Monday, 14 November 2011

San Diego Institute for Conservation Research – Mathias Tobler and Colleagues

Thank you to Mathias for organising an interesting group of people for our camera trap workshop and lunch time seminar, both were well attended by San Diego Zoo staff and other Californian researchers and students. The researchers covered a diverse range of interests and study areas from Red foxes in Nevada, Jaguars in Central America, the Channel Islands, Burrowing Owls in the US, Apes in Cameroon, Galapagos birds reintroductions, nest monitoring in the Cactus Rim, Condor Recovery Programs, Biodiversity research in Mongolia, Bears in Peru, human impacts in San Francisco, reptiles in Jamaica and a number of new and emerging projects in Costa Rica and elsewhere around the globe. It was an eclectic mix of people and subjects, all using camera trapping to carry out their research and monitoring.

The morning discussion focussed on ways to improve camera trap designs for wildlife research which led to a series of discussions about both camera and survey design.  A re-emerging issue was the cost vs quality issue in camera models.  There was common agreement that the product made by Reconyx was superior to other models but the cost was too prohibitive and as such people were buying cheaper brands so that they could deploy larger numbers in the field. Mathias is using Scoutguards and believes they are doing a pretty reasonable job in his research; he expects a failure rate of about 20% but regards them as consistent. There were a range of other cameras being used including Deercam, Trailmaster, Cuddeback and Bushnell Trophy Cams. Both Bushnell and Scoutguards were regularly deployed in tough country and the researchers felt the results were very good. The video quality of Scoutguards was considered to be very good by one of the researchers and a primary reason for choosing this model camera trap.  We had a brief discussion about the new Acorn tri-sensor camera trap and one of the researchers will be letting us know what her thoughts are on this new camera trap; I understand another of our colleagues is also using them in Italy.

The key requirements for a good camera trap design according to this group was a small unit, fast trigger time, 3-5 rapid fire function, good image quality, long battery life, video and still and the ability to use any size SD card.

An interesting discussion emerged about the differences between baited and unbaited sites (passive vs active) on analysis and the potential bias this can introduce in some species. Some researchers reported that in their assessments lures and baits introduced a bias, in bear studies lures were found to initially attract bears but then they showed avoidance.  The group were particularly interested in the effects of using a lure in occupancy analysis and Mathias was of the opinion that passive and active surveys can both work in this analysis. One thing was agreed – we need to undertake research on the effects of passive vs active stations and the effects this can have on detectability. I know that at least one of my host researchers has collected data on this subject but at this stage it is still unpublished, so contacting our colleague will be the first step towards resolving this question.

Mathias gave a seminar on his camera trap data base – Camera Base V1.4. This data base is an excellent platform for managing and analysing image data. At present he is aware of about 40 projects currently using his software and a new version, with some of the glitches resolved will be available early next year, time permitting. The software uses ACCESS as a back end and is designed to store single or paired camera data, which is neat. The software also enables analysis and comparisons between paired camera trap data to test for detection and allows image assessment that can in turn be used in pattern analysis for target species. The program has all the functionality of ACCESS in terms of queries, sorting and reporting etc and data can be exported to other formats if necessary. The data can also be analysed in CAPTURE and has a very nice Occupancy Modelling tool that removes the need for hand coding of data. A feature we are very excited about is the temporal activity pattern analysis function.
 Camera Base screenshot
Copies of Mathias’ software can be downloaded from and he is keen to get any feedback on how to improve the program.

We also listened to a short presentation by Mathias on occupancy modelling and other analysis techniques which raised some opinions about camera trap survey design and the implications of making sure that you have several years of data before attempting to use occupancy models. A case study example was presented on Peccaries showing how movement variations between seasons and years can influence the results of analysis.

In an un-planned session after the workshops had finished I was treated to a very interesting but quick presentation by Susan Townsend on her camera trapping research in Mongolia -  a very impressive project with some sensational images of the truly unique wildlife of Mongolia….. envious !

