Author Archives: David

About David

beekeeper, lumberjack, canoeist, fisherman, firestarter

Solar powered trail camera

Storms Ciara, Dennis and now Jorge have rather interrupted my early spring tasks and I’ve been trapped indoors as the wind howls and the rain hammers down. In between the weather I’ve been tree planting and rhododendron bashing but I’ve also had ample time to complete a solar powered supply for my trail cameras.

These trail cameras require a 12V supply. Standard alkaline batteries – eight 1.5V AA cells – are drained very quickly. It is strongly recommended that you use 1.5V lithium batteries. These deliver the higher power necessary to drive the LED flash and IR detector for much longer – for 9-12 months in my experience. Not only do these last a lot longer, they also work much better at low temperatures. However, this is not an inexpensive option. Non-rechargeable AA lithium cells cost a little under £1.50 each when purchased in reasonable numbers.

Which, at about £12.00 per camera, soon adds up.

And they still run out 🙁

Here comes the sun

I’m a big fan of solar power. It heats most of the hot water in the house and I use it on my ‘bee shed‘ for trickle-charging a 100Ah ‘leisure’ battery, providing power for the lighting.

Solar panels are improving all the time and prices are dropping significantly. It seemed logical that the combination of a small sealed lead acid battery coupled with a small solar panel would be able to provide year-round power for my trail cameras (which have an AUX port for a power supply).

I needed a solution that would be reasonably portable, waterproof and with sufficient power to drive the camera(s) even if the sun doesn’t appear for days.

If the sun doesn’t appear for days …

My amateur back-of-an-envelope calculations suggested a 7Ah battery would be sufficient, coupled with a 5W or 10W panel. These calculations were based on the measured power consumption of my trail cameras.

All of my trail cams are made by Browning, and any details provided below e.g. the size/type of connectors used, may be specific to these models (Recon Force Advantage, Spec Ops Advantage and the new Recon Force Edge). In particular note that these Browning models are 12V cameras, whereas many other makes need only a 6V supply.

Parts list

Solar panel kit – 10W 12V monocrystalline solar panel, charge controller and connectors from Photonic Universe. They also sell through Amazon 1. You can buy the parts individually for about the same price.

Charge controller

Sealed lead acid rechargeable battery – 7Ah 12V. These are readily available new but you might be able to scrounge one from a defunct computer uninterruptible power supply, a mobility scooter or kid’s electric toy car.

MTM waterproof ‘ammo’ storage box – I used what I had available (50 calibre model), but the smaller model 30 calibre model would have been sufficient. Any waterproof box would do, but these have a convenient carry handle and are pretty robust.

Cable glands – these are available in a variety of sizes and most are too large for the relatively thin cables that connect the solar panel and the trail cam. I used PG7’s which are about the smallest I could easily find on Amazon.

Waterproof cable glands

Trail cam power supply cable – for Browning cameras you need a 2.1mm x 5.5mm male connector. Other cameras may well be different. You can buy the connectors separately for a few pence from electronic component shops, or pre-wired with male/female ends as extension leads in various lengths from eBay for a couple of pounds.

Male (top) and female (bottom) 2.1 mm x 5.5 mm DC connectors, pre-wired

Miscellaneous items – a few bits of scrounged closed cell foam, a couple of spade end connectors and some small zip ties.

Tools – soldering iron (not strictly necessary, but it helps to secure the spade end connectors and to tidy up the ends of wires), pliers, small screwdriver and a sharp knife. You may also need a multimeter to be certain of not frying your camera – see below.

Cable glands fitted and tightened down

In addition, you will need a drill bit of a size suitable for the cable glands. For the PG7’s I used this was a 12mm bit and a small amount of widening with a fine file. 


