Trail Cam – Badgers and Wood Mice

Just under a year ago, I bought a Trail Cam, with which I was hoping to spot some nocturnal wildlife in the garden. However, for a long while, the only things I was catching on it were numerous neighbourhood cats, and occasionally my Dad prancing around in the garden. I was expecting to see something more, especially given that Fox poo used to turn up regularly in the garden, we’d sometimes see them in the mornings or late evenings, and they’d even killed our Guinea Pigs. Yet, there was nothing.

However, one day, our next-door neighbour popped over to tell us that he had spotted a Badger in his garden late one night. I jumped at hearing this and immediately searched for a hole in the fence through which the Badger could be making its way through to our garden. I soon found one and deduced that perhaps the Badger could be making its way through part of the garden and then round the pond, judging by a few squashed plants. Since my trail cam had not been out for a while, I placed it in a position near part of the pond.

After the first night of it being out, there was no badger, but it had caught a Wood Mouse – at last, something but a cat – perhaps I had placed my trail cam in the wrong place in previous nights. (See all videos at end)

After the second night, I nervously uploaded the videos to the computer again, and having seen that a fair number of videos had been recorded, I was hopeful. Once uploaded, I was thrilled to see that I had caught some footage of the badger.

Since then, the badger has come most nights without fail, now seemingly adopting our garden as part of its route every night. The two things I don’t know are whether this is the same badger, and where the sett could be.

Some of the interesting behaviour that the badger has shown is when it has got into the pond, and then come back out again wet, presumably so it can cool down – this was especially during the hot weather.

There is also some footage of the badger digging and clawing viciously at the ground in an attempt to find something. Then, at one point, you can see this something which appears to be a frog, suggesting that the badger is trying to catch it. If you look midway through the video (just after 0:05), you can just see something move in front of the badger’s paws, as well as the animal’s eyes.

Badgers are often not wanted in gardens due to their habit for digging up lawns, and then there is the whole thing about Bovine Tuberculosis, and the problems that this causes, and the need for culls, but I don’t see a reason why they should not be wanted, since they are incredible, stunning mammals.


More Bird Ringing – Jays, Willow Warblers, and Sedge Warblers

As you probably know, I am a trainee bird ringer, and have been one for over a year now. We ring at various sites in Oxford, including a couple of gardens. Our main site used to be Stansfeld Park Education Centre, but this is currently undergoing redevelopment, so we are unable to ring there. We have also done some ringing at Headington School and also at Pinkhill Nature Reserve at Farmoor.

One frequent visitor to our garden is the Jay. We sometimes have up to five of them all visiting the garden to feed on peanuts. This rather more elaborate member of the corvid family in terms of plumage is usually a shy bird, but here, Jays will often visit the feeders whilst I’m sitting only a couple of metres away. However, until recently, none of them have flown into the net, since like most corvids, they are very intelligent, and at the first sign of danger/difference (ie. the nets being up), have flown away and not come back till we have finished. Although, not long ago, a pair of Jays flew into the net, allowing us the privilege of seeing these beautiful birds up close, with their striking blue wing flash.


That same day, we also caught a Willow Warbler, which was surprising given the location of a garden in Oxford. When we first saw the bird in the net, we assumed it was a Chiffchaff, however after further examination, we discovered that it was in fact a Willow Warbler. We were able to tell this because the bird had an emarginated 5th primary, which is a characteristic of Willow Warblers, and not Chiffchaffs.


Willow Warbler

On another ringing session at Pinkhill Nature Reserve, we caught various typical reedbed birds, including Reed Warbler, Reed Bunting, and Sedge Warbler – all of which I was lucky enough to ring. Often with these brownish birds (or Little Brown Jobs as they’re often called), you can’t really appreciate their true beauty until you see them up close in the hand, and this particularly rang true with the Sedge Warbler, with its streaky and stripey plumage.

Sedge Warbler

We also ringed another Jay at Headington School which showed some interesting Wryneck-like behaviour as it kept its head completely still whilst the rest of its body was moving around it. Very recently, I also ringed a Treecreeper there as well, whose plumage of mottled brown is incredible up close as well as its extraordinarily long Curlew-esque beak.

Farmoor Reservoir – Red-Crested Pochards and Grebes

Back in April, I went to Farmoor Reservoir for a few hours as a long revision break. As I walked around the reservoir, I soon noticed a female Red-Crested Pochard swimming very close on the water. The females are very different from the males as they lack the bright red head and bill, instead having a rather distinctive yellow tip to their largely black bill. Although many populations of these birds have been established due to escapees, I doubt this was an escapee since I have never seen one here before and there was only one, pointing to the likelihood of the bird being wild.


Female Red-Crested Pochard

As usual at Farmoor, I saw two species of grebe on the reservoir – the Little Grebe, and the Great Crested Grebe – both often diving underwater in search of fish and insects. The Little Grebe, as the name might suggest, is smaller than the Great Crested Grebe, and is a brownish red colour. At this time of year, the Great Crested Grebe is in its magnificent summer plumage, with its incredible crest on its head, whereas, in winter, they resort to a much duller plumage.

