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A Brief History of Trail Cameras

Blog_Cam3The invention of trail cameras occurred further back in history than some might think. George Shiras III was a politician and lawyer from Pennsylvania who had an interest in using cameras to capture the first photos of wildlife in the 1880s. Most of Shiras’s photos took place in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Since cameras at this time were bulky and cumbersome, carrying a camera out to the woods to take photos of elusive wildlife was not an idea that crossed most people’s minds. Shiras, however, had a brilliant idea for baiting a site and using a series of trip wires to trigger an automatic flash bulb and capture photos of animals at night.

A bull elk

A bull elk captured at night at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. July 1913. Photograph by George Shiras.

Another method Shiras used to capture photos of wildlife was a hunting technique he learned from members of the Ojibwe tribe referred to as jacklighting. Jacklighting is the practice of sitting out on a lake in a canoe at night and using a small fire to catch an animal’s attention without scaring them away. As the animals stood still and peered curiously towards the flames, Shiras would take his shot – with his camera that is.

Shiras’s photos were one-of-a-kind at the time, and National Geographic soon began publishing them in 1906. His collection of over 2,000 photos remains in their archives today. Click here to see some of George Shiras’s amazing camera trap photos.

A hundred years later, camera trap technology had evolved considerably. By the 1980s, camera traps were mostly being used by deer hunters, but wildlife researchers were starting to use these tools as well. These cameras worked using an infrared beam that, when broken, would open the shutter on a 35mm camera and snap a picture. The 35mm film resulted in crisp and sharply contrasted images, but the film was also costly and had to be replaced often.  

The advantages of today’s digital cameras show just how far we’ve come in film technology. Cameras are light, portable, self-triggering, hold thousands of images, and can snap photos in 0.2 seconds. The use of trail cameras by hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts make them a great tool for citizen science programs such as Snapshot Wisconsin because many people already have a familiarity with using them.

A volunteer checking his trail camera

A Snapshot Wisconsin volunteer checks his camera.

The Snapshot Wisconsin program currently has over 2,100 active trail cameras in all 72 counties of Wisconsin. We’ve certainly come a long way from George Shiras’s trip wires and flash bulbs. What remains unchanged is people’s enthusiasm for capturing wildlife in a single passing moment.

A red fox

A red fox captured on a Snapshot Wisconsin camera.

Rare Species of Wisconsin

Let’s take a dive into the rare mammals of Wisconsin! Although we do not expect to see many of these species captured on Snapshot Wisconsin trail cameras, having the option available to volunteers provides an excellent opportunity to identify their occurrences in the state. Each month, Snapshot Wisconsin staff members review any images classified as one of the following species to determine the validity of the identification. Volunteers have already accurately identified multiple moose, a marten and even a whooping crane on camera! Read below to find out more and prepare yourself for spotting even more rare species hiding in the massive Snapshot Wisconsin dataset.

Somewhat unlikely:

Whooping crane (Grus americana) – Whooping cranes are extremely rare, but there is a small introduced population in Wisconsin. These towering birds are snowy white with red crowns and black-tipped wings that can be seen in flight. The species declined to around 20 birds in the 1940’s but number about 600 today.

More likely: sandhill crane. Sandhill cranes have slate gray to rusty brown bodies, white cheeks and red crowns. Depending on the iron content of the soil in the area, sandhill cranes can appear lighter or whiter in color.

WhoopingCrane

Marten (Martes americana) – The American pine marten was extirpated from Wisconsin in the early 1900’s but has since been reintroduced to certain parts of the state. The fur of a marten varies from dark brown to tan and may contain yellow tones. Marten usually have a paler head and dark legs (though color is difficult to tell in nighttime photos when marten are most active). Marten also have a whitish cream to orange throat and relatively large rounded ears.

More likely: mink, weasel or fisher. Mink are a small, long-bodied animal that is typically found near water. The fur of a mink is dark brown and they sometimes have white patches on the chin and chest. Compared to marten, mink are more uniformly colored and have smaller ears. All weasels are small and have long, thin bodies with short legs. In the summer, weasels are light to dark brown with white markings on the chin, throat, chest and/or stomach, during the winter the coat of weasels turns to white. Weasel are smaller than marten, and have less bushy tails. Fisher are a long-bodied species with very long tails and have dark brown fur all year long. The feet and tail are generally darker than the body and head, and some fisher have a cream-colored patch on the chest.

Marten

Moose (Alces alces) – Moose were extirpated from Wisconsin in the late 1800’s, but visitors from farther north are occasionally spotted in upper parts of the state. They are one of the largest land mammals in North America and have a blackish brown body with a long nose. Males have large palmate antlers and the young are reddish brown. Because they are such a tall animal, it is often that only the legs and feet are visible in Snapshot Wisconsin photos.

