/Antarctica: A Bird’s-Eye View.

25% of profits from the sale of this book is donated to Penguin Watch.

You can also visit Michelle’s website and follow her adventures on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Why a trail camera makes the perfect gift this Christmas

Badger image taken with the Browning Spec Ops Elite HP5

Choosing the right gift for friends and loved ones can be a tricky affair, but for any keen wildlife watcher, and particularly one with a fondness for photography, a trail camera could be the perfect option. Here’s just a few reasons why we’re fans:

1. Catch a glimpse of wildlife that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to see
An obvious one perhaps, but trail cameras give you a wonderful opportunity to see and capture footage of all sorts of wildlife, particularly species that are easily startled or those that are active at times when we’d prefer not to be out and about (such as in the middle of the night) – a trail camera will allow you to observe the hidden lives all around you. The video below, recorded with the Browning Recon Force Elite HP5, is a wonderful example of what you can achieve right outside your back door.

2. See what animals are up to at times when you wouldn’t usually be watching
A perfect example of this is observing nocturnal animals. While the hardiest wildlife watcher might not be averse to wandering the fields and woods in the middle of the night equipped with the latest night vision gear, most of us would prefer to be tucked up in our beds. Trail cameras, with their night vision technology, can take images and videos of all the action so you can view it later at a time that’s more convenient. The video below shows a young fox passing through at night, recorded using a  Browning Recon Force Elite HP5 by Two J’s Wildlife Camera Set in Cornwall.

3. View behaviours and interactions that are usually unseen
While nothing beats an in-person encounter with a wild animal, such experiences are often brief and offer us limited insight into their life. Trail cameras, particularly those equipped with no-glow night vision technology (which means there is no tell-tale red flash when they take a photograph), are inconspicuous and will record footage for as long as there is movement within their capture range. This means that they are great for letting us experience a much broader range of behaviours and interactions. The video of the squabbling squirrels below was recorded by Two J’s Wildlife Camera Set in Cornwall.

4. Create stunning time-lapse videos
Almost all trail cameras can be programmed to capture images at a time interval of your choice, regardless of whether there is any movement detected. Using this function makes it possible to capture the subtle and gradual changes in the environment that would be difficult to observe in real time. Similarly, they can also be used to record behaviours that take place over longer periods, allowing you to view them at an accelerated speed.

A wren sitting on a branch in scrub.
A Wren photographed using the Browning Strike Force Pro X 1080

5. Share your findings with others
Whether you’re conducting research or simply want to know what’s happening in your back garden, the images and videos from a trail camera are perfect for sharing your findings with friends, family and colleagues. The quality of the photos/videos can be impressive, particularly when using models with high resolution lenses.

Browse the full range of cameras available from NHBS at nhbs.com.

For more advice about choosing a camera to suit your needs and budget, why not take a look at our Trail Camera Buyer’s Guide or contact us to chat with one of our experienced Wildlife Equipment Specialists.

Trail Cameras: A Comparison

Trail cameras are an invaluable piece of equipment for those seeking to monitor wildlife as it is when there are no humans around. Unlike typical cameras, trail cameras are designed to be left in a particular location to capture photographs or video footage of passing animals. Thanks to infrared imaging technology, most modern trail cameras will also allow you to capture images of nocturnal animals under low light conditions.

The best trail cameras can endure a range of tough weather conditions and extreme temperatures due to weatherproof casing and a robust design. Their small size and camouflaged casing allow these cameras to blend into their surroundings and remain relatively inconspicuous. Most trail cameras can also be fitted with a python lock or security box to protect against damage or theft.

At NHBS, we sell a wide range of trail cameras and, like all products, there are advantages and disadvantages depending on the model and brand. To compare the trail cameras in our range we have prepared categories based on several of the key factors to consider when buying a trail camera. All recommendations found here are our opinions and views may differ on which cameras are best for each category.

Beginner Camera 

Browning Strike Force Pro X 1080

With a fast trigger speed, strong picture quality and robust design the Browning Strike Force Pro X 1080 performs well across all major categories. While not quite reaching to heights of some of our more advanced cameras in terms of picture quality, this economic camera is perfect for those looking for a starter camera or for high quality at an affordable price. 

Trail camera shown from the front with camouflaged pattern and camera lens and bulbs shown.

Picture Quality

When considering image quality, keep in mind that manufacturers sometimes inflate megapixel ratings through interpolation, a process by which pixels are digitally added to the image. While on paper photos have a higher megapixel count, the image quality is not improved. This is a marketing gimmick which eats up storage and generates longer recovery times.

While our top picks for picture quality both use interpolation, it is the quality of the photographs and footage produced by the camera which we base our opinion on.

Browning Recon Force Elite HP5

With crisp and clear daytime pictures and excellent night-time imagery, the Browning Recon Force Elite HP5 wins the top spot for picture quality. Video footage produced by this camera is of equally high quality as shown by recordings from our own team:

This camera is significantly cheaper than its close competitor, the Bushnell Core DS-4K. Another factor in this camera’s favour.  

Bushnell Core DS-4K 

A closer runner up, the Bushnell Core DS-4K likewise demonstrates superb picture quality. An advantage of this camera is the longer battery life when using the video capture setting, permitting longer deployment in the field, together with a world-beating 4K video resolution.  

Night Footage 

The nighttime capabilities of modern trail cameras are a key draw for many users. Using infrared technology, most trail cameras can capture photographs and videos of elusive nocturnal animals whose movements are normally challenging to monitor. 

