Capturing the Secret Life of Wildlife by Tom Wood
I’ve been blessed to see some amazing wildlife and behavior in my life. Sometimes, after a particularly exciting, serendipitous sighting I think, “What if I had been ten minutes earlier or later?” It’s only a short jump from that thinking to “What have I missed by ten minutes?” Until recently this has been nothing but a Zen riddle “What is happening when I am not here?” but now a new tool allows an inquisitive naturalist to monitor what is happening miles away while you sleep (or work or play). Motion-sensitive remote cameras have become ubiquitous in the hunting community and can also be used to monitor a wide variety of wildlife and habitats. They have become an important research tool as well as a new way to learn about your wild neighbors.
Trail cameras, also referred to as “gamecams” or “camera traps,” can be found at most sporting goods stores or on-line outlets or can be home-made with a simple point-and-shoot camera and motion-sensitive hardware. Over-the-counter models range from less than $50 to over $400. Some cameras use flash for nighttime visitors, while others are able to take infrared photos without the use of flash. Many also offer an opportunity to capture short video clips. Some features to consider when purchasing a camera include battery life, shutter delay and security features.
I purchased a couple of inexpensive cameras on-line after seeing tracks in a dry creek-bed on property owned by friends. I was amazed to quickly verify that both bobcats and coyotes were regularly visiting the creek bed. Encouraged by my early success, I soon established two photo points watching a strategic location: a shallow basin I kept filled with water. Water is a magnet for wildlife in the desert, and I soon had photographs of an amazing array of desert creatures who visited the sites. I had no idea, based on my daytime wandering on the property, that this habitat supported so much life.
Baiting sites is controversial in the camera monitoring community and may be illegal in some areas, but I freely admit to scattering birdseed and even cat food occasionally to entice the local wildlife to pose for my cameras. My weekly visits to refill the water basins are rewarded with the thrill of sorting through the sometimes hundreds of images stored on the computer chips, vicariously watching as the wildlife visits. Sorting through the images is like opening Christmas presents, waiting for that special one.
If you have wondered, as I have, what animals might be using a particular trail or visiting a waterhole or feeder when you are not around, a wildlife camera provides an easy and fun way to satisfy your curiosity. Pick a tree or post with an unobstructed view of the target area – a blowing branch in front of the sensor will result in hundreds of pictures of the branch. Hopefully you will be rewarded with a few candid shots. If you would like to share your results, we could set up a site for wildlife camera shots from around the country. Contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org