More likely: elk or deer. Elk have a large, thick body with long slender legs. They have a dark brown head and neck, lighter body and a cream-colored rump. Males have antlers which fork off a main branch and a dark shaggy mane that hangs from the neck to the chest. The young have white spots. Deer are lightly built, and grayish brown to reddish brown in color. The underside of their short tail is white. Males have antlers which fork off a main branch and the young are reddish brown in color with white spots.

Moose

Feral pig – Feral pigs are non-native, domestic pigs that have become feral after living in the wild. Sightings are more common in the southern U.S. but are occasionally reported in Wisconsin. They are stocky animals and can vary greatly in size and color. Compared to domestic swine, they have longer snouts, longer course hair, a straight tail, and may have tusks.

More likely: deer, black bear or other large mammal. Due to their large stature, a feral pig can be misidentified as other more common large animals, such as deer or bear. Deer are lightly built, and grayish brown to reddish brown in color. Black bear are large, round animals with dark brown or black coats.

Feral Pig

Highly unlikely:

Lynx (Lynx canadensis) – There are no known breeding populations of lynx in Wisconsin, though an occasional visitor from Canada will pass through. The coat of this cat varies from gray to grayish brown with spots on the legs and belly. The lynx has long black tuffs on the ears, short black-tipped tails, long legs, and very large furry feet.

More likely: bobcat. Bobcat coats vary from gray to reddish brown, typically with spots, especially on the belly. Bobcats have stripes on the insides of the legs, and telltale white markings on the backs of the ears. They have short tails that, on the tip, are black above with white below.

Lynx

Cougar (Puma concolor) – There are no known breeding populations of cougars in Wisconsin, though there have been several recent sightings of wandering young males from out west. The coat of this large slender cat varies from yellowish brown to grayish brown with a lighter color belly and throat. Their head is relatively small and the area behind the ears is black. Cougars have a long black-tipped tail.

More likely: bobcat. Bobcat coats vary from gray to reddish brown, typically with spots, especially on the belly. Bobcats have stripes on the insides of the legs, and telltale white markings on the backs of the ears. They have short tails that, on the tip, are black above with white below.

Cougar

EXTREMELY unlikely:

Jackrabbit (Lepus townsendii) – Though formerly abundant in Wisconsin, this species is now extremely scarce. Jackrabbits’ upper side is grayish brown in color with gray or white on the underside, and in the winter, the fur is white. The tail is white year-round. Jackrabbits have ears which are longer than the head.

More likely: cottontail rabbit or snowshoe hare. The fur of the cottontail rabbit is brown in color with longer gray and black guard hairs, giving it a grizzled appearance. Their fur does not typically vary with seasons, and their ears are often shorter than the hind feet and are small in proportion to the body. A snowshoe hare is slightly larger than a cottontail, and their coat varies with the seasons turning from dark brown/reddish to white during winter months. Hare have long feet and black tipped ears are large in proportion to the body.

Jackrabbit

Spotted skunk (Spilogale putoris) – The spotted skunk hasn’t been seen in Wisconsin in 30+ years, and only in the southwestern part of the state. They have the same black fur as striped skunks, but instead have white blotches all over. The spotted skunk’s bushy tail is white underneath and at the tip.

More likely: striped skunk. Striped skunks bear a white stripe that runs down the center of their face, usually have two white stripes going down the back, and a long/fluffy black tail.

SpottedSkunk

Wolverine (Gulo gulo) – Wolverines are considered extirpated from Wisconsin. They have thick, coarse, dark brown fur with light brown stripes starting at the shoulders and traveling along the body to the base of the tail. Wolverines have a fluffy tail and often have a light-brown face.

More likely: porcupine, skunk or badger. The body of a porcupine is stout with an arched back and covered in quills. Porcupines appear dark brown in color and have small round ears and tiny dark eyes. Striped skunks bear a white stripe that runs down the center of their face, usually have two white stripes going down the back, and a long/fluffy black tail (though the pattern of striped skunks is often distorted during nighttime images). Badgers have low, wide bodies with short legs. The fur of a badger ranges from grayish to reddish along the back with a buff colored underside. Badgers have distinctive black patches on their face and a white stripe extending from nose, down the back.

Wolverine

Exploring the Plant Side of Citizen Science

In the state of Wisconsin, we are lucky to have so many people who take interest in our natural resources. From the Snapshot Wisconsin project here at the Department of Natural Resources, to university professors conducting environmental research, to individual Wisconsinites, there’s no shortage of people who care.

Before I started working with the Snapshot Wisconsin team, I was fortunate enough to participate in another research project. The goal of the project was to look more closely at the impact that white-tailed deer have on Wisconsin forests when they browse on (or “eat”) sapling trees. My job was to use the Twig-Age method to help collect data across several forest patches in Southern Wisconsin, as well as to build a website to share this new method of data collection with other volunteers who wanted to participate in the research. 

