The Kenwood Press
: 12/15/2014

Critter Cams Ė the perfect gift for admirers of wildlife

Sharon Ponsford

For those of you who havenít yet found the perfect gift for the nature lover on your list, or are being asked what you would like for Christmas, may I suggest a critter cam. They are also called camera traps, trail cameras, and other things, but they are a camera you set up to take photos of wildlife in your absence.

Several years ago, our good friend Rodney Jackson of the Snow Leopard Conservancy, located right here in Sonoma County, suggested we might enjoy putting up one of his cameras by our water tank. At that time, these cameras were just coming into existence and were very costly. He was making his own cameras then because he discovered that they are a wonderful, non-invasive way to study wildlife. The territory of the snow leopard is vast, and as one of the most elusive cats on the planet, trying to see one is extremely difficult. The Snow Leopard Conservancy now uses critter cams to track snow leopards, and they have been a boon to their studies.

They have been a boon to us as well. In the years prior to having the camera up, we knew we had wildlife here, but had no idea exactly what species or how many visits to the water tank we had. We were delighted to see that all of the typical woodland creatures were visiting us on a regular basis. We were seeing raccoons, skunks, opossums, jack rabbits, and foxes, as well as barn owls and great horned owls. In the daytime there was a huge variety of song birds, woodpeckers, crows, ravens, ground squirrels, and red tailed hawks. Sometimes there were deer, and, on rare occasions, a bobcat!

Downloading our critter cam photos is exciting. We always hope for something new, and the jackpot would be a mountain lion photo such as the one in the photo below. That photo was taken by one of Rodney Jacksonís critter cams at an undisclosed location right here in the Sonoma Valley. Isnít it wonderful to know that mountain lions are living among us right here?

The cameras helped me in my research as well. A few years ago, at one of our raccoon release sites, we put up several cameras. We left them up for three months, and in that time period we were able to discover a lot of things about the behavior of the raccoons after their release. It was rewarding for me to see that those little ones were alive and well, and be able to see them develop.

We have two cameras now and we purchased both of them at Trailcampro (www.trailcampro.com, 1-800-791-0660). The prices have come down quite a bit since we purchased our first one. Youíll need to spend around $130 to $160 to get a decent camera. There are an infinite number of ways you can set the cameras up according to what you are wanting to see. There is also a setting for videos.

No matter how you use it, this is a gift that will give pleasure for years to come. Few things have given us so much enjoyment as our critter cam. Itís like opening a surprise package every time you download your photos.

Sharon Ponsford has lived in Glen Ellen since 1988. She volunteers with Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue. Contact her at sharon@kenwoodpress.com.