I was very privileged to have met such a large number of researchers using cameras from so many different backgrounds and projects, I am very interested to see how the reptile, bird and crocodile research progresses. I established some great contacts at this meeting and I think many participants have established new links and developed new ideas based on the days’ deliberations.  I was very encouraged to hear from many of the people in attendance, that they were supportive of the camera trap symposium being sponsored by the Australasian Wildlife Management Society in Australia next year. Moreover, that many people were keen to come to Australia or at least hook up on line through web based conferencing. I will provide updates on this Symposium in the next few months but keep the end of 2012 open for a few days of interesting discussion and some opportunities to travel around our great Country.


This is not an advertisement for Reconyx, you can all make up your own minds about their camera traps but I thought this was pretty interesting. Last week I set a HC800 in the forest overnight to see what was moving around the lodgings I was staying at in the Grand Canyon National Park. Overnight it snowed 2-3 inches and went down to -5 degrees Celsius, and when I retrieved the camera in the morning this is what I found.

To my amazement I took the camera back to my room and assumed the components would be frozen and so I didn't open it to turn it off so as to avoid any moisture getting inside the camera. When it finally did thaw out and I could open the casing, I was flabbergasted to see that the camera had been taking photos even when the Fresnel lens was frozen over. Obviously the images were not clear but it was pretty impressive to see the camera trap was still able to detect movement despite the ice and snow !

Thursday, 10 November 2011


I set up a Leopold and a HC800 at the B&B I was staying at in Tucson, Arizona. Only had two nights but got some nice new animals for the camera trap album.

 Coyote that was hanging around the house, I saw him in daylight too.

 Beautiful birds, the above is Gambell's Quail, nice top knot

Still need to key out some of the species but great diversity for one site.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Some Animals Caught in my Camera Trap - Monument Valley, Utah

I set a Reconyx PC800 in the desert on some chicken bits and got some great images of a Grey Fox.

......... sadly the local domestic cat also got lucky and feasted on a local desert rodent.

Success in Switzerland

I just recieved an email from Kristina Vogt of KORA in Switzerland, while I was there we hiked up the mountains to set a camera trap for wolves - it was trickie with local people unhappy about wolves, the landscape being very rocky and the risk of losing a camera to walkers was a concern. Despite these risks we placed a track set camera trap and we were sucesful !

Saguaro National Preserve (National Park) – Don Swann & University of Arizona

Three days in Arizona wasn’t enough to capture the magic of the desert in this part of the US. Picture perfect weather, stunning landscapes and a smorgasbord of fauna biodiversity.  Don Swann the Biologist of Saguaro NP hosted me for three days and we had a fruitful  time discussing camera trapping and biodiversity surveys. Don has been involved in camera trapping since 1993-4 and has contributed many papers on the subject. Don’s team is working in East and West Saguaro NP on the outskirts of Tucson in Arizona carrying out biodiversity assessments. I spent most of my time with Don and Nick Perkins who is responsible for the camera trapping program.

The objective of their developing program at Saguaro is to determine species richness in all habitat types represented in the NP, these habitats are influenced by geography, geology and elevation.  Despite having used many different camera models over the years, they are using Cuddeback Capture because they are white flash and due to their simplicity and cost.  Although Don has used many different camera types over time.
Don and Nick have divided the NP into 1.6 km grids and then stratified the area according to habitat type and elevation. In each grid they have generated 6-7 random points and are sequentially placing 4 camera traps per plot for 6 weeks. Sites are passive, in fact Don did some comparisons of results from baited and non-baited sites are found no significant difference in detections. The camera traps are checked every 2 weeks.  Interestingly they place their camera traps very close to the ground (<30cm) on steel posts but have had good results.  They are interested in all fauna but record more of the medium to large sized species eg deer, mountain lion, squirrels, raccoons, black bear, jaguar, coyote and Javelina. Their objectives are purely management driven – know what you have, its status, its trend  and manage accordingly.  They also use camera traps for Biolblitz -  a citizen science program aimed at measuring biodiversity in NP. This has been a huge success for the Park and very demanding for staff.
One crazy issue Don raised was the purchasing constraints enforced in the US with goods made in China – meaning that any model of camera trap made in China can not be bought ??.  Go figure !. Making new acquisitions rather difficult.

