Saturday, June 25, 2005
Still a bit of reliability required to add into the squirrel-activated--cameras (need to come up with an acronym!) so my latest set of a squirrel feeding -just with my fully Henry operated camera - to post meanwhile.
Met these at intervals on a drive yesterday, mission being to collect to wooden squirrel hoppers to integrate with the cameras. Integration target = tomorrow!
Thursday, June 23, 2005
Stripped-down squirrel camera
The photos either side are admittedly nothing to do with squirrels but are the only others I took today so help fill in empty space...
Been very busy these past few days. I can reveal that the automatic squirrel-activated squirrel-imaging device is now complete! Or almost complete anyway. The table in front of me is littered with the internal bits of digital cameras all customised with extra circuitry soldered in. Most of them work... These will do this when activated by a squirrel opening a feed hopper lid:
- turn on and take 1 photo
- wait ten seconds and take a second photo
- wait 60 seconds in which time squirrels flicking lids up and down will not activate further photos
- turn off ready for next lid opening
If this evening is relatively uneventful I shall put up some pictures of all the electronics and how I'm going to make the switch on the lid using a hack-saw blade, a copper screw and a copper pipe.
And I may have a potential site for the research fairly close to home! It depends on the latest opinions on how dangerous it is to bring reds and grey's close together considering poxvirus transmission from grey to red... Hopefully no greys would get into the feeder anyway but there is the issue of young grey squirrels that are the same size as reds...
Friday, June 17, 2005
Yesterday I put up two squirrel feeders. Not the special selective mesh ones you understand, just the normal nut-containers with the lid that the squirrels lift to get to the nuts (and, hopefully, to activate an automatic photograph). As there were already two feeders installed in the wood, I now have 4 squirrel feeding stations ready and waiting for the project to begin!
The evening started with an hour’s drive north, collecting another couple of selective feeders and a sack of squirrel-food au route. At the destination, my contact was just locking up the post-office, grabbing a sandwich and his gun before we headed out to the wood where he’s been feeding his red squirrels and keeping the grey’s in check. A bit of a tour round and I’d seen his ingenious grey squirrel-catching device that uses a sponge, just a normal sort of washing-up type sponge. He originally played around cutting up sponges till he got the sponginess just right so that red squirrels (up to 300g) can dance around on the sponge quite happily and eat their fill, but greys (over 500g) compress the sponge and trigger the door to close.
Anyway, not to get sidetracked, he introduced me to the two different trees his squirrel hoppers are based on and I popped up my two additional ones in the vicinity*1. Added some double sided sticky tape now that the official stuff*2 has arrived. Not very impressed with it tho. It only leaves the gluey sticky bit on the wood so there’s no way I can peel it off again to collect hairs once a week! AND a squirrel came and used a feeder I’d just sticky taped but hadn’t left any hairs behind when I checked before leaving! Shall try experimenting with a paper strip sandwiched between 2 sticky layers so that I can de-peel more easily. So: 4 feeders in secret location now up and awaiting installation of squirrel-activated digital cameras. Target camera collection and setting up date: Monday. Definite Progress.
*1 The forestry commission reckons 2-3 (or 4 if you’re me and want to maximise statistics) feeders 200-300m apart in a 50 hectares woodland block. I’ll stick with one block as squirrel populations are likely to have different feeding behaviours in different areas.
*2 “…double sided sticky tape (e.g. Scotch ‘pressure sensitive’ tape; Stock reference no. 465; North British Tapes Ltd, Killingworth, Tyne & Wear) are placed on the inside roof…” Practical Techniques
for Surveying and Monitoring Squirrels, Forestry Commison.
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
- 55m Reccomended squirrel-hair-catching sticky tape
- 3 More sets of mesh from 2 locations
- Squirrel food
- electrical gadgetry connecting cameras to food hopper lid
The cameras are still to be bought too but I thought I'd stick the photo in for a bit of variety from lots of mesh photos. Oh yes, and I've been given a first sachet of disinfectant for regular mesh cleanings, but haven't actually taken it's picture.
Over past weeks of many conversations with a variety of squirrel-experts people scattered over the country, I’ve gleaned something of a history about the attempts that have been made to use mesh feeders in keeping grey squirrels from eating the reds’ nuts.
In the early days, the forestry commission experimented with mesh, but birds got away with most of the squirrel food, and young grey squirrels still got in and stole much of the rest. Trials were discontinued in the fear that the reds might catch the dreaded poxvirus from the greys sharing the feeder.
Nothing happened for a while. The fashion was for weighted feeders that tipped out greys. These tend to also allow in young small greys and the see-saw can become clogged with leaves and dirt.
