Most of the writing about Snapshot Wisconsin focuses on what the project does for the Wisconsin DNR and the wildlife of Wisconsin or the incredible work of the project’s dedicated volunteers. This makes sense as all are very important aspects of Snapshot Wisconsin. However, for this blog post, I’m going to write about what Snapshot gave to me as a team member and the experience of working for the Snapshot team.
My name is Michael Kamp, and I’ve been with Snapshot Wisconsin a little over two years. Throughout my time, I’ve worked on many different aspects of the project. I’ve done fieldwork, purchasing, equipment shipping, photo classifications and multiple communication pieces for the project. However, I’ll be leaving my position with Snapshot at the end of January to focus on finishing up grad school at UW-Madison this semester. Then I’ll be heading to Ecuador for the summer to work for the Ceiba Foundation for Tropical Conservation. I want to say thank you to my teammates for making Snapshot a great experience for me.
But first, let’s rewind to the fall of 2019. That September, I returned to my hometown of Madison after a stint working for The Nature Conservancy in Rhode Island. I was applying to new positions in the natural resources and conservation realm. I had never heard of Snapshot Wisconsin but applied for a position with the project. Fortunately, I was given an opportunity to interview and then was offered the position. I immediately accepted the job, which also included some administrative responsibilities for our whole office, the Office of Applied Science (OAS).
Certainly, I was excited for my position with Snapshot and OAS, but I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know how lucky I was and how transformative the next couple years would be. I grew a lot professionally and personally over my time with Snapshot Wisconsin.
First off, I joined a fantastic team with Snapshot Wisconsin. Throughout all my working experiences, I’ve been continually reminded of the importance of having a great team. Being part of a strong team, I’m motivated to work for my team members and challenge myself. A truly cohesive team makes the difference between a good and great job in my opinion. The Snapshot team made me feel welcome starting on day one with a welcome meeting, and it only improved from there.
While COVID swept through the world shortly afterwards in March 2020, I already had a solid foundation with my teammates. Having this team was super helpful over the course of the pandemic which as we all know is an ongoing challenge. Even if only on a small square on Zoom, I enjoyed seeing my teammates faces.
So, what are some skills I learned from Snapshot? Well, I can now look at very blurry trail camera images and generally identify the animal captured with confidence. I don’t know how transferable this skill will be to other positions if I don’t work with trail camera photos. Nonetheless, I can chalk this up on my resume as “attention to detail.”
I also gained experience in the behind-the-scenes work needed to make a project like Snapshot successful. Communication and organization are essential when gathering the trail cameras and associated equipment. Sending new volunteers’ equipment and replacing any malfunctioning equipment is a big lift, especially with over 1,700 volunteers. We have to send equipment to all corners of the state.
Furthermore, I learned that trail camera photos are a great way to spark an interest in nature. When people asked what my job was, if possible, I simply showed them trail camera photos. People were amazed at all the wildlife that roam Wisconsin, and Snapshot gave them a perfect viewing window. The 50 Million Photo Celebration is an ideal product to showcase beautiful trail camera photos from bear cubs to displaying turkeys.
Coming into this position with birding experience, I became the default bird guy. If there were any bird identification questions regarding trail camera photos, they came to my desk so to speak. Don’t get me wrong – I was quite happy with the arrangement. I was glad to put my bird expertise to use and share it with my colleagues. Snapshot captures mostly ground dwelling birds, but we captured some great warbler photos and even snapped a yellow-billed cuckoo in flight.
What will I take away from this job? A few things come to mind. Snapshot Wisconsin reinforced the idea that teamwork is essential. Wherever I end up in the future, I want to be part of a great team. I also learned the importance of taking advantage of opportunities in your position. For example, I jumped at every chance to complete fieldwork for Snapshot in the reintroduced elk grids. I gained valuable experience using GPS units and determining suitable spots for trail cameras. Many interesting webinars came into my inbox as well, and I attended when able. I continued learning through my whole tenure with Snapshot Wisconsin.
Another takeaway was the value of setting up trail cameras. After joining the team, I set up a trail camera on my family’s land in Vilas County. What a great decision that was! We have stunning photos of red fox, bobcats, and barred owls to name a few. Trail cameras provide a window into the outdoors that can deepen your connection to the land.
At the end of the day, I simply want to say thank you to all my great coworkers. I’m very grateful that my path wound its way to you all and for the experiences we shared together. Honestly, it’s difficult to leave Snapshot, but the time has come for me to move on. Whenever I think back on Snapshot, it will be with a smile. (Even when thinking of the times I had to prepare what felt like endless FedEx shipments). I look forward to seeing how Snapshot continues to grow.
And for my teammates, if you have any bird identification questions in the future, let me know. You’ve got my number.
The Snapshot Wisconsin team recently completed a second round of elk camera fieldwork in the Flambeau River State Forest. Below, Michael Kamp describes his field work experience along with his Snapshot teammate, Jamie Bugel.