Browning Spec Ops Elite HP5 

While the Browning Recon Force Elite HP5 and the Bushnell Core DS-4K perform well at night, if you are looking for a trail camera specifically designed to excel in low light conditions, the Browning Spec Ops Elite HP5 is a safe bet. This camera displays superb nighttime video and photographs with excellent clarity and contrast. A stealthy camera with top of the range trigger and recovery speeds, the Spec Ops Elite HP5 benefits from a no glow IR flash which allows it to remain inconspicuous in the presence of easily startled nocturnal animals.  

Browning Dark Ops Pro DCL 

Equipped with Radiant 6 Night Illumination Technology and a longer flash range than the Spec Ops Elite HP5, the Browning Dark Ops Pro DCL produces outstanding nighttime footage; the trade-off is a significantly reduced battery life and inferior daytime picture quality compared to the Spec Ops. 

Trigger Speed 

The trigger speed is the amount of time between the camera detecting movement and a photograph being taken. For those looking to monitor larger animals a quick trigger speed is of secondary importance; however, trigger speed is very important when monitoring small fast-moving animals where a small difference in trigger speed might mean the difference between capturing a picture of the animal or not. 

Browning Spec Ops Elite HP5 

Here the Spec Ops Elite HP5 stands out from the crowd yet again. One of the top cameras in our range, its lightning-fast trigger speed of 0.1 seconds makes this camera a perfect choice for those monitoring even the quickest creatures. The Spec Ops Elite HP5 also boasts a swift recovery speed of 0.5 seconds, granting the ability to rapidly capture multiple pictures of an animal in the camera’s detection range.   

Battery Life 

Browning Patriot   

The Browning Patriot is not only one of our best all-rounders, performing well in all categories, but also the camera in our range with the longest battery life. Depending on the settings used (videos use up more battery power), this camera can last for over a year in the field without changing batteries.  

Browning Strike Force HD Pro X 

Another well-rounded camera, the Strike Force is also a strong performer when it comes to battery life. 

Durability 

Durability – Reconyx HyperFire 2 HF2X 

A strong favourite amongst researchers operating in extreme environments, the Reconyx HyperFire 2 HF2X offers unparalleled resilience and longevity. We tend to recommend this camera for use in tough conditions as it can operate in temperatures of -29° to +50°C and comes with an impressive 5-year warranty. The more expensive Reconyx UltraFire XR6 has the benefit of improved picture quality; however, this trail camera carries a shorter 2-year warranty and slower trigger speed.  

A Reconyx camera being used to monitor penguins at Brown Station, Antarctica.
Cellular and Solar Cameras 

Needing to go out to your trail camera when you want to change batteries, check photos or change settings can be time consuming, especially if your camera is in a remote location or if you have multiple cameras set up in different areas. Cellular and solar functionality save valuable time by reducing the frequency with which you need to physically interact with your trail camera. The trade-off is reduced image quality when compared to cameras without these features in a comparable price range. 

Cellular – Spypoint LINK-MICRO-LTE 

The Spypoint LINK-MICRO-LTE enables remote access to photos and settings by utilising cellular networks. It comes with a pre-activated SIM card, the free Spypoint app and a free monthly data plan allowing you to transfer up to 100 images per month. If you need to transfer more photos, choose from Spypoint’s affordable monthly payment plans. 

While excellent for those wishing to leave their trail cameras in remote locations, remember the cellular features of the camera require a network connection to function, so ensure that you place the camera in a location with signal. 

Please note, we cannot guarantee that cellular functions of the link series cameras will work outside of the UK 

Solar – Num’axes PIE1060 Solar Wi-Fi Trail Camera   

The Num’axes PIE1060 Solar Wi-Fi Trail Camera comes with a compact solar panel attached to the top of the unit which provides the camera’s lithium battery with an indefinite power supply when placed in sufficient sunlight. This negates the need to regularly replace the trail camera’s batteries, saving valuable time. The Num’axes camera likewise features WiFi technology, allowing photos to be remotely downloaded when inside the camera’s WiFi signal range.  

Cellular and Solar – Spypoint LINK-MICRO-S 

You can even combine features with the Spypoint LINK-MICRO-S. The built-in solar panel and cellular function allows you to leave the trail camera in the field for longer periods of time with minimal physical interaction.  

Please note, we cannot guarantee that cellular functions of the link series cameras will work outside of the UK. 

Recommendations and Accessories 

A few important tips and accessories can go a long way to getting the best experience out of using your trail camera. 

Use lithium batteries 

Many new users elect to use alkaline or standard rechargeable batteries in their trail cameras and find that their camera is not working as expected. Lithium batteries are capable of giving off a stronger surge of energy. Most trail cameras are therefore designed to be used with lithium batteries; accordingly, we offer a bundle when purchasing a trail camera which normally includes eight lithium batteries. Using the wrong type of batteries is among the most common reasons for why a trail camera is not functioning correctly. 

Rechargeable alternatives are available which perform well with trail cameras. 

Python Mini Cable Lock 

The versatile Python Lock with an 8mm diameter and length of 180cm is ideal for securing equipment and can be used with almost all our trail cameras.  

Security Boxes 

These tough and sturdy security boxes will help protect your trail camera from theft and damage. Double check that the security box you are purchasing is compatible with your trail camera model.  

