Wednesday 28 May 2014

Squirrel nest box update for May 2014

We've had quite a lot of activity in our squirrel box this month, and a fair few 'awwww' moments...

Snuggled up with squirrel chums

I had hoped earlier in the season that extended periods of mating seen in April would have lead to lots of baby squirrels, but we're not there yet.  This box is located approx 80ft up a conifer tree at the bottom of my garden, which backs onto woods. There's no passing people traffic, so they get very little disturbance.

Squirrel box behind conifer tree 

The box was originally designed with owls in mind, but the squirrels chase everything else away - I don't mind much as its a slice of nature you don't normally get to see.  In 2013 we had a family of Great Tits nest raise a brood... I had to add a squirrel-baffle (= plank of wood with small hole over the entrance) to keep them out.

Great tit nest in the same box (2013)

Shelter from the rain:  I can usually predict if the squirrels are in residence by checking the weather. They usually move in when it rains, and this weekend was no exception.  Watching them go from soggy rats to fluffy squirrel is entertaining! The interesting thing is that they move in en-masse.  We had four sharing over most of this Saturday during a downpour.  I don't know such communal living is normal behaviour, but they spend their time playing, grooming and sleeping in a jumble.

How to tell squirrel from squirrel?
One squirrel looks very much like another - so its difficult to say if the same ones keep coming back.  We do have one with a notch out of its ear, but the others don't have any distinguishing features

Squirrel with ear notch

Boys or Girls? The camera is top down, and does not give the sort of angle that can readily tell boy from girl: See Great British Bake off Squirrel for what I mean - maybe something to add to my to do list?

Other (non-squirrel) species
This isnt an exhaustive list, but I thought it would be fun to list all the other bugs/birds that have found their way in.  We get quite a lot of wasps - its not beyond the realm of possibility that it would make a good wasp nesting site - I don't fancy having to do any camera mintenance if that were to be the case.
Other creatures seen include flies, bumblebees, spiders, woodlice and other birds (eg Coal tit & some miscellaneous feet in one of the pics below.. so I'm not sure what it is).  I also snuck squirrel feet in the mix too!

Non-squirrel species (+squirrel for good measure)

Camera: Information on camera setup can be found in this post

The next thing we're waiting for is baby squirrels.  I'm not sure how 4 squirrels will manage a litter though?

Saturday 24 May 2014

Woodpecker rescue

Normally I wouldn't advise 'rescuing' young birds from the wild.  In a previous job I worked closely with animals and used to get people bringing me wildlife that they had helpfully 'rescued-from-certain-life'.  The most memorable was someone who 'rescued' a baby deer, found in a field, and thought it really needed bringing to the vets... Its parents were likely in the vicinity, and if left alone would have gone to them.  The best thing to do in that sort of situation is to leave them alone, see the sensible advice here.

Nature - Tooth-and-Claw
So back to this today.... Early this morning, there was a sudden racket outside the house, the sort of noise you might get if you repeatedly step on a piglet.  A quick glance outside identified a magpie pinning down a small bird.  Its likely lunch-time-snack making all the noise.

This is where my normal perspective of 'leave-nature-alone' diverged from what I might have done, had the stood-upon bird been a common species...  Close examination showed that squawking bird to be a Greater Spotted Woodpecker, so disregarding my normal principles, I rushed out and 'rescued' it.  I think what had happened was that a young, newly fledged woodpecker had been caught out in the pouring rain, been unable to fly and had been caught by the Magpie.

Magpies have every right to a meal, but my abstract logic considered the relatively common magpie vs the less common woodpecker, which clinched the deal - to the advantage of the woodpecker!.

Our rescued woodpecker (imaginatively now named 'Woodie' by the kids) was limp, soaked through and bloody. My assumption was that it was not long for this world, so I brought it in and put in in a quiet place in a quiet spot in the garage in a cardboard box over a heat-mat.

Having assumed that it was likely to die, I did feel a little sorry for the magpie, who would have to find some other fledgling to eat today.  I was also a bit concerned that if it survived for a few days I may have been in the following situation, and didn't relish the prospect of hand feeding it...

Not a desirable outcome!

