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Caught on Camera: Our Wildlife Neighbors

Join Cary Institute wildlife biologist Mike Fargione for a virtual tour of animals on our 2,000-acre research campus in New York’s Hudson Valley. Drawing from a network of trail cameras, Fargione shares insights into wildlife living in our forests, fields, and wetlands, among them: beavers, bears, bobcats, and more.

Through video clips and still images, see animal perseverance and ingenuity, and discover preferred animal crossings and unusual species interactions. Fargione also discusses how wildlife cameras inform ecological research, shares tips on installing wildlife cameras on your property, and offers ways people can contribute to citizen science.

Do you want to explore wildlife on your property? Cary wildlife biologist Mike Fargione shows step by step how to set-up a trail cam.

Learn how to select a camera, how it works, and the materials needed. Mike offers step by step tips for where and how to set up the camera for best results.

Resources & Talk Transcript

Live Q&A: Responses to unaswered questions

Q.   What issues have you had with the cameras (e.g. mechanical problems, weather, animals knocking them out of place)?

A.  Most camera problems we have encountered relate to mechanical problems with the cameras themselves, rather than external factors. Trail cameras are mass-produced and occasionally units fail to function properly after a short time. Typically, this will happen within the first 2 years. Most have a 1-year warranty, and some distributors add a second year to that. My experience is that units that function well for the first year will generally continue to work properly for several more years. That said, the life expectancy of a typical camera is probably no more than 5 years with regular use. We still have a few working cameras purchased in 2014, but not many.

The most common mechanical problems depend on the make and model. The primary issues we have seen with our cameras include battery doors that pop open, moisture leaks, and loss of sensitivity of the PIR sensor over time (the thing that “sees” the animal and tells the camera to capture its image).

External factors that have affected our cameras include theft (padlocked doors and cable locks only keep honest people honest), loss of the support (we try to hang them from the same tree each year, but trees do die), growth of vegetation blocking the camera (judicious trimming may be needed) and bears. A mauling by bears typically does no damage other than redirecting where the camera points, but we have had one occasion where a tooth went through the lens. Some of our cameras had adjustable rear brackets that let you tilt the camera. Bears ripped these apart so we do not use this design anymore. One way to prevent bear damage is to place the camera in a metal security box that is screwed to the tree.

Other than when cameras have leaked, the only weather-related issues we have had are fog hiding whatever triggered the camera and floods submerging them – they are not meant to be underwater!
Q.  Do any species see, and appear to react to, their reflection in a camera lens?

A.  The lens of most trail cameras is small in diameter and animals are unlikely to become aware of it. In contrast, the LED bulbs may be visible when the camera flash is activated. There is an obvious white blast of light from white flash units (definitely scares animals and is rarely found on today’s cameras), and a red glow on the camera face with red glow flash units. Supposed “no-glow” flash cameras emit a flash in the spectrum that is beyond what most animals can see and can eliminate any reaction to the flash. However, most “no-glow” flashes have a more limited range, so there is a trade-off. So far we have stuck with red-glow flash units. 

Animals that are active mostly in the daytime (like most birds) are rarely exposed to the red flash, so it is not an issue.  Wildlife that are active at night vary greatly in how they respond.  In my experience, bears, bobcats, skunks, and members of the weasel family don’t pay much attention to the red flash.  Canids (foxes and coyotes) are very aware and may react when other animals do not. Deer are in the middle; sometimes they see the red glow but not at other times.

I think more wildlife are alarmed by the smell of the camera, cable lock, or other accessories than we are aware of.  The human scent left while installing or checking the cameras can be a real alarm for some species.  Wearing rubber boots and gloves can help but will not eliminate human odor.  Just watch a bear approach a camera for the first few days after a human visit – they know someone was there!
Q.  What models are your wildlife cameras? I use one in my backyard but it has no sound in the videos.

A.  There are many dependable trail cameras available today.  I would look at customer ratings, tests and recommendations from people who test different brands (such as TrailCamPro.Com) and the advice from your friends on what worked for them.  I would be surprised if many of today’s cameras that capture video would not also record sound.

We began our trail camera use in 2014.  At that time, the Browning Strike Force was a well-rated model that was inexpensive enough that we could afford to buy the number of cameras we needed.   In research, you try to keep extraneous variables consistent so they don’t affect your results.  For that reason, and because we had success with them, we have continued to Browning cameras.  The Strike Force model has worked well for us.  In recent years it was occasionally hard to get ones that didn’t have a hinged back bracket which I did not want (bears).  Videos taken at the logjams and shown in the presentation were shot with Browning Recon Force HP5 cameras.  In my opinion, this model may have even better video quality than the Strike Force, but they require more batteries and seem to use up the batteries more quickly.  Again – tradeoffs.

My recommendation is to decide what features you want for your purpose, select a well-respected brand, and buy it from a reputable source that will stand by the warranty.  
Q.  Do you plan to put a trail camera next to a pond?

A.  We tested a camera at a man-made dam on one of the few ponds on our property.  For whatever reason, we got very few videos and nothing interesting.  We still have more to learn about selecting good camera sites, so it is still trial and error on which sites work.

Q.  Can you report any preliminary findings on your deer populations?

A.  Not at this time based on the trail camera work.  We have yet to analyze these data.
Q.  Could one create migration maps if you link camera captures together with GPS location data?

A.  Researchers are using trail cameras to document migrating herd populations and their travel routes.  One example can be found at:…
Q.  Could trail camera videos help build a case for constructing wildlife crossing bridges in the Hudson Valley?

