Auckland-Waikato Fish & Game wildlife manager John Dyer has discovered a secret world of wildlife.
This article is to share the idea of how useful game cameras (aka trail cameras) are in exploring what is happening at your favourite pond or wetland.
Put a game camera in front of a nest box, a ground nest, a trap you’ve set, or perhaps at a feeder or roosting log, and see what is using it night and day. There will be a lot more going on than you would credit.
Using such a camera is an invitation into a secret world of wildlife. This increased understanding will also help you in management decisions about your pond and its inhabitants.
Game cameras take coloured pictures during the day when they are set off by movement. You can also set them to take short videos or a combination.
These digital images are stored on a SD card, so you can download, store and share them.
At night, game cameras switch to infra-red and you get black and white photos. The better types have “black flash” which means that not only do critters generally not see the flash, but neither do humans.
That can be handy to get repeat candid photos, but also to let you know who
and what is about.
A flash that cannot be seen reduces the risk of theft as does camouflaging the camera and/or buying either a lockable security cable or metal “bear-box” for it.
The bear-box has to be unlocked to get at the attaching screws, though these
boxes are often a bit pricey. A lockable braided cable, which I prefer, can be looped around a tree trunk or fence post and back through moulded slots in the camera housing.
A camo-finish camera and cable are easier to conceal than shiny, plain-finish ones. In some cases, you will need to import to get what you want.
Game cameras seem to all have the same ¼-inch-20 UNC thread in their base to
accept any camera mount, or even a makeshift mount you have made using the same bolt and some wood.
This allows you to position the camera right next to such things as nest boxes, even if a handy tree isn’t nearby.
Any movement sets off a photo and it might be the grey teal making sure the inside of the box is empty before risking getting in.
Or it might be an interaction between a pair of ducks and a would-be nest
It might also be an interloper such as a sneaky myna bird, trying to take over
the nest box. The camera records the time and date so you can get a picture (pardon the pun) of what is about and when.
Some duck activities, such as preening on an installed roosting log, seem to only happen at night. And what is that on the log? OMG, it’s a water rat!
You’ll be surprised to observe feral cats you never see in daylight or the stoat
you never caught passing by your trap. You’ll certainly reappraise how many of these vermin are around and what your trapping effort should be to counter this.
I found, for instance, possums reaching in and helping themselves to my rat baits in a home-made poison box. It didn’t seem to do them much harm either.
A change of bait might have fixed that, but instead I added a baffle that meant
the possum's arm just wasn’t long enough any more. You might say they were baffled!
Seeing a stoat go past a trap is pretty annoying, but it starts you thinking;
why? Perhaps a better technique is required.
For instance, a little turned-over soil by the trap entrance suggests rabbits have been burrowing and is a good attractant. Rubbing a little of this soil in your
hands will help hide human scent before handling the trap or bait. Stoats and weasels aren’t particularly afraid of the sight of humans, but for some reason
they are very wary of our scent.
My trapping diary suggests that it takes three days for my unmasked scent to wear off enough for a stoat to visit a rebaited trap.
I was surprised to see pheasants in my trap pictures until I burrowed into the
pin oak leaf litter and found acorns.
I’d never known these trees to seed, but it was just that the acorns were either quickly gobbled up or covered up. The camera alerted me to this.
Pictures of a feeder will show you wild ducks that perhaps you didn’t know you had and the manner in which they jostle for space might suggest shifting feeders apart will reduce competition.
One hunter I know had some great photos of Canada geese coming to his feeder, but also some bloke's face right up close having a good look at it too. “Who the heck is that?”, he asked me. Luckily old Stan was only curious and not up to anything worse.
One spot on my pond has a mallard nest each year, so I set up a game camera
to monitor her success. I was pretty shocked to see a pūkeko and then a
hawk standing right alongside the concealed nest.
She must have been well camouflaged and keeping dead still, or perhaps she was quite intimidating. Either way she brought her brood off yet again, (when eggs have hatched, and are not predated, the thin membranes lining the inside
shell fragments are semi-detached).
But we have also used game cameras to catch hawks in the act of eating duck eggs – coming back for every single one. Hawks by law are deemed semi-
protected but, in some situations, such as where native bird recovery is being done on private land, that status is waived.
So, consider adding a game camera to your pond or wetland. Just take it from me, don’t point it at a railway line unless you want to know the train schedule.
On a windy day, if there’s a few branches in front of it, you’ll have 100 shots of
them swaying left and another 100 right. While these cameras are normally quite rainproof, if you have a flood, you might not be so lucky. Place them above any likely tide line.
And if you tire of your game camera, rest assured, they have good second-hand value too. Though my guess is you’ll be trading up to a better version with more megapixels as your new hobby grows. Have fun.
WHAT'S ON THE MARKET
Advice re buying a game camera:
Larger shooting shops such as Hunting & Fishing usually have a selection to match your requirements. I prefer camo to avoid potential public land theft and imported a camo Python security strap – and saved a heap by doing so.
In safer areas, the supplied nylon strap will do. A black flash is a feature definitely worth paying more for. If the camera does not have a memory card, then I’d suggest buying an SD card of about 8-16GB. This refers to how much recording space it has, the higher the
number, the more space and expense. You’ll want a way to connect the SD
card into your computer. On older computers, you can do this directly.
For newer laptops, you may need a small card holder with a USB lead attached such as those sold by Stationery Warehouse. You can now download all your pictures.
In the field, the easiest way to see what you have is to put the SD card into a
digital camera. In particular, you’ll see
if the game camera isn’t pointing at the object of interest square-on or cutting heads off, etc.
They usually have a digital display in the back of the game camera, but you often have to turn it around to see this, which defeats the whole aiming purpose.
Game cameras usually also have an aim feature that you can set and wave your hand around. If it is in the monitored area, the camera will flash red back to you. If not, it won’t. So you can tell if all of the subject will be in the picture, for instance, both ends of a roosting log.
Buy good rechargeable batteries and a large charger that takes them all at once, perhaps from a tech store. That will save time and soon pay for itself. There’s lots of online advice too.