Motion Sensing Cameras
What 'Furries' or 'Feathers' Visit Your Garden?
By Iona Mitchell, Coordinator Gardens for Wildlife and Land for Wildlife, Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries and Water. Gardens for Wildlife is now on Facebook. Check it out here!
Have you ever wondered what marsupials ('furries') visit at night while you are asleep or birds ('feathers') stop by during the day when you are not home? There is a very fun and exciting way to find out.
Rapid advancement in technology has resulted in smaller, compact, reliable infrared motion sensor cameras which are also becoming more affordable and readily available.
For many years such cameras have largely been used for research, such as disease monitoring, species distribution, surveillance, and identifying presence/absence of species to name a few.
But they are increasingly being used by many landowners on smaller properties or even in backyards by people curious to know what wildlife visit.
They can even be taken when you go away camping in the bush for a few days. A motion sensor camera can easily be set-up near your camp site or on a wildlife runway close by (these are clearly defined tracks frequently used by wildlife).
They are quite simple to use, but some helpful tips can improve your success at taking good photos or video clips.
An important aspect for obtaining good clear quality photos or video is to have a good quality camera with a memory card of at least four gigabytes (4G). Another consideration is good battery life, as this can often be a limiting factor rather than image storage.
There are many models of infrared motion sensor cameras and the choice can be difficult, so be sure to check out any examples of images taken in daylight and at night shown on web sites advertising such cameras.
When setting the camera up, it is important to ensure that it is set in a position that will maximise the chances of capturing what you are hoping to see. This may involve tilting towards the ground for smaller animals, or using a wider angle for larger animals. And of course you'll want to put the camera where the animals will be, such as animal runways or along tracks, or where you have seen signs of them visiting (such as droppings or scratchings).
To ensure the camera is positioned correctly, line up the lens to the point you wish to photograph. If needs be, look back at the camera from the point you are aiming it at and see if the lens is in full view and not partly obscured by the housing.
One trick is to use a digital camera or mobile phone camera and hold it against the front of the camera to point at the spot you are aiming at and take a photo. Look at the photo to confirm the motion sensor camera is pointing to the spot you want it to point at.
Remember also that these cameras are triggered by motion sensors, so to avoid repeated shots of moving leaves or long grass, make sure the area in front of the camera is clear of vegetation.
It is often good to leave the motion sensor camera out for a while, say at least a few days or longer. But some thought needs to be given to what you attach the camera to. Small bushes or trees can be blown in the wind causing the camera to move and take photos - when you have to delete numerous photos showing nothing but what the camera is aiming at, you become wise as to what you mount the camera to. A good solid tree, or even a camera tripod well anchored can be used, or even a fixed stake hammered into the ground.
Another method of getting good photos is to make the animal(s) stop for a moment. Various attractants, or 'baits' can be used for this with a simple one being fish bait attracting oil. A small amount of this can be poured on the ground at the point the camera is aiming at and will provide a scent which often makes wildlife stop to check out (but not ingest).
If using an attractant, make sure you have clean hands when handling the camera as marsupials have a good sense of smell and any traces of food will attract them to the camera.
In Tasmania where motion sensor cameras have been used for Tasmanian Devil monitoring, Devils have been known to try tasting cameras, as evidenced by tooth marks on the housing!
Most cameras are triggered by movement or heat sensors and can be programmed to vary the time interval between each photo, or to allow for still shots or short videos clips.
All cameras have a range of exposure, focus and metering settings and you may need to experiment with these to achieve the best image for your circumstances. You are guaranteed to have plenty of trial and error before getting the hang of it.
Motion sensor cameras are a great thing to use for learning more about what wildlife species are in your area, or backyard.