Sunday, November 25, 2007

Setting Up a Camera Trap in My Yard

Inspired by Chris Wemmer at the Camera Trap Codger, and feeling more "spendy" that usual, I dropped $100 and bought a digital trail camera with a 2 Gigabyte memory chip (it will fit my new Nikon L-11 too).

The trail camera model I chose was due to: 1) its relative cheapness, and; 2) the fact that it's a 4 megapixel dedicated unit that comes complete with case, flash, infrared motion detector, and laser pointer (to figure out where the lens is looking).

Basically, this is the kind of kit that would have cost a small fortune a few years back, but it's now cheaper than a decent truck tire. God bless technology.

The 2 GB memory chip will hold a ton of pictures (about 1,800 at high resolution) and the 6 D-cell batteries that fire the camera will supposedly keep it running for about 60 days.

I ordered my camera -- a Moultrie Game Spy D-40 from a place called "Wing Supply" that advertises through Amazon, and it came in very short order via Parcel Post, and was in excellent working order right out of the box.

The first order of business was getting D-cell batteries, and then reading the manual.

I got the basic instructions sussed out over coffee (the camera will fire 1,2 or 3 pictures at various resolutions, as well as take 30-second video, and it will also fire day and/or night, and time-and-date stamp the pictures, etc.).

From reading Camera Trap Codger's excellent posts, and from reading a little from others on line as well, I had learned that camera theft can be a problem, and so too is hiding the camera and placing it correctly so that critters don't notice it too much.

Because I have had electronic cameras before, I also know they are very sensitive to water and shock. My idea was to rig up a camouflaged case for the camera that would further help it keep out of water and perhaps cushion it from shock as well.

Now, to be clear, the Game Spy D-40 is in a hard case that is "double-boxed" in a hard Pelican-type plastic which has gaskets around the edge and also at the lens hole.

That said, in my experience, you can never do too much to keep water out of an electronic camera, and shock is always a concern for any camera going into forest and field.

In order to help protect the camera on all points, I decided to use the shiny, disposable, clear-plastic "snap pack" display case that the camera had originally come in as the "frame" around which to build a foam-and-wood protective camouflage cover for the camera.

The first stop was at the local hardware store for a can of spray urethane insulation. I sprayed this in lumpy mounds on to the outside of the clear disposable-plastic display shell that had once come with the camera.

I then filled the deep inside channel at the back of the snap pack with urethane in order to provide a little more stiffness to that part of the cover.

The spray urethane foam bonded hard and fast, and when it was dry I sprayed-painted it green and daubed a little black paint on top for a camouflage effect.

I then cut out the front of the case so that the lens and sensors of the camera could look out and "see" the wildlife, and I cut a small drain hole at the very bottom in case water did get in between the layers of foam.

Next I cut a piece of plywood to serve as the back of the mount, and I camouflaged it with paint as well.

Once the paint on the plywood was dry, I glued the plastic back of the snap pack case to the plywood with heavy-duty industrial glue (i.e. Liquid Nails).

My idea was simple one: Screw the plywood back of the mounts on to a metal stake.

Once the stake was hammered into the ground, the camera could be carefully slipped into the plastic snap-pack-and-foam slot that was glued to the wood. The fit would be perfect, and hold the camera finger-tight all around the edge.

Once the camera was in the protected slot with the plywood back, the camouflaged foam "outer housing" would go over the front of the camera, protecting it even more from weather and shock, while also helping to break up the outline of the camera from probing eyes. The two small bungee cords (supplied with the camera) would hold the foam cover tight and further secure the entire camera to the plywood screwed to the stake (the plywood can also be screwed or bungeed to a tree separate from the stake).

Between the camera and the snap pack, I would place a short note explaining that the camera was being used by a "field biologist working on his PhD," and that if the finder would leave the camera alone and leave their email address, I would send them all of the pictures from this camera.

Of course the first part of this story is a white lie, but I figure that anyone that gets that far into the inside of the camera case is either a thief, an anti-hunting vegan, or a kid, and the trick is to give them "something for nothing" while guilt-triping them into leaving the camera alone. Plus, I will send them pictures!

Why not just bolt the camera down? I will do that too, trust me! For now, however, the camera is located in front of the greenhouse where the dogs cannot trip the remote switch, and where I have been (occassionally) feeding a few fox and raccoon visitors.

I completed the camera mounting setup today, and so far it seems to work as intended. We'll see if it can go the distance, and if it actually helps keep the camera dry, safe and less visible.

My first, rather modest picture with the camera is appended below. Not much eh?

Well, that's going to be the main difference between me and the Camera Trap Codger, and Cliff over at Game Camera Photo Logbook.

While they have terrific and clear shots of Mountain Lions, Bears, Turkey, Otter, Bobcat, and Grey Fox. I'm going to have very blurry pictures of common backyard birds that I will not be able to identify even with a Sibley Guide. And that's not a joke; that's they way it's going to be.

Welcome to my thick-thumbed life. The secret to my happiness has been keeping my expectations very low.

On the upside, I'm pretty sure I will learn a bit just by playing around (send me tips, folks) and I should get a little better as time progresses.

Plus, it's not like I have to pay to develop the pictures to see what I have on the camera. God bless digital cameras.

At the worst, I figure I will eventually get some mediocre shots of red fox, raccoon, possum, and deer that come in and out of my yard at night. We even have a 10-point buck that occassionally visits the goldfish pond.

Tomorrow I will cook up a little of the beaver castoreum I have out in the garage and see if I can get the camera up and "really running" for tomorrow night. Today was really just a practice session.

There's nowhere to go but up.

Is this a vireo? A catbird? Nope,. a plain old mockingbird. The birds I know best are ones that come in a bucket.


Camera Trap Codger said...

Congratulations, Patrick. You are in for even more fun -- not that you aren't having enough fun already. Maybe I should get myself a rat terrier, so I can catch up with you.
As for the bird, it looks like a respectable mockingbird.
Good luck and keep us posted.

PBurns said...

Hey, C, I just want to have YOUR kind of fun. Gotta wait 'til the wife goes out to mix the castoreum, however. You understand, I know :)

I ID'd the bird as a mockingbird just as you were writing -- I looked at the original picture and I could see it doesn't look quite so blue in that larger context.

I'm never going to be a good birder though. Bad eyes, and I tend to write off too many of them as LBJ's -- little brown jobs.


Chas S. Clifton said...

I was buying an SD memory card at the camera store today and got to talking with the clerk about scout cameras.

He said that one user he knows gets good predator pictures with a pine cone holding crushed catnip (!) as the lure.

I will try that and post about it if it works.