Explore our complete range of trail cameras on our website or check out our Watching Wildlife Guide on how to choose the right trail camera for further information on trail camera features.   

Author Interview with Susan Young: Wildlife Photography Fieldcraft

This unique book describes a straightforward system for how to successfully locate wildlife, the most difficult aspect of wildlife photography. Photographing the stunning natural world around us can be a challenging process. Not only does getting the perfect shot require a complex mixture of skill and luck, but there is little practical advice available on how to find the wildlife you’d like to photograph. While patience and persistence have to come from you, being equipped with the right fieldcraft knowledge, offered in this book, can increase your chances of getting the results – and the special moments – you are looking for.

Individual chapters offer guidance on how to photograph birds, mammals, butterflies and dragonflies, as well as reptiles and some of our more elusive species. Various habitat types are discussed, along with tips on equipment, technical specifications and guidance suitable to both newcomers and more experienced wildlife photographers. While sharing some of her most successful and beautiful images, Susan Young also gives useful examples of when things didn’t quite work out – reflecting on how things could have been done differently to get a better outcome.

Susan Young speaks with us about why she chose to write this book, her process for researching each chapter and why wildlife photography is so important for engaging the public with the environment and conservation.


Your new book, Wildlife Photography Fieldcraft, is a unique guide to how to successfully locate wildlife. What drew you to wildlife photography and why did you choose to write this book?

I have had a keen interest in nature from an early age. I originally took up (digital) photography for landscapes, but it was a natural progression to wildlife photography so I could keep a record of my finds. When I started with wildlife, I found it very difficult to find suitable subjects, especially the less common ones, and of course many mammals are nocturnal. I studied many books on wildlife photography, but they all seemed to concentrate on photographic techniques and gave little or no information on how to find wildlife. I had written books before on subjects not previously covered, so decided to write the book I wished I had been able to find when I was looking.

You mention in this book that a lack of knowledge on how to find wildlife to photograph may be just as risky as providing too much information, could you expand on this?

This is related to disturbance. If photographers know very little about the subject of their photographs and do not understand the sensitivity of wildlife, they could disturb a bird, for example, and cause it to abandon its nest, or frighten a deer so it runs off and becomes injured.

On the other hand, if too much information is given out, particularly of a detailed location, photographers can flock to the area in large numbers. This has happened with rare birds, for example, and the birds have become very distressed.

Ptarmigan by Susan Young

This guide is broken up into chapters covering different species groups, all of which are richly detailed, covering descriptions, diet, breeding, habitats, population estimates and more. What was your process for researching the different chapters, and why did you choose to go further to cover topics such as how to make a portable hide and thermal and dynamic soaring?

The whole focus of the information was on what factors influenced where, when and how to find wildlife. Population estimates and habitats, for example, influence where the subject might be found in a broad sense. Breeding and its rituals have a great effect on when certain species are most active and thus most likely to be seen. Description, diet and habits are more detailed indicators allowing the photographer to fine-tune the search, for example. Goldfinches like thistle seed (diet), they are often in flocks (habits) and have distinctive colouring (description), so a photographer situated near a patch of large thistles, at the right time of year, could have interesting photographs of goldfinches balancing on thistles and interacting with each other.

My process was to think of each category for different species and, based on my experience, record the facts for each species and describe how to use them to find wildlife. I then studied reliable sources to add further detail and confirm that what I already had was accurate.

Young Roe jumping by Susan Young

Hides are extremely valuable as they allow the photographer to get close to nervous or rare species without disturbance. Portable hides are particularly useful. I found it difficult to get a flexible, sturdy, inexpensive portable hide that would be comfortable if sat in for some time. My design was based on the plastic pipes I had seen on an American trip, and can be tailored to the individual very easily, and is strong but not too heavy.

Photographing birds in flight, especially birds of prey, is very difficult. By understanding thermal and dynamic soaring, the photographer is equipped to predict the best position to photograph a bird in flight i.e. when the bird is moving more slowly and at the correct height.

How important do you think wildlife photography is in increasing public engagement with the environment and conservation?

Wildlife photography is hugely important as photographs can convey an emotion or fact better than words, and in particular can illustrate features or situations in a compelling, thought-provoking way, or simply attract by their beauty.

Sand Martin and chicks by Susan Young

Your case studies provide a wonderful insight into your photography process. Are there any species that you haven’t yet photographed but would love to?

Pine Martens are at the top of the list. They are beautiful and intelligent but, at present, rare in England. Beavers are another species I would like to photograph, and hopefully, this will become easier if they are introduced to other parts of the UK.

Do you have any current or future projects that you would like to tell us about?

At present I am developing interactive online mini-courses for the Mammal Society using photographs, videos and interactive features. The aim is to attract and engage with more people to gain their support in the quest to learn more, and use the knowledge to try to halt the decline of UK wildlife. I am also developing a course to encourage the use of CCTV systems to monitor wildlife.


Wildlife Photography Fieldcraft
By: Susan Young
Paperback | August 2022 | Pelagic Publishing

 

 

 

 

Trail Camera Tips and Troubleshooting: Part 2

Whether you enjoy watching and learning about the wildlife that visits your garden, capturing footage of secretive wildlife on a holiday, or undertaking research on a rare species, there is no substitute for investing in a trail camera.

Browning Spec Ops Elite HP4

How and where you set up your trail camera has a significant impact on how successful your results will be. In this blog, we cover some key tips on how to best position your camera, choosing the ideal location, and which settings to use in different circumstances. If you are experiencing issues with your camera, check out part one of this series where we discuss the initial steps we advise you to take to help resolve or identify the problem.