A.  Scientists, managers and planners are currently using trail cameras to document and protect critical wildlife travel corridors.  It seems like cameras could be a tool to do this in the Hudson Valley as well.  Here are a couple of examples:……

Q.  We were just thinking of setting up a trail camera.  Where can we find them locally?  Do you ever sell some of your used cameras?

A.  We do not sell our used cameras as we keep them in service until they stop working.  Unfortunately, most times they are not reparable when they break.  Most sporting goods stores will carry some brand of trail camera.  You can also find them at many of the big box stores, and even in some hardware stores.  The best selection might be found in specialty stores that focus on hunting equipment, and on the internet.
Q.  You have not seen a mountain lion on your cameras, but do you know if any have been seen in Dutchess County? I see posts where people claim they have seen them somewhat locally.

A.  Supposed sightings of mountain lions are occasionally mentioned but I am unaware of any confirmed sightings in Dutchess County NY.    The only documented mountain lion in the wild in our region was a young male cat hit by a car in CT in 2011.  That cat was originally from South Dakota… .    

Q.  Will black bears kill fawns?

A.  Black bears are effective predators of whitetail deer fawns, particularly during the fawn's first few weeks of life.  For the first month, fawns depend on staying still and hiding to avoid predators.  During that time, they may be very vulnerable to bears.  We have also seen coyotes and bobcats kill fawns.  Deer populations can rebound quickly and natural predation is an important factor in preventing over-browsing of their food resources and the loss of the next generation of forest trees.

Using trail cameras

Web Resources on Trail Cameras

TrailCamPro.Com. Extensive information on how trail cameras work and
how to use them. Tests and reviews of different models; Sales of trail cameras and accessories; free
extended warranty available on some sales.

Winterberry Wildlife: Camera Trapping Technology Blog…

  • Particularly useful is the post on Trail Camera PIR Sensors:

Apps, Peter J and John W McNutt. 2018. How camera traps work and how to work them. African
Journal of Ecology.

Potential Uses for Trail Cameras in Wildlife Management

How To Use Trail Cameras Videos

How to Use Trail Cameras to Monitor Wildlife: Step by Step…

An Introduction to Trail Cameras

Outside the Box: Interesting Trail Camera Locations and Footage

Algonquin park Trail Cam Footage 2019

Beaver dams: nature’s wildlife bridges

Wyoming Wildlife – Trail Cam Footage Compilation

2023 Swan Valley Highlights Compilation

A Sampling of Laws and Opinions on the Use and Ethics of Trail Cameras

(Opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the position of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies)

Boone and Crockett Club Position Statement – Technology and Hunting…

Citizen Science Q&A: Trail Cameras (Harvard Law School students):…

Delaware Bans Trail Cameras for Recreational Use on State Wildlife Areas, State Forests, and State

National Deer Association Official Position Statement on Trail-camera Use…

New Hampshire General Provisions As To Fish and Game – Game Cameras

New York DEP allows trail cameras on recreational lands (page 2)…-

Trail Camera Citizen Science Projects

eMammal:  Aid in photo collection, look at pictures, identify and upload them for review and archive at
the Smithsonian

Snapshot USA: A collaborative effort to track mammal relative abundance and distribution with
camera traps

ISeeMammals: Project to collect data on black bears in NY using observations, hikes and trail cameras.

ZOONIVERSE: Volunteers go onto projects and classify data in them. They can also test projects before they launch.

Reference Books on Trail Cameras

Thomas Jr., Lindsay. 2010. Deer Cameras the Science of Scouting. Quality Deer Management Association, GA. 240 pp.…

Pesaturo, Janet. 2018. Camera trapping Guide Tracks, Sign, and Behavior of Eastern Wildlife. Stackpole
Books, MD. 282 pp.…


Joshua Ginsberg  0:02  
Good evening and welcome to Caught on Camera: Our Wildlife Neighbors, with Wildlife Biologist Mike Fargione. My name is Josh Ginsberg. I'm president of Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York. And I've been looking at the chat and people have been saying where they're coming from. And I think it's fair to say we have an audience from all over the world tonight. And so I'm just gonna say a few words about Cary Institute.

We're an independent research institute based in Millbrook, New York, about 100 miles from New York City. We are in our 40th year, and we specialize in studying large-scale ecological phenomenon, and particularly looking at issues that affect human well-being, ecosystem resilience, and we are very interested in the role of biodiversity and ecosystem functions. All of these things take place in different ecosystems. And we work on ecosystems as diverse, as far as temperate and tropical, freshwater systems, lakes and rivers and forests, and disease ecology, everything from the importance of biodiversity for disease and pandemic spillover to understanding the factors that lead to pandemic spillover and how we can prevent it. We have a staff of just under 100 people, and we are not part of any other institution. So we're not part of a university, we're a free-standing institution.

Anyway, one of the things we have is 2,000 acres of research property in Millbrook. And about 10 years ago, just after I became president of Cary Institute, just after Mike Fargione arrived as the manager of our property, and research, Mike started using camera traps or automated cameras in the forest to study the animals, and particularly initially, to better understand the dynamics of deer in our forests. As many of you know, deer were once almost extinct. And now they are considered a pest by many people. And we've been reducing deer numbers through an annual harvest for almost 50 years. It's one of the longest term studies. And we wanted to find a new way to get relative deer density. We did that. But we also found a new way to learn a lot more about our environment.

Camera traps have been a increasingly important part of biological restrictions, because they sit quietly in the forest and the animals ignore them. Or, if they don't ignore them, they come and get curious about them. But fundamentally, they are a remarkable tool that's been used by many of our staff, Barbara Han, Rick Ostfeld, Mike Fargione, but by people all over the world; they're really an eye in the forest for research biologists. So it's with great pleasure that I introduce Mike, and we'll let him talk to you tonight about some of the things he's seen, and he apologizes in advance: there are no data slides in this presentation. So if you're one of our fervent followers who comes for those graphs, afraid you're gonna have to just look at beautiful pictures tonight, and hear Mike talk about the animals that live in and around us and who we rarely see. So Mike, thank you very much, and take it over.

