A new year and a new camera set-up! My mammal boxes have always been a favourite and it was one of my first projects when I started experimenting with nest box camera kits over a decade ago! My first appearance on Springwatch was as a result of some of the footage I captured in an early mammal box.
With this new box, I wanted to take advantage of improved camera technology. I have always had fixed lens cameras in mammal boxes. This means that the lens cannot be changed, so you cannot zoom in, change focus or make the camera move around the scene. I have been using a HiLook (Hikvision) mini PTZ camera. I love lots of things about this little camera. It is small enough to go inside nest boxes and mammal boxes, it has the ability to focus within cm of the subject and it has a built in microphone. I am using this camera in lots of projects at the moment.
This new mammal box is larger than my usual set-ups. I have adapted a hedgehog feeding station box. Entrance to the interior section is protected by entrance holes that are 19mm in diameter. These ensure that no rats get into this box. These entrances are actually metal wardrobe fittings! I light the inside of the box with little strips of LEDs. These are on 24-7 in these set-ups as the mammals are not worried by the lights and it ensures good quality, colour images all the time.
This new PTZ camera would give me the ability to zoom out to view the whole space or move around and zoom in on subjects. This larger space also gives me scope to 'dress' the area in different ways to make it look as natural as possible. I choose leaves, twigs, soil and other natural materials and I can easily move these around to create different scenes. I then place seeds and nuts inside, encouraging natural behaviour as they forage.
I placed the box out at the base of a mature hedge that runs the length of my garden. Hedgerows make excellent corridors for small mammals to move and forage in, so I was confident that it wouldn't take long before mice and voles discovered the food on offer. In fact, it was only a few hours before the first wood mouse appeared.
It was only a day later that a bank vole appeared....
If I am in front of my computer when something is in the box, I can control the camera , move it and zoom in, to start to get some close up footage...
With set-ups like this, you also get to film interesting behaviour. The interactions between mammals in the box, at the same time, can be really interesting. Also, wood mice will often attempt to hide the food, to try and stop other creatures finding it. They will take available materials, carrying and dragging them over the food to disguise it. This is pretty incredible to witness as they can carry large objects. In one box I had, a wood mouse spent an entire night collecting gravel from my patio and bringing it into the box, not only covering the food, but using it to block the entrances as well. I did feel pretty bad, removing it all in the morning!
This clip shows the wood mouse spending quite a lot of time taking the leaves, twigs and various debris in the box, to cover the stash of food! I often think they look like they are tidying up! This clip is nearly 10 minutes long as I wanted to capture the whole process. You can zoom through it to watch the activity!
I am looking forward to seeing what this box captures over the coming months. It is live streaming on my website and can be seen HERE