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Keeping an eye on things

I mentioned, in a recent blog post, the use of trail cameras to enable you to see what’s going on at night in your garden. But it’s not just the ability to see nocturnal visitors that justifies the use of trail cameras, they also provide a fascinating insight into the lives of the birds and animals during daylight hours too.

If you are unsure as to what a trial camera is, it is a small and usually camouflage decorated box (about the size of a paperback book) on which has been fitted a small camera lens and a cluster of clear LED’s, usually behind a clear panel in the case. A large postage stamp sized opaque window is often located below the lens. This is the detector that tells your camera to take a picture or video every time a bird or animal passes by.

Powered by a number of AA batteries these devices now come in a wide range of sizes, specifications and prices making them quite affordable. Being compact they are easy to locate in almost any position that allows you to monitor the comings and goings at feeding stations. If you are a little wary regarding their operation, they all come with comprehensive instructions so there is no need to feel put-off. All you need is a pack of batteries (I suggest rechargeable ones) and a memory card (often sold with the cameras) and a computer on which to view the images or footage, and you are good to go.

Once up and running the camera will capture stills or video (sometimes with sound) in daylight or in total darkness. At night the images will be in black and white as they use infrared to illuminate the subject using those LED’s mentioned earlier. And don’t worry about the weather as trail cameras are able to withstand almost any kind of weather. I would just avoid setting the up in public areas as no amount of cleaver design can protect against theft or damage!

The results from these devices isn’t as good as you would expect to see on a wildlife TV program, or the stills in a magazine but, they are surprisingly good. And what they do provide is an opportunity to see the birds in your garden at far closer quarters, and in doing so they enable you to observe behaviour you may not otherwise be aware of.

Unseen activity is something that next box cameras are designed to give you access to. Technically very similar to the trail cameras, nest box cameras are used to provide viewers with an opportunity to watch what is going on in the nests. Many are able to also transmit the sound as well as vision adding a new dimension to what you are observing. The main difference between these devices is that nest box cameras are often connected to a monitor and act in a similar way to CCTV.

But some would ask, what’s the point of all this technology and how does it benefit the wildlife? Well, it can be looked upon as a natural progression from feeding birds in a garden. Being able to see the birds at closer quarters helps you with identification issues, helps to identify possible health problems they may have and also helps you to know what’s happening when you’re not around. And with nest box cameras they are invaluable in knowing the success or failure of the nests without causing disturbance. This data is important when it comes to bird surveys like the BTO’s nest box survey amongst others. These reasons are all in addition to the simple enjoyment of seeing the birds from your own garden in greater detail.

Whatever you do, enjoy nature!

© Phil Pickin