Motion Sensor Camera for Wildlife

So, here’s a new interesting hobby we stumbled upon…photographing wildlife with a motion sensor camera.

My husband and I went to a slide show put on by Dan of the Sudbury Valley Trustees which showcased all the photos (and some video) taken by members in the woods with motion sensor cameras. It was very cool to see. There were mostly deer, coyotes, and fishers, but also some unusual things like a snapping turtle, bobcat, and red tailed hawk.

They were offering a discounted rate for anyone who wanted to buy a camera and try it, so we decided to do it.

We had the choice of either of these two cameras:

Moultrie D55 Game Spy 5 Megapixel Digital Game Camera (Camo) (Sports)

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New From: 0 Out of Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

Moultrie Game Spy M-80 (Sports)

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Used from: Out of Stock

We decided to go with the D55 because

  1. it was cheaper and
  2. it was white flash whereas the M80 is infrared. In the slide show, the person running it mentioned that sometimes animals are more scared of the sudden red flash than white, which reminds them of lightning.

Neither of these cameras come with either batteries or a memory card, so you have to buy this separately. The D55 can only handle a card up to 16 gigs. But I needed to get a card quickly; I had just about a week before the class. The only thing I could find online that would get here in time was a 2 gig card from Ebay, so I got that. It turns out (according to Amazon), that’s the most popular size anyway. Dan said that was fine; it holds about 1400 pictures. (I googled ‘sd card for Moultrie D55’).

At the class we picked up a lot of good tips about where to place it. Dan has been doing it for years and has learned a few things. Here’s what I remember (I had planned to take notes but I was too cold to take my gloves off to write them):

Where to place the camera

  • Be mindful of the direction your camera is facing, otherwise you may just get shots of blinding light if you are facing into the sun.
  • Be mindful of what’s in front of it. A little trick is to bring along a regular pocket camera and take a flash picture by holding it in front of your mounted camera. You may see the light reflected back by small plants growing in front of it that you didn’t notice before, with the background in darkness.
  • Remember that if you leave your camera out for months over the winter, you might have a couple of feet of snow that weren’t there when you placed it, so make sure you put it high enough.
  • The height should depend on the animal you’re trying to take. You should put it at knee height for a deer, for example, but lower for an otter.
  • The camera takes a second or so to ‘wake up’ before it takes a picture. So if you know animals will be coming in a certain direction (like if you point it at a deer trail), try to position it so that the animals are walking towards it, not across the field of vision. Otherwise by the time the camera wakes up and takes a picture, you’ll get an empty frame or the critter’s rump.
  • Moving water will sometimes set it off, so try to avoid pointing it at a pond or stream.

Hiding the camera

  • You can camouflage the camera with pine boughs stuck in the ground, but deciduous plants will wither and crumble over time.
  • Another way to hide the camera is to mount it on a stick and hide it behind a tree, rather than strap it to the tree itself because the strap will be visible.
  • Remember that a strong wind will blow plants around the camera, sometimes into its field of vision, setting it off.
  • Cameras often go missing, sometimes by people who find them and take them, assuming they’re hunting cameras. You can deter this by placing a disclaimer on the outside. His note says that the camera is part of a wildlife study. It also has his email and blog (where he posts the pictures.).

Dan likes to use black velcro straps instead of the webbing strap the camera comes with. He orders 1" straps online. Someone at the class said that Home Depot carries that size too, but I was only able to find 3/4" and 1.5" there.

Here’s an interesting tidbit: animals like fishers are not deterred by a human scent; in fact they tend to be curious about it. But coyotes, on the other hand, will avoid it.

One other tip: you’ll get a lot more pictures if you put your camera where you know animals go, rather than hoping some critter will happen to wander into its range. If you’re familiar with tracking, look for animals tracks (easier in the snow). Or pay attention to dogs. They will often pee on a log that other critters have left their scents on. Also if you ever come across a killed animal, set up your camera to point to it. You’ll be amazed at how many animals come to feed.

Settings for the camera
Dan takes all the default settings except he change the number of pictures taken from 1 to 3. This means that when it wakes up, it will snap three pictures, one after the other. All the other settings we kept: still photos instead of video (for now).

A few tips:

  • The D55s use C batteries. Dan uses regular batteries, not rechargeables, because they’re too expensive.
  • The M80s use AA. He uses rechargeables, specifically lithium. He can buy a big box online.
  • The battery life indicator in the D55 is not accurate. When it tells you the battery is 65% full, it’s time to think about replacing them. Usually at 55% full, they’re almost dead.
  • In general, they last about 3 or 4 months.

I’m going to put the actual pictures in their own posts.

Moultrie D55 Spy Camera–Flash Too Bright

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Sometimes when you look at the picture your camera took, all you get is white. I always thought it was because it was positioned too close to the subject or I had something obstructing its field of view. But I recently had a use for it that proved this isn’t the case. The flash just […]

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Thursday, December 29th, 2011

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post 1

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

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