A maple sapling that has been browsed by a deer.

The Twig-Age method involves looking at a tree sapling, measuring its height, and counting the terminal bud scale scars along two of its branches. Terminal bud scale scars are what’s left behind on the twig when a bud falls off naturally during the growing process. Picture marking a child’s height on the wall each year. The more bud scale scars a twig has, the longer a twig has been able to grow without being browsed by a deer. We took hundreds of data points in order to paint a picture of what sort of browsing impacts deer were having on these forests.

One year of growth pointed out on the twig of a Red Maple sapling.

While I was doing this field work, I found myself surprised by how many different species of trees we have in our forests. Usually when I walk through the woods, I don’t take the time to notice all the different plants around me. I notice the birds and the squirrels, but the plants have always been more of a beautiful backdrop. This research project gave me a stronger appreciation for the diverse vegetation that we have in our forests. I had time to get down at eye-level with these saplings and really look at them. It was like playing the part of a historian by recording the age of their twigs and whether or not a deer had eaten from them before. Each data point collected was a personal interview with a tiny tree.

By the end of the summer we created Our Wisconsin Understory, a citizen science project for monitoring deer impacts. The goal is to collect as much data as possible and to hopefully expand data points across the state. Anyone interested in learning more about the Twig-Age method and collecting data for the project can do so at the Our Wisconsin Understory website.

Top 10 Reasons to Host a Snapshot Wisconsin Trail Camera

Rumor has it that summer is around the corner, which is the perfect time to sign up for a Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera! Do you have access to public land or a private property at least 10 acres in size? A computer with internet? The ability to participate for a least a year? If you answered yes to these questions, congrats – you are already qualified! If you are thinking “But why should I apply?”, here are 10 commonly quoted reasons by our volunteers and project staff:

1. It’s free!

We provide all necessary equipment (including a Bushnell camera), training, technical support and replacements at NO cost! No previous experience is required, we are happy to teach you!

Zooniverse_Cam2

2. Use your trail camera see up close pictures of wildlife.

Feed your curiosity and learn what is on your property and public lands.

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3. Hosting a trail camera is a great excuse to get out into the woods.

And we’ll remind you to check your camera every three months. That way you’ll head outdoors in all seasons and be on track with the program.

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4. Contribute to wildlife monitoring.

Photos collected through Snapshot Wisconsin are turned into important data used for supporting wildlife management decisions at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

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5. Interact with the researchers.

Volunteers interact with the Snapshot Wisconsin research team at various outreach events, both in person and online. We also visit various groups across the state talking about the project and are available for questions on call or email.

6. Be in the know – get regular updates on data collected.

The research team provides regular updates aimed at volunteers – our monthly e-newsletter and blog are chock full of interesting information.

7. Socialize with other volunteers.

Our volunteers meet other citizen science enthusiasts at trainings, outreach and volunteer appreciation events. Discussions at these events can range from how the last hunting season went to secret birding locations, Packer football and so on.

Apart from the events, our Zooniverse forum allows you to interact with more 6500 volunteers from across the globe with the one thing that binds them all – interest in Wisconsin’s charismatic wildlife through the lens of a trail camera.

8. Improve your wildlife identification skills.

We provide a web-interface MySnapshot for volunteers to classify and view their pictures. Our Zooniverse forum is also a way to classify the pictures from across the state.

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 9. Educational outlet for students or nature center visitors.

Hundreds of educators participate in Snapshot Wisconsin. Snapshot Wisconsin is a great avenue to take your class outdoors and to bring the outdoors back into the classroom. Many nature centers also participate in Snapshot Wisconsin and are a great outlet for information on Wisconsin’s wildlife.

10. Provides an opportunity to bridge nature and technology.

Snapshot Wisconsin provides a great opportunity to bridge nature and technology. Trail cameras are non-invasive and providing a wealth of data about the secretive critters of Wisconsin. It’s a great technology for the good, connecting people and nature.

Convinced yet? Signup here: www.SnapshotWISignup.org!
Do you have a few more questions? Contact us at DNRSnapshotWisconsin@Wisconsin.org

 

 

Snapshot Wisconsin and the WWOA

WWOAAre you interested in seeing more wildlife on your Snapshot Wisconsin camera? The Wisconsin Woodland Owners Association (WWOA) is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to foster and encourage sustainable management of Wisconsin’s private woodlands.

Improving the habitat on your lands is not only beneficial for you, but for the wildlife in your woods as well! Members of WWOA receive their quarterly publication of Wisconsin Woodlands filled with ways to improve your woodlands and be stay informed about workshops, conferences and educational field-days conducted by forestry professionals.