Camera Settings

As a rule, it’s always best to become familiar with your camera and its different settings and capabilities by testing it at home before using it out in the field. Familiarising yourself particularly with the detection range, detection angle, the focal distance and the IR flash distance is the best way to help you gauge how far to place the camera from where you hope to see wildlife.

On most modern trail cameras there is the option to adjust the passive infrared sensors (PIR) which, along with motion detection, causes the camera to trigger. For most circumstances, having the sensor sensitivity set to high and the motion detection set to long-range will be the best option to avoid any disappointment from captures of only part of an animal, or missing something altogether.

Browning Spec Ops Elite HP4

If you are focusing on birds or fast-moving mammals, such as mustelids or rodents, then the highest sensitivity setting and the fastest trigger speed (if adjustable), is very important. For larger and often slow-moving mammals, such as deer and ungulates, sometimes a slower trigger speed and reduced sensitivity can be better as the camera will then only trigger once the animal is more centrally positioned in the detection zone.
Some species have quite insulated bodies (hedgehogs for instance, due to their spikes), creating more of a challenge for the camera’s sensors, so again the highest sensor setting would be best for such species.

With high sensor sensitivity comes the increased chance of false triggers as well as high battery and memory usage, which can be exacerbated in windy conditions as moving trees, grass and falling leaves can all trigger the sensors. It is therefore worth choosing locations for your camera with minimal, light vegetation to avoid potential false triggers.

With many trail cameras, there is now the option to set the camera to only trigger during certain times of day. This is particularly helpful if you are targeting certain wildlife that you know to be strictly nocturnal or diurnal. In most other situations though, we would recommend keeping the camera set to trigger on 24 hours, so you don’t miss anything unexpected.

Location

When choosing where to leave your camera, the first consideration will be around security, and ideally, you want to ensure that the location chosen is not visible to the public.

Then, there are two main factors to consider when deciding on a specific location. Firstly, is there a particular species you have in mind, or do you wish to survey or monitor the general wildlife of a site.

Image by Ian Watson-Loyd

If you hope to capture a particular species, then consider its habits and where it is most likely to be spending time within the landscape.

Many mammals have large home ranges but also have routines they regularly follow, even if that means only passing through a certain spot very infrequently, so some patience is usually necessary.

To increase your chances, think about how that species might move through the habitat and which areas they will be most drawn to, for example where there are reliable food resources, sources of water, good resting and denning sites, and existing pathways through vegetation.

It is also worth looking for any evidence that the target species is already present, such as tracks, droppings or feeding signs. These signs may reveal an animal’s movements and highlight an area they are currently frequenting where the camera could be left.

If you are investigating what species are present on a site, focusing on areas with high levels of activity is key. Most mammals will leave signs of their presence in prominent areas that tend to be used by other species too. The scent of one species will often attract the attention of another, particularly if it is a competitor.

Many terrestrial mammals move through the landscape in a similar way to people; they will often follow linear features and use paths of least resistance to avoid travelling through very dense undergrowth or steep terrain. In forests, most mammals also prefer to use trails and pathways already made by other species or people. This helps to avoid constantly brushing through vegetation, particularly after recent rainfall, when the understory foliage will be wet.

Image by Ian Watson-Loyd

Natural woodland clearings and rides, habitat edges and watercourses are all key areas to focus on, particularly for larger mammals. For smaller species that prefer to keep close to cover, consider old walls, hedges, boulder fields and scree, and fallen trees.

Within these habitats, it is worth looking out for particularly prominent features to set your camera up. Features to look for include natural bridges over water, shallow spots for drinking and bathing, or a conspicuous large tree or boulder that carnivores might use for leaving their scent or droppings when marking their territory.

Therefore, if you find a location with lots of activity, it can be worthwhile continuing to monitor it for a long period, as some species with large territories, such as apex predators and some mesopredators (medium-sized), may only pass by very occasionally.

It can sometimes be a challenge to find something suitable to attach your camera to once you have found a suitable location. A Python Mini Cable Lock is the best all-rounder for both security and flexibility when attaching the camera to a tree, post or even rocks. However, there are times when a tripod or tree bracket can be more suitable. Sometimes adding a wedge of wood between the camera and a branch can be a good solution to ensuring the camera is angled straight if all the suitable trees and branches around are tilted.

Lastly, it is best to try to conceal your scent as much as possible during the deployment of your trail camera, as too much human smell could deter some wildlife from the area, so give the camera a clean before and during deployment and consider wearing gloves as you set it up.

Positioning

It is best to avoid facing your camera directly east or west, as this can overexpose images as the sun rises and sets. Sometimes extreme brightness can also cause false triggers as the light and shadows move.

Most trail cameras will have a standard focal distance of around 1.5 to 2 metres, so it is important to allow this much distance between the camera and the area you hope to record activity. For small mammals, a close focus lens can be attached over the front of the camera lens to allow you to take sharp images at a closer range. This works best if you are specifically targeting small mammals such as rodents or shrews within an enclosed space, for example a hole in a wall, log pile or small clearing in dense vegetation where all the activity will be at close range.