Little Grebe
Great-Crested Grebe

I also spotted most of the other normal birds seen at the reservoir, such as small groups of Tufted Ducks, and also numerous Pied Wagtails. Although several Yellow Wagtails had been seen recently, I unfortunately didn’t see any of these. As with the other birds mentioned on this post, these birds also once again have cunningly named names, as both the monochrome male, and the brown female Tufted Duck have tufts on their head, and the Wagtails do indeed habitually wag their tail up and down.


Pied Wagtails
Tufted Ducks swimming away

It was also nice to see a large group of ducklings led by a female Mallard on the edge of the reservoir, as they happily let me approach them.


Mallard Ducklings

Brixham Harbour, Devon

Back during the Easter holidays, my family went on a holiday to Brixham in South Devon. When I wasn’t revising, I would often spend my time walking along the pier and around parts of the harbour in order to see some wildlife.

As I walked along the pier, the obvious birds to see are of course Gulls, as they circled around over my head, often calling. However, when taking a closer look at the seaweed-covered rocks on the sides of the pier, I discovered some slightly more unusual birds. There were often Turnstones here (a bird I’ll come onto later), as well as the more inconspicuous Purple Sandpipers, which often could be seen foraging amongst the rocks. A couple of times, when I returned later in the evening, I also spotted many of these birds roosting here for the night. Occasionally, when I walked along here, I would also spot a Rock Pipit feeding. Out on the open water, Cormorants often dived down underwater, before surfacing with a fish.

Purple Sandpiper
Rock Pipit

Also along the pier, several Common/Harbour Seals could be seen bathing on the moorings and also swimming in the water. In previous times of visiting Brixham, I had only occasionally caught a few glimpses of Seals, so these regular close views were incredible, and allowed me to take lots of photos.


Seal resting
Seal swimming

On a shingle beach close to the harbour, I also found a dead Spiny Lobster (Crayfish) that had washed up. Although once commoner, this has become a much rarer sight to see in Brixham, as it has now made its way onto the IUCN Red List, with a classification of ‘vulnerable’.

Dead Spiny Lobster

In the harbour itself, there are yet again more Gulls, attracted by the fish brought in by the boats, and the scraps of food left by others. There is also a small flock of Turnstones which have become very accustomed to the presence of humans, showing no fear. I even noticed some Turnstones happily eating some seed that somebody had thrown down for them. There were also lots of House Sparrows hopping over the lobster and crab nets.


Juvenile Herring Gulls
Flock of Turnstones eating seed
Male House Sparrow

On one day, we also went on a boat trip around Berry Head and then round to Dartmouth. From the boat, although we didn’t manage to see any Dolphins, we saw lots of Porpoises often popping out of the water. There were also several Gannets flying over our heads, and in the distance, we could also see a few small groups of Guillemots floating on the water.


At a nearby golf course, I also found a pellet of some sort containing lots of small bones.


Norfolk Part 4 – The Golf Course

The place where we were staying in Norfolk was situated on a golf course, and this was where my brother and Dad spent most of their time whilst we were bird watching (I played a bit of golf too!). However, there were plenty of birds to be seen here, many coming up very close.

There was a balcony to one of the upstairs rooms of the house, which I noticed several birds liked to sit on. So, I sprinkled some bird seed onto the balcony in the hope of the birds visiting. Well, it certainly soon became a popular feeding site for the birds, as after not too long, numerous birds were coming to eat the seed. Initially, Blackbirds, Robins, House Sparrows, and Tits all came to feed, and often, I could even walk out onto the balcony whilst they were feeding, without scaring them off.


Male Blackbirds
Female Blackbird
Inquisitive Male House Sparrow

Then, later in the week, several larger birds came to visit, as a couple of Collared Doves enjoyed the seed, as well as surprisingly, a Rook on a couple of occasions!

Collared Dove

DSC_1431 (1)

The golf course itself was full of small streams and lakes where Mute Swans, Canada Geese, Egyptian Geese and Mallard Geese were all present. There were also large flocks of Redwings and Fieldfares feeding on the ground underneath trees. Buzzards, Kestrels and Sparrowhawks also patrolled the area, with the two latter birds often coming into contact.


Mute Swan
Female Mallard Duck
Egyptian Geese
Hundreds of Redwings and Fieldfares

Norfolk Part 3 – RSPB Titchwell Marsh

Our final visit to a nature reserve in Norfolk was to RSPB Titchwell Marsh. Upon arriving at the car park, we could already see many very tame birds in the trees nearby, as Robins, Dunnocks, Blackbirds, and Tits all sang and flew close by.

Singing Robin

We initially went to the Island Hide, which as the name suggests, is a hide on an island which juts out slightly into the freshwater marsh there. The hide had huge windows from ceiling to floor, with the floor almost at water level, allowing for some close up photos of Shovelers, with their large beaks.


