Pictures of curious brown bears, cautious wolverines, hungry marten and playful coyote puppies are just a few mouse clicks away on the website of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Motion-triggered trail cameras have become valuable tools for wildlife research, and state biologists and their research partners are sharing highlights with the public. Dozens of candid wildlife images are featured in the department’s new trail camera gallery on the Wildlife Viewing section of the website.
“This seems like a natural for the wildlife viewing site,” said Anne Sutton, wildlife viewing program coordinator. “We so rarely see animals like we can in these candid camera shots. There’s something so raw about them that’s really appealing. Wildlife photography is very beautiful, but these are just the elemental scene. … just knowing there’s nobody there but the camera.”
State wildlife biologists studying wolverines in the Berners Bay area north of Juneau placed trail cameras at wolverine live traps to improve trapping techniques and document animal behavior at the trap sites.
“We wanted to see the functionality of the trap, learn how the system works and make changes to improve it,” said Juneau Area Biologist Ryan Scott. “There might be little cues that keep the animals from going near. It helps us to be more efficient in future efforts. Sometimes we come back to a trap and we can tell something has been changed, or maybe it’s closed and there is nothing in it. The camera can really help with that, give insight on what happened there.”
Scott cited several images which show brown bears climbing on the traps and closing the lids. Those pictures are featured in the gallery, as well as marten and wolverines.
“We caught several images of wolverines investigating the traps, looking in but not going in. In the past, short of finding tracks, we’d never know they were there,” Scott said.
Scott said while the intent is to capture a wolverine and equip it with a GPS collar, photographs can provide valuable information.
“We may be able to identify an animal from a photograph,” he said.
In some cases, where cameras were placed on carcasses of a moose and a mountain goat, wolverines that had already been collared were photographed scavenging.
One species of animal Scott would especially like to “camera trap” is the fisher, a cat-like weasel that is a larger cousin to the marten. Part of the goal of deploying the remote cameras is to document the presence or absence of fisher in the Juneau area. Fisher are found in British Columbia, but only three fisher have been documented in Alaska, all in the Juneau area.
But not all images captured animals on the move. The motion trigger camera works on infrared, technically more like a heat sensor than a motion trigger, although motion like a waving branch triggers it by altering the heat signal coming off the ambient environment. Similarly, snow falling out of trees in winter will also trigger the sensor to activate the shutter. In summer, sometimes random pictures are taken because the landscape is simply warming up.
To capture animals of the night, such as a trio of wolves looting a carcass, many of the cameras are outfitted with flashes, but very few use the standard strobe anymore. Instead, they use LED lights, a bank of a dozen or so. Some even use infrared LEDs. These don’t make a visible flash and produce night images that are black and white.
To keep the elements out, each camera is sturdy and sealed tight, but if left out for months, they are best installed on the north side of a tree or post, so they don’t heat up and cool down over the course of a day, which can cause condensation. Because there aren’t moving parts, like film cameras, the batteries of these digital cameras can last for months.
Gallery images have also been provided by biologist Tania Lewis, of the National Park Service, and graduate student Diana Raper, of Oregon State University. They set up a motion triggered camera last summer near a whale carcass in Glacier Bay and documented wolves and brown bears feeding together at the carcass. Diana Raper is also working with Fish and Game on a study of scavengers on the Gustavus Forelands, and cameras were placed on carcasses provided by hunters, revealing images of wolves, bears, eagles and marten. For more on this study, and trail cameras, see the March issue of Alaska Fish and Wildlife News at wildlifenews.alaska.gov.
The public is invited to submit images, and Bill Stannard graciously provided a set of pictures taken from a trail camera posted on his cabin in the Talkeetna Mountains.
New images will be posted as they are made available. The gallery offers a way to share images, and photographers retain all rights to their pictures. Send images and information to Riley Woodford at email@example.com. For questions, e-mail or call 465-4256.
The gallery can be viewed at: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=viewing.trailcams.
• Riley Woodford is a writer and producer with the Division of Wildlife Conservation at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Juneau. He produces the “Sounds Wild” radio program which can be heard every Monday at 8 a.m. on KTOO, and Alaska Fish and Wildlife News, which can be found at: www.wildlifenews.alaska.gov.