My remote cameras.
(Click on images to enlarge)
24th November 2011: Following Dave’s and The Wildlife Man’s comments on my previous post, requesting information about remote cameras:
Remote cameras, trail cams, camera traps, or whatever you prefer to call them, are specialized automatic cameras triggered by a in-built proximity sensor, or multiple sensors. The camera traps can shoot still and video images in darkness and in daylight, without the need to alter physical camera settings. I set them up to watch a specific ground area: a badger’s sett or an animal track, etc. Still or video images are recorded when a movement is detected within the sensor sensitivity range (usually up to 50 feet from the camera). The basic remote cameras I use have a built-in infra-red flash unit to illuminate subjects in darkness. Obviously, these cameras need to be weatherproof and capable of operating in cold and hot conditions. They should be suitable for continuously duty out in the field for up to a year, without supervision. Remote cameras should have long battery life. I change batteries in my remote cameras once or twice year.
I use remote cameras to watch specific areas of interest on the marsh, when I am not able to spare the time to sit and watch. I use them to help solve animal related mysteries that intrigue and nag at me. I don’t need remote cameras to record high-definition images or videos.
The camera I favour is the Scoutguardsg550 (http://www.trailcampro.com/hcoscoutguardsg550.aspx). The reason I like this camera is that it’s a very compact and reliable unit. It does exactly what it says on the box, as they say. These cameras suit my needs perfectly; I use them continuously. I don’t have gripes about either their performance, or the image quality they provide. In other words, I think the Scoutguardsg550 offers reasonable value for money. I have no loyalty or connection to the manufactures of this camera; I write from my own personal experience.
Buying a suitable remote camera is one thing, using and keeping ownership of it is another. It should be obvious: if you set up a camera on a footpath, or any place where it can be seen by people walking past, there is a good chance that you will turn up one day to find that you precious remote camera has been stolen.
The best way to continue ownership of your camera trap is to make sure that it can’t be seen. If you can see your camera after you have set it up in the field, then it follows that a potential thief might see it also. Most of the thin steel cases and plastic covered flexible wires and padlocks that can be purchased to secure your camera to a tree, are not much use when someone really intends to steal your camera. When a thief sees your camera, he or she can return at another time with suitable equipment to liberate it. So, if Burglar Bill or Burglar Willemina can’t see your camera, they can’t steal it, can they?
How do you hide your remote camera? Actually, hiding your remote is a bit of an art in itself. To be successful, you need to make it blend into the environment in which it is placed.
Camouflage is the answer! Use the natural materials around your camera to make it blend in. It is far easier to make your camera position stand out in a particular environment, probably though ineffective camouflage, than it is to make it virtually invisible.
The beauty of the Scoutguard550sg is that it is a compact unit that it is easily carried in a jacket pocket. It can be partially buried, hidden in a hole in a tree, covered with vegetation, in amongst twigs on tree branches, and under a log. However, the camouflage used to hide your camera must not look out-of-place in its surroundings. It’s no good spiking out your camera on a piece of bare dirt, outside a badger’s sett, and then covering it with green camouflage netting. The camouflage covering my camera is obviously not suitable against the fir trees in my garden. However, a few pieces of fir-tree fronds pushed into the existing camouflage netting can make a big difference.
I lock my cameras in hardened steel cases, and secure them to trees with heavy-duty hardened chains and padlocks. I use fine mesh nets, sometimes women’s coloured tights, stretched in front of the lens and flash unit to prevent reflection, should someone inadvertently shine a torch in the direction of the camera. I also use a variety of removable peaks and hoods for the same purpose. I sometimes take a photograph of the area in which I have set up the camera, to look at later for peace of mind that the camouflage blends in adequately with the surroundings. How can you not see something that you know is directly in front of you? If you have difficulty finding the camera a few days later, then you know you have done a decent job camouflaging it.
I don’t want to give away too much detailed information here, but I have shown one hardened set up for the purposes of illustrating this post. Don’t forget to position your remote camera well away from pathways and make sure that you don’t create a visible track directly to it.
It must now be dawning on you that owning and using a remote camera might not be as simple as one might think. You can just strap the camera to a tree and hope for the best. The level of concealment I choose to use is enough to put my mind at rest; others might be made of sterner stuff and able to accept a lower level of concealment. I have strapped cameras directly to tree trunks, with minimal camouflage; it just depends on the circumstances.
When we scan an area with our eyes, we are looking for obvious changes in colour, texture, and contrast; movement and flashing has a very strong draw on our attention.
The images illustrating this post show a Scoutguard camera in a hardened casing, with the secondary camouflage and a hood fitted. The primary camouflage (local materials such as grass, leaves, twigs and branches) is laid over the secondary camouflage.
There are many other tricks and camouflage techniques that I use, but would rather not go into it in this post. I don’t want to compromise my own cameras.