  • Securely fit the battery in the box. I used closed cell foam to pack it in tightly, preventing any lateral movement, but still leaving ample space above the battery for the wiring and charge controller.
  • Drill the side or end wall of the box for the cable glands. You’ll need at least two – one for the solar panel wire and one for the trail cam power cable. Make sure the fitted cable glands do not prevent securely locating the battery. Also ensure that the lid of the box does not foul the cable glands when opening/closing.
  • Make up a short battery cable with spade end connectors at one end and bare wire tails at the other. Connect the battery to the charge controller using the labelled connections (and consult the instructions if necessary). Positive to positive and negative to negative. It is important to connect the battery to the charge controller before you connect the solar panel. The battery should be protected with an inline fuse (1.25 – 2 times the rated current of the charge controller). The Photonic Universe kits include this.
  • Run the solar panel cable through a cable gland and connect to the input connectors on the charge controller. Ensure there’s sufficient slack cable inside the box to pack everything down neatly in due course. Tighten up the cable gland.
  • Run the power cable through a cable gland and attach to the power output connectors on the charge controller. Note carefully the positive and negative connections – see below. Tighten up the cable gland.
  • Check all connections are secure, tidy away the wiring – using zip ties where necessary – and place the solar panel outdoors in the sun. The PV (photovoltaic) charging and load (the battery in this case) lights should illuminate.
  • Close the lid, connect the camera and enjoy years of savings on battery replacements 🙂

All ready to go

As the photo above shows, there’s ample space in the 50 calibre MTM box and a smaller box would have been sufficient.

Be positive

The Browning cameras need the centre pin of the power cable to be positively charged.

Browning trail cam AUX power input showing positive centre pin.

Don’t mess this up or there’s a chance of frying the camera. If there’s any doubt, hook the ends of the power cable up to a small multimeter and confirm that the centre pin is positive. This is what I did. Better safe than sorry 🙁

When the camera is running from the internal batteries the remaining charge is shown in the bottom left of the screen.

Battery power – £12 of AA’s installed

When you plug in the external power cable this changes to indicate the presence of an AUX power supply.

External battery

The camera does not need any internal batteries to run, so these can be removed and used for a camera in heavy woodland or deep shade.

Batteries and battery cage

Replace the empty battery cage to help ensure the camera remains watertight.

In use

I built the first of these external solar powered batteries with long cables for both the solar panel and the camera power supply. In practice I usually co-locate the battery box and the solar panel a metre or two away from the camera in a location that gets a reasonable amount of light.

The solar panel needs to have a good ‘view’ of the sky, ideally directly south facing. With a sufficiently long power cable it is usually possible to secure the camera facing north (to avoid glare) to a tree with the power supply tucked away out of sight (to anything but the sky) nearby 2.

Solar powered trail camera in use

The panel’s aluminium frame could perhaps be usefully camouflaged but it’s surprising how quickly the passing wildlife learn to ignore it.

After just a few days in the field – in pretty terrible weather – the charge controller showed that the battery was fully topped up and the system has continued to work flawlessly ever since.

Safety notes

There are several posts online describing solar powered trail cameras which do not use a charge controller. These are generally 6V systems and smaller panels. Whatever the voltage, if a charge controller is not used it is important that there is a diode preventing battery drain at night when the panel is not working. Inexpensive charge controllers are about a tenner. They stop overcharging of the battery.

The charge controllers I use have one or more USB outputs which sometimes come in handy … but that’s for a future post.

Here’s something I found earlier … and a solar powered trail cam (top right).



Wordless Wednesday #11


Wordless Wednesday posts are images from Ardnamurchan and the surrounding regions – Sunart, Morvern, Ardgour, Moidart and the Rough Bounds. No description is necessary but further details may be provided with the linked full-size image. I will try and ensure they were photographed in the same month, though not necessarily the same year, that they appear online.

Paddle faster, I hear banjos

Many years ago we used to holiday year after year in rental cottages on the banks of Loch Sunart. If the weather is fair – and in May and late September it often is – it’s a great place for a family holiday.

One of my lasting memories is sitting on the terrace enjoying a beer in the late afternoon sun watching a solo canoe being paddled quietly across the mirror-calm loch.

It struck me then that a canoe would be a perfect way to explore the convoluted coastline of the loch, the numerous islands and skerries, and to do a spot of fishing for summer mackerel.

Lunch on Risga

It still does.

