Game Cameras, Worth the investment!



Game cameras have been used for years by hunters and trappers to know what "game" animals are on their property. Today, we see these cameras being used for security, wildlife research, and many other tasks, though they are still most commonly used to monitor game species by hunters. 

The act of using a game camera is called "camera trapping". A game camera is a weather proof camera that is left outdoors for long periods of time. Heat or motion trigger the device to take a photo or video, depending on the user's preference. Most cameras come equipped with different settings which can be altered to yield the desired product. 

The great thing about these cameras is that they provide a minimally invasive and cost-effective way to answer simple questions about a habitat, ie, which animals are found where, and when?

At White Memorial, game cameras are used to explore which species are using different habitats. In previous blog posts you can see all the different species we recorded remotely using these cameras. Whether it was pointed toward a carcass to view scavengers, or aimed at a headwater stream to view animals using water, they always provide some insight to wildlife habits. 
However, our scope is limited to our four cameras and small research staff. We hope that citizen science can help fill in the gaps of our knowledge of the local wildlife. 


As game cameras increase in popularity, they've also decreased in cost. Advances in technology have made it easy to get a relatively cheap camera that will last you a few years. We'd like to encourage local landowners to invest in one or more of these cameras just to see what species you can capture on your property. You may be surprised at what you find! 

The Rhode Island Natural History Survey has outlined some advice for landowners who may want to use game cameras on their property. Topics such as using them for security reasons, and the legality of using them at a land trust or other popularly recreated area. That link is here.



The Nature Conservancy has gathered some insight about using game cameras for citizen science, along with advice for purchasing cameras. That content is available here

We hope you are inspired to explore the unknown side of your land; the side that you don't get to witness in person. The elusive animals that escape the limited field of your vision may be captured by a game camera! 
To further inspire you, please enjoy some of my personal favorite photos gathered from camera traps this season. 

Happy Trapping!


This Catbird was captured after a river otter changed the angle of my camera.
This White-tailed Deer was captured at Apple Hill
upper field along a stone wall that separates the open field
from the dense vegetation. 
A River Otter spotted at Cat Swamp off the Laurel Hill trail.
This camera was placed about 12 feet high in a tree
facing down toward the swamp
This is the River Otter that chewed on and tossed around the 
game camera I placed on a log in at Mallard Marsh.

=
This fawn was found at Mallard Marsh (between 202 and Whites Wood Road) after my game camera was messed with by the River Otter. 

This Black Bear was captured off the Mattatuck near Beaver Pond




Bat House Installation

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Materials~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

  • Bat House
  • Treated Wood
  • 3 wood planks (cut to fit the width of the bat house) (referred to as support brackets)
  • Screws to fasten bat house to support brackets
  • Bolt (we used 6" long, 3/8" wide) with washers, nut 
  • Lag screws to fasten beam to post
  • Lag screws to fasten support brackets to beam. 
  • Cordless drill and bits to suit your needs
  • Tape measure, pencil, level, framing square
  • Work gloves, hard-hat, other protective gear
  • BATS!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Before the installation~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Decide where to put the house

South or South East facing is usually best. You want the house to get sun first thing in the morning, and remain sunned for at least 8 hours/day, but preferably 10 to 12 hours. Avoid placing it near shade casting trees. However, do not avoid trees altogether. You should think about what a bat would consider an attractive neighborhood. Proximity to trees, open water, and wetlands are important, as they provide the bats' food: Insects! 
Houses can be installed on a post, wooden beam, or on an existing structure like a house or barn. When installing on a post/beam, opt for a large capacity house to allow heat retention. Single or double chamber houses will lose their heat too early in the night. These smaller houses can be installed on the sides of houses/barns because those buildings give off some heat. 
If you live in the Northeast, paint your bat house BLACK. It is essential for absorption of heat. 


Manage the vegetation

If you had to knock down vegetation to install your bat house, you'll need to continue to manage that vegetation. Bats need room to exit the roost, so shrubs/trees growing under the house can quickly become a problem. 
We chose to place this house in an invasive Japanese knot weed stand for a couple of reasons. First, the vegetation would self regulate its height, so as not to grow above the height of the bat house and shadow it. Second, we knew the ground here would be suitable for setting a post about 4 feet deep. Once we decided on a spot, we knocked down a large area around it to allow for room to work. The wooden beam we will be hoisting into the air is 16 feet long, so we needed to keep that in mind when clearing a working area.

Prepare the Materials



If you're installing a free standing house, you'll need to attach support brackets to the main beam or post. These will be perpendicular to the post/beam, and the house will be secured to these. Be sure these are secure and level. 
We attached the brackets using pre-drilled holes, lag screws, and washers. 
Next, attach the house to the support brackets using sturdy screws. We used 6 screws, and our house came with pre-determined areas where the screws will go. If your house does not have pre-existing places for screws, attach it any way you see fit that will not poke into the chamber. You DO NOT want sharp screws point in toward where the bats will be entering. 




Pound the post or Dig the hole



This only applies to you if you're installing a free standing house. This may seem like a simple step but it can easily backfire. Having a level support beam is KEY!. Whether pounding a post into the ground or burying a beam with cement, be sure to use a level every few seconds to ensure it is not going in crooked. 




If you're using a post:
Measure the distance from the ground to the hole you'll be using to attach the beam to the post. In our case, it was about 41". Now, pre-drill a hole that distance from the bottom of the beam to accommodate the bolt during installation. 


