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Reconnecting to the Wild World in a Time of Physical Distancing

Though many of us are safely tucked away at home, outside in the newfound quiet the natural world is busy and bustling. Across the world in the absence of human activity, there are reports of wildlife returning to areas previously lacking. An observer succinctly summarized it: “Nature just hit the reset button.”

So how are other areas changing?

In our own backyards, there are likely subtle changes happening too. How do we observe this “rewilding” of sorts while still remaining safely distanced indoors? One way to do so is with the use of trail cameras. A trail camera is a remote, weather-proof device equipped with a sensor that senses changes in temperature and movement. Detecting, for example, a warm-bodied animal passing in front of the sensor, the camera will begin to take photos or videos. These cameras go largely unnoticed by wildlife and thus don’t alter their natural behavior. The Wolf Conservation Center utilizes trail cameras throughout the property to monitor the area’s wild species and has discovered families of bobcats, coyotes, raccoons, weasels, robins, ravens, and many more species. At this time of year, many of these animals are preparing to have offspring – how exciting it would be to watch these families grow!

If you’re seeking an at-home activity that encourages you to occasionally venture outdoors while still practicing social-distancing, trail cameras are a great way to observe the wild world. And you don’t have to spend much to find good quality. You can find really decent cameras for under $60!

Here are some tips for setting up a trail camera – it’s a great activity to do alone or with the family!

  • First scout around and look for signs of animals. This could look like tracks in the dirt, scat, or something resembling a trail. If in your yard, you could consider placing it along a tree-line, facing a stone wall, or even attached to patio furniture! Be creative and try to imagine where wild animals might walk. And remember, you can always move the cameras around if you’re not spotting anything! Important note: do not bait your cameras with food or any other attractant.
  • Setting your cameras at about knee-height is typically a good way to get clear shots of many animals at approximate eye-level. Set them so they are facing a wide area in front of the sensor. If setting on a trail or in a narrow area, angle them so they’re facing down the trail instead of straight across it. That way, you’ll capture more of the animals’ approach instead of a blur as the animal runs right past.
  • If there is thick brush or tall grass in front of the camera, clear some of it out. Sometimes the wind moves the grass around and triggers the camera to start taking photos. Few things are more tedious than sorting through hundreds of photos of waving grass with no animals in sight!
  • Play around with the settings and have fun! It’s always so exciting to see what kinds of animals use our backyards at night when we’re not around.

It’s easy to feel disconnected from the world around us, especially right now. But this could be an opportunity to quietly reconnect and observe, and to enjoy the comfort of the natural world persisting despite it all.