Donna has been a volunteer for SWA since 2015 and carries out camera trapping in the Strathbogie Wildcat Priority Area to help inform our overall project work.
Latest News - SWA volunteer reveals she's "addicted to camera trapping"
In 2015 a friend of mine casually mentioned that there was a meeting at the Stewarts Hall in Huntly, about a new project to survey the Strathbogie area to see how many Wildcats there were.
As we live in the area and walk in the forest daily with our two dogs we thought it would be interesting to get involved, little did we know how addictive it was going to be!
We spent an afternoon with Scottish Wildcat Action’s (SWA) Strathbogie Project Officer Emma Rawling, walking around our end of the forest, looking for places to put the cameras.
With little persuasion we agreed to look after three of them, which covered a reasonable area. After locating the appropriate sites it was time to set up the cameras and bait posts – we were all set. We were given spare SD cards and a large bag of bait to put in the freezer, so then it was just a case of waiting to go and check the cameras.
After a couple of weeks our excitement reached fever pitch and we were desperate to go and take a look at the cameras. On the first camera we were lucky enough to have photos of a black cat and a striped cat, who we have affectionately named Dot and Sweep. There was much excitement, but the fact the other cameras drew a blank tempered our excitement a little.
We had to wait a quite a while to see cats on the other cameras. It took six weeks for there to be any feline evidence on camera two and ten weeks for the third camera. These were two black cats (Midnight and Jet) and another striped cat (Rolf).
We felt so lucky to have camera trapped these cats, but not everything was easy. The first few times we checked the cameras we were really nervous and all we could think about was “what if we don’t set them correctly and don’t get any photos?”. We also wondered whether we had tied the bait on tightly enough. The consensus was that we shouldn’t change anything, because that was how Emma left them.
The more we checked them the easier it became. We are far more confident now and if the camera is not in the right place we will move it.
However, that’s not to say there haven’t been any mishaps! We had 1620 photos on one camera with not one animal on it! (Make sure you don’t leave grass in front of the camera, especially when it’s windy!)
Another time the bait was gone but there was no photo. We had snow and it had covered the camera, so if possible put the camera in a sheltered position. After the survey ended we left the cameras out for a while and set them to photo and video, we had some nice photos of different wildlife but on video they had no legs!
In our experience some cameras result in the loss of the the bottom 25%, so make sure you move the camera down a bit to compensate. We took the cameras in for a few months and popped one out again in August. Imagine our excitement when we looked at the photos to see Dot with two kittens. At least they are black so thankfully she hasn’t mated with a wildcat. It was more likely a feral cat, but this highlights why Scottish Wildcat Action’s Trap, Neuter, Vaccinate and Return (TNVR) programme is so important in these priority areas to protect wildcats from hybridisation.
In the autumn of last year Emma had put out three cameras and traps, to catch the feral cats for TNVR. We regularly baited the traps which were locked open and after Christmas they went “live”. We had to check the traps in the mornings (7.45am in the dark), which represented a two hour round trip on foot, whatever the weather, to check the traps. Thankfully there were not many people around that early as I’m sure they would have wondered why we were walking around the forest with a long wooden spoon poking out of our rucksack!
But it’s not all about wildcats, with the cameras out in the forests we are also learning about all the other wildlife there is around. We walk in the forest nearly every day but had never seen red squirrels. That has since changed since we got the camera trap. We have also seen badgers, pine marten, roe deer, woodcock, hare, various common birds and what seems like thousands of mice!
We’re not heading into winter again and it will soon be time to start the survey work again. We are very excited to see how the survey will run this winter and what exciting animals we will see on our cameras.
We’d like to thank SWA for giving us the chance to be involved in saving the Scottish wildcat, but most of all thanks to Emma for being so helpful and patient with us.
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