Whose backyard is it anyway? When a wildlife camera is in use and the shutter released by heat or movement is available day and night, the answer can be astounding.
Sally Naser calls the animals captured by dozens of cameras she monitors for The Trustees of Reservations in Massachusetts "our wildlife neighbors." At home, in our gardens, we might call them cute – or our herbivorous enemies. But mostly we don't see them.
"There is wildlife all around us, whether you live deep in the forest or on the outskirts," said Ms. Naser, the director of nature conservation restrictions at the Trustees, the country's first nonprofit nature conservation agency, with more than 26,000 hectares and more than 20,000 hectares of private land that is under nature protection. "If you want to bring this window into the wilderness in the hinterland and in the foreland, the camera can record it."
In recent years the quality of game cameras has improved and prices have decreased. Often referred to as "camera traps" – since their main market has long been hunters trying to track down this big buck – they have become indispensable scientific research tools for studying animal behavior and assessing populations, even in areas that do so are difficult like the rainforest roof.
In a garden, a simpler set up can answer simpler questions: Who is eating these French beans? Who is tunneling under the porch? And what's going on at the bird feeder when you're not looking?
"It's a way to do your own trail camera bird count," said Ms. Naser, "and see how many species visit the feeder in a snowy winter month."
A camera (or a couple of them) in particular can add to the sense of awe, the most delicious yield in the garden.
Yes, your backyard photo bombers are more like squirrels than bobcats (Ms. Naser's favorite subject due to its reluctance and the reaction it gets from visitors to her Instagram feed and CR Wildlife Cams Facebook page). But you never know, especially when it comes to animals that move more comfortably after dark, including the opossum, weasel, and fox.
Get ready to be informed and surprised, like the family who lived in a house for 40 years before realizing they shared the yard with a bobcat – something they never knew without Ms. Naser's camera would have.
Answer a few questions
Start with some simple reviews to navigate the daunting selection of camera brands, models, and accessories.
First, what is your target species? Have you seen a red fox trot across the yard, or is it the bird feeder you want to spy on?
Subjects near the camera are better served with an interchangeable macro lens, a feature on some cameras that cuts focus to three feet.
Or does someone knock the feeder or trash cans over after dark? If you live in an area where black bears live, you will need a metal security box to contain your camera, like the one from CAMLOCKbox.
Second, what is your budget? For conservation work and for private customers who need help setting up cameras and learning to use them, Ms. Naser often uses models from Browning, Bushnell and Suspect. She is always looking for good values, like the model of a quality camera from the previous year, which is offered at a discount when the latest version is released.
Cameras can cost $ 500 or more, but the first backyard camera trapper doesn't need to spend that much.
Also, skip the bottom end. "It's probably better to spend a little more," said Ms. Naser, "like $ 125 to $ 175 per camera than the $ 50 models whose results are not as satisfactory and which are not as durable."
Camera functions (and essential extras)
The reputable, test-based technical reviews on the Trail Cam Pro website are a great place to start research.
Features like trigger speed – the time from motion detection to taking a photo – can mean the difference between catching the entire animal or just the tip of a tail. The best cameras have speeds of half a second or less.
Most cameras offer both still and video settings (with a choice of the number of frames or the video length per trigger). However, some advanced models have a hybrid mode that records both with each trigger – although you may miss an action in the still images if a 20-second video is first recorded.
If nighttime visitors are your target, consider different types of lightning that will produce different results. Infrared flashes – red glow, faint glow, and no glow (resulting in slightly grainier photos) – produce black and white images. White flashes – more surprising to some animals, although they can acclimate, and possibly human neighbors as well – provide color day and night.
Cameras come with a nylon strap that can be used to tie them to a tree or stake. But here's a tip: "Don't let the loose part hang," said Ms. Naser. "Put it in. A strap blowing in the wind can cause false triggers, or a rodent can chew it off to use as nesting material."
A cable lock may not be required in your yard to protect against theft, but Ms. Naser attaches them to all of her field cameras.
Don't skimp on batteries. Ms. Naser uses Energizer lithium or rechargeable Ni-MH (nickel metal hydride) batteries that are not alkaline.
Use a class 10 SD (Secure Digital) memory card. The 16 GB memory offers enough space for recordings. With cameras with built-in color display screens, you can check your setup in the field without removing the map and downloading it. Another benefit is a special card reader that fits on your mobile phone or tablet so you can scroll through images in a larger format.
Location, location, location: camera setup
Learning more about your target animal's behavior can help you figure out where to place the cameras and how to adjust the settings. Field guides or a website such as Animal Diversity Web from the University of Michigan Zoological Museum can help.
Water of all kinds – even a small water feature in the backyard – is a magnet for birds and mammals. In wilder areas, beaver dams are one of Frau Naser's favorite places for a camera. She calls them "wildlife highways".
Edge habitat – brush areas where animals can stay near cover – are also vibrant. Stone walls are popular with predators, including barred owls; It is no coincidence that they are also a popular hiding place for rodents. A backyard apple tree with fallen fruit or an oak tree with acorns are productive fall locations that invite everyone from squirrels to deer to blue jays and turkeys.
The best height to position the camera depends on the target species. Ms. Naser puts it this way, with a laugh: "Knee height or below for most wildlife and shoulder-to-head height for elk."
To get the best images and expand the field of view, position the camera at a 45 degree angle to the target area and keep it parallel to the ground. A stick can be used as a washer behind the device.
Point the camera north. South is a good second choice. When facing east or west, Ms. Naser explained, "You can get sun triggers at sunset or sunrise."
Also identify a place with no swaying vegetation – not just branches, but plants like grasses and ferns as well. Even a wave of water can trigger a photo. And remember: you can trigger the camera too. Therefore, avoid high-traffic areas.
If your photos are out of focus, the camera may be too close to your subject. This is particularly unfortunate at night, when lightning “turns an animal into a white, blown-out patch with no detail,” said Ms. Naser.
Cameras placed too low in winter can be buried in the snow, but for some small animals, lower is better. Try it out and then optimize: "If you only have feet," said Ms. Naser, "lift the camera."
Don't just use the default settings, including a slower shutter speed (the time from detecting motion to waking up the camera). fewer images captured per trigger; and a longer photo delay (the time it takes for the camera to prepare for the next trigger).
Try a one to five second delay along with the fastest trigger speed to move fast or catch your bandit. A longer delay and slower to normal shutter speed are better for subjects that move a little more slowly, such as B. searching deer or turkeys.
Have realistic expectations
This is not a 35 millimeter DSLR photograph. So don't expect such image quality, Ms. Naser reminds impatient beginners. She also admonishes them not to check the cameras too often because they are leaving the smell behind.
Nor is it studio photography where someone says, "lift your chin" or "turn a little more that direction".
"I scroll through my SD cards and say to the animals," Oh, please turn around, please, "said Ms. Naser. And then the next shot is another butt. Oops.
Skill comes with experience, she emphasized, including knowing the best places to set yourself up. But luck also “really plays a role”.
In the meantime, you'll learn to love the close-up nose shots you get when a curious animal juicy communicates with the camera. Ms. Naser has a word for you: "Smelfies."
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