Trail Cameras – quick guide to their use
Over the last few years trail cameras have become extremely popular as a means of determining the presence and behaviour of local animal populations. The benefits of these cameras has been repeatedly shown on Tv documentaries such as Gordon Buchanan’s film on the endangered tiger population around the foothills of the Himalayas. Gordon again put them to verify good use in monitoring wolves in Canada. The cost of these cameras has dropped significantly recently and they are now avoidable by keen naturalists and photographers. Understandably many of us find sitting in hides for hours on end neither productive, particularly enjoyable or indeed effective, especially during the hours of darkness.
The potential for gaining intimate knowledge of wildlife in a non-threatiing and unobtrusive way is enormous and is constantly opening up exciting new avenues of study. The ability to go off-site and still constantly monitor a site once disturbance has been eliminated is very appealing. Having thprior knowledge of the latest animal movements is incredibly useful information that will help many keen photographers increase the chances of being in the right place at the right time.
The key feature of any trail camera is their ability to only record (still photographs or video) if movement has occurred within an area covered by its own inbuilt sensor. It is important to note that the sensor is unable to differentiate between the movement of animals, swaying vegetation or any other movement such as road traffic. The sensor therefore is critical in restricting recording to moving events thus saving the time needed to analyse the data gathered and, more importantly, reducing the power requirements needed to record. This latter point is very important because these remote cameras rely upon the small and independent power source typically supplied by standard AA batteries. An appreciation of these limitations will help to get the best out of these devices.
The physical dimensions of these trail cameras can vary quite a bit but they are often remarkably small with some having dimensions of less than 150mm x 100mm. This is really useful when it comes to secluding them in the countryside away from prying eyes and is very welcome if several cameras need to be carried over any distance. As an aid to covert operations these cameras are also frequently camouflaged and have the ability to be secured to a tree by a lockable cable. Although reasonably priced you don’t want to be giving them out to every passerby!
The essential features of trail a cameras invariably include;
- A sensor that detects movement and triggers the camera to record.
- A recording device to store the data collected.
- An infra red illumination system to enable recording in the dark.
- A small and integrated power supply.
- The ability to date and time stamp the recordings.
Setting Up the Sensor
The standard SD card is usually the recording method of choice and as such I have found it performs this task admirably, I have found that a 4 or 8MB size is more than sufficient to record a month’s data. I would advise that you get twice the number of cards as cameras in order that you can simply swap the cards in the field with minimal disturbance of the recording area.
As stated earlier these cameras are usually powered by AA batteries, often in a bank of four with the much preferred option of an additional second bank giving a total of eight batteries. Nearly all cameras also offer the ability to connect to an external power source. This may well be preferable in certain situations but I have never felt that there is any great need. The actual power requirement is actually very low at less than 0.2Ah per month meaning that they can happily run for many weeks before the bneed to replace or recharge. One point however to bear in mind is that in common with all batteries once the temperature drops towards zero their performance drops off dramatically. The second point to remember is that the power required to record video utilising the IP illumination is much greater than normal daytime recording. If the batteries are getting low it will be the night time recordings that will suffer first.
To provide the necessary illumination for night time recording each camera will incorporate quite a number of individual !R bulbs.This will still provide only a limited illumination range. I have generally found that a range of between 2 and 5 metres to be about ideal. Again this will vary with camera and individual animals. A final point to note is that many animals do detect the illumination at night and may be put off by the camera. It is best to place the camera such that it avoids pointing directly into an animals eyes. If you place the camera above the height of the animal and point it along the expected path of travel there shouldn’t be any problem.
Date and Time Stamping.
This is a fantastically useful ability that nearly all trail cameras possess. Take care to set the time correctly before deploying the camera to save some tedious back calculations. Obviously once set recording can be more easily compared if using multiple units.