Wildlife Expert and Award winning Wildlife Photographer Keith Kirk talks Wildlife Cameras

Are Trail Cameras any good for the avid wildlife enthusiast?  In short yes; it will open up a whole new world on your wildlife experiences.  You can of course use them for a multitude of other things from intruder detection, car theft surveillance etc, But for here I’ll stick to a wildlife context.

Call them what you like; Wildlife, Trail or Stealth Cameras, but ever since I read about Steve Winter’s winning image in a major wildlife photographic competition back in 2008 and the controversy it caused (should the person be behind the camera when an image is taken) the idea has intrigued me.

In his case I believe he used an Canon Rebel SLR type camera with a remote setup and not an actual Trail Camera.

A Sneaky Galloway Red Squirrel takes a peek in Keiths Nikon.

At this point I will make it clear (unless otherwise stated) that the comments refer to both Spypoint and Wild Game Innovation range of cameras stocked by www.scottcountry.co.uk  It’s a bit like would you buy a Nikon or a Canon digital SLR? It’s really a matter of your personal choice and what suits your needs best.  Each have their own exclusive good points.

A couple of questions you might want to ask yourself first.

  1. How much do I want to spend?
  2. Do I need a playback screen on the camera or will I just take the SD card back to a computer? 

    Wildgame Innovations Crush X 20 Camera

The reason for this is not all models have a playback screen and it does add to the overall cost. 

All will take between 8mp and 22mp still images and shoot video at 720p HD and film in colour during the day and switch to infra-red (black&white) at night.  Almost all the cameras are now completely covert, that is no slight red glow from the IR’s, which might have been seen if you were close to the camera.  All have a date and time stamp, which on some cameras is permanently on the image and on others you can choose to turn this option off. 

The cameras themselves come in a variety of sizes and methods for fixing them to trees, buildings and posts etc.  Straps, bungie chord, tree spike, or you could make your own fixing.

Personally I prefer to use the video settings rather than the one for still images.  The reason for this is when taking still images at night the camera will use a slow shutter speed and any movement from your subject and you may end up with an out of focus image.  Whereas taking a still from a video works just as well.   Although if your subject is mainly active during the day still images should work fine.  Setting up your camera for the first time is really just a case of following the on screen menus to set the date and time, video or still, how long to film for etc.   Just remember to OK each setting before moving on to the next.  Once set each time you use your camera it’s just a case of switching your camera on and off as all the settings are saved in its internal memory.  Make sure your SD card (normally sold separately) is a Class 10 or above for best results.

When sighting your camera in the field many factors will come into play, location, what you hope to film.  If it’s in a location where no one will find it, or possibly interfere with it, then I will place it at around head height and angle it downwards (I drop a rubber door wedge behind mine to angle it forwards) towards where I think my subject will be.  These type of cameras are triggered by heat and movement so moving branches and vegetation should not trigger the camera.  Some people set them very low to the ground thinking that is where they need to be to film badgers, foxes etc as they are not large creatures and walk close to the ground.  However, what you need to remember is that the camera sends out, what I can only best describe as an invisible torch beam.  So the nearer to the camera the narrower the detection beam and if you are too low then much of this detection area might only reach a few feet in front of the camera.  Try it by placing a torch beside the camera and you’ll see what I mean.

Using Infrared illumination this deer has no idea he is the star of the show!

One question I am often asked is: how long will the batteries last?  Well how long is a piece of string?  It depends on what type of batteries you use, how often the camera is triggered, ambient temperature etc.  Some manufacturers make a re-chargeable lithium battery designed specifically for their camera, some even offer a solar version.  

Personally if I can get to the camera ever other day then normal re-chargeable batteries have worked fine for me, even in cold winter weather, just make sure they are at least 2500mAh.

Don’t always expect instant results, it will take time for you to learn the best locations for setting your camera.  An animal travelling at speed past the camera may give off enough heat to trigger it but the animal may have left the area before the camera actually starts filming, so check your cameras start up time. 

Although baiting an area with peanuts of dog food might enhance your chances with some species by keeping them within the detection zone for longer. 

Learn from your mistakes and it will make you a better naturalist.

Keith Kirk

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