Finding things to do during the COVID-19 lockdown has proved to be interesting and diversionary. A few weeks ago my son spotted an unusual animal whilst he was out walking the dog just after dawn. He initially thought that he was looking at a fox prowling along the edge of a field, but once he had worked out the distance relative to the size of the animal, and the way it moved, he realised that he was actually looking at a very large cat, akin to a Puma. Now that’s not something that you expect to see in Somerset! He watched it for around five minutes but - of course - he hadn’t even got a phone camera with him, so on his return home we decided that something had to be done to provide evidence.

A quick search on Google for trail cameras brought up many possibilities, ranging in price from £35 to well over £200. Not wanting to go mad initially, I figured that any cheap camera, provided it could shoot reasonable quality video in the dark, would do the trick. If it worked I could always buy a better one later, but if it didn’t then the loss would be minimal. I plumped for an HC800A from an unspecified manufacturer somewhere in China, purchased from Wish for around £35, and sat back and waited for a couple of weeks. Finally it arrived and a quick check of the specifications revealed that it could shoot 1080P video - colour during the day and black and white under the infra-red lighting from the camera at night - stills if I needed them, was fitted in a waterproof enclosure with three sensors and with a standard ¼” Whitworth tripod mount. Like all men I immediately set out to try it without recourse to the instruction leaflet and merely succeeded in filming my wife and I setting up the camera in our conservatory that we knew had mice visiting. Nothing else was recorded that first night!

A few days later, one of my friends, Geoff Andrews, mentioned that he had a mysterious occurrence happening in his garden every night. Three small piles of stones would appear on his patio in the morning, which he would clear away only to find three new piles the next morning. Magpies suggested some people, Jackdaws said others, while most plumped for kids playing pranks. What to do?

I suggested that he borrow my new TrailCam to find out what was really happening, so I popped round and set it up in the late afternoon and waited to hear from him the next day. Unsurprisingly perhaps, nothing had been recorded apart from Geoff and his wife checking the camera! Perhaps it was time to have a look at the instruction manual. The manual indicated that there are three modes associated with the internal switch; Off, Test and On. The Test mode allows you set up all the parameters, while Off is perfectly obvious, as is On. Our natural inclination, once the Setup procedure was complete, was to switch straight from Off to On - but we were wrong! We had to switch from Off, to Test and then On before the camera worked!

However it was worth the effort, as you can see from this inaugural video. Who would have thought that the humble Field mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus) would create a pile of stones? After some research online I discovered that only one species of mouse was known to create piles of stones, the Pebble-mound mouse species (Western pebble-mound mouse (Pseudomys chapmani), Central pebble-mound mouse (Pseudomys johnsoni), Kakadu pebble-mound mouse (Pseudomys calabyi) and the Eastern pebble-mound mouse (Pseudomys patrius)), but they are only native to Australia!

Had we discovered unknown Aussie immigrants or something entirely new and undocumented? Thoughts on a postcard please!

Which brings me neatly back to the question of the big cat. So far we haven’t put the TrailCam out to search for it simply because if it really exists in Somerset its home range is almost certainly huge, hence the very few sightings of it. The only logical place to put the TrailCam is where my son saw it, but what are the chances of it passing the same way again? Pretty remote I would imagine. So in the meantime I’m going to be setting it up in other areas where I know there is a fair amount of animal activity. Otters in the local stream, Water Voles in the same area, Foxes, Badgers, Stoats, Weasels and Rabbits in the surrounding areas seem to be the most likely animals to check out first.

And the best thing about the exercise? Well, apart from carefully placing the camera it involves absolutely no exercise whatsoever!


Big Cat Sighting Leads To Mouse Drama