Here, as well as the usual Pochards, Teals, Wigeons, Shelducks and Tufted Ducks, were several Red-Crested Pochards, kindly pointed out to us by an RSPB volunteer. Without him, we probably wouldn’t have seen them, as they were on a very small island on the far side of the marsh, and even looking through a scope, all we could see was the distinctive red head of the male, just poking out from behind a log. After a little while, the Red-Crested Pochards made a very small swim around the island, before moving back on to land, allowing us to see that there were three of them.


There was also a small flock of Avocets on some mud in the middle of the marsh, and next to them, was a larger flock of Black-Headed Gulls. When taking a closer look at these gulls, we could also see a slightly larger Mediterranean Gull amongst this flock.

We then moved on to the next hide, which overlooked a saltwater marsh. This hide is built on the middle of the Parrinder Wall which separates the freshwater marsh from the saltwater one, creating two different habitats. From this hide, we could see many different waders, such as Dunlin, Ruff, Grey Plover, Lapwing, Curlew, Ringed Plover, Redshank, Greenshank, and Purple Sandpiper.

Grey Plover
Ringed Plover

As we walked up towards the seafront, we spotted some more waders, as well as several Black-Tailed Godwits and some Little Grebes.

Black-Tailed Godwit
Little Grebe

At the seafront, there was quite a strong wind, meaning that few birds were around, although we did manage to see several Sanderlings and Oystercatchers, as well as a very friendly Black-Headed Gull.

Windy beach
Friendly Black-Headed Gull

Back at the reedbeds, although a little quieter than the marshes, there was still plenty to see, with Cetti’s Warblers darting between reeds, and Marsh Harriers soaring overhead.

Marsh Harrier

Near to the visitor centre were some feeders which were attracting Tits and Finches in large numbers, as well as several Corvids. In some trees, there was also a large flock of Bramblings – only the second time I had seen this bird!



Norfolk Part 2 – NWT Cley Marshes and Salthouse

Later that week, the next reserve that we planned to go to was NWT Cley Marshes – renowned as one of the best nature reserves in the UK. Adjacent to this reserve is Salthouse – a small reserve, but still one full of surprises.

Before going to Cley, we quickly visited Salthouse to see if there were any birds there. Well, it certainly was a good spot, since within minutes of arriving, we had already spotted a flock of over 70 Snow Buntings – yet another new bird for me. These small white / brown birds seemed oblivious to our presence and would happily feed within metres of us, allowing for me to take lots of photos – quite a contrast with the Shorelarks!

Flying Snow Buntings
Lots of Snow Buntings
Snow Bunting
The particularly white one in the centre is a male

Then, on the way back to the car, I noticed two Turnstones up ahead on the path which showed absolutely no fear, allowing for me to take several close-up photos of these beautiful brown and white birds, with striking orange legs. Often, they even came so close that they ended up too close for my camera to focus on them!


Once at Cley, we visited several hides overlooking some water where there were several scrapes for waders, ducks and gulls. Here, Dunlins, Ruffs, Redshanks, Snipe and Avocets all were present, as well as all the usual species of gull. There were also Shelducks, Shovelers, Pochards, Wigeon, Teals, and many more. What was quite spectacular was whenever a Marsh Harrier flew over, which caused all the birds to take to the sky, whirling around in flocks to confuse the predatory bird.



Flying Avocets
Flying Wigeon

There was also a very timid Water Pipit skulking around the mud on the edge of the water, which I only managed to catch a few glimpses of.

We then decided to head to the cafe there for lunch, which aside from birds, provided some very delicious food! The view however from the cafe was astounding, as anyone there could look out over the whole reserve through the large windows. Rather helpfully, along the large window stretching across one side of the cafe, was a very long table, which numerous people could all sit at and watch all the birds – there were also binoculars as well as a map at each seat. Since the cafe was a lot higher up than the lower reserve, we could sit and eat our lunch whilst watching the birds below.

At one point during our lunch, I suddenly noticed a Bittern fly up from the reedbeds, so I hurriedly announced my sighting. Everyone along this table picked up their binoculars and cameras at once to see the Bittern, and many others in the cafe rushed over to the window. There was no need for the hurry though, since the Bittern flew for around 2 minutes, providing incredible views, and allowing for some great photos due to the relative closeness of it, although they were quite blurry since they were being taken through a window.



Afterwards, we walked on to some reedbeds and marshes, where we saw Curlews, Lapwings, and Pintails. There was also a Stonechat amongst some gorse. A huge flock of Brent Geese was continuously flying around the reserve, often coming down to land in some fields. We were told that amongst this large flock was a rarer Black Brant, but given that the two look very similar, and that the flock was constantly moving, I had no idea which one it was.



Flock of Brent Geese
Brent Geese feeding

There were also Meadow Pipits, Skylarks and Linnets at various points along the paths and up above on telegraph wires.

Cley Windmill