Also consider how far away an animal might pass the camera too, particularly when thinking about nocturnal activity and the distance the flash comfortably covers. Although many cameras have impressive detection and flash ranges, the resulting images and videos can still be frustrating if the animal passing is too far away to identify. Factors such as a dense overhead forest canopy, moonlight and cloud cover can also all impact a flash’s results. Ideally, opt for a position where animals will most likely pass around 3–10 metres away. 

The detection angle of most trail cameras is around 45° degrees, so it is best that the spot you think most activity will occur should be central within your cameras’ field of view.

It is important to also angle the camera at the correct height for your intended wildlife. If the camera is angled too high or too low, it will miss some species or result in unsatisfactory images of only part of an animal.

A good guideline for many situations is to angle your camera at around adult human knee height to capture small to medium-sized animals at their height rather than looking down on them. Sometimes trail cameras do need to be positioned higher in various circumstances, but try to avoid human head height as this will draw more attention to the camera.

Most high-quality trail cameras now have large screens that allow you to check in real-time what the camera can see as you position it. This is an invaluable tool to ensure your positioning, distance, height and view are just right.

Aquatic Wildlife

Image by Ian Watson-Loyd

For species that use watercourses, successful camera trapping can be even more challenging. One of the considerations is how to safely and securely position a camera close to or above water. Generally, the best option to avoid any risk to the camera and potential false triggers is to focus on prominent banks, sandbars, culverts, beaches or shallow water edges. With these locations it should be easier to position the camera at a safe distance back from the water while overlooking a spot where aquatic mammals and birds are also more likely to investigate, feed, drink or leave their scent or droppings.

With rivers particularly, it is important to ensure the camera is a little higher off the ground in case of unexpected water level rises, and so sometimes a downward-facing angle is more suitable. For otters, large rocks or fallen trees can be popular spots for scent marking, while a small clearing or mound within dense vegetation or reeds is often favoured by water voles. For beavers, an exposed bank and beach close to a favoured food source is often a good option.

Image by Ian Watson-Loyd

Summary

When thinking about setting up your trail camera, for best results we recommend taking the following into consideration:

  • The target species, their behaviour and habitat usage
  • Settings to reflect the above (and testing at home before deploying in the field)
  • The angle of the camera, taking into account flora, angles of the sun and where the animals are likely to be within the camera’s viewing area
  • Aiming for your focal species to pass the camera at a distance of 3-10m 
  • Generally positioning the camera at human knee height works well

If you have any questions about our range or would like some advice on the use of your trail camera, please feel free to get in touch with our Wildlife Equipment Specialist team via email at customer.services@nhbs.com.

 

Trail Camera Tips and Troubleshooting: Part 1

Trail cameras are a widely popular solution to monitoring elusive or nocturnal wildlife for both professionals and wildlife enthusiasts alike.

Modern trail cameras tend to be very reliable and are designed to be highly user-friendly. However, there are a few things we would suggest to ensure your camera performs to the best of its ability. These are the initial steps we advise to take if you are experiencing issues with your camera, and these can often resolve or at least identify the problem. For tips on how and where to set up your trail camera, check out part 2 of this series.

Batteries

Try a set of new batteries

Most minor troubles with trail cameras are due to the batteries not providing enough power. This can be down to the type of batteries being used or simply that they are getting low and need replacing. If you are experiencing black night-time images, short night-time videos, or no night-time captures are being taken at all then the first thing to check should be your batteries.

Battery meters on trail cameras are not always accurate, so we suggest checking your batteries with a tester/voltage meter prior to use if possible. This is particularly important for professional usage.

Choose Lithium batteries if at all possible 

We, and many trail camera manufacturers, highly recommend Lithium batteries as the best option for performance. The Energizer Ultimate Lithium are particularly well thought of, and as such are included in our Starter Bundles (see individual product pages).

Lithium batteries have a significantly longer lifespan than most other types e.g. alkaline and rechargeable NiMH, while also performing more reliably for a number of reasons that are explained below.

Trail cameras generally require 1.5 volts (V) from each AA battery to perform at their full potential. When the voltage begins to drop you may start experiencing issues such as those mentioned above. One of the main benefits of Lithium batteries is that they maintain their voltage until the end of their usable lifespan when it then rapidly drops off. In contrast, Alkaline batteries experience a pretty consistent voltage loss throughout their lifespan, meaning they can drop below 1.5V rather quickly after deployment.

Unfortunately, we do not recommend rechargeable AA batteries (NiMH). At only 1.2V, rechargeable batteries are unlikely to power the camera reliably or for long. If rechargeable batteries are still the preferred option, it is important that the batteries offer at least 2500mAh. Some camera models have been designed to work more effectively with rechargeable batteries, for example the Recon Force Elite HP4, however the performance is still unlikely to be comparable to use with Lithium batteries.

Be prepared for batteries to die more quickly in cold weather

During colder winter months, you should expect your batteries to discharge more rapidly and the battery life to therefore be reduced. At lower temperatures the chemical reactions accruing in the battery are slowed down, diminishing its power.

Alkaline batteries are particularly troublesome in this regard as they contain a water-based electrolyte, which means they seriously struggle as temperatures approach freezing. Again, Lithium batteries are the superior choice and can withstand significantly colder conditions while still performing fantastically, albeit slightly diminished in comparison to use in more mild conditions.

SD cards

SD (Secure Digital) cards are available in a wide variety of sizes and speeds. Generally speaking, we find a 32GB, class 10 SD card a very suitable choice, and this is what is included in our trail camera Starter Bundles. It is worth reading the manual of your chosen trail camera to check for any compatibility requirements or maximum size capacities.

