By Emma Clear
I arrived in Bialowieza, Poland, without much of a clue about what specifically I wanted to study; lots of others had ideas on birdsong experiments, small mammal trapping and invertebrate studies. A small group of us had a vague idea that we wanted to study mammals, but that was it. When Caroline and Hannah mentioned they had brought along 20 camera traps to place in the forest we jumped at the chance to use them and see what we could find.
Knowing the forest a little better than us, the lecturers decided on two different habitats to place them in; one mixed woodland and another, a pine plantation. We decided on two transects in each habitat, they were 200m apart and the five cameras were placed in a straight line, 100m apart. The cameras were pointed at game trails; areas we assumed would see activity, and would record for 10 seconds when the motion or thermal sensor went off. The habitats we worked in were several kilometers from the field centre, this was important as we wanted to ensure no other students were embarrassingly caught on camera doing their own project. We also hoped that by being so far from the other studies it would push any large mammals away from the centre and towards our traps!
Once we had set up the traps and tagged the trees with yellow tape, we left them and eagerly waited 3 days before we could return and see what had wandered through. The first couple of cameras we checked were in the pine forest and near the road; they hadn’t caught anything and we were a bit disheartened. Fortunately though our luck picked up and the next camera had caught a female red deer foraging in the grass! We were all so happy it had worked, one of us even let out a little shriek of excitement (ahem…Ruth!) and from then on our project grew! We caught bison, more female deer, red deer stags, boar, pine and stone martin, hare, raccoon dogs, a fox, badgers and several birds!
When we visited the mixed woodland transects we opened up the camera files for the trap closest to the disturbance of the road, believing in the back of our minds that we wouldn’t have gotten much. What we saw though actually left us a little speechless, WOLVES! Big, grey, wild wolves! Two of them in one camera snap, one walking casually, one running just behind! We were gobsmacked and so thrilled to have been the first group to capture shots of wolves for MMU! They popped up again on another camera just 200m in. Knowing they were in the area and that our project had successfully captured them and the other 13 species was such a great feeling!
All in all the trip to Poland was absolutely amazing; between the 23k walk, the tonne of cycling and kayaking the Narewke River we got to experience so much of the beautiful Bialowieza Forest and make some unforgettable memories!