Disappearing, reappearing woodpecker
Later in the day I popped back into the garage to check on it, to find that the (closed) cardboard box was empty.   My first thought was that my son had become the proud owner of a dead Woodie, to be found somewhere in the house later as a 'special surprise' for me... this turned out not to be the case, as I found it flapping about in rafters of the garage.  After opening the garage door it flew off as if nothing had happened.

'Woodie' the woodpecker in the rafters

Woodie will hopefully live to fight another day...

Tuesday 20 May 2014

Badgers, peanuts and ticks

So this is what happens after applying peanuts to the back garden, in the hope of getting some good badger footage (I did get a load of badger + badger cub footage, but haven't had time to upload it yet)

It looks like the deer like peanuts too, and the badger family are quite happy to share with it/them.

I'm in two minds about the deer - aside from eating all the buds off my roses when I forget to close the garden gate, they are infested with ticks. If I walked through that long grass in shorts I would have to spent the next 5 minutes flicking the little devils off, then hooking out the ones I missed later...

At some point I'm going to have to bite the bullet and fence the bottom of the garden off - hopefully the badgers will still be able to get in, but the deer wont....

Monday 12 May 2014

Badger cub goodness

Well, I recently lamented the fact that all we get to see of our badgers is their bottoms as the walk away from the trail cam, last night brought us this delight of Badger with its cub:

Badger with cub, May 2014

The kids and I found we were whispering when reviewing the footage 'in case we disturbed them'....

... so I take back my previous moan at only getting badger's bottoms.

Edit 15/04/14: As spotted by SteveDee it looks like our badger cub is playing with, then eating a slow worm.  The cub plays with it a lot like my dog would play with a feather - pokes it with his nose for a bit, then pounces on it, then eats it.


Saturday 10 May 2014

Badger's Bums

In a recent blog post I described some of the wildlife (& cats) that frequent the bottom of my garden.
The most elusive of these is our badger(s).  My trail cam has been positioned in the same place for approx six weeks now, pointing downhill across a patch of scrubby grass.  In that time I've seen the badger several times, but its always been plodding away from the camera, downhill - Giving us the now familiar "Badger's Bum" view.  I've a theory that he does a routine 'route', always in the same direction.

In an attempt to get a head-on video clip, I had the bright idea of moving the camera to the bottom of the hill, facing upwards, so I jury-rigged it to a post.  The result is shown below:

Aarrrgh ! I feel a back-garden-conspiracy of sorts going on.  There is a brief sideways glance, but no good view of the classic white stripes (the badger, not the band).

I've invested in a second high capacity SD card, and swop one out when reviewing footage on the other, so the camera is always on now in the hope of catching the elusive full face view:

I cant take the credit for this pic, but one can always hope

Sunday 4 May 2014

Bird Box activity counter

UPDATE Sept 2019: I wrote an updated version of this here (v3)

Activity counter v1

I've been working on getting the activity counter working on my side-view bird box.

This works on the basis of 2 infra-red beams built into the entrance hole.  The front panel  of the box is constructed of several layers of plywood with channels cut for cable inclusion.

The IR beams interface with a PiFace add-on board on a Raspberry Pi.  The principle is that by breaking outer and/or inner beam its theoretically possible to distinguish between entrance, exit, head bob in/out.

My design is based on that described in chapter 17: "The Techno-BirdBox: A Wildlife Monitor" of Andrew Robinson and Mike Cook's book: Raspberry Pi Projects.

2x IR LEDs: SFH484-2
2x IR photodetectos QSE113
2x 1k ohm resistors
2x 330 ohm  resistors

RaspberryPi + PiFace in-situ
For full description on wiring guide and setup, please go buy the book!

Activity counter scripts
I did feel slightly aggrieved that the included python scripts for recording and processing the beam breaks has quite a few printing errors in the book,and does not work as-is.  I have made corrections such that I think it now all works fine.  You can find my versions of these scripts in a GitHub project page together with some sample activity log data, which I've used to create the graph below.

One cool thing about Andrew's scripts is that he describes a way of programatically generating  graphs of activity.  The following is generated from my version of these scripts:

Activity graph generated from sample activity data

The plus side of having had to tweak these scripts is that I have learned some python and I now have some idea of what a state machine is.  All I need now are some bird box visitors!