Use a trail camera to spy on wildlife in your yard

Ann Cameron Siegal

THE WASHINGTON POST – A small backyard nestled between houses on a well-used residential street in Alexandria, Virginia, seems like an unlikely spot for a wildlife “highway”. But during one evening in March, Evan Kosinski’s neighbour told the six-year-old about seeing two foxes, two raccoons, a rabbit and one opossum between midnight and 6am. His neighbour doesn’t crouch outside all night watching for critters and never leaves food to attract animals.

Instead the neighbour uses a trail camera, or trail cam, as an extra pair of eyes observing wildlife activity without human interference. Trail cams – small, motion-triggered, weatherproof cameras that operate with batteries – take videos or still photos. These easily operated devices are popular with nature lovers, educators and researchers. Daytime images are in colour. Night images, relying on infrared lights that minimally affect animals, are in black-and-white. Trail cams offer an amazing look at the natural world of urban wildlife.

Wanting to learn more, Evan began looking for any animal signs in his fenced yard. Noticing a small hole under the steps of his family’s deck, he borrowed a cam and recorded a family of chipmunks coming and going.

A “wow” moment occurred when, with permission, he put the cam facing a hole under the neighbour’s shed.

“It showed a litter of raccoons living there,” Evan told KidsPost.

This fox was captured early one morning last summer in a yard in Alexandria, Virginia. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

A fox, seen passing earlier, spooked the mom into moving her five babies (called kits) that night, taking each by the scruff of the neck. Evan noticed that each move took about 10 minutes, so he figured that her next hiding place was nearby.

Tempted to go hunting for the raccoons, he wisely decided not to. “The mom moved them because she was scared,” he said. “We might scare them more.” Since receiving his own trail cam last summer, Evan has seen bunnies’ ears twitching as they munch on grass, a young opossum in search of ticks and insects, and cats on nighttime prowls for mice or other prey.

“It’s a great hobby for someone Evan’s age,” said his dad, Shane Kosinski. “He tries different spots and angles and thinks about where the animals might go, and then if he doesn’t catch anything, he tries again.” The use of trail cams in urban backyards provides year-round entertainment, as well as an education in animal behaviour. What is creating mysterious holes in your yard, getting into your trash cans or eating your plants?

Evan hasn’t recorded any sick or seriously injured animals, but he has captured a limping fox on video. With research, he has learned that the best action to take is often no action.

“The rule of thumb is if the animal is moving in and out of your cam range, it’s probably okay,” said President of the Wildlife Rescue League Carolyn Wilder in Virginia. “Wild animals are adapting to urban life, trying to co-exist with us, and we want to figure out ways to live peacefully with them.”