This post has been in the works for a few years now and it’s time to share a few images/videos and experience with trailcams deployed in south central British Columbia.
A Little Bit of History
I don’t know when the first trailcam came out for retail sale but my first experience was part of a wildlife class while attending post secondary education approximately 15 years ago. The camera we used was a film-based point-and-shoot camera attached to a separate motion detector. It was a large and awkward looking device that involved a trip to the local photo lab once the film roll had been filled. Thankfully technology has advanced and a variety of brands have streamlined the cameras into one small package with functionality to suit the needs and budgets of hunters, researchers and geeks alike; they also have a security aspect for those seeking peace of mind with their property.
Choosing a Camera
Choosing a trailcam can be a bit daunting; battery life, image quality (for both day and night photos), trigger/response speed, reliability are things to consider in choosing your camera. I obtained my own trail camera in 2012 and it ended up being equipped with a runaway trigger, a common issue with cheaper trailcams where the camera starts taking images and doesn’t stop. Playing with the settings helped a bit but let me say it can be disheartening to return to a trailcam to find dead batteries and a memory card full of images with no critters. In time, the camera met its fate via being chewed on by a Black Bear and the eventual switch to Reconyx trailcams has provided great and reliable results. In my experience, Reconyx products and customer service are both top-notch.
Placing the camera in an appropriate location is a big factor in obtaining images. Game trails and junctions are great places that often see good amounts of animal traffic; roads less travelled (old public forestry roads) also tend to produce a good amount of images as many animals will travel the path of least resistance. In some cases, the amount of grass and forage available on such roads attracts animals to a location, so long as there isn’t too much human presence. Not far from my family cabin on a lake in British Columbia, a small isolated spring produced a steady flow of critters including Black Bears, Moose, Deer, Pine Marten and even a Barred Owl. Generally speaking most didn’t notice the camera and went about their business, but a few critters got curious and checked it out. Not all of the critters use the spring in the same way, most came by for a drink, some for a rest, a few times one Black Bear came through to cool off and one Mule Deer ran into a bit of trouble when it stepped into the muddy bottomed spring.
Protect the camera
It’s a good idea to get yourself a bear proof/security box to protect the camera. Painting the box helps keep them incognito and less prone to theft; there are bastards everywhere 😦 Be prepared for the occasional comedian to show up in your images.
Such a great way to collect information
Having cameras in the area surrounding the family cabin has been an incredible experience enjoyed by almost everyone. Upon return from spending time at the cabin, the usual question as to how the time at the cabin went has often been replaced by “what animals are on the trailcam this time?”. Prior to deploying the cameras, we often thought that cougar were around and it didn’t take long to confirm that. . We had never seen this cougar before and true to their reputation it has remained elusive/private showing up on the camera from time to time, depending on where the camera was placed. The images collected via camera also showed the pattern of their appearances varied according to time of year/climate. In the summer months the cougar made its way on a loop that took approximately 1 week to cover. In the winter, the cougar followed the Mule Deer around on south-facing slopes with less snow than other areas. On one snowshoe trip in the winter, the cougar triggered the trailcam on the cabin driveway 3 times in the 24hrs before our arrival into the area. After our arrival; nothing. The fact that the cougar left the area upon the arrival of humans shows it’s a healthy cougar that reacts appropriately to its instinct to avoid humans.
One Black Bear had 3 cubs with her during the summer of 2014, she appeared on the trailcam several times. To my surprise her little brown cub showed up on its own in the spring of 2015, in the same location where its mother taught it to forage as a cub.
Another critter that had us all quite amazed was a Red Fox vixen. From mid May to mid July of 2014, the fox came through the trail camera a whopping 43 times with many occasions having successfully hunted rabbit, more than likely for its offspring in a nearby den.
With respect to other predators, the presence of wolves was a lingering question. As with the cougar, they hadn’t been seen in the many years we have been visiting the area but with wolf populations at a high in British Columbia, they made their appearance on a few occasions. With the cougar and wolf both occupying the land around the cabin, how did they compete for food? Based on the appearances of each critter on the cameras, the cougars predominantly stayed in the forested area and were only observed a few times near more open habitat. The wolves on the other hand were observed only near open habitat and predominantly in the spring months. Is this information scientific? Not really, but it certainly adds a dimension to experiencing the landscape when you know what critters are around.
