Life on Earth

Trail Cameras

Motion-sensing cameras

I live adjacent to a national recreation area where we enjoy a year-round parade of wildlife past our house. I can track wildlife with a remote camera triggered by an animal’s movement. Right now I am trying to capture a mountain lion in the hills behind our house on film. I’m using trail monitors, which combine a motion detector and a point and shoot camera (with auto exposure and focus) into one unit that is set up along a trail.

Detector-enabled cameras are becoming a key tool in conservation work. Because they are unobtrusive, eternally patient, and immune to sleep or bad weather, they see things observers keep missing. Trail monitors are enabling field biologists in Africa, Asia, and South America to detect species of animals in areas no one knew they inhabited. Once an animal’s existence is proven by film, it becomes easier to find other evidence of its precense.

Hunters also use these gadgets to track bigger game. I have used several types and for my purposes I am currently happiest with a game-hunting device called Cam Tracker. This a completely self-contained weatherproof unit that straps to a tree or post. I like it over others because it is simple, camoflauged, and easy to program. The beefed up battery system also lasts longer if you use the night/flash mode, which I do. They also make a digital version which I have not tried yet.

For rangers, Trailmaster makes several models of infrared wildlife monitors. These battery-operated devices detect movements that can easily be used to trigger a camera, but many folks purchase the monitor alone as a counter. Biologists taking censuses of animal populations, or hunters tracking game are typical uses. The advantage of this system is that the motion detection system is a separate unit which can be placed perfectly (even away from the camera) and tweaked to detect, say, only large animals, or only fast moving animals, so it can be used to selectively distinguish certain animals. It is also cheaper. I purchased a Trailmaster passive monitor camera kit ($180), which is geared to sensing all wildlife in a wide field of vision, to try to catalog all the animals active on the trails in the hills behind our house. It’s not as weatherproof as the Cam Tracker but we got pictures of fox, coyote, and bob cat, but alas, no panther yet. (It takes some experience to aim the set up effectively).

The coolest thing is the way getting film back from the processor is like Christmas every time. You open up the envelope with no idea what you’ve got. It certainly has broadened my view of the neighborhood.

— KK

Available from CamTrakker

Trailmaster Trail Monitor
TM35-1 Camera Kit
Available from Trailmaster


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