Fox’s den, or badger’s sett?

3rd February 2012: This week I returned to my quest: finding the marsh vixen’s birthing earth. I’ve searched the marsh and Hoo Wood for likely locations many times, but without success. I have spent a lot of time pondering on where the den might be. I’ve followed fox runs during summer and winter, hoping they would lead me to me to the den. I located the vixen’s summer den last year, where she takes her cubs in late May. I suspect that she is using an old badger den to have her cubs, but I am having difficulty proving it. There is one particular sett that I suspect of being the den I am searching for, and there have been many fox paw prints around the entrance. My problem is that I have photographed foxes and badgers entering and exiting the sett through the same entrance, at different times. I have witnessed a badger chasing a fox out of the sett, but I am still not sure that my suspicions are correct. Obviously, the den will be in dry ground, which rules out most of the marsh. Another thing I am certain of is that badgers and foxes are not going t0 be living together in the same sett. It has occurred to me that the foxes might hassle the badger inhabitant until it abandons the sett. I also know that the foxes visit all the badger’s setts regularly. Whenever I put a remote camera close to a sett, I get fox and badger images. Maybe, just maybe, I am barking up the wrong tree … or should that be, barking down the wrong sett?

I can’t help thinking that, if the birthing earth is on the marsh, I should have found it by now. I might think this, but I am not yet ready to believe it….

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My remote cameras.

(Click on images to enlarge)

24th November 2011: Following Dave’s and The Wildlife Man’s comments on my previous post, requesting information about remote cameras:

Remote camera in its hardened case.

Remote cameras, trail cams, camera traps, or whatever you prefer to call them, are specialized automatic cameras triggered by a in-built proximity sensor, or multiple sensors. The camera traps can shoot still and video images in darkness and in daylight, without the need to alter physical camera settings. I set them up to watch a specific ground area: a badger’s sett or an animal track, etc. Still or video images are recorded when a movement is detected within the sensor sensitivity range (usually up to 50 feet from the camera). The basic remote cameras I use have a built-in infra-red flash unit to illuminate subjects in darkness. Obviously, these cameras need to be weatherproof and capable of operating in cold and hot conditions. They should be suitable for continuously duty out in the field for up to a year, without supervision. Remote cameras should have long battery life. I change batteries in my remote cameras once or twice year.

Head-on view of the hardened case and the secondary camouflage fitted.

I use remote cameras to watch specific areas of interest on the marsh, when I am not able to spare the time to sit and watch. I use them to help solve animal related mysteries that intrigue and nag at me. I don’t need remote cameras to record high-definition images or videos.

The camera I favour is the Scoutguardsg550 (http://www.trailcampro.com/hcoscoutguardsg550.aspx). The reason I like this camera is that it’s a very compact and reliable unit. It does exactly what it says on the box, as they say. These cameras suit my needs perfectly; I use them continuously. I don’t have gripes about either their performance, or the image quality they provide. In other words, I think the Scoutguardsg550 offers reasonable value for money. I have no loyalty or connection to the manufactures of this camera; I write from my own personal experience.

Side view of the hardened case and the secondary camouflage fitted.

Buying a suitable remote camera is one thing, using and keeping ownership of it is another. It should be obvious: if you set up a camera on a footpath, or any place where it can be seen by people walking past, there is a good chance that you will turn up one day to find that you precious remote camera has been stolen.

The best way to continue ownership of your camera trap is to make sure that it can’t be seen. If you can see your camera after you have set it up in the field, then it follows that a potential thief might see it also. Most of the thin steel cases and plastic covered flexible wires and padlocks that can be purchased to secure your camera to a tree, are not much use when someone really intends to steal your camera. When a thief sees your camera, he or she can return at another time with suitable equipment to liberate it. So, if Burglar Bill or Burglar Willemina can’t see your camera, they can’t steal it, can they?

Head-on view of the hardened case with the secondary camouflage removed.

How do you hide your remote camera? Actually, hiding your remote is a bit of an art in itself. To be successful, you need to make it blend into the environment in which it is placed.

Camouflage is the answer! Use the natural materials around your camera to make it blend in. It is far easier to make your camera position stand out in a particular environment, probably though ineffective camouflage, than it is to make it virtually invisible.

The beauty of the Scoutguard550sg is that it is a compact unit that it is easily carried in a jacket pocket. It can be partially buried, hidden in a hole in a tree, covered with vegetation, in amongst twigs on tree branches, and under a log. However, the camouflage used to hide your camera must not look out-of-place in its surroundings. It’s no good spiking out your camera on a piece of bare dirt, outside a badger’s sett, and then covering it with green camouflage netting. The camouflage covering my camera is obviously not suitable against the fir trees in my garden. However, a few pieces of fir-tree fronds pushed into the existing camouflage netting can make a big difference.

Naked Scoutguard camera with strap attached.

I lock my cameras in hardened steel cases, and secure them to trees with heavy-duty hardened chains and padlocks. I use fine mesh nets, sometimes women’s coloured tights, stretched in front of the lens and flash unit to prevent reflection, should someone inadvertently shine a torch in the direction of the camera. I also use a variety of removable peaks and hoods for the same purpose. I sometimes take a photograph of the area in which I have set up the camera, to look at later for peace of mind that the camouflage blends in adequately with the surroundings. How can you not see something that you know is directly in front of you? If you have difficulty finding the camera a few days later, then you know you have done a decent job camouflaging it.

I don’t want to give away too much detailed information here, but I have shown one hardened set up for the purposes of illustrating this post. Don’t forget to position your remote camera well away from pathways and make sure that you don’t create a visible track directly to it.