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Installation!~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Step 1. Attach the bat house


A pick-up truck served as the perfect platform to place the beam on before rotation. Saw horses could work just as well. Once the beam is in place and the bolt is secure, the bat house can be screwed into the brackets. We also used washers in this installation.





Step 2. Attach the beam to the post



To attach the wood to the post, we used a 3/8" bolt. We started out with the beam horizontal (perpendicular to the post). The bolt will act as a fulcrum from which the beam will rotate to its upright position. 






Step 3. Rotate beam to lift bat house into the air




This step can be tricky and requires at least 4 people. Because this set up is top-heavy, getting it and keeping it vertical is a challenge. Once the beam is vertical, use ratchet straps to secure it in place. DO NOT ever take all the hands off the beam until the very end. Once the ratchet straps are taught, you can ensure your set up is level. 






Now you can insert the lag screws to secure the beam to the post. We used three and placed them about equidistant apart. Make sure everything is tight and let go. 
You now have successfully installed a bat house! Congrats!






To learn more about bats, see these links from the CT Dept. of Energy and Environmental Protection: 

  • Bat Fact Sheet - This link gives an overview of bat biology, ecology, management, and other information about building a bat house
  • Bat In Connecticut -  This link tells you what you can do to help save Connecticut's bats. Note the bottom of the page has several other links to articles written about bats in Connecticut- mostly pertaining to White-Nose Syndrome. 


You can purchase a bat house, online, from  https://batmanagement.com/collections/bat-houses

Summary:

Every bat house installation project is unique.  Ultimately, the most important considerations to keep in mind is making sure the bat house is constructed properly and it is placed near good quality habitat that receives good sun exposure.  It is really important to make sure that the bat house is stable and secure when it is ultimately installed, bat don't like houses that sway in the wind or get visited by predators.    

The fight for our bats

Little Brown Bat with White-Nose Syndrome
Photo by A. Hicks (NYDEC)

White-Nose Syndrome


Bats in Connecticut have found themselves to be the focus of many conservation efforts after White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) spread through the state. WNS gets its name from the white fungus that can be seen growing on the bare skin on the face and wing membranes of affected bats. The fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, infects bats during winter hibernation and causes physiological changes that irritate the bat, and may even cause it to exit the cave during the day. Being awake and active during the winter depletes the fat reserves which should have carried them through to the spring. Because bats are especially vulnerable during hibernation, this disease has a very high kill rate. Some caves in Connecticut have seen up to 95% of hibernating bats killed in one winter. It is estimated that millions of bats across North America have died from WNS since its discovery in 2007. 


Little Brown Bats hibernating in a cave in CT.
White-Nose Syndrome can clearly be seen on the left bat
Photo by P. Fusco
Bats provide an essential ecosystem service which humans value very much: insect control. With the increasing rate of insect-borne diseases affecting people around the country, the value of insectivores (insect eaters) also continues to increase. All of Connecticut's bats are insectivores. One Little-Brown Bat can eat 1,200 mosquitoes in one hour. Connecticut would sorely miss the bat if it were to stop existing in our state, and the Little Brown Bat was one of the species most affected by WNS. The first step to conserving these animals is gathering all the data we can on them. 


Big Brown Bat in flight.
Photo courtesy of Science Magazine and Micheal Durham

What are we doing about WNS?


The research staff at White Memorial have been doing their part to gather data on bats in our area. We participate in three bat-centric surveys: 1. Bat Maternity Counts, 2. Stationary Bat Detecting Microphone, and 3. Mobile Bat Detecting Microphone. 

1. Summer Bat Colony Counts
This survey consists of counting bats as they exit a known roost at dusk. We observe the a colony of Big Brown bats that resides in the storage barn during the summer. These bats exit through the East and West ends of the barn around sunset to hunt for insects. We do this survey twice a year to monitor changes in the population. Once before the pups begin to fly, and once after the pups begin to fly.
This year we counted 193 bats in the initial survey and 363 bats in the second survey.


Intern Abby Wilson sets up the stationary bat detector
over a vernal pool
2. Stationary Bat Detecting Microphone
By using a sophisticated microphone which can detect and record very high frequency noises, we can find spots on the property where bats are using echolocation to hunt for insects at night. We set up this microphone in places we predict bats to be flying; places such as vernal pools, marshes, swamps, etc., and wait a few days. Upon retrieving the device, we read the recorded files through a special software which can analyze the noises and attribute them to species of bat. Each species has a slightly different "call".  

So far over many nights and different locations, we've recorded Big Brown Little Brown, Hoary, Red, and Silver-Haired bats with this microphone.




The white tube contains a microphone (the size
of a smart phone) 
3. Mobile Bat Detecting Microphone
You can probably guess from the name that this survey is similar to the former. It also uses a microphone specially designed to register and record high frequency noise. However, this microphone is much smaller (about the size of a smartphone), and used in a slightly different way. This mobile survey is named such because we use magnets to stick this microphone to the top of the truck, and follow pre-determined transects across all 4,000 acres of the White Memorial property. This method affords us the ability to survey many different habitats in one night, and has yielded some amazing results. We've observed all the same species recorded using the stationary microphone (which took many nights), in one single survey night, which takes about two hours. What an amazing diversity of bats we have here in Connecticut!







The signature sound profile of a Big Brown Bat, Eptesicus fuscus,
labelled Epfu for the first two letters of the genus and species.
 


What can you do?

If you want to help the bats, see this website from the CT DEEP: Help CT's Bats 

!!P. destructans spores can last a long time on clothe surfaces, so it is imperative that people exploring caves be mindful to wash all clothes, shoes, and gear before entering a new cave. !!