Every cottager wonders what goes on when you’re not there. Security systems can help deter human intruders, but the real fun comes when you set up a game camera to see which animals saunter through the property.
Once the domain of professional wildlife biologists, trail cameras are heavily used by hunters, who want to know where and when to find their quarry.
The cameras are equipped with a motion sensor, which triggers the camera to shoot whenever something enters its field of view. Hunters use them to find trophy deer, but the cameras have also captured images of more elusive creatures. A trail camera image of a cougar in the Coldwater-Orillia area was part of the evidence confirming that wild cougars still exist in Ontario; another image in the Guelph area showed that there was a black panther in the woods – likely an escaped exotic pet.
You may not see any cougars, but a trail camera can be a fun way to see what else is living around the cottage. One cottage owner set up a camera after losing several large aspen trees, to see just how big a beaver he was dealing with (it was a big one – well over three feet long, not including its tail). Others have been surprised to see that bears and moose enjoy the property when the humans are gone. You may see elusive creatures like fishers (a large member of the weasel family), or just enjoy knowing how many rabbits, foxes, wild turkeys and other animals are around the cottage.
Most wildlife is active at night. Hunters prefer cameras that shoot in infrared, for fear of scaring animals away with a flash. Cottagers aren’t usually as concerned – in fact, if the animals is a beaver or deer that’s eating the landscape, startling them with a flash may actually be an advantage. Just be sure you’re not going to startle yourself or your guests if the camera is set up somewhere that you might wander after dark.
Trigger speed is an important consideration when choosing your camera. It dictates how fast the camera will shoot, and how many images it can take, and it can be the difference between photographing a deer’s head or its rear as it exits the frame.
Remote access is a great option, allowing you to receive the images at home rather than waiting until the next time you’re at the cottage to download the images. And be sure to look at the battery life rating, so the camera can keep shooting through the winter. (Lithium batteries are the best for cold weather use.)
To position the camera, think about where the animals are likely to be. If you’ve seen deer droppings on the property, that’s a good place to start. If you’re not sure who or what is in the area, try setting it up with a wide field of view rather than focusing just on a small area. Facing north can help ensure you’re not getting images that are backlit by the sun.
Cameras are usually strapped to a tree trunk, around chest height. It’s quick and easy, but you may get better results by fastening them ten feet up on a branch. If the camera is on a trail, the height can also make it a bit less likely that it will be spotted by a person who decides that an expensive trail camera is just the thing to take home with them.