The secret life of the critters in our woods.

A deer in our woods caught on our new trailcam

We know they're out there. Sometimes we see a flash of tail,  a rump disappear into the forest or hear their strange calls in the night. But capturing them on camera is another thing all together. I'm talking about the creatures that live in our woods. We've always been fascinated by the wildlife around us here at the cottage- but long wondered if we could somehow capture them on camera when we are not around or are asleep in our bed. Then I happened to listen to a gardening podcast featuring the amazing zoologist Dr Roland Kays. He runs eMammal- a citizen science project where volunteers use cameras to study the effect of hunting and hiking on mammal populations. 

Fox cub explores the woods as we sleep.

He mentioned that these motion-sensitive cameras with night vision (also known as camera traps) are now high-quality and not too expensive. They are used all over the world by scientists to monitor the behaviour of wild animals. Many of the shots would be impossible to get manually, even if you sat in wait for hours on end (the animals would smell you and run a mile). You've guessed the rest - I went to the website he recommended ( which compares the leading brands and ordered a Browning Strike Force trail cam (macho name is compulsory - these cameras are also used by hunters). It cost $234.64 Canadian on Amazon. The top photo is, I recently learned, called a 'smelfie' of a deer - that's a selfie shot of an animal who may be checking out the camera because he smells human scent. Next is a foxcub at night (ignore the dates and times - I forgot to set the clock). The cub, or kit, was followed by an adult fox - which you can just make out below walking away from the camera in the centre of the screen.  I'm assuming they were out together as there were multiple pics of the cub just a few minutes before and after the adult appears- all of this happening just a few yards from our bedroom on the edge of the woods.

Adult fox with big bushy tail in evidence.

I know the night pictures aren't amazing but these are the first three animals we caught in just a few days (I'm not counting the squirrel who I consider a rat with good PR) so I'm expecting better portraits of the little critters to come - hopefully looking into camera. I heard foxes calling in the night recently (an eerie cry which when I first heard it frightened the life out of me)  and now I know what they look like. One of the most famous examples of motion sensitive cameras used to capture wildlife is the Planet Earth documentary about the snow leopard by Sir David Attenborough. I spent most of the show calling out: "How did they get that shot?". Of course now I know. Not only is the footage incredible but it somehow feels like you are spying on their secret lives when you know there is not a camera operator around. This site explains how they did it..
Flower-eating groundhog or woodchuck taken with regular camera
 Not all critters are welcome at the lake of course. Gardeners don't like groundhogs or deer for their plant-eating abilities but who could resist the chance to see what the little blighters are up to when no-one is around? (Probably eating my hostas)  It's a secret world and I hope to capture some of it over the coming months.

Blue heron on the raft. Cheeky. (regular camera)

Over the years I have written about and managed to capture the odd creature on camera such as the groundhog and the heron, but so many potentially great wildlife sightings have eluded me - like the porcupine that ran away near my rhubarb patch, the skunk mother and babies who legged it into the woods as I crashed around behind with my camera and the racoon who hid high in a tree late at night and refused to come down. There was also a moose mother and baby on a neighbour's tennis court one early Spring.
If you are prepared to pay for it you can get a live trailcam which will email you with photographs as they are taken via a wireless connection. The thought of this makes me geek-out and interestingly there may be a way to cheat at this (see video below).
But for now the trailcam is doing a fine job and I'm hoping for some more critter stories. You'll be the first to know.

The camera in the woods 
More info:
How to make a live camera trap in your back yard. (video)
Dr Roland Kays book of photographs of animals caught on camera traps:  Candid Creatures


Oct 18, 2010, 8 comments

Nov 2, 2010, 8 comments


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