It must now be dawning on you that owning and using a remote camera might not be as simple as one might think. You can just strap the camera to a tree and hope for the best. The level of concealment I choose to use is enough to put my mind at rest; others might be made of sterner stuff and able to accept a lower level of concealment. I have strapped cameras directly to tree trunks, with minimal camouflage; it just depends on the circumstances.

When we scan an area with our eyes, we are looking for obvious changes in colour, texture, and contrast; movement and flashing has a very strong draw on our attention.

The images illustrating this post show a Scoutguard camera in a hardened casing, with the secondary camouflage and a hood fitted. The primary camouflage (local materials such as grass, leaves, twigs and branches) is laid over the secondary camouflage.

There are many other tricks and camouflage techniques that I use, but would rather not  go into it in this post. I don’t want to compromise my own cameras.


Winter Mode.

(Click on image to enlarge)

SQUIRREL

SQUIRREL

9th October 2011: I am definitely a winter person, and I am now eager to switch to my winter mode, but it’s too warm at the moment. This doesn’t mean to say that I won’t be looking forward to spring when the time arrives. I look forward to all the seasons. The marsh squirrels seem a little confused by the current warm weather, too. Walking along the large pipes from the water works this afternoon, I was surprised at the number of squirrels busily harvesting acorns and berries. There were dozens of them; the bushes and trees were alive with squirrels – quite spooky! I would describe the squirrel activity as frantic. I wonder if they know something that I don’t. The media are predicting snow and -20 0C temperatures for the end of the month: maybe the squirrels are expecting it too. They were aggressively screeching and running at me, daring me to cross an imaginary line. It was only a few weeks ago that I was wondering why there were so few squirrels about. Perhaps they were taking things easy in our Indian summer conditions, and now it has suddenly dawned on them just how late in the year it really is.

SQUIRREL

I have removed my remote cameras from the marsh for their twice yearly maintenance: new batteries and a clean-up. Leaving them in their summer positions for too long could result in my finding them submerged as the water table rises.

I heard muntjac barking from the swamp, and the green woodpecker has taken to following me again. He waits in the trees on the east side of North Pond and then chases me down to the tenant farmer’s field gate. I walked further down the river to the south weir. The sun was setting as I made my way back through the field alongside the tenant farmer’s field, and the green woodpecker was waiting; he screamed at me all the way through the corridor.

SQUIRREL

A gang of eight magpies were pecking at mushrooms, as I walked across the north pasture, and there were quite a few mallards on the river. If you want to see animals on the marsh, you need to be able to read the signs. If you hear a pheasant panicking and magpies fussing, and if you see the flashing white tails of rabbits in the distance, there is a good chance that a fox is somewhere over in that direction. If you stand still and watch the general area where the rabbits had been, there is a fair chance that you will see the fox before too long. If you don’t understand the marsh sounds, or are not prepared to wait and watch, the chances are that you will see very little wildlife.

SQUIRREL

At 7 pm, the marsh was cooler and more comfortable. Most of the light had gone. Critters were moving about in the thick undergrowth on the island side of the river, probably a munjac or badger wanting to get a drink. I had seen a couple of owls on the south marsh this afternoon, and others were hooting in the wood behind me. I like being on the marsh in the darkness, particularly when the owls are hooting; a large bright moon and a clear sky are a real bonus, too.It is really peaceful sitting on a low branch, by the river, listening to the marsh sounds. I remember sitting in this same place when we had that really cold weather earlier in the year. I remember a large bright moon and a sky full of stars and the frozen grass and leaves crackling under foot; yes, this takes some beating.

To get sufficient benefit from this night-time nature watching malarkey, a decent night scope is a necessary gadget. I have a digital scope. Animal and human eyes show up like car head lights. With its five times magnification and +1000 feet range, it’s ideal for scanning large areas of total darkness; it has an infra-red light source for short distance work and a built-in IR spotlight for long distance spotting.

I have a favourite spot at the north end of the corridor, under a small patch of trees, where I like can sit on frosty moon lit nights. This position allows me to watch the river and the corridor without spooking the animals. I have seen a lot of wildlife from this spot, and it is far enough from the roads to give a feeling of isolation.

Earlier this week, when walking through Hoo Wood, I heard a pheasant panicking down in the lagoon field. I located him through my binoculars almost immediately. I scanned the area to his front and saw a fox standing quietly staring at the pheasant, but there was nothing threatening in its stance. The pheasant was obviously not at all happy to have the beady eyes of a fox bearing down on him, and he was vigorously voicing his discomfort. The fox was far enough away to allow the bird to feel confident about holding his ground until forced to flee. I scanned the area to the rear of the pheasant and saw a second fox creeping slowly forward, low to the ground. The pheasant’s attention was so fixated on the first fox, and he was making such a row, that the second fox was able to quickly close in on him without being noticed. As if to maintain the pheasant’s full attention, first fox began to move to its left. The bird reacted by making even more noise and shifting its weight from one leg to another – getting ready to make a break for it, I expect. The second fox’s pace quickened, and before I could mutter ‘He’s behind you,’ the pheasant was safely in foxy’s mouth. The only place I could have witnessed this event developing, was from high-up in Hoo Wood. I was in the right place, at the right time, but this is what happens. I have seen a lot of action on the marsh from my vantage point in Hoo Wood.

At a party last night. I spent some time talking to my cousin, who is a pest controller. He was making a case for exterminating foxes, pigeons and squirrels, because they are ‘vermin.’ I don’t need to say which side I batted for.