The late morning sun was beginning to peek out as the Flambeau River glided serenely by. I watched downed maple leaves, their edges curled up, drifting down the river to unknown destinations. No boats traveled by this early fall morning. Taking one last look at the silent flow, Jamie and I walked back to our separate vehicles. Field work could not wait forever.
After coasting down County Highway M, all the while on alert for crossing elk, we pulled off onto a gravel road. Shortly down the gravel road we parked in front of a gate to a walking trail. Stepping out of my vehicle, I gazed down the corridor of stunning fall colors. Auburn, golden, and rosy hues led the way to the site of our trail camera deployment. We strode down the path, following our GPS, towards the specific coordinates. A raven flew overhead cawing loudly – much throatier than its cousin the crow. Once we were within 20 meters, we veered off the treeless path to work our way through downed branches and a cluster of aspen trees. We selected a paper birch tree within a couple meters of the GPS point and positioned the trail camera facing north.
Next on the schedule was checking a trail camera down Lost Mile Road – a fitting name for such a lane far removed from town streets and city blocks. The sun now shone high above as the Subaru took the bumps and puddles of Lost Mile Road in rhythm. Once again, a metal gate impeded any vehicles hoping to pass, so Jamie and I continued on foot. This trail camera was further from the walking path, through swaying sandy brown grass and over the occasional muddy spot. A couple of eastern hemlocks, seemingly out of place in this open area, stood sentinel as we checked the trail camera. The batteries replaced and SD card in hand, we trekked back to our vehicles.
Using the bed of Jamie’s pickup truck as an impromptu table, we ate a pleasant lunch before heading to the following trail camera. We drove a short way as a light breeze swirled fallen leaves on and off the road. The trail camera lay a couple hundred meters south of this gravel way. We headed into the woods, ducking under dense shrubbery and paused to marvel at a towering yellow birch tree. Maybe elk wandered beneath that tree’s branches in the late 1800’s before they were extirpated from the state. After reintroduction efforts and over 100 years later, the same tree might experience elk again. Moving on, we found the trail camera without much difficulty, lying just above a small marsh. Another trail camera checked.
Checking the last trail camera for the day passed in much the same manner – hiking quietly through the forest undisturbed by anyone else. Walking back from the trail camera, we lingered on the crest of a hill to observe the late afternoon sun. The brilliant rays pierced a forest opening and illuminated our surroundings in a golden glow. A photo could simply not do the scene justice. However, I can still picture that scene. Rather than a digital likeness, it is instead an enduring image etched in my mind’s eye.
When I think back to that sunny Friday during the tail end of September, I do not solely think about the trail cameras checked and data collected. I think about a day where Jamie and I had no cell service. There were no pings from our phones regarding news alerts or social media posts. There were no interruptions from the outside world. There was only a radio to call for help if needed. The gift of that day was we were truly present in the moment. That was the experience of fall in the Flambeau.
A Snapshot Wisconsin team member, Michael, moved up north for the summer to help the DNR in the Northern Highland State Forest. Below is a short piece he wrote about his experience in northern Wisconsin.
The gravel crunched under the tires of my Subaru as I wove down Wildcat Road one August evening. A Snowshoe Hare dashed for cover into the forest. A toad slowly hopped across the road. The tamaracks waved softly at me as I drove over Wildcat Creek. Upon pulling into the garage, darkness had nearly fallen.
Walking back outside, I climbed the stone steps to the front door feeling the breeze blow off the lake. I started to heat up left over soup on the stove for a late dinner. I sat down to eat the soup and simply listened. The wind whispered through the trees. The rustling among pine needles and maple leaves had become a constant and comforting sound over the last three months. A storm could be heard far in the distance. Thunder rolled across thousands of acres of woods and lakes towards me. Soon after, I heard rain pattering on the surface of the lake. No star gazing tonight.
Instead, I took up my favorite seat in the cabin – a wooden rocking chair on the porch. I picked up Where the Crawdads Sing and read as the storm gained strength. I read about a girl, Kya, who learns the intricacies of a North Carolina coastal marsh. Nature has become her only friend as her family slowly abandons her when they move out into the greater world. Kya knows the tidal cycles by heart and can identify any bird that crosses her path, like the elegant Great Blue Heron – a bird that I have seen out of this very porch in Wisconsin. I have observed it standing stock still and waiting for a hapless fish to swim too close. I sat and thought of how much I still have to learn about the ecosystem surrounding me. The tiniest details that I have yet to notice. What would Kya discern that I have not observed?
The storm eventually passed. I closed the book and listened to loons wailing on the lake. Loon calls have always struck me as hauntingly beautiful. The calls expound on the beauty of the natural world while at the same time lamenting the perils it faces. It is as if the loons can feel the climate shifting drastically. A barred owl soon joined the lonely chorus with the familiar “who-cooks-for-you” call. Both bird calls echoed across the lake. A breeze suddenly picked up, blowing through the screen and onto my face. Gently woken from my reverie, I got ready for bed. Then I crawled under the blankets and drifted off to sleep with the sound of the wind in the trees.
These are the nights I will remember. The nights when nature gave me the chance to slow down. The nights when it was only me and the north woods.