Michael Fargione  3:15  
Thank you very much, Josh. So as you mentioned, tonight's presentation is is meant to be a fun exploration of wildlife, as seen on the trail cameras here at Cary. No data slides, no research findings. As a background, I'm going to talk briefly about how and why we started to use trail cameras to assist with our deer management efforts. But mostly, I just want to give you a glimpse of the diversity of wildlife that we've seen, share some of the images, but also describe some species that we never photographed, and how that helped to reshape some of my ideas about how wildlife use our landscape. Finally, I'm going to encourage you to consider using a trail camera on your own property. By doing so, you can get a better understanding of your wildlife neighbors, how they make a living, and also how you might contribute some valuable information to a larger trail camera project.

Michael Fargione  4:15  
So starting off, what is a trail camera? Well, trail cameras are known as wildlife cameras or game cameras or camera traps. And basically it's a self-contained, waterproof camera that's designed to take automated pictures of anything that walks past it. Trail cameras can record color images during the daytime when there's plenty of light, and at night they use a flash to get an image and typically trail cameras will produce black-and-white images at night. Most of today's cameras are capable of recording both still photos as well as video with sound. They record images on SD cards. Some have Wi-Fi capability. And some can even be connected to a cellular network and automatically send you pictures to your computer or your phone. They're powered typically by internal batteries, but they can use external power sources, and they can even use solar panels to power them as well.

Researchers use trail cameras to answer a lot of questions, as Josh mentioned, things like, What species are present? How many animals are there? What behaviors do they exhibit? How do they use space and time? And how do they interact with other species? And as mentioned, we have a couple of scientists here at Cary using those trail cameras for different projects that involved disease and, disease and wildlife. This slide illustrates some of the kinds of questions that you might be able to answer about a deer population, such as what we've been doing here at Cary.

So tonight, I'm going to talk to you and show you slides that mostly were collected in our deer management program with the cameras that we placed out on the property in areas that are closed to the public. Our deer project was trying to track what are the relative abundance of deer on the property so we could set harvest goals. But we're also looking at some novel methods of estimating the actual population size. In this photo, you see one of the interns who worked with us getting cameras ready to put out in the field. On the bottom on the left, you'll see an image of the property and how we distribute cameras systematically over the landscape. The picture on the bottom of the bear is typically what we would see come from a trail camera, you can see the animal in the foreground; in the background on either side of it, if you look carefully, you'll actually see a couple of yellow posts. Those are driveway markers. And we've put them out there to give us some spatial information about animals in the photographs. We've used trail cameras as well to develop some information for web and social media and for our education programs. And at times we've used them to, as an opportunity to explore some unusual wildlife scenarios that have taken place on the property.

Just a couple of notes before we go any farther about the quality of the photos and the videos you're going to see tonight. Our deer project cameras rarely produced perfectly framed high-quality images because that's not our goal. Our goal is to try and collect data for this research. That said, there are some surprisingly good photos that we've been able to take. And I have to say that the images from today's cameras are even better than those from the cameras we started with 10 years ago. With any trail camera, the video images you get typically aren't as clear as the still photos, and they certainly don't match cinematic productions in terms of movies. All of our cameras when we use them with video are set to take short, 10-second video clips. When we stitch those together to try and tell a story, you can see a little bit of a jerky motion as you have little spaces between the video clips. So be aware of that. And finally, when you see an animal in our videos and we zoom in on it, just be aware that that's something we're doing after the fact with some editing software. And the trail cameras themselves really don't have the ability to do that. Despite all that, every time I check a trail camera, it's like going downstairs on Christmas morning and opening a present, because you never know exactly what's going to be there under the tree.

So the Cary Institute is located in southeastern New York, in Dutchess County, about halfway between the city and Albany. As you probably know, New York has a population of almost 20 million people. And the population in Dutchess County is almost 300,000. So we're certainly not a wilderness area. Our property is about 2,000 acres or three square miles. It's a post-agricultural landscape, about 70% now is covered with forest and this picture on the right shows the property with a white line around the boundary. The deer population on our property has been managed, as Josh mentioned, for almost 50 years now with a controlled hunting program. And because of that, we have generous understory and good forest regeneration and it provides a lot of quality habitat for wildlife.

Michael Fargione  10:02  
And although we characterize ourselves as being in a rural community, human influences certainly surround us and impact the wildlife on our landscape. If you look at this photo, each of those yellow lines you see represent a different tax parcel. And most of those parcels include either a residence or a commercial building with the associated human activity that goes with it. So animals that live here on our property and around us need to be successful at living and adapting to being around humans. Despite the human impacts, we know at least 36 different species of mammals that regularly use the property. About a dozen of these are shown here in the green boxes. Those are animals that we regularly photograph on our deer project cameras. They include black bears, chipmunks, Cottontail rabbits, coyotes, of course white-tailed deer, white-footed mice, Virginia opossums, raccoons, skunks, and gray and red and flying squirrels. There's also another group shown here in yellow, that appear infrequently on the cameras; we'll get an image of these species once or twice a season. In some cases, we may have only gotten an image or two in the whole 10 years we've been doing the project. These include things like bobcats and fisher, gray and red fox, a couple of species of jumping mice, mink, river otters, and a couple of species of weasels. And then finally, there's some mammals shown here in the orange boxes that we have never gotten on our trail cameras, things like numerous species of bats, American beaver, and moles and muskrats and shrews, meadow voles, and, believe it or not, we've never seen a woodchuck on the cameras.

