Trail cameras are small magical boxes that are self contained, weatherproof cameras that can see in the dark and are triggered by animal movement.
They can take photos and/or video with sound and some can also be used for capturing timelapse.
This is a timelapse of 283 images, each 2 minutes apart, so that 10 hours is seen in just 12 seconds
So trail cameras can reveal aspects of nature that are normally hidden from us, such as - activity in the dark, behaviour that might only happen occasionally, the daily pattern of activity and in timelapse mode the habitat changes over weeks or months.
This is a compilation of 24 hours of video from a reedbed with - Robin, Wren, Cettis Warbler, Moorhen, Water Vole, Fieldmouse and Water Shrew.
This is from a trail camera viewing under a sheet of wood where animals can find shelter - this is a Pygmy Shrew.
More examples from Rye Harbour Nature Reserve can be found on our YouTube channel
But trail cameras can be tricky to use, so here are some of the things I have learnt:
Choosing a trail camera
- prices vary and you generally get what you pay for
- do online research first, don't buy on impulse
- camera angle of view and close focus varies between models - choice depends on what your subject will be
- some have excellent sound recording
- some infra red models can be seen by some animals
trail camera strapped to a post overlooking a rock in a reedbed with apple behind it
Positioning a trail camera
- choose somewhere away from where people go
- find out the close focus by taking trial images (you can bring the focus closer by just crudely adding a lens from a pair of cheap reading glasses - see below, but since learnt 2 things, just blutac works OK and make sure you don't leave any gaps, otherwise spiders or insects will get in to the lens)
- consider the view carefully, create a view that doesn't have anything in front of the camera that will move in the wind (giving false triggering) or show up as a white blob at night
- consider a low viewing angle for greatest impact - a small post to strap camera to will help or create a mini-tripod or use a gorillapod
- be creative and make an arena, provide a perch or rock for animals to sit on, try using food to attract animals, but don't put it on view, provide a runway and look down the path the animal may take
- take some trial images to check what the the camera is seeing
- glue a spirit level tube on the top to make it easier to set it level
- if it's not set close to home get a spare memory card, so that you can swap and keep recording
lens from reading glasses on trail camera with blutac and elastic bands
Before you leave a trail camera
- check the battery charge
- check the memory card is empty
- clean the lens
- position the camera vertically with a spirit level or phone app
- and most important of all, double check that you have turned it on before you leave it!
Be patient, leave it for at least 24 hours and preferably a week, it will record wildlife without disturbing it and you might capture something that delights you. If so do share it on social media and if it's in Sussex share at https://www.facebook.com/group...
If you have other trail camera tips please share in the comments below.
The two trail cameras I am using at the moment are:
- Browning Spec Ops Edge at about £200 has great video and sound recording - it took the Curlew video above.
- Topnaca 4K Trail Camera 20MP at about £80 - it took "A Rock in a Reedbed" and the timelapse above