One of the elements of my visit, to Hillockhead, that I was most looking forward to was exploring the local area with Tim to discover what wildlife potential it had. For people like Tim and I, discovering the wildlife right on the doorstep is something very exciting. With only a week on site, we had quite a lot of ground to cover if we were to gain an insight into the kind of wildlife that might be in local area and what, ultimately may offer potential for photography and for guests to see.
In a situation like this, the use of Bushnell trail cams really come into their own , as these remote units can monitor an area, without disturbance, 24-7 in a way that would be almost impossible for us. With a rucksack loaded with Bushnells, we were keen to set up as many as we could, as early in the week as we could, as time was limited and I would normally want at least a month or so to monitor a large area such as this.
When using trail cams in this way, it is not just a matter of placing them randomly in the area…. although this can sometimes produce surprising and exciting results. With a limited time, we needed to use of knowledge of the potential species present, look for tracks and signs and to use fieldcraft to maximise the chance of capturing footage.
One of the most obvious set-ups was with some metal nut feeders from CJWildlife. Tim plans on setting a number of these around the local area and, over the rest of the year, he will monitor visitors. These feeders will not be familiar to the local residents, so I would expect it to take longer for these to be used. I tend to prop the lid open to start off with, to make it easier to access food. We were most hoping for pine marten and possibly red squirrel… time will tell on these. We set two… one very close to the properties and the other further away in local woodlands. When mounting, I chose a tree that had another tree about 2-3 metres away. In this way, it is easy to mount the Bushnell opposite.
In the week I was there, we captured one clip, but I did not have the chance to try again with the IR levels set lower. The trailcam has set the IR based on the surrounding area, which features more in the image than the close tree…. over exposed, but no doubt that a pine marten had visited! VERY exciting!
We set most of the trail cams in the woodlands surrounding the property. We found a small stream trickling through a semi open area. There was a clear track down toward the stream, over it and then out the other side into bracken and a more dense area. I felt that this was a good place for a trail camera and I mounted it on a small tree, facing the stream and looking down the track.
Unfortunately the date is wrong on these clips, but we were thrilled when we uploaded these to confirm that there are Roe deer in the woods. We captured clips of a female, fawn and a young buck.
It wasn’t just Roe captured here. The track was very clear and well used and that usually says ‘badger’ to me. We confirmed that badgers also use this track
The next position was on a much steeper slope. Again, there were some clear tracks running through this area. Something was coming up and down this part of the cliff pretty regularly… and had been for some time. Again, this suggest badgers. There are very habitual track users and their large size means they quickly carve a path out of an area. We placed a little food (peanuts, a few raisins and some seed) and mounted the camera on a tree opposite a slope, with a very clearly marked path.
As expected, badger were certainly using the track…
We were looking through this footage in our tent one night, when it was very quiet. The next clip got us very excited… the ‘neighbours’ probably wondered what was going on!
This had definitely been one of the species we had both wanted to prove was around! We had discovered some scat on some of the paths earlier in the week that we thought were marten and were pretty sure they would be here. Proof on the Bushnell was just wonderful though… and so close to the property!
We also captured this… is it the tail of a pine marten … or could it be a red squirrel????
We did not think we could really top that, in such a short period of time, but there was more to come!
We spent a lot of time walking along the stretch of coast to Rosemarkie and Tim had seen otter in the sea around here. Wren also discovered a pile of otter spraint on one of the rocks. Otters need fresh water, both to drink and to bathe in. If we were going to capture otter on the Bushnell, we need to scour the area to find where the many streams ran down the cliffs and down onto the beach area.
It was quite a hike, but we found a potential site and, after some searching, we found some spraint, although it was not very fresh. I mounted the camera low down in the vegetation quite close to the water. This one was a long shot in such a short period of time.
Our fieldcraft paid off….. just look at these beauties… we think there are at least two individuals… we had struck Bushnell otter gold!
… and then… we hadn’t dare hope for daylight clips!….
Although I had to return home with some of my Bushnells, Tim has purchased some of his own and will be closely monitoring these sites and more and sending me the footage obviously! I will return as soon as I can to stake the area again.
In just a week, we had used the Bushnell to prove that these key species were present. We also captured a quick fleeting clip of a weasel , lots of wood mice and voles and even a lizard. We were so excited by the potential of this wonderful area.
I also set up a ground feeding station. Although we only captured small mammals are in the week, I am hoping for pine marten and the weasel again possibly, especially as the weather gets colder and food is harder to find.
To capture so much in such a short period of time was partly due to our joint knowledge of the species, fieldcraft and knowing what signs to look for and setting the cams so as to maximise chances, but it was also an indication of the healthy population of mammals here.
I just can’t wait to get back and have another go!
Tim and I will be uploading the wildlife clips captured at Hillockhead, on the new Youtube Channel. Hopefully this will grow over the coming years to document the wildlife here in this special part of the Black Isle.
What a wonderful week 🙂