Why do some common animals show up less frequently? Well, things like mice and moles and shrews are abundant, but they may be too small and well hidden in the vegetation for our cameras to be triggered by them. Or they may be too hard to see when they are in the images. Things like beaver and muskrat are common on the property. But they're not spending any time in the habitats where we place the cameras. And finally, we need to realize that to capture some of these animals, we need to not only set our cameras in the appropriate habitat, but we also have to focus them appropriately for those species we're trying to see. And we're going to talk more about that later.

So I'm gonna start out by showing you some of the still photos that we've taken over the years of whitetail deer, since that's been the main emphasis of our work. These are either the still photos like you see here directly from the camera, or in some cases, they're snapshots that we've taken from the videos. And you can see this buck here in the foreground. And behind it, if you look closely again, you can see the yellow posts in the background. In both of these posts, you can actually see that there are reflectors on them. At the bottom of the screen, you'll see the black band that the camera puts on each photo, telling things like the temperature, the date and time, and which camera it is.

Michael Fargione  13:37  
Here's four examples of those deer photos that were taken by the cameras. All of these were in the fall; most of our research time is with cameras out is in the fall. And at this time of year, if they were male deer adults, we would see antlers on them and seeing none on any of these animals, then we know something about who we're seeing in these pictures. These are adult females, with fawns in some cases; looking at such a series of images, we can begin to develop some basic information about our deer population, and also an understanding of some of their behavior, things like, Which habitats are they using? And also, What time of day are they using them?

Another set of pictures from our deer cameras. When you can distinguish features on individual deer we can begin to recognize them as individuals. And that opens up another whole level of understanding of what these animal populations are like and what behaviors they're doing. So here's a series of photos of a group of several adult male white-tailed deer. If you look closely and carefully and with a little practice, you can see there's several different individuals here, as distinguished by the size and shape of their antlers.

Some more images of deer; this case, we're looking at deer without antlers. Look closely at the top photo. This was taken in September. Now we can start to read a story about deer physiology and the changing seasons from that photo. So this doe is almost finished growing her gray-white winter coat, while the fawn next to her has retained its summer coat, you can still see the spots except for on the back, where the winter coat is starting to come in. On the right-hand side, we can see another deer; this is an individual who is a piebald. That's a unique kind of a genetically based color variant that makes this individual deer easy to identify year after year, and we have seen that animal many times. The bottom left is a doe, and the photo was taken in the spring in early April. So in wintertime, when food is scarce, and the quality of the food is poor, deers can lose a significant amount of weight, up to 40% of their body weight. So we're looking at an animal that's had a significant weight loss over the winter. And we're also looking at an animal that's in the process of shedding its winter coat. And because of that, it looks somewhat emaciated and a lot raggedy. A few more weeks, looking at all that green coming up behind it, it's going to shed that coat and it's going to put on weight and be just fine. But we can learn something about this animal based on the time of year and the pictures we get from these trail cameras.

Finally, the bottom picture on the right shows a deer that suffering some hair loss. And if you look closely, you'll actually see some tiny ticks on its back. So parasites and other physical abnormalities can sometimes even be picked up when we look at trail camera pictures.

Monitoring trail cameras is more exciting when you see the unusual things, such as animals that appear where they're not expected. They can be local animals that show up in an unusual habitat like that great blue heron, or the two river otters at the top. They can be animals that are local, but are seen at an unusual time, such as on the left-hand side we see a barred owl flying during the daytime. The most fun is when you see things that are unusual and not residents. They're transients perhaps from other areas. We've had moose appear twice now in the last four years on the property. The cow on the bottom in the center was here for almost a month in 2017, and many people got a chance to see her. The bull on the right was here just last fall. It was here for only a few days, no one saw it. And if it wasn't for the trail cameras, we would have never known that it was actually here.

Somebody asked in the pre questions for today's talk whether we've ever seen mountain lions on the property. We have never seen one on our trail cameras, despite looking at more than 10,000 pictures and videos over a 10-year period. There's other surprises; creatures that show up on our cameras that are unusual, but not nearly so wild. Occasionally we see domestic pets such as this dog and cat, they strayed away from somebody's yard. I have no idea where the cow came from; there isn't a herd of Herefords anywhere near us to know where it was. We never saw the animal but there it was on the trail camera pictures. And occasionally we get people who wander into areas where we're doing research, and they're probably just as surprised as we are when they see the cameras.

So I'm going to shift gears and I'm going to start talking and showing you some of the videos we've collected in this study. Videos are not only exciting to watch, but they can provide insights into animal behavior that would be difficult to interpret from just still photos.

Michael Fargione  19:37  
So this series of videos was collected during our deer project and helps illustrate some of the behaviors you might miss if you're only looking at photos. Here's an adult doe with two fawns. Notice how careful, attentive she is, looking at her surroundings. Watch this fawn nursing; the vigor of it bumping the doe's udder would have been missed if we were just looking at pictures. Videos can provide sound. Listen to this fawn calling to try and locate where its mother is. Here's a buck rubbing its antlers on a tree stump to polish them and leave both visual and olfactory cues for other deer. In this second clip, we see the effect of that rubbing; partially removed velvet hanging from its antlers.