Three years ago Veronica Carnell made use of her husband’s welding skills and her local squirrels at Gosforth Nature Reserve to find and produce a small quantity of mesh that just let reds squeeze through fairly comfortably. She has monitored 3 feeders for the past 3 years, red squirrels using them happily with a noticeably increased healthiness sort of look since the supplementary feeding was started.
A couple of years back she ran a study in some other areas; adult greys didn’t get into the feeder and reds used them in 2 out 3 sites.
However, lately the mesh has been trialed nearer to my home in the Lake District. Even when squirrels have become used to feeding in the mesh cubes with one side missing, once it is sealed off the reds have seemed nervous of sitting inside to eat the nuts, altho they have been seen to go inside. Greys have tried their best to squeeze through but with no success, but there’s not much point to a feeder that the reds won’t use!
I’ve heard two ideas from people that know their squirrels. Perhaps the fact that the red squirrels in question were rather knowledgeable about humans and houses and so forth meant that they had some experience of mesh type stuff and thought it was dodgy. Or perhaps they felt too exposed –I’ve heard tell that an older type of experimental feeder had a roof and was more happily used.
So lots of variables to confuse things in designing my project. So, the present day, or rather the future: Thursday will see me journeying to a spot where red squirrels are fed. I’ll be shown what’s going on, then hopefully will set up the first set of equipment. I don’t actually have it all yet but various interesting bits and pieces are arriving daily by post or being collected from far and wide.
Monday, June 13, 2005
Been walking/camping over the past few days but no avoidance of the squirrel project, as I found myself walking with an electrical engineer specialising in security cameras, so some interesting squirrel-activated camera chat! And my uncle whose birthday the walk was celebrating is a forester so also some discussions as to wood and preservatives and other important things in the line of squirrel feeders.
Tomorrow I finally receive my first mesh of that critical red-squirrels-only size. I should also receive 55m of special sticky tape for catching squirrel hairs to indicate who's been using the feeder, and I'll be buying wood, nails etc for building the little hoppers and lids to hold the nuts and provide a switch for automatic photos.
And I may no longer be lacking a location! I've been in touch for some time with someone that mans the Post Office over Haweswater way; a good hour and a half's drive north. So although I haven't actually got there yet and it's not the ideal spot for regular checks, he sounds pretty helpful and has himself designed an interesting sounding piece of equipment, tho he’s in the line of controlling grey squirrels so his only lets in the greys and not the reds! Anyway, the plan is to drive up this weekend with all the gear and set up some trial feeders. A busy week lies ahead! Carpentry skills to be tested. I hope you shall soon be seeing photos of the handiwork itself…
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
The week began with promise after my technical advisor and chief electronics engineer Jon noticed that squirrels have to lift a lid to get to their nuts, and hence a little switch on the lid could be constructed to photo any lid-lifting squirrels. However, the hunt for a research location continues... A very promising (but uninspiringly named) Foulshaw Moss contains a small pocket of reds not too far away. However, the two people that would know about the squirrels there and could be potentially very helpful are both independently away on leave for another two weeks. And my contacts up in the North who are not on leave and very helpful have just bumped off all their grey squirrels -good for their red squirrels of course but not for my research. Although of course the research is only to achieve good things for red squirrels so I can't really complain. So the search continues. Many phone calls were made today, but it was sunny so most people involved in the squirrel business were very far from their phone. I shall arise at dawn tomorrow in an effort to catch them.
Thursday, June 02, 2005
I spent yesterday trawling through ebay finding exciting digital cameras that took photos whenever their infrared beam sensed an animal walking by. These, I thought, could happily be photographing all the squirrels that dropped by to eat nuts while I filled my time with things other than sitting in the rain waiting for a squirrel to turn up. Only problem was I'd have to import from the USA at $200 a time. So I had a bit of a chat with Jon who happened to appear on msn messenger. Jon knows about these sort of things having just finished his degree on somehting electrical and computer/circuit board orientated. Anyway, he thought something designed for photo-ing deer might not notice a rather small squirrel. Good point. Then he said he could design a 'light trap' which would photo squirrels whenever they passed a little beam of light! Ingenious. I've attempted a bit of a sketch to show that squirrels will have to sit on a little platform to get the nuts, perfect for the position of a beam of light that'll photo them when it gets cut of by the squirrel. Now to find some cheap digital cameras...
Believe it or not, this is actually the standard way to feed squirrels. Apparently nothing else has the brains or brawn to open the lid.
Wednesday, June 01, 2005
These things arrived at my home 5 years ago, moving in from the south. One of my neighbours dropped round just now to say one or two reds have been seen at the top of the valley but otherwise there aren’t really any red squirrels left for miles and miles. My project is going to have to be right up in the North of the Lake District where there are still a decent number, for the moment anyway. But the greys are moving fast…