Format your SD card 

Formatting your SD card is an important step when starting with a new camera, or if experiencing SD error alerts on your camera. It is important to be aware that formatting your card will erase all data, so any important videos or images should be transferred elsewhere beforehand.

There are two options for formatting your SD card: using a computer with an SD card reader or via the trail camera itself. When using a computer, simply look for the SD card in your file explorer/file finder, right-click and select ‘Format’. The majority of trail cameras also provide an in-built option to format your SD card via the settings menu. For the brands we offer, the menu options are likely to appear under the following titles (or similar):

Browning –  ‘Delete all’

Bushnell and Spypoint – ‘Format’

Check your SD card is not locked

A common error message seen with trail cameras is ‘missing SD card’. If an SD card is inserted in the camera but the error message is showing nonetheless, it is worth checking if the card is ‘locked’.

Modern SD cards include a small plastic lock switch (seen on the left side of the image) that allows the user to prevent any data being written or images deleted from the card. Simply slide the switch into the unlock position and check if the error message disappears when you re-insert the card.

Settings

Return the camera to the default settings 

When a trail camera is not behaving as it should or how the user would like, we would recommend resetting the camera to the original factory settings. This can be easily done through the menu on the trail camera and is likely to be named ‘default settings’, ‘default’, or similar.

For further advice on settings and placement of your camera, please see Part 2 of our Trail Camera Tips and Troubleshooting series.

Summary

We recommend taking the following steps prior to using your camera for the first time, or if you experience any unexpected problems:

  • Use a brand new set of Lithium batteries
  • Reformat your SD card (and check it is not locked!)
  • Reset your camera to its default settings

If you have any questions about our range or would like some advice on the use of your trail camera, please feel free to get in touch with our Wildlife Equipment Specialist team via email at customer.services@nhbs.com.

 

Author Interview with James Aldred: Goshawk Summer

James Aldred is an award-winning documentary wildlife cameraman and filmmaker. James has collaborated on numerous high-profile projects with Sir David Attenborough, including Life of Mammals, Planet Earth and Our Planet, resulting in several BAFTA/RTS nominations. He is also the author of The Man Who Climbs Trees.

In his latest book, Goshawk Summer, James details his extraordinary and unique experience documenting a family of goshawks in the New Forest during the national lockdown of 2020. We have had the very fortunate opportunity to ask James some questions

Could you tell us about how you first came to be interested in the natural world?

Through time spent outdoors in the New Forest, where I spent much of my childhood. My teenage obsession was tracking deer, particularly Red, which were quite scarce in the Forest during the 1980s. I also got into tree climbing at an early age. Many of my friends were training to be foresters and tree surgeons and they showed me how to use ropes to access the forest canopy. I immediately fell in love with this hard-to-reach, but wildlife-rich environment and regularly took my stills camera up with me to try and capture images of the New Forest from this unique perspective.

Travel restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic presented a unique opportunity to document nature with very little human interference. Do you think this period of time will have had any lasting impacts on the country’s wildlife?

Yes, but in a rather unforeseen way. The space provided by the initial lockdown period definitely helped those birds and animals with a shorter breeding cycle, but ultimately the lockdown period was too short to be of much lasting benefit to a lot of the larger wildlife, including large ground-nesting birds such as curlew. The levels of disturbance in the post-lockdown period were very high in some places and this had the unfortunate effect of causing problems for those species that had not yet completed their breeding season. Ironically though, these high levels of disturbance in the countryside in the immediate aftermath of lockdown may yet provide useful data in terms of how best to manage large visitor numbers in the future as our population increases to grow and national parks are placed under increased pressure.

To capture footage of the goshawks required time, patience and understanding, but your efforts were clearly rewarded. Do you have any particular highlights from your goshawk summer?

There were so many, but I think the nesting dynamics between an adult male and female were particularly fascinating. Their relationship was surprisingly complex, subtle and even-keeled for such a fiery bird. The male often covered the clutch to keep the eggs warm whilst the female fed off site, and was even allowed to feed the chicks himself on several occasions whilst the female stood by and looked on. Very unusual for Goshawk females to tolerate their mate being so close to the chicks like this.

For a young aspiring naturalist, a career as a wildlife photographer would seem to be an ideal choice, especially since our collective experience and knowledge is usually limited to what we see on film/television or on paper. Could you tell us a bit about the reality of what it’s like to be a wildlife cameraman?

The reality is very anti-social working hours, high levels of frustration and a huge impact on home life! But I wouldn’t change it for the world as it is undoubtedly one of the most soul-nourishing jobs you could ever hope to do, in my opinion. It’s a tough, highly competitive industry, but this doesn’t mean you can’t get in through gentle persistence and dedication. Knowledge is everything: read, watch and learn everything you possibly can about your chosen wildlife subject before even attempting to film it.

 

What’s next for you? Do you have any current or future projects planned?

I’m currently working on a large project commissioned by a popular US-based video-on-demand provider. I’ve just been filming in the Congo for them and due to head out to Borneo soon. I’m also working on an exciting UK-based project about rewilding, which is a subject I find particularly compelling and relevant. All the more so since it is UK based and has the potential to inspire the next generation of naturalists.

 

Goshawk Summer
By: James Aldred
Hardback | July 2021 

 

 

 

Newly released trail cameras in 2021

Trail camera technology is rapidly advancing and quickly becoming more affordable, allowing anyone to view the wildlife visiting their gardens. During the first half of this year, we have had four new models released on our website boasting updated and improved specifications.