One important subject that emerged from our discussions on camera traps and their fitness for purpose was that we as researchers need to recognise that camera traps are no different to any other survey method we use and that all approached have limitations and biases. The Key message  being “don’t see camera traps as a panacea to survey design – we will always have imperfect data it just depends on your identification of acceptable errors.

“you will never know what you never know”……………… Don Swann 2011

After two days of walking into two plots and setting camera traps we met with a crew of folk from the University of Arizona and the Sky Island Alliance team who are working in Mexico on Jaguars.  The SIA people (Sergio Avila and Jessica Lamberton) have been using camera for 10 years and their primary interest is in jaguar surveys north and south of the Mexico border. They also chose Cuddeback camera for the image quality, white flash, price, simplicity and reliability-longevity. This group is also intrinsically tied into the Citizen Science program using camera traps to monitor plots.

We also met with Lisa Haynes the Coordinator of the Wild Cat Research and Conservation Centre, she collaborates with a multitude of people working on big cats in Namibia, India and USA. One of her primary interests is in understanding the status of Mountain Lions in the Tucson Mountains. Lisa has also been using camera traps in monitoring predation of Upland Falcons and together with Jim Sanderson has just secured funding to survey jaguars along the northern border of Mexico.  Lisa has used many cameras over time but has Cuddeback Experts and Bushnell Trophycams.

Lisa mentioned a novel vandal of her Cuddebacks – apparently in her study area woodpeckers are attracted to Fresnel lens’ and she has had several pecked out.

We also briefly discussed the software program designed by Jim Sanderson who was unable to attend our meeting.  This program uses renamer and a drag and drop system to file your images. Again this software sounds like a useful option but only if you have a single target animal and don’t need to code thousands of images.  However the analysis part of the program sounds excellent.

The conversation continued over drinks and we had some invaluable thoughts about defining experimental designs and the importance of defining how people define an event in a series of detections.  We all had a range of thoughts on what defines an “event” based on the target species and the questions being studied.

On Wednesday we exchanged ideas on camera trapping training courses and Nick and Mary-Beth described the structure of their school student course.  I also gave them an overview of our NSW Dept. Primary Industries/IACRC camera trapping training course.

The NPS is doing some excellent work in Saguaro and Don had a lot of knowledge to share and I am sure we will have further communications and collaborations.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Jean Laffite National Historic Park Baratavia Preserve- Craig Hood

I was keen to see how cameras trapping has infiltrated the US national parks system in Louisiana area and organised to meet the Ecologist Julie Witbeck and consultant Craig Hood. Unfortunately Julie had a funding proposal to write which had a higher priority so Craig kindly showed me what is happening with wildlife monitoring in the Preserve. The Preserve is in the Mississippi delta area of New Orleans, Louisiana  and is a unique habitat type caused by sediment dumps along the bayous of the river. This creates linear patches of forest between the mainland, wetlands and water ways. The Preserve is interested in assessing the biodiversity of these interesting patches of forest that is regularly inundated by flood waters – an interesting event that happens somewhat often. This is not surprising when you see the catchment of the Mississippi River.

This Preserve’s program is still in its infancy with regards  to biodiversity camera trapping and Craig is hoping to expand the design and intensity in the next funding period. Presently they have about 20 Cuddebacks and two Reconyx and they are doing presence-absence surveys. They have established  passive sites just in the linear patches of forest along the Mississippi-Bayou wetlands.  These fairly new forests are hosts to Armadillo, Coyote, Bobcat, White tailed deer and raccoons.

Their monitoring program is ongoing and evolving. Craig is still formulating his survey design and he is relatively happy with the Cuddebacks but can see enormous benefits in the Reconyx HC500’s he has deployed. Craig has adopted the standards recommended by Desk Team.

I am presently meeting with Don Swann and colleagues in Saguaro National Park Arizona and learning more about their biodiversity surveys and more about Citizen Science programs and how they work in the US. As some of you may know Don has been using camera traps since 1995 and has a lot of knowledge to share.