A small red fox kit runs towards the trail camera

The Reserve After Hours

As I arrived at the conservancy on a cold morning this winter I scanned the snow-covered fields for signs of wildlife. Off in the distance, something unusual stood out. It was alongside a few ravens and had the silhouette of a canine. Could it be a fox? Nope, too big. I snapped a quick picture, and the animal turned and ran off into the forest. Upon examining my picture it confirmed what I had suspected — it was a coyote! Needless to say I was excited as this was my first sighting of the species on the reserve. I immediately wondered how I could get a closer look at these magnificent, yet sadly misunderstood animals. The answer was obvious; I needed to set my camera traps.

Coyote stands in the distance against a snowy ground
Coyote © Justin Taus

Using Camera Traps for Research

Camera traps, also known as trail cams, are waterproof cameras that are left mounted in a particular area for an extended period of time. They are equipped with motion sensors that trigger the cameras whenever there is movement within their range, and have infrared lighting features that enable them to function in complete darkness. Although the image quality is poor, the pictures still reveal a goldmine of information.

A deer stares into the camera
Deer © Justin Taus

Camera traps are great tools to study wildlife behaviours, movement and migrations. They are especially valuable when studying species that are nocturnal and/or skittish in nature because the cameras are camouflaged and silent, and no humans are around to trigger them. I hoped the cameras would provide insight into how animals navigated and utilized the reserve, especially at night. Following are some examples of what I discovered.

A skunk sniffs the forest floor at night
Skunk © Justin Taus

Red Fox Family

This spring a fox couple had a litter of kits on the reserve. Through the use of camera traps I was able to find out that there are a total of 5 kits. The camera captured several behaviours, including the kits socializing together, the parents monitoring them, and the mother nursing her young. It allowed us to understand at which times of the night the family is most active, as well as which animals the parents hunt to feed the family (mostly small rodents and squirrels).

Red fox kit in the foreground runs towards mother standing in the background
Red fox kit and mom – Photo © Justin Taus
Red fox kits stand below mother to nurse
Fox Family – Photo © Justin Taus
A small red fox kit runs towards the trail camera
Fox kit with prey in mouth – Photo © Justin Taus
Profile view of red fox from a nighttime camera
Nighttime fox – Photo © Justin Taus

Features of the Reserve

Trap cameras are placed in strategic areas, often where animals are funnelled into a tight passage, in order to ensure that they pass in front of the camera. Examples of these places are logs lying across streams and well-defined game trails through trampled vegetation.

A deer stands, grazing at a distance
Grazing doe © Justin Taus

I decided to place a camera at an abandoned beaver dam that I suspected wildlife used to cross a stream. In just two days the camera captured several species using the dam as a bridge, including groundhogs, raccoons, deer, red and gray squirrels, chipmunks and various rodents. Furthermore, the dam was used as a perch for herons, wrens, robins, thrushes, cardinals, juncos and other birds.

A raccoon passes by the camera at night
Raccoon © Justin Taus
A small rodent stares into the camera from a distance
Rodent – Photo © Justin Taus
A deer stands near a small pool of water
Deer by water – Photo © Justin Taus
A groundhog stands by a pool of water
Groundhog © Justin Taus

Certain portions of the reserve were also confirmed to be travel corridors. Others seemed to be utilized more so for grazing.

The Search for the Elusive Coyotes

Whenever I would check the cameras I always hoped that I would find a shot of the coyotes. Sure enough, after a few weeks, I was extremely delighted to find out that I had captured photos of them at two different locations. Success! One picture was taken in the middle of the night on a trail frequented by deer. The other was in a forest corridor, very early in the morning. Nevertheless, I look forward to finding out more about these elusive animals and their behaviours on the reserve in the future.

A coyote faces away from the camera
Coyote © Justin Taus
A coyote looks into the trees in the background
Daytime coyote © Justin Taus

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