Camera Traps: Taking Care of Your Space in Nature

October 10, 2017

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White-tailed deer at High Mountain Preserve. Deer appeared frequently in the camera trap study. Photo © Lisa Feldkamp / The Nature Conservancy

I’m constantly amazed by the opportunity for adventure and conservation, even in the most unexpected places.

This summer I had the good fortune to visit High Mountain Preserve to learn more about research into threatened northern long-eared bats found there. High Mountain is owned by The Nature Conservancythe state of New Jersey, and Wayne Township. It’s situated in northern New Jersey, about 20 miles from New York City and right in the backyard of William Paterson University.

“People that live nearby, if they take care of their space, they take care of that wildlife,” says Laura Botero who spent the summer of 2016 with friends and fellow students Samantha (Sam) Craig and Dan Hansen camera trapping in High Mountain.

The students were inspired by Lance Risley, Professor of Biology’s passion for conservation science and wanted to lead a project with his guidance. Risley suggested that the students set up motion-activated camera traps to learn more about the wildlife on the preserve and see if cats are frequent visitors.

For two and a half months the students moved two camera traps around the 1,260-acre preserve, exploring every corner along the way. On average, they moved the cameras every two weeks. While setting the cameras up they were entertained by wildlife sightings including an owl being harried by smaller birds and a flying squirrel climbing up a nearby tree.

Like so many places in the US, the wildlife of the preserve has yet to be fully documented. While the students didn’t find anything unexpected, their observations confirm that the preserve provides a refuge for foxes, turkeys, chipmunks, deer, and even rarer visitors like coyotes. They only saw two cats during the course of the project, one with what may have been a bird in its mouth; this was a lower incidence of neighborhood and feral cats than expected.

It made me more aware of myself and how I impact my surroundings — the way we take care of campus protects that forest.

Laura Botero

But data doesn’t have to be surprising to be valuable to science – the students showed that the preserve contains a wide array wildlife typical of the region and is therefore of interest for further ecological study. Sometimes people assume that wildlife or nature or things to travel to see, overlooking the richness of natural areas and “common” species nearby.

“Every day that you’re hiking and you’re not hearing cars, you notice more,” says Laura. “I can’t believe all of this is here. It made me more aware of myself and how I impact my surroundings — the way we take care of campus protects that forest.”

Raccoon at High Mountain Preserve.

For Laura, the importance of the project is not just in the record of wildlife found, but in realizing that even in the city our actions have the chance to help or harm wildlife. You don’t have to be an ecologist or professional conservationist to have an impact. For instance, the campus community helps keep High Mountain Preserve healthy by recycling, picking up trash, and taking steps to keep water clean — all things that we can each contribute to in our own neighborhoods.

Trail camera studies of wildlife aren’t limited to universities; you can participate too. Several citizen science projects rely on the public to identify wildlife from camera trap photos and trail cams have gotten inexpensive enough that many people are setting them up on their property or in their neighborhood park (with proper public permits) to get a candid shots of the wild things that come out when we’re not around.

Camera Trap Highlights

Deer at High Mountain Preserve.
Fox at High Mountain Preserve.
Skunk at High Mountain Preserve.
Turkeys at High Mountain Preserve.
Deer at High Mountain Preserve.
Coyotes at High Mountain Preserve.
Cat at High Mountain Preserve.
Lisa Feldkamp

Lisa loves all things citizen science and enjoys learning about everything that goes on four legs, two wings or fins - she even finds six and eight-legged critters fascinating at a safe distance. She has a PhD in Classical Literature and Languages from the University of Wisconsin - Madison and enjoys reading Greek and Roman literature or talking about mythology in her spare time. More from Lisa

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  1. Beautiful photography and wonderful to educate the students (well really all of us) on the importance of protected our wildlife we can all do our part for the sake of our environment. Thank you