Great critter cam photos are a matter of luck rather than photographic skill — although a little bit of editing magic can turn a mediocre photo into a great one.
This is a series of motion-activated trail cam photos, many by night, some in the early evening or after dawn, of the wildlife who visit my home in a semi-rural area outside Santa Fe, New Mexico.
I set up the camera near my de facto watering hole, which consists of a ground-level birdbath and a nearby pond. Wildlife photography ethics require that one should never lure wildlife to a camera with food as it changes their behavior. Making water available in an ongoing 1,200-year megadrought exacerbated by human-caused climate breakdown, however, creates a welcome oasis for wildlife and is, in many cases, essential for their survival. This is analogous to the practice in drought-stricken parts of Africa of building permanent cisterns for elephants to supplement the natural water supply that can no longer be depended upon.
Because so many species only come at night, it’s easy to remain unaware of their presence — unless there is a camera set up. Although I had seen openings to mysterious dens in soft soil, I had no idea that we had badgers until I saw them on camera, usually around 3 a.m. And I’d never seen a raccoon, a true creature of the night, until they appeared on my digital downloads.
Coyotes are ubiquitous here and wonderful allies in keeping the rodent population in check. Because they are opportunistic hunters and foragers, one can observe them at all hours and their scat contains juniper berries, apricot pits and all manner of other, less easily identifiable things. Though they can be active during the day, particularly near sunrise and sunset, in deep night, safe from human contact, they come out in singles, pairs and packs to hunt, drink water, explore and play.
I’ve seen bobcats in broad daylight and wrote about them in Bobcats in the Hood for Voices for Biodiversity in 2017. But they much prefer the cover of night for their hunting. However, like all good cats, they like to make a liar out of humans, so some of my favorite photos are from mornings when I left the camera out for a few hours after dawn and evenings when I set it up before sunset. In some sequences, we can see a bobcat settling in, as relaxed as any indoor house cat, stretching, grooming and dozing off.
As well as the larger fauna, the watering hole serves many species of birds, snakes, rabbits, squirrels and even the mice who need to quench their thirst as much as anyone else.
The presence of so much wildlife right outside my windows lifts my heart in heavy times, and gives me both joy and, increasingly, concern for their well-being. Although hunting is not allowed where I live, rodenticides are often used by residents who are either not yet aware of the dangers of secondary poisoning to wildlife or are talked into it by pest control companies who give them false assurances (if they even know to ask) that rodenticides won’t get into the food chain.
Concerned citizens in my neighborhood have recently come together to educate our neighbors about the dangers to both wildlife and companion animals who might be tempted eat a slow-moving, dying rodent. We also offer resources on alternatives, from exclusion to rodent birth control. Most importantly, we encourage respect for predators, who are the most effective and natural method of rodent control.
I find that the presence of so many species of wildlife — quietly co-existing alongside the humans who have taken over so much of their habitat — inspires a sense of wonder in me as I check the camera’s SD card every morning to see who has visited during the night as I slept and dreamed.
None of these photos was taken directly by a human, but we still get to enjoy looking into the eyes and glimpsing into the lives of the creatures whose land we humans inhabit.
Read the full story at Critter Cam in the High Chaparral.