Browning and Bushnell are renowned trail camera brands used by researchers, conservationists and amateur naturalists around the world. Both brands offer high-quality, durable units at a range of price-points.

2021 has brought three new models of Browning camera, named the ‘Elites’. All three are continuations of previous series. The Recon Force and Spec Ops Elite HP4 are similar to the older ‘Edge’ models. The principal change is the addition of high power LEDs which have increased the night time range and image quality. The two cameras are essentially the same design, however the Spec Ops offers no-glow flash rather than the Recon Force’s low-glow.

Browning Recon Force Elite HP4

 

• High power LEDs
• 22MP images, 1920 x 1080 HD video (60 frames per second)
• 0.1s – 0.7s adjustable trigger speed
• Low-glow infrared flash
• 5cm colour viewing screen

 

Browning Spec Ops Elite HP4

 

• High power LEDs
• 22MP images, 1920 x 1080 HD video (60 frames per second)
• 0.1s – 0.7s adjustable trigger speed
• No-glow infrared flash
• 5cm colour viewing screen

 

Browning Command Ops Elite

The Command Ops Pro, Browning’s entry level camera, has been replaced by the Command Ops Elite. Despite coming in at a lower price point than other cameras in the range it boasts some fantastic features, including a faster trigger speed than its predecessor. If a colour viewing screen is not an essential feature for you, this camera will allow you to take images and videos at a significantly more affordable price.

 

• 18MP images, 1280 x 720 HD video (30 frames per second)
• 0.3s trigger speed
• Low-glow infrared flash
• Black and green text screen

 

 

Bushnell Prime

Similarly, Bushnell released a new entry-level camera this year. The Prime offers a similar spec to the Command ops, but with significantly higher megapixel images. For more information on this camera and to see it in action, please read our ‘In the Field’ blog post.

 

• 24MP images, 1280 x 720 HD video
• 0.3s trigger speed
• Low-glow infrared flash
• Black and white text screen

 

 


Explore the complete range of trail cameras on our website or take a look at our Watching Wildlife guide on how to choose the right trail camera.

Watching Wildlife – How to choose the right Trail Camera

This is part one of a two-part series that will look into different ways of filming wildlife in your back garden. In this part, we will take a look at trail cameras and what to look out for when buying one. 


The variety of trail cameras on offer can be overwhelming, here are a few key things to look out for:

Type of LEDs

In order to capture videos or images in the dark, camera traps use infrared LEDs to illuminate the subject with little to no visible light used. There are two main types of LED flash systems that trail cameras use. These are No Glow and Low Glow. No Glow LEDs produce very little visible light and so are almost completely undetectable by the subject. Low Glow LEDs produce a faint red glow and so are not completely invisible, which can sometimes alert animals such as deer and foxes. However, they do have the benefit of being able to illuminate better over a longer distance.

Red Fox Bushnell Trail Camera
Red Fox captured on Bushnell Trail Camera
Trigger Speed

Trigger speed is the time taken for the camera to take a photo once it has detected movement. If you are aiming to capture a fast-moving subject, then a quicker trigger speed (below 0.3 seconds) will enable you to achieve these photos before your subject has moved out of frame. 

Recovery Time

Recovery time is the time taken for the camera to process an image and become ready to take a second photo. If you want to capture multiple images of a subject as it comes into view of your camera, then a shorter recovery time will allow for this.

Badger photo Ltl Acorn Trail Camera
Badger photo captured on Ltl Acorn Trail Camera  ©Bryony James
Hybrid Mode

Hybrid mode allows the camera to take videos and photos simultaneously. A camera with this capability may be useful if you want to get as much footage as possible of anything that falls into frame of the camera. If you are more interested in capturing only photographs or only videos, this mode may not be an important feature.

Resolution and Interpolation

The quality of the images and videos that your trail camera can take will depend on its resolution. Most cameras have settings that can alter the resolution either, decreasing it through compression, or increasing it through interpolation. Compression is useful if you want to deploy your camera for a long time and memory card capacity may become an issue, whereas interpolation can produce a larger image by adding pixels. The best way to compare the quality of images between cameras is to look at sample photos and videos. The displayed megapixel value is often resolution as a result of interpolation. The true resolution of the image sensor can usually be found in the specifications as the true sensor resolution.

Screen

Many trail cameras come with built-in viewing screens allowing you to view your photos and videos in the field. This is particularly useful if you want to take a few test shots to check the positioning of the camera.

Our Suggestions

Browning Strike Force Full HD

If you’re looking for a good entry-level camera, then take a look at the Browning Strike Force Full HD. It takes high quality images and videos for a very affordable price.
LED type: Low Glow
Trigger speed: 0.135-0.7s
Recovery time:  0.5s
Hybrid: No
Resolution: 22MP
Viewing Screen: Small screen showing text only

 

Browning Dark Ops HD Pro X

For the next step up, the mid-range  Browning Dark Ops HD Pro X is one of our most popular trail cameras. With No Glow LEDs and a impressively quick trigger speed, this is a great all-round option.
LED type: No Glow
Trigger speed: 0.22s
Recovery time: 0.6s
Hybrid: No
Resolution: 20MP
Viewing Screen: 3.8cm colour screen

 

