Webcams, binoculars and camouflage netting: The best tools to view wildlife in your garden

Camouflage netting, webcams and a good pair of binoculars will give you a better chance of seeing wildlife close up, Hannah Stephenson discovers.

A pair of blue tits on a nest box. Picture: iStock/PA

You might not associate yourself with the stereotypical anorak-clad, binocular-wielding bird-watching ‘twitcher’, but as lockdown has connected more people with their gardens and wildlife, you may want to get a better view of welcome visitors to your green space.

As The Wildlife Trusts gears up for its 30 Days Wild annual celebration of nature in June, you’ve plenty of time to equip yourself with the garb, tech and wildlife feeding accessories to give you the best chance of seeing wildlife.

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Stuart Edmunds, of Shropshire Wildlife Trust, has been using the latest wildlife camera technology to record some of our more elusive species for the last 12 years, filming the first known pine martens in Shropshire using remote cameras.

He suggests some of the kit you might need, and things to consider…

Invest in a webcam

“Webcams are really easy to set up these days, and are cheaper than they were a decade ago,” says Edmunds. “They send back live pictures you can watch on your TV. You not only see birds feeding and in nest boxes, but you can find out what other wildlife you get in your garden.

“You can get webcams that just plug into the aerial socket of your TV, then you can run the wire through a tiny gap in your kitchen window and set it down where you want it in the garden on a cable.”

Wireless versions are also available, including ones that can stream HD video to your phone, computer or tablet via an app.

Set up a camera trap (trail cam)

“This is a completely remote camera that functions on its own battery power and records everything that moves in front of it through motion detection and records it on an SD card,” explains Edmunds. They often come with straps or you can buy bendy tripods to secure the camera to tree trunks, branches and fence posts. Just make sure there are no overhanging branches which might set them off rather than wildlife.

Again, they are not as expensive as you might think, he says: “I paid almost £350 for my first camera trap 11 years ago, but you can get them for about £40 now.” But be aware that you’ll have to buy an SD card and batteries on top of your initial purchase. You can also buy nest boxes with cameras already installed.

Choose your camera position

“Have a play around with the camera,” Edmunds suggests. “I’ve tried placing it in bushes, where I can’t see what’s going on.” Most camera traps have an infra-red night vision facility.

“If you only have a balcony, set up a covered feeder, like a bird table with a roof on top, put some peanuts and seeds on it and attach the camera to it and you can get some great close-up views. These cameras have really focused lenses, so you get to see the birds close-up.”

Boost your vision with binoculars

“I’d recommend a good starter pair of binoculars such as Opticron, which are ideal for watching birds on feeders, depending on the size of your garden. It’s the best way to get up close and personal to bird life.”

Choose the right time of day

“The best time to see birds is at first light, when it’s light enough for them to start feeding, and when the sun goes down, when they’ll be feeding as much as they can to get through the night,” says Edmunds.

Place feeders and nest boxes carefully

“Birds feel much more comfortable if they have places to hide as well as the shelter of a nestbox. It’s best to have trees and branches close by which they can perch on during the day.”

Think about camouflage

While many garden birds – such as great tits and blue tits – will become used to the presence of humans at a distance, if you want to take close-up photos of slightly rarer birds such as goldfinches and bullfinches, camouflage can be useful, he says.

“A few people I know have constructed a willow screen, made a hole in it and observed from behind it, as it hides them from the birds,” says Edmunds. “You can also buy really cheap camouflage netting, which you can drape over yourself and sit quietly and peer through it. It’s all about breaking up your silhouette and body shape.”

Plant wildlife friendly plants

“Have as many native plant species as possible. Wildflowers such as yellow rattle, seed-producing grasses, knapweed, thistles and nettles will attract all kinds of insects and birds. Even if you have limited space on a balcony, just plant up a few pots with wildflower seeds, which will attract native insects.”

Seek out hedgehog hotspots

You can capture other wildlife visitors such as hedgehogs with strategically placed cameras near a bowl of dried cat food (which hopefully won’t just attract next door’s moggie), says Edmunds. “In Shropshire, we’ve found that hedgehogs like bird seed that falls from feeders,” he notes. So keep an eye out for hedgehogs under your feeders.

Position bird feeders carefully

“Don’t have your feeders sat in the middle of the lawn where any birds that may be feeding are susceptible to attacks by sparrowhawks or other birds of prey. Put them around the boundaries of the garden where the smaller birds have at least got somewhere they can quickly hide.”

For more information and free downloads of activities for 30 Days Wild (available from April 12), visit wildlifetrusts.org/30DaysWild.

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