two deer

Wildlife by camera

Trail cameras let you see what the bears, wolves, moose, and more are up to

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. Suddenly you can see every creature who wanders through your Muskoka property, from raccoons to bears, chipmunks to moose.

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. But increasingly, cottage owners in Muskoka and elsewhere are finding that they’re a great way to see what Mother Nature is up to.

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. Cougars, for example, were long thought to be extinct in Ontario; then a trail camera image of a cougar in the Coldwater-Orillia area was added to a growing body of evidence that they actually still exist. 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 (although they have been spotted in Muskoka), 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.

How to choose the right camera

Most wildlife is active at night, so you need something that can see in the dark. 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 animal 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.

Other factors to consider when choosing your game camera include:

  • Trigger speed. This determines how fast the camera will shoot, and how many images it can take. It can be the difference between photographing a deer’s head or its rear as it exits the frame.
  • Remote access. Some cameras store the images on a card, while others upload the images to the cloud. The latter is more expensive, but it does let you receive the images at home rather than waiting until the next time you’re at the cottage.
  • Battery life. If you want to keep shooting through the winter, you’ll want long-lasting batteries. Lithium batteries are the best for cold weather use.

Where to mount your camera

To position the camera, think about where the animals are likely to be.  If you’ve seen deer droppings on the property, or tracks on a trail or in the mud, that’s a good place to start. Ponds or swamps tend to be active places with plenty of animal activity.

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.  Or position the camera so it’s looking down a trail rather than pointing into a random patch of forest — larger animals often use the same trails that we do, since it’s easier to move along a trail than to push your way through dense undergrowth.

Facing north can help ensure you’re not getting images that are backlit by the sun, if your camera captures wildlife during the day.

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.

Here are some other articles that take a closer look at nature in Muskoka:

Posted in Connecting with Nature.