In these next clips, we're going to look at several deer, some dominant bucks as well as some subordinates. And we're going to be looking at their behavior and aggression. Aggression becomes more frequent as the breeding season progresses. So here, a dominant buck causes a more subordinate one to move away. Next, we're going to see two dominant bucks, each displaying and posturing to each other to show off their body size and antlers. Eventually, they'll join antlers and begin to spar, testing each other's strength, they pause occasionally in this process to again display their antlers. Here towards the end, they eventually get their antlers locked together and tangled and have trouble separating for a moment, causing one buck at least to panic and run off. The winner responds in time, showing more displays, pawing the ground, starting to make a scrape to advertise for himself to other deer. These kinds of dominance struggles occur outside the breeding season, and can occur between all ages and all gender of deer. They're more frequent in the winter when food is limited. Ear-back, stiff-leg postures and aggressive approaches signal one animal to avoid the other, otherwise they might be facing an actual attack.

Michael Fargione  23:15  
Let's move on and look at another set of videos with a different animal. This time we'll be looking at black bears. Bears, black bears are the only bear species that are found here in the eastern United States. Our first bear sightings on the property took place in 2004. But since then they've become much more common. We know from our trail cameras that several different animals use the property each year.

Michael Fargione  23:49  
Black bears are typically shy and retreat when they encounter humans. But despite that, in their large size, they move across the landscape very quietly. Bears are omnivores, eating just about anything that becomes available. In the fall, they try to increase their feeding activity, putting on weight and fat for the winter. This bear is feeding on hickory nuts right off a tree. Bears can gain up to one and a half times their body weight in the fall. This individual looks like he's packing a lot of pounds for winter. In contrast, this bear we photographed in the spring is looking quite slim. During hibernation, bears may lose 15 to 40% of their body weight. Bears have relatively poor eyesight but excellent sense of smell. Watch how carefully this bear is moving; it's probably smelling me, I was in the area just days earlier. Here's a bear shedding its winter coat. A good scratch on a tree helps that process.

Michael Fargione  25:04  
Black bears are very curious and will inspect odors and noises and novel objects like this driveway pole. They frequently sniff and chew our cameras trying to decide if they're edible. Once in a while they've actually broken a camera, but most of the time, they just pointed it in the wrong way. Because of the poor eyesight, bears stand on their hind legs to try and see better. Cubs are typically born in January and February and remain with their mother for 17 months. Here's one being corrected by its mom. Bears communicate to each other through body posture, vocalizations, and odor signals. They try to avoid conflict, but when they can't, they'll try to intimidate each other. Fighting is usually avoided. But when it occurs, it typically involves paw slights and head and neck biting. So these two sibling cubs are practicing their fighting behavior they may need as adults. Mom, on the other hand, is in the background. As far as I can tell she's had enough of them and she's waiting for them to cut it out. So in the meantime, what does she do? She's playing with one of the driveway stakes. These bears went on fighting with each other for several minutes.

Michael Fargione  27:15  
Humans and other bears are the only predators on black bears in our area. Accidents also take a heavy toll. This bear has an injured back foot, was seen in 2015, and then here again in 2016, and then finally, once again in 2018. Bears are adaptable, may be highly successful, even around humans, explaining why even injured ones can survive for many years. Bears are large, charismatic wildlife, and despite being relatively common, most of us rarely get an opportunity to see them and study them up close. But bear behavior can readily be observed by trail cameras just as we're seeing.

Michael Fargione  28:09  
So our trail camera work has provided some insights on deer and other wildlife and how they make a living. But some wildlife species like beaver don't spend much time at our trail camera sites, and so we don't see them on the cameras. But we have occasionally had an opportunity to focus our trail cameras specifically on them. Beavers at one point built a dam and flooded a local public highway. So we got the permit and we removed the dam and then we trained a trail camera on the site. And the following video shows how these beaver began to replace that dam.

Michael Fargione  28:55  
Here's the stream flowing unobstructed after we removed the beaver dam. You can see remnants of it on either side. Here's the beaver arranging some awkwardly shaped sticks into the dam's framework. Branches aren't deposited haphazardly. They're, here he's jamming the ends into the bank, locking them in place and strengthening it. After delivering the stick, this beaver turns around and uses its hind legs and claws to dig the creek bottom, letting water carry material into the stick pile. Repeated efforts like this eventually fill the dam up with stones and mud. Beaver can move large logs by using the current to float them into place. Even these large sticks are carefully placed to a good effect.

Michael Fargione  30:01  
Up to this point we've seen beavers using old downed wood and rough brush to work into the dam. Here, an animal is bringing back a stick that it had eaten some of the bark off of. So animal is using the leftovers of its meal to be engineering materials, quite an economy of effort. Look closely and you'll see the beaver placing leaves along the edge of the dam. These are leaves collected from the bank and carried to the site. Some sticks have too many side branches to be effective, and so they clip them off and then carefully place each of them in the dam and in the places where they would best suit.

Michael Fargione  30:54  
Now we know that at least two individuals are working on this dam. Beaver colonies can contain as many as 10 related animals. Our first video took place around midnight. Now it's an hour and three quarters later, and we see quite a structure that has been built here. As individual parts of the dam are built up, water spills over different adjacent areas. And it's the sound of the running water that attracts the beaver as it works back and forth along the edge of the dam. Here's several videos showing how the beaver alternates where it works to take this into case. Note that the leaves again are being deposited along the edge of the dam.

Michael Fargione  32:05  
So by next morning, there's a strong dam that raised the water level about a foot. Beaver dams can be three to nine feet tall and short like this one or up to 100 yards long. The longest beaver dam known is in Canada, and is about a half mile long.

Sometimes opportunities presented themselves to us to learn more about the wildlife we rarely saw. The next videos show a pair of foxes with four pups that took up residence under one of our buildings. They were sharing the space with the groundhog who had a burrow under the building. The foxes moved into the area despite a lot of human activity in that site. I wasn't too worried about disturbing them because of that. Still, I was careful not to hang around or approach them when they were outside. So let's look at some fox videos.

