Friday, August 24, 2012

Setting Cameras

These last couple weeks, we've been busy! We finished up scouting out areas, and selected three different spots for our first round of camera trapping using our trail cameras. This past week, Jenn, Quark, Rigby, and I set 20 trail cameras on Sockeye spawning grounds: one site in a pond off the Chilkat River and two sites at creek drainages along the banks of Chilkoot Lake. This pond near the Chilkat River is just upstream of one of our camera trapping sites. If I were a Sockeye, I might spawn here, too. Look how pretty it is!

There are many different ways to set trail cameras. If you want to maximize your chances of getting lots of photos of varied wildlife, it's a good idea to place them in areas wildlife are likely to be traveling. The most straightforward location is to set them on actual trails. Most animals have dedicated home ranges and travel the same areas frequently using trails, whether they be deer trails, bear trails, or roads or hiking paths made by humans. They can also be placed near a resource, such as a good water source (creeks, springs, ponds) or food source (berry patches, grassy areas, squirrel middens) that animals are likely to stop by. In this picture, the clearing on the ground is an intersection of two narrow game trails-- a great spot to set a camera!

Yet another way to set trail cameras is to bait them-- set out food or a scent lure to attract animals to the vicinity of the camera. We're interested in figuring out not only what types of animals live in this area, but also how many of them might rely on salmon as a food source during late summer and autumn. For that reason, Jenn and I are baiting our trail cameras with salmon carcasses.

After salmon spawn, they die. Many salmon are predated by bears before they have a chance to spawn. Bears prefer eating the fatty, energy-rich roe, sexual organs, or brains of the fish. Less desirable tissue, like muscle, is often left for other scavengers. Although bears are more likely to target and feed on fish that haven't yet spawned, salmon carcasses are attractants for most carnivores. Even if they find that the salmon staked in front of our trail cameras won't make a decent meal, the smell of decomposing fish acts as a strong lure for any passers-by.

Here, Quark poses next to one of our assembled trail cameras. The salmon carcass, which we pulled from a nearby creek, is staked in front. Note the steel casing, intended to protect the camera from curious bears. The branch wedged between the camera housing and the tree acts to both stabilize the unit and direct the lens of the camera downward, so that the fish and the ground surrounding it are in the field of view.

Despite most of our gear smelling like rotting fish, Jenn and I had a great week hiking into these areas and setting up our cameras. We were able to avoid rainy days, find plenty of spawning activity and carcasses to use as bait, and didn't meet up with any bears on the trail. Hiking into these areas is not something to be taken lightly. We head straight into prime brown bear habitat-- this time of year, bears don't stray far from spawning grounds. It's a nerve-wracking experience walking through brushy areas knowing bears could be very close by. We take every precaution to keep ourselves and the bears safe. I'll post more about this soon.

We'll leave the cameras up for two weeks. This coming week, Jenn and I will return to each of our three sites and check up on the cameras. Many things can go wrong with trail cameras, and we want to ensure we're getting the best data possible. Curious bears can shift camera angles away from the intended view, or occasionally, knock them off trees completely. Dirt, bird poop, and vegetation can block camera lenses. Salmon carcasses, although staked to the ground, can be carried away by hungry scavengers. SD cards can fail. In this photo, Jenn is securing one of our cameras to a tree with a cable lock, an additional method to stabilize the camera, and one that will hopefully deter theft.

By checking our cameras this coming week, we can address any problems, and, more importantly, get a sneak peek at what may be stopping by. We'll be revisiting our first field site tomorrow, so in a few days we'll hopefully have some great photos to share!

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