Go Buy A Trailcam
That in a nutshell has been my experience with trailcams over the past 3 ish years. Retrieving the images is always a lot of fun with no shortage of enthusiasm by all who see them. For anyone who enjoys the outdoors and wants to to experience wildlife in a whole new aspect, I highly recommend picking up a trailcam or two.
Until recently, the Barred Owl was just another critter in the forest that was more often heard than seen due to it’s nocturnal nature. After succesfully reproducing it’s way across north America over the last century, the Barred Owl waded into controversy as it now shares habitat with the endangered Spotted Owl. The overlap has created a turf-war and being a bit larger and more aggressive, the Barred Owl has started to push the smaller/more timid Spotted Owl out of the remaining old growth forest in Oregon, Washington and southwest British Columbia. After a large campaign to protect Spotted Owls in the 1990’s, the Spotted Owl has a healthier population on the south side of the border but only 10-20 Spotted Owls remain in southwest British Columbia. Although a captive breeding program was put in place in British Columbia, this new threat to the Spotted Owl has caught the attention of wildlife managers and brought forth some controversial management practices in both Canada and the USA. Although the Barred Owl has a detrimental effect on the Spotted Owl, seeing a family of Barred Owls in Abbotsford BC this past week was still a rewarding experience that won’t be soon forgotten. Although one encounter was sans camera, the following morning the curiousity of this juvenile kept it around long enough to obtain a photo.
There is little argument that spring is a beautiful time of year in southern British Columbia. As the temperature rises and the snow melts off the mountains, the landscape transforms into a world of color and sound; trees and grass turn green, flowers bloom, animals give birth, rivers run wild and migratory birds take on epic journeys. This past week was no exception to other years and some unseasonal warm weather made for a great visit to a lake in south central British Columbia. While the main reason for going there was to repair a leaky cabin roof, some time was spent wandering the old logging roads to absorb all that spring has to offer. After just a short time there it was clear that love was in the air for the bird kingdom and their various ways of attracting a mate were on display. This Red-Naped Sapsucker hammered away on the dead branches of standing and fallen trees creating a hollow knocking sound that could be heard for some distance. When that didn’t work, the tin roof of the neighbouring cabin became the next place to put out the vibe, albeit at 6:30 AM. Off in the distance a Grouse could be heard drumming on a favoured log. In the small clearing next to the cabin there were Audobon Yellow Rumped Warblers singing their songs as this Pacific Sloped Flycatcher observed silently from the shade of a nearby perch. The colourful Western Tanager also made a few appearances down in the lower forest as a break from its usual spot in the forest canopy. Into the evening the courtship continued with a tenacious Boreal Owl calling for a mate and one evening a visit from 2 Barred Owls taking part in courtship hooting. While time at the family cabin is always great, experiencing these moments makes it so much more than a place to go put a few beers down-range before racing back to life in the city. In a conversation with a friend today we discussed our mutual love for getting out and enjoying nature. When we talked about the satisfaction it gave us he said it very well, “everyone needs it.. they just might not know.. and then they’re pounding prozac instead”. While it’s not the answer for everything, being out in the natural world is great for the soul and a way to keep our heads clear and away from the stresses of everyday life. And sometimes, the odd profound experience often puts the proverbial icing on the cake and makes for an outstanding day and a moment we can reflect on in times when we need a little boost in life. A slight change in perspective this time out walking in the bush produced a unique experience. While hiking along a lake that rarely sees human visitors I was a bit disappointed in not seeing any wildlife as the area is usually home to moose, beavers etc. Halfway down the lake I was ready to turn around and instead just sat down and took a few minutes to enjoy the quiet solitude of the place. Perhaps an animal would show up, maybe not; but in the meantime it was nothing but the wind and my thoughts. Shortly after sitting down on the lakes edge, a pair of breeding loons appeared and made their way from a few hundred meters down the lake. One loon was curious and came close to me to investigate allowing me to take this photo before the two drifted off in a silence filled by the air of love.