Canoes and kayaks

I deliberately used the word canoe rather than kayak. They are often used interchangeably.

A canoe is usually used to mean an open boat, propelled by a single-bladed paddle. They are sometimes referred to as Canadian canoes in the UK. In contrast, a kayak is almost exclusively a closed boat, propelled by a double bladed paddle. Both are small, narrow and relatively lightweight.

Kayaks are faster, less affected by wind and waves and generally have a smaller load carrying capacity.

I’m in no rush these days and I want to be able to carry a tent, picnic basket, a Ghillie stove/kettle for a brew and all sorts of other stuff – portage trolley, cameras, fishing rod, a small sail, a nice bottle of Shiraz etc.

So I bought a canoe.

Specifically I bought an Apache Trek 4.5m canoe with oak trim. Many canoes are red or green. Mine is ivory. This was a deliberate choice as the inevitable scratches through the fiberglass gelcoat are less obvious. It can be used solo or, with the addition of a second seat, it can be paddled by two.

Are you sitting comfortably?

You can sit or kneel to paddle a canoe. I prefer to kneel, despite it being pretty brutal the first few trips on ageing knees and joints 1. When kneeling you actually have a lower centre of gravity, so making the canoe more stable. You’re also more in contact with the boat (essentially both knees and your backside), so you can make corrective movements more easily.

In addition – as you get more experienced – you can lean the boat to one side, so reducing the wetted surface and effectively making the boat shorter and more manageable 2.

The canoe was delivered with a kneeling seat. It looks like a normal seat (and can just about be used as such) except the front edge slopes down by ~25°. You sit on the edge of the seat, kneeling on a cushioned mat, with your feet tucked under the seat.

This works well except for my feet. After a few hours paddling ‘all points south’ from the knees are pretty stiff. Extricating my feet from under the kneeling seat in a hurry is inelegant, likely to cause cramp and a bit slow.

I don’t care how inelegant it looks, but I do want to be able to get out in a hurry if I need to.

For example, in a capsize.

Ride ’em cowboy!

This winter I’ve acquired a Stingray kneeling saddle. These offer all the advantages of a conventional kneeling seat 3, with none of the disadvantages.

Aiguille Alpine Stingray kneeling canoe saddle

I’ve yet to use it in the canoe, but it feels fine (but looks daft) sitting in front of the TV 😉

Loch access

There are plenty of places to canoe in Ardnamurchan and Lochaber 4. However, since Loch Sunart is on my doorstep it’s the only place I’ve explored so far.

Access to the loch is restricted because of the rocky shoreline, the properties on the south side of the B8007 and very limited parking opportunities. However, access is possible from the following points (from east to west):

  • Strontian – slipway available, free to use as far as I’m aware but a long way from the most attractive parts of the loch.
  • Resipole – good access to the water in front of the campsite. Free for residents.
  • Salen Jetty – free to use slipway for canoes and an excellent café with homemade cakes and other goodies. Highly recommended 🙂
  • Picnic area ~1.5km west of Salen Jetty (Grid reference NM680631 or 56.702219N 5.7899301E) with parking and reasonable access to the shore.
  • At high tide Glenborrodale bay (NM609610) or Camus Fearna bay (NM576619) are outside possibilities, though parking is problematic in both. At low tide you have a very long trek over mud and rocks. Not recommended.

Any further west than Ardslignish and the B8007 veers inland and shore access is not possible. However, by this point you are nearing the Sound of Mull and it’s a far less hospitable place to paddle.

Please do not park in passing places on the single track road.

Inaccesible private slipway. Pity.

There are a number of holiday cottages with direct frontage onto the loch and private slipways – if you rent one of these your parking and access problems are both solved 🙂

I am fortunate in that I can walk to the shore towing the canoe on a small purpose-built trolley.

Canoe on trolley

The canoe can be floated off and on the trolley, so no lifting is required. A series of cam straps are used to secure the canoe. When tied down securely it is possible to negotiate some very rough tracks without major problems (though it’s very heavy to drag up a hill).