Michael Fargione  33:12  
Here we see the pups taking an opportunity to nurse before the female heads off to hunt. Adults spend a lot of time grooming the pups, which strengthen social bonds. At this age the pups remain behind in or near the den while the parents go out hunting. Look at the fox sticking his nose out from under the building. Foxes brought a steady stream of rodents back to feed their hungry pups. It looked to me like most of the things they captured were chipmunks. There's intense competition between the pups for food and they don't share. This time the adult brought back so much food the single pup couldn't pick it all up. And so the littermates did wind up getting some of what was left over. Not every hunt is successful. A quick check on the pups and then the adult is back to hunting. Foxes themselves can be targets for other carnivores like coyotes and bobcats. This bobcat was probably attracted to the site by the foxes or the groundhogs or the bits of prey scrap left around at the site.

Michael Fargione  34:44  
Here's the groundhog checking in. No matter that it was here first; now it has to avoid becoming a meal for the foxes. The groundhog is probably much too large a prey animal for the pups. But that didn't mean they didn't hesitate to try and chase it anyway.

Michael Fargione  35:14  
While the adults were away hunting, the pups spent a lot of time resting and playing, often behind the building where there was less human activity. Play is an important practice for developing their hunting and fighting skills, lessons that they'll use as adults.

Michael Fargione  36:07  
Looks like all that roughhousing left this guy ready for a nap.

Michael Fargione  36:32  
It's not difficult to imagine why our research cameras have not photographed some species like beavers that rarely spend time on dry land where we put them. But why aren't other species showing up? We began to wonder about this and whether we were missing something. Eventually, I became convinced that we were overly focused on the human view of things, and that animals may be using the landscape in a different, more novel way. Would we see more species or more interesting behavior if we tried thinking outside the box when we set up our cameras? Our first attempt at looking outside the box with the trail cameras wasn't very innovative, but it did produce some striking results. So next, we're going to see a series of videos that were taken, where we had two cameras set up on either side of an old farm road where it passed through a stone wall. Instead of placing the cameras against the wall like we would normally do, we actually focus the cameras on the wall. And you'll see images from the two cameras alternating in this series, some on both sides of the road.

Michael Fargione  38:01  
Here's a deer moving along the road the way we'd expect, you know, through a gap in the stone wall that certainly seems to be a barrier. And yet other species like these raccoons seem to see the wall more as a highway than a barrier. So that will, we'll be looking in this next set of videos about the idea of what's a wall: is it a barrier or is it a highway?

Michael Fargione  38:32  
It appears that prey species use the wall to move silently through the forest without attracting predators. And in the same way, predators like the bobcat we see here may be using the wall to move silently along and sneak up on its prey.

Michael Fargione  41:01  
So trying to think outside the box proved quite informative, and made us want to try some other novel places besides this stone wall to set up the cameras. The next series of videos we're going to look at were taken where we placed a couple of cameras at the end of a series of logjams that spanned the creek that runs through the property. These are just a few of the very, very many videos we got in that location between February and July of last year.

Michael Fargione  46:52  
Well, the cameras at the logjam worked so well, when it disappeared, we thought we try it again and we found another one. And so here you're gonna see some additional photos from a second log jam.

Michael Fargione  47:15  
This bridge was frequently used by a number of prey species, including squirrels and the white-footed mouse you see here, and in turn, it seemed to attract a lot of predators like this bobcat, who can barely contain its excitement.

Michael Fargione  48:02  
Other predators also use the site. Here's a hidden gray squirrel, along with a red-tailed hawk. It seems to be a draw; at the end the squirrel does get away.

Michael Fargione  48:24  
What happens when two predators meet? Here a great blue heron and a mink try to figure out which one of them is going to become lunch and which is going to have the meal. Neither seem quite sure what to make of the other.

Michael Fargione  48:54  
This video shows a fisher; a large member of the weasel family that we rarely photographed other than on the logs. They almost never showed up on our deer cameras, but they do show up frequently here. The logjams provided a convenient crossing place for animals, big and small. Here's a solitary bear pausing for a drink before he moves across the log.

Michael Fargione  49:37  
Here's a whole family of bears; a sow with four cubs.

Michael Fargione  49:57  
Notice this pack of Eastern coyotes. Each one in turn seems to notice the camera and is affected by it. It's probably the red glow of the flash unit that they see. Coyotes frequently altered their behavior when they saw the cameras at night in our studies. And last but not least, you've seen this before: a mother bobcat with three of her cubs using the log to move across with dry feet. Thinking outside the box has enabled us to record them as they prowled around, looking for their next meal.

Michael Fargione  50:43  
So I hope these pictures and videos may have perked your interest a little bit, possibly in setting up a trail camera at home. You don't need to go to Africa or Yellowstone to see real life, world of nature. There's life and death struggles going on right here in your back woodlot and in your backyard.

Trail cameras provide us with an opportunity to explore the world around us. They can also be used to help problem solve; what's eating my garden, what's getting at my chickens. They are of course useful for security and for surveillance purposes. And if you're interested, they can help to contribute to the understanding of the natural world in a much larger sense by you participating in some citizen science types of research.

Now, of course, with any subject, there can be legal and ethical considerations that we should be aware of. Some states and local governments actually regulate the use of trail cameras. Some have actually banned such as cellular cameras from being used. Some also require the owners to identify them; put their name, address, and phone number on them. So check out the local laws and regulations in your state, and be sure that you check them each year, because they do change.

There are also ethical considerations. Obviously, you don't put a camera on someone else's property without permission. And don't invade other people's privacy, looking out at your neighbors, even if the camera's on your own property. And we always want to respect the safety and the welfare of the wildlife. So you know, don't, don't disturb them in any way or avoid putting your cameras where you potentially could alter their behavior to the point of decreasing their ability to do what they're trying to do and make a living. It's probably a good idea not to share the location and the information in too much detail if you're sharing your camera photos on social media. All of the things we see here are probably worth considering when you're trying to select a trail camera, all of them are probably important.

