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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Camera trap workshop at Muller Field Station (FLCC)

Raccoon in swamp
(6/11, Muller Field Station)
Four participants attended a one day workshop on the use of camera traps and track boards on June 20th at the Muller Field Station (owned by Finger Lakes Community College). Through a grant, we have been able to create five "wildlife kits" for teachers to sign out. Each kit contains two camera traps, one digital camera, 12 Track Finder books and a set of common mammal track replicas.

Six days earlier, Sasha Mackenzie and I set out eight Cuddeback Capture cameras (four infrared and four white light flash). We set them in various locations. For example, we attached one to the leg of a bench in the lawn near the channel, baited with a tin of sardines. Another we placed in some ash trees, baited with Squirrel Paste (Havahart product). We even got in the canoes and set five cameras along the channel, hoping for some semi-aquatic mammals. I concocted a bait from the sardine oil and Vaseline. The petroleum jelly acts to hold the oil in place longer than the oil alone. From past experience, we knew we would get many coon photos and I sprayed raccoon urine at several of the sets just to make sure of attracting some of the bandits.

Red squirrel in mid air!
(6/11, Muller Field Station)
The morning of the workshop, we all gathered in the great room and I began with an overview of the day's events and goals. I had prepared a 30 minute PowerPoint presentation that went over the basics of camera trapping and how I use them in my classes. We passed around one of the cameras so everyone could see how it works. I brought everyone outside to the camera trap baited with Squirrel Paste. Everyone could crowd around the camera so we could all see it in operation. We had 26 photos on that camera and not only was the Squirrel Paste all gone, but the bark was gnawed off so the rodents could get every last bit. At left is the best photo of that lot. At first, I thought we had captured a flying squirrel, but closer examination reveals this is a red squirrel in mid air. Regardless, it is a stunning photo and an instant favorite among the group.
Retrieving camera traps
(6/11, Muller Field Station)
From there, we paired up and headed into the canoes. Sasha and I had 4 different sets out (one with two cameras) and were really hoping for some semi-aquatic mammals. As we retrieved the cameras, we were excited to find that we had numerous photos on each. We rounded a bend to find an immature bald eagle watching our progress at close range. When the last camera was gathered, there was excitement in each boat as we paddled back to the field station to check our SD cards.

Infrared photo of raccoon
(6/11, Muller Field Station)

As stated earlier, I expected lots of raccoon photos. And we were not disappointed. Here are a few of the better ones. I am not a fan of the IR cameras. I would rather have the crisp photos from the flash cameras. However, we have some of each as the IRs do have their advantages. I created this set along a log hoping for a mink, but got coons and red squirrels instead. Still, an interesting photo and we found that my sardine oil and Vaseline concoction held up well for the week.

(6/11, Muller Field Station)

(6/11, Muller Field Station)
We totaled 16 species (well, 17 if you count the bullfrog that was on a log when a bird triggered the camera) in all with half of them birds.  I could not find my castor scent, so we only ended up with one beaver photo. But beaver pics are always nice. They are such a surprising looking animal that they look good at almost any angle. Look at the way the wet fur ripples on the right side of the animal.... just a cool photo!

(6/11, Muller Field Station)
We managed to document one other semi-aquatic mammal and like the beaver, only captured it in a single image. This is perhaps my favorite camera trapped mink. The pose is interesting and the face is fully visible. We didn't do a good enough job of keeping track of which SD card came from which set, so I am unsure what this set was baited with. Interestingly, when we ran the Wetlands Mammal class last fall we did not get a single photo of a mink but did get a photo of river otter. There have to be far more mink than otters so we were not expecting that result. It gave me a chance to talk to the students about the danger of relying on only one trial for your data (or your assumptions). 

Identifying tracks
(6/11, Muller Field Station)
When the camera trapping was done, Sasha took over and presented some basics on tracks, trails and animal feet. She started with a PowerPoint and then a description of how to use the Track Finder book. Once that was over, we went out to the picnic tables and practiced identifying tracks and trails in containers of sand. Sasha used the rubber track replicas from Acorn Nauralists to make the imprints. Everyone seemed to enjoy the challenge!


  1. Nice mink shot!

    I have never gotten a really good mink shot like that (and I've tried like crazy to get good mink pics).

    Well done, JVN!

  2. Thanks! But I would gladly trade you this one for those river otter photos you posted recently... :)


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