Bushnell Core DS No Glow

If the hybrid mode is an important feature for your work, a Bushnell Core DS No Glow may be the one for you. Dual sensors target day and night in order to provide the best quality images, no matter the light conditions.
LED type: No Glow
Trigger speed: 0.2s
Recovery time: 0.7s
Hybrid: Yes
Resolution: 30MP
Viewing Screen: 5.08cm colour screen

 

Browning Spec Ops Elite HP5

If the subject of your trail camera photos or videos is particularly fast, it may be worth taking a look at the Browning Spec Ops Elite HP5 whose adjustable trigger speed starts from 0.1 seconds is one of the fastest on the market.
LED type: No Glow
Trigger speed: 0.1-0.7s
Recovery time: 0.5s
Hybrid: No
Resolution: 24MP
Viewing Screen: 5cm colour screen

Accessories

There are a selection of accessories that you may want pair with your camera to get the best out of your camera-trapping experience.
If you are worried about leaving an expensive piece of kit outside and unattended, then you may want to invest in a Python Lock. This cable lock will fit most trail cameras and and will give you piece of mind that your camera is secured in place. Here you can watch how to set up this lock with your own trail camera. You also may be interested in a security case that is compatible with your trail camera. These cases house your camera and secure with a padlock, which helps prevent vandalism and theft.

SD Cards

All cameras need a memory card to store your photos and videos on. Make sure to check what SD card capacity your camera needs, this is usually found in the specifications section. Browse our selection of SD cards to order alongside your camera so that you can get snapping as soon as possible.

Power Options

Most cameras are powered by batteries. We recommend you use Lithium Ion batteries with your trail camera to ensure maximum trigger speeds and longer battery life. Make sure to check how many batteries your camera needs. Some trail cameras are also compatible with solar panels which will allow you to extend the battery life of your camera. This is especially useful if you want to leave your camera outside for extended periods of time.

Starter Bundles
Browning Strike Force Starter Bundle

If you are looking to buy a trail camera and want to make sure you will be able to get out and start capturing as soon as it arrives, then you may want to take a look at our starter bundle options. These bundles come with a memory card and batteries that are right for your camera to ensure you have everything you need to get started.

To see more trail cameras available, take a look at our range here

Would you like some more advice on which trail camera or nest box camera is most suitable for you? Contact us on +44 (0)1803 865913 or email customer.services@nhbs.com . 

Author Interview with Penny Metal: Insectinside

As recently featured on BBC’s Springwatch, Insectinside is a fantastic book featuring hundreds of species of insect that have all been found in Warwick Gardens in Peckham by author, Penny Metal.

With Penny’s incredible photographs and often humorous social commentary, Insectinside is an inspiring look at the diversity you can find just beyond your doorstep, as well as the vital importance of our natural spaces.

Can you tell us about your background and how you came to write this book?

I have a background in graphic design and often work in the area of nature conservation. This means I get to see what projects are happening etc. I work from home and decided to spend my lunch breaks in my local park photographing and surveying insects. I learned about the insects, watched them and counted the sheer number of species, and realised that no one else had actually surveyed a small urban park extensively. The book came about as I wanted to show people what was living in the bushes and to put Peckham on the entomological map!

Insectinside is written from the unique perspective of the insects that dwell in Peckham Park. What inspired you to write this way, rather than in a more traditional prose?

I wanted to try a different way of presenting information that would ‘hook’ people and short stories were the way to go. A lot of people don’t like insects and comparing their lives to ours not only elevates them, it gives the reader another perspective on how wonderful they are, and you can add a bit of humour alongside topics which are happening at the time (gentrification, Brexit etc). I find them fun to write, and am often inspired by how an insect looks or acts and what is going on in the news and try and link the two together. It is a good way to introduce some of the lesser known insects. My strategy appears to have worked!

Do you have any favourite species that you would like to tell us about?

I am a big fan of wasps, especially parasitic wasps. My favourite is the Gasteruption jaculator and watching her squeeze herself into the tiniest beetle holes where the scissor bees nest to lay her eggs is a sight to behold.

Recreational places like parks might not always be considered for their conservation potential. What can you tell us about the significance of parkland in the UK?

I think parks have been overlooked as areas of conservation. They can be large places and they have to work hard – recreation, dog spaces, playgrounds, sports spaces, neat formal areas for aesthetics etc, lighting, and usually open 24 hours – but there is no reason why we can’t include habitats for our wildlife. A simple solution would be to leave areas un-mowed to grow wild. In the parks of my local area in London, large swathes of grasses and flowers have been left to mature and people have been really receptive to it. I think we are finally moving away from the Victorian ideal of neat and tidy!

With an ever-growing population in the UK, parklands are becoming increasingly busier. What do you think we need to do to protect our natural spaces?

Tell people to stop destroying them, and to take their rubbish home! Luckily there is more awareness now about the importance of our natural spaces, though there is a way to go yet to get everyone on board. Personally, I would like for our natural spaces to be so integrated into our lives that we can drop names like ‘nature reserve’ and just appreciate nature for what it is.

The book has a great many beautiful insect photographs, taken by yourself. Do you have any advice for aspiring macro-photographers?

Keep a sharp eye and a steady hand! Watch them to see how they move – for instance dragonflies tend to return to their perch a couple of times before they fly away for good.  And a sunny day with clouds is the best time to photograph flying insects as they stop and have a rest when the sun is hidden.

Insectinside
By: Penny Metal
Paperback | Due in stock soon |  £19.99

 

All prices correct at the time of this article’s publication.