But for your purposes, probably the most important things to consider are your budget, the quality of the images, and the type of flash that the product produces. Cameras have come way down in price in recent years, some are selling for less than $50. However, you may get what you pay for, and it's been my experience that cheap units may not last as long or provide as many bells and whistles. I typically expect to spend between $100 and $200 to get a dependable camera that's going to last. Compare customer ratings, buy from well-known manufacturers and from reputable sellers who extend good-quality customer service. And that'll give you the best opportunity to get a good camera that will last you.

There's a bunch of information I was going to present on how to set a camera up on your property. But in light of trying to save a little time I'm just going to mention, we're going to send you a page with a bunch of resources on it. And included on it will be a link to a previous video I've made on how to set up a trail camera step by step; that information will be there. There's lots of other people who have done videos on setting up trail cameras, so there's plenty of resources out there for you.

I do want to mention briefly that there are opportunities for you to be citizen scientists and contribute to many trail camera projects. Here's just a few that popped up with a quick internet search. The Smithsonian's eMammal program is like a clearinghouse for many projects both across the world and here in the United States. The map on the right just shows us some of the projects that are ongoing here in the Northeast. Depending on the project, you may be able to assist by identifying animals, and in some cases, maybe even submitting data yourself. There's a program known as Snapshot USA; it provides an opportunity for people to contribute data, you can look at the information that they use, there are some standard protocols as well as some particular cameras they'd like people to use. So you may want to look at that if you're interested in this program, before you actually purchase your camera. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has the I See Mammals project. It's where they're collecting the information here in New York on black bears, and you can contribute observation, as well as trail camera images.

And finally, if you're interested in some kind of citizen science, but you don't want to have to deal with your own cameras, Zooniverse uses volunteers to identify animals that are seen on other researchers' videos and photographs. So that's a way you can assist and help out as well.

So I hope this has been an interesting program for you tonight. I certainly appreciate everyone tuning in and watching. I couldn't have done the work that we've done and shown here without the support of the Cary Institute and its staff, particularly Dr. Ginsburg, our president. During this project, there has been a large number of volunteers who put in many hours in the field, and also helped us behind the computer, sorting and compiling data. I won't try and list them all, but their help is greatly appreciated.

Relating to tonight's program, specifically, Bill Silta has put in many volunteer hours stewarding cameras, particularly relating to the idea of thinking outside the box. Maura McGuire and Jim Eisenstein sorted and compiled some of the videos you saw. And the staff here in the Communications Department: Lori Quillen, Leslie Tumblety, and Maribeth Rubinstein, were behind the scenes making all of this go seamlessly, and I really appreciate their help. So, that's the presentation. If we have time, I'm happy to try and answer a few questions. Anything we don't get to, I will answer offline. And remember, this will be recorded and will be available and we'll send you a link to that soon, probably within the next couple of days. So Josh, I'll turn it back over to you.

Joshua Ginsberg  57:54  
Thanks, Mike. I'm sorry, if my room echoes a bit. I'm going to start with an inspirational question. Have there been any moments caught on camera that make you feel proud and joyous, and make you realize: I do this for a living?

Michael Fargione  58:11  
Yeah, every time I open up a file folder that has trail cameras in it, I sort of pinch myself and say, I can't believe I get to do this. So it's really a privilege, first of all, to work here. And second of all, to be able to work on projects like this that I think are educational and informative.

Joshua Ginsberg  58:32  
Great, thank you. We appreciate that. One of the questions that I answered in real time, but I think bears repeating is, why isn't AI being used to ID the deer? And why don't you start and maybe I'll chime in after?

Michael Fargione  58:49  
Yeah, so when we started this project, that technology wasn't available, but it has been coming along and there are people working on computer programs to identify things in camera trap or research camera photos. Josh, you may know more about the current status than I do.

Joshua Ginsberg  59:09  
Yeah, there are many programs, or at least several I know of, and more being developed that help you identify species, which doesn't sound that hard around where we are but if you're in parts of Southeast Asia, there may be six species of muntjac that look pretty darn similar in a camera picture and you either need an expert mammalogist or somebody with AI who is trained in the AI by an expert mammalogist. There are other programs that identify individuals, so both elephants and zebras I know have their own software to identify them. I bet somebody who's done it for back whales and other things that we've been identifying by individual markings.

And I think the answer on, well, and also one of our staff, Barbara Han, and a postdoc of hers Ilya Fischoff,  mentored an undergraduate named James Zach at Georgia Tech, who developed a system to identify bats using AI, bat species, and I clicked on the why don't we use this to identify individual deer? The answer is, it's gonna probably be something that AI does better than we do, but it's gonna take some training and somebody to really spend the time because we as humans don't see the subtle differences in facial structure and coat patterns and things that a computer might be able to distinguish, consistently. As you said, we are able to do, if we have antlers that are a particular format for the markings on individuals, but on those plain brown jobs as it were, the big brown jobs as opposed to little brown jobs, for the birds, you take out a mismatch. But the big brown jobs are going to be harder and require really understanding those very fine differences.

So let's go to another question. You touched on the technologies that are available, and how to choose a camera. Somebody said, you know, my camera doesn't have sound. When did sound become part of a picture?