Islands in the stream

Canoeing is a great way to explore the loch. There are islands – defined (by me) for convenience as something never covered entirely by the tide – ranging in size from a football pitch up to ~240 hectares. The largest, Oronsay, is uninhabited and at low tide is connected to Morvern by a narrow isthmus uncovered at low tide. It should probably be considered a tied island. Carna, at 213 hectares, is the only inhabited island with two rental cottages 5.

Between the islands, all along the coastline and sometimes surprisingly far out into the loch, are dozens of skerries, or more correctly since this is Scotland, sgeirean 6. These rocks often have no vegetation other than seaweeds and are covered at the highest tide. At low tide they’re clearly visible.

At mid-tide, they might be there or they might not, making progress sometimes perilous in larger boats.

Exploring the channel between two islands on Loch Sunart

The tidal range in Loch Sunart is at most ~4 metres. Some channels are only passable above a certain height of tide. They can be there on the way out, but gone as you paddle back later in the day. It all adds to the fun of exploring.

Fully loaded the canoe probably has a draft of ~10cm. Consequently you can explore all sorts of rocky inlets and isolated sandy coves. Reversing out can be a necessity.

Wildlife watching

Almost all of the shoreline is rocky so there is little sediment in the water. Underwater visibility is exceptional. You can watch crabs scuttling between rocks, flatfish burying themselves in the sandy bottom of inlets and the flash of mackerel as they turn away into deeper water.

There are also plenty of aquatic mammals. Common seals are, er, common. Dolphins and porpoises are regularly seen … albeit usually a long way off in the deep channel (~120m) between Carna and the north shore. Whales rarely venture too far into the loch, but are regularly seen in the loch entrance and the Sound of Mull.

Otter, Loch Sunart, Glenborrodale, October 2018

Otter, Loch Sunart, Glenborrodale, October 2018

I rarely see otters when out canoeing. They are plentiful in the region but, on the sunny days I try and choose they’re probably snoozing between the rocks digesting a bellyfull of crustaceans.

Using binoculars from the canoe is straightforward. Using a camera, less so. Even on a calm day the boat has a tendency to move, either up and down on the imperceptible swell, or to get gently blown offline.

Glenborrodale Castle from near Ross Rock, Risga

Practice should improve things.

Further afield

Planned trips for the future include the area near Castle Tioram, Loch Moidart and the North and South Channels around Eilean Shona. Loch Shiel offers fantastic canoeing, as does Loch Morar further north. The area around Arisaig and Morar is a famous canoe and kayaking venue.

Sanna Bay looking towards Ardnamurchan Point and the lighthouse

Closer to home, the stunning white beaches of Sanna are very tempting, but it’s an exposed shores so the weather would need to be good.

I missed the best of the mackerel in 2019 and intend to not make the same mistake this year.

Note – If you want a guided paddle in the area then both Source-2-Sea and Otter Adventures offer a range of expeditions in and around Loch Sunart.


Deliverance poster

Paddle faster, I hear banjos is a phrase from the 1972 John Boorman film Deliverance. If you know the film, you’ll be aware of the meaning. Loch Sunart and Morvern are remote, but there are no hillbillies lurking in the woods.

However, canoeing in the region is not without risks. The Admiralty chart highlights two regions of the loch (just east of Carna and the Laudale Narrows) where the tidal flow can reach 3 knots. If there’s ‘wind over tide’ these regions can be very rough and should be avoided. The tidal stream entering Loch Teacuis on either side of Carna can also be very strong. The north shore is intermittently populated but the southern (Morvern) shore is very remote. Note also that the phonebox at Glenborrodale has no actual telephone (!) and mobile reception is, at best, patchy unless you have ‘line of sight’ to the Mull transmitter above Tobermory.

Islands in the Stream was the first posthumous novel from Ernest Hemingway. It is a trilogy about a painter, Thomas Hudson, fishing off Bimini in the Bahamas, living on Cuba and hunting U-boats in the archipelago off the northern shore of Cuba. As you can see from the first picture in this post, Ardnamurchan can look at least as good as Bimini if the weather is fair 😉