Yesterday I set up a feeding station at, what must be, one of the most beautiful locations I have worked at; Ballintean Mountain Lodges.
Ballintean is in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park in 120 acres of woodland and open meadow right next to the River Feshie. It offers two very different self-catering properties both set in wild nature. Ballintean Cottage sleeps six in a secluded woodland setting whilst Ballintean Mountain Lodge accommodates groups of up to twelve with full catering included.
The lodges are run by Pete Cairns and Amanda Flanagan and you can read more about their story and their wonderful properties at www.ballintean.co.uk
You can see more of Pete’s work on his website HERE
The wildlife in this location is pretty special, as you can imagine and, having met up with Pete last time I was up here in the Highlands, we had hatched a plan to get a feeding station with a camera, set up at the site. The new camera project I have been working on would be the perfect set-up for this location as the footage is saved and I would be able to access as well as Pete and Amanda.
Yesterday I arrived on site with lovely blue skies and sunshine. I had designed a feeding station and Pete had built the frame for me to work with.
I had some special helpers as well!….
With such wonderful wooded surroundings, it did not take me long to forage in the woodland and find some lichen clad birch branches from which to build my feeding platform. Pete wanted to set it up in front of the Lodge, so visitors could watch it from the porch area. A spotlight, to be installed in the future, will illuminate the area at night. We are hoping to attract pine marten and badger in at night to feed as well as red squirrel and a variety of birds during daylight hours.
I needed to build something that would look good on the camera was installing, as well as offering feeding spaces for all these species. I used two large birch stumps to form uprights, with a central one present as well , to stabilise the horizontal.
I created a hanging platform for two feeders and then I needed something to put food on for the marten. Searching through the area, I came across an interesting form, covered in moss…. a whale vertebrae.. perfect!!
I mounted the camera so it could see most of the feeding area and then cabled it back to power in the lodge. This involved running a cable all along the base of the stone wall and then digging a narrow trench in the lawn for the cable to be sunk into. The camera, once connected to the wifi, would then pick up the signal and we would be able to access the live view and recorded videos via the Internet and on our mobile devices.
This Birdsy camera and accompanying app is a project I have been working on, with its founders and designers, for the last year or so and it is close to launch, when a series of free kits will be available for use with keen naturalists who have active feeding stations.I will be blogging and tweeting all about it as soon as it is launched. As I write, it is not yet available.
The camera angle looked good. The Birdsy kit is special as the software not only monitors the feeders but also IDs the species. Ideally, in order for the artificial intelligence to ID all the species visiting, I would need the camera closer to the feeders. Because we want to film larger mammals here as well, I have had to set it back a little. The software will still record visitors, but may struggle ID’ing bird species as they will be small on the screen. This is not such an issue for us at this site.
Logged into the app and on the same wifi as the camera, I was able to zoom and focus the camera to get the image just right.
With a few adjustment and cable tidying, it was just a matter of waiting for the first visitors. Pete is going to build a ramp in the future to allow badgers to come up onto the platform, if he can tempt them in. I can’t wait to see if the martens and badgers come up, although I have a feeling the bird feeders won’t last long if they do! With set-ups like this, it is all about experimentation and the components of this platform can be moved around and adapted as the wildlife starts using it.
This morning, I was keen to log into the camera to see if anything had visited. I could hardly believe what I was seeing! The platform was alive with birds. Blue tits, great tits, coal tits, chaffinch, robin, blackbird, great spotted woodpecker and even brambling! All on the first morning!
I am very much looking forward to following the progress of this feeding station… I have a feeling it’s going to be pretty special!