Michael Fargione  1:01:17  
Boy, that's a good question. I know the cameras we started with did have video capability and some sound. That was back in 2014. I don't know how much sooner it began before that. It varied on the early cameras, there was a lot of differences in the quality and technology. And the amount of improvement that has taken place in a very short number of years is just amazing. We're using the same brand and same model camera as we used 10 years ago. But there's been several upgrades in terms of the cameras themselves, even though, you know, they're manufactured by the same company. And the quality of the images and the sound are much better now.

Joshua Ginsberg  1:02:04  
Yeah, I know there are groups like Reconyx, who make very expensive cameras, that if you're doing serious research are probably worth the investment. If you're doing it in the back, your backyard, you know, they used to cost $500-$600 a camera, and they were worth it. But as you said, for $100, $150, you can get a good camera that will last you a number of field seasons.

One other questions. You touched on a number of issues related to privacy. And you mentioned you probably shouldn't put too much detail about where the camera is. Somebody asked about the sort of moral challenge of attracting either hunters or people collecting wildlife or plants for that matter. They're in the picture. And is your recommendation just don't put too close/too accurate a location in your metadata?

Michael Fargione  1:03:00  
Yeah, I think in the data you provide for research purposes, I think you can go to the level of detail that you feel accurate. However, if you're putting the information out to the general public, unfortunately, there are people who may want to use information for nefarious purposes. And so being a little more general and saying, you know, it's from Millbrook, New York, or from you know, this particular area, is probably more detail than you want to put in. I think you don't need to talk about, this was found on this street at this house or residence, that sort of thing. To protect the resources that we're trying to understand and be good stewards of.

Joshua Ginsberg  1:03:46  
We're going to have two data questions. One is, do we share our data and post it? And if not, would we consider sharing it?

Michael Fargione  1:03:55  
Yeah, we are currently in the process of pulling together a lot of data. As we said, this has been a sort of a side project in amongst other duties that I have. And so now we're at the point where we're going to start compiling this kind of information, and we certainly will make data available for other researchers who have an interest in this kind of information.

Joshua Ginsberg  1:04:19  
Okay, next question is, any preliminary data on patterns on deer abundance over the last decade?

Michael Fargione  1:04:27  
I don't have anything I can cite that's specifically related to this study. We have not done that analysis. However, we do know that at least on our property, our deer population has probably declined in the last 10 years due to a variety of factors, including our program, which is trying to reduce and control the population, but also the increase in predators in our area. And then we've actually had a couple of years where we've had some disease issues that have also lowered the population. So we have a variety of ways of looking at relative abundance. And in terms of our management, up to this point, that's been an adequate way to look at our deer population. But I don't have any specific deer numbers that I can cite to people.

Joshua Ginsberg  1:05:21  
Right. In the consistent year in, year out, consistency of tracking protocols means that over time, we will be able to do another estimate of abundance. We also, for people who are interested in these things, we also have looked at other ways of counting deer. And we also measure the, we keep track of our hunt. And we know how many animals are killed per unit effort. And that unit effort measure is pretty consistent for looking at trends. It's not great for numbers, but it's really good for trends.

So I know we're gonna post the link to your video on how to set up a camera trap. But I was wondering if there were one or two things you look for in a good place to put a camera trap? What would they be?

Michael Fargione  1:06:05  
So first, it would depend on what species you were most interested in. If you had a particular thing you wanted to target, you would want to base it on the ecology, the life history of that species. If you're looking for general pictures of what wildlife are in my area, I would be looking for features in the topography that would potentially funnel animals through a particular area. You know, ravines, roads, breaks in walls, those kinds of things that would act as natural funnels to move animals in one direction or another. And it's clear from what we've shown here tonight that some unique things that we never thought about may, in fact, be really, really important habitat features to wildlife, things like ways for them to easily get over a stream, or ways to go through a barrier, like a stone wall. So be, you know, be creative and try it. And the best thing you really can do is to try things and see what works and move your cameras around. Don't be afraid to try different areas in different locations.

Joshua Ginsberg  1:07:17  
I'm going to summarize that as, think like a critter. Absolutely. Right.

Look, we have a bunch more questions. It's already almost 10 minutes past the hour. We always like to respect people's time. But Mike, thank you for a spectacular show. The images are amazing. I think all of us would like a copy of that. Maybe we could start selling copies of that bobcat family, that is a remarkable one; but the family of bears, the coyotes, I mean some of the questions that were asked and answered, so your discussion of why coyotes don't like lights. I mentioned in my reply, elephants are renowned for destroying camera traps. They really love to play with them. And I'm not sure it's malicious. I think it's curiosity. I think with a lot of animals during the daytime it is that, you know, animals are inherently curious about anything new in their environment.

Michael Fargione  1:08:13  
Absolutely. The bears really are attracted to the cameras and typically don't do a lot of damage. They just point them in the wrong way and mean we don't get the images we want.

Joshua Ginsberg  1:08:24  
Well, thank you Mike again. That was fantastic. Thank you to the folks who helped you. Leslie Tumblety, I will call out, who is running this. I will also say this is the first public event using eCamm, so if you guys really liked it, send us a note saying this was good. Or if you prefer Zoom or YouTube, tell us and we'll probably try and make the camera work better because there are a lot of features on it that we really liked. But thank you for being our guinea pigs.

I think at the peak, we had 150 people tonight so that was a good turnout on a Thursday night. Everybody in our neighborhood, stay warm and don't slip on the snow. And for those of you in England, sleep well, and around the country, thank you for tuning in. We don't charge for these. If you'd like to support Cary Institute, you can just go to Sorry, dot org. And make a donation. But another thing you could do is just tell your friends if you enjoyed this presentation, tell your friends about it. When you get the link to the recording, forward it onto them. We are always trying to build our audience and reach more people. And that is another wonderful thing you could do to help us out. So thank you very much and hope everybody has a good night.


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