So we’re into our 4th month of the Mammal Challenge. It’s been an interesting time so far with lots of late nights and early starts, lost memory cards and getting caught out in Aberdeen’s delightful weather. Of course, it’s all been worth it because we have been able to see some amazing wildlife w hile barely leaving the university.
Aberdeen University is the second most northerly university in the UK and the wealth of wildlife we get up here really shows that: there are two huge seabird colonies under an hour away from Aberdeen and cetacean sightings are regular around here (there’s a resident pod of bottlenose dolphins which feed in the harbour and last summer I was even lucky enough to see humpback whales a bus ride from the city).
It was partially because of this biodiversity that we decided to take part in UMAC. The wildlife hasn’t disapp ointed; we’ve been able to spot all sorts of mammals including roe deer, red foxes, grey and red squirrels and even a few harbour seals! We’ve also had a chance to practice our bat survey skills, identifying both soprano and common pipistrelles on a night survey. Even local birds have joined in the fun, like this buzzard, who caught our first wood mouse of the challenge back in February.
By far, my favourite mammals to see have been the otters. Our first otter sighting was just a tantalising glimpse of one running along the opposite bank of the river in the torrential rain. Luckily, after this brief encounter, we were able to spot otters twice more and for much longer periods of time. Based on behaviour and the slight size difference between them, we think it is a mum and her pup. We were fortunate enough to watch them both feeding just metres away from us, which has definitely been a highlight of the challenge!
The other species we were really happy about seeing was red squirrels. We’ve seen both grey and red squirrels on our surveys and we know from our camera traps they are occupying the same habitats. The effect of invasive grey squirrels on red populations is widely known, so it is interesting to be in an area where there are populations of both. While we’ve definitely seen more greys than reds, the fact that we have red squirrels so close to campus is definitely very exciting!
Camera traps have, of course, been invaluable to our data, allowing us to add foxes and badgers to our species count. We started out with 3 cameras, and despite losing one in a very unfortunate drowning incident, we’ve still been able to get some good results. We were also aided by the great generosity of a local wildlife group, who loaned us a small mammal camera trap box—it’s a wooden box with a plastic lid which a camera trap can be attached to. This has been one of my favourite pieces of survey equipment so far, especially now we’ve had some up close shots of badgers and grey squirrels!
It’s definitely been a fun few months and we’re all pretty excited to find out more about the wildlife on campus as we move into the summer. In particular, we’re hoping to have some more success with bats and small mammals as the weather gets milder. We have already had some luck using bitumen roofing sheets, which are widely used as a survey tool for reptiles, but seem to be useful in surveying for mammals too. Hopefully this will continue in the months to come.
Thanks for reading and good luck to all the other teams!
- Wood mouse
- Field vole
- Bank vole
- Grey squirrel
- Red squirrel
- Common pipistrelle
- Soprano pipistrelle
- Harbour seal
- Roe deer