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.
This image was taken a few weeks back in south central British Columbia. What was supposed to be a long exposure on the night sky ended early with a moon rise that reminded me of the words of the song “Morning has Broken” by musical artist Cat Stevens. Although it looks as though the sun has broken the horizon, it was in fact an almost full moon that quickly changed the direction of this image.
It’s one of those rivers that make flyfishermen drool; multiple deep dark pools surrounded by lush temperate rainforest in a place away from the masses. Located on the east side of Moresby Island in the Haida Gwaii archipelago, the Copper River is a place that poets speak of with words that come easy in a place of such beauty. Having a taste of the north island in October of 2012, a return this August was just as beautiful and paved the way to a future trip to this incredible place.
After deciding between the multitude of pools to drop a fly, it was down to the river with flyrod in hand with hopes of catching a Cutthroat Trout or Dolly Varden. Upon reaching the edge of the river, a chaos of splashes revealed I was not alone but in the company of a family of River Otters. Known for their playfulness and curiousity, hopes of an afternoon of catching fish became secondary and sprint up the bank to swap the flyrod for camera took place. Thankfully nobody was around to watch the unscheduled cardio workout in flipflops; not exactly the most graceful of sights.
Upon returning to the river, all but one of the otters had swam off into a nearby logjam. After checking out the 2 legged intruder, the brave adult joined the rest of the family. After waiting a few minutes, curiuosity got the better of the family as eventually they came out one by one to see/smell me before swimming downstream to the next pool.
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.
Harrison Bay in the lower mainland of British Columbia is home to one of the largest, if not the largest annual gathering of Bald Eagles in north America. Travelling to the area to visit family every year over Christmas almost always involves a few hours of watching these magnificent birds as they gorge on salmon in the Harrison and Chehalis Rivers. While there this past Christmas I snapped this shot of one of the maturing birds.