For more information, visit www.WisconsinWoodlands.org. To learn about other woodland owner organizations, visit this DNR webpage.

Citizen Science Day 2019

Are you ready to celebrate Citizen Science Day?

citizen science day logo

Before we dive into the details, let’s start with what is citizen science? There are many definitions for citizen science, which may also be referred to as community science, crowd-sourced science or volunteer monitoring. The Oxford English Dictionary defines citizen science as,

“Scientific work undertaken by members of the general public, often in collaboration with or under the direction of professional scientists and scientific institutions.”

Citizen scientists partaking in Snapshot Wisconsin monitor trail cameras across to state to gather year-round data about wildlife. Data collected from the project help inform wildlife management decisions at the WDNR, and also engage the public in learning about the state’s natural resources. Snapshot Wisconsin has over one thousand volunteers hosting trail cameras across the state, and hundreds more from around the globe helping to identify the wildlife caught on camera on Zooniverse.

Citizen Science Day is hosted annually to celebrate and recognize the projects, researchers, and dedicated volunteers that contribute to citizen science all over the world. Mark your calendars for April 13th, this year’s Citizen Science Day kick-off! The Citizen Science Association and SciStarter have teamed up to promote events in celebration of citizen science. Are you interested in celebrating Citizen Science Day this year? Check out SciStarter’s project finder to find Citizen Science Day events near you!

You can celebrate citizen science any day of the year by participating in Snapshot Wisconsin, whether you are interested in hosting a trail camera or identifying the exciting critters captured on camera (which can be done from anywhere!)

What Wisconsin Animal Are You?

Some of us like to stay up late and others prefer to snooze, you might be a homebody or always on the move…in case you didn’t realize – animals are the same way too!

Have you ever wondered what Wisconsin animal best embodies your habits?  Now is your chance to find out!  Take our quiz to find out what Wisconsin animal you are.

landing

This quiz was developed by Sarah Cameron, Christine Anhalt-Depies, and Ally Magnin of the Snapshot Wisconsin Team. 

Announcement: Educator Resources Updates!

Riding on the wake of Snapshot Wisconsin’s statewide launch last week (see here), we are excited to announce updates to our educator resources. Snapshot Wisconsin is a fantastic opportunity to engage students in outdoor learning and to teach them about local wildlife. With over 200 educators enrolled in the Snapshot program, we thought it would be beneficial to have a wide-ranging group of lesson plans and resources available.

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Lesson Plan Updates

We are excited to announce that our suite of lesson plans is now freely available on our website (see here). These lesson plans, including “Wildlife Detectives” and “Measuring Biodiversity”, have been designed for use by educators whether or not they are hosting a trail camera! Our 10 lesson plans can be used for students of all ages, from pre-k through adulthood, and are an excellent way to incorporate exciting concepts about Wisconsin wildlife into classrooms or nature centers. To fit our lesson plans in with curriculum, we’ve made sure to meet Wisconsin’s Standards for Science.

“When I began using Snapshot Wisconsin and hosting a Trail Cam, I realized how much fun it would be to develop lessons for our local school that has a school forest and is hosting a DNR Trail Cam. The pictures from Snapshot Wisconsin inject excitement into the Wisconsin Science and Math standards. They transform abstract concepts into local experiences.” – Mary from Bayfield County

Additionally, check out our flashcard collection on our lesson plan page. These printable activities are a fun way to learn and practice animal species identification in Wisconsin. Test your skills with beginner through expert level flash cards. Below is an example from our “canid collection”.

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NEW: Educator Newsletter

SIGNUP to receive our biannual educator newsletter for lesson plan updates and other classroom resources. This is a newsletter designed specifically for educators and separate from The Snapshot, our monthly volunteer e-newsletter.

Connect with other Educators

On our Zooniverse site, where volunteers from around the world can classify Wisconsin wildlife captured on Snapshot cameras, we have a page dedicated to connecting educators. Visit this talk board to discuss the use of Snapshot Wisconsin in the classroom.

A special thank you to all the educators who reviewed and provided helpful feedback on our lesson plans. YOU make updates to the project like this possible!

 

Snap-a-thons

What is a Snap-a-thon you may ask? Take a guess from one of three options below.

  1. A wildlife photography marathon.

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Source: Bored Panda

  1. A classification party with the Snapshot Wisconsin project.

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  1. A marathon for snapping turtles.

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Source: A.B. Sheldon, WDNR

 

If you selected option 2, you are right!

If you read our newsletter or visit our website often, you will notice that the Snapshot Wisconsin project generates a lot of data. We have collected nearly 21 million photos so far. These photos become useful to support wildlife management decisions only when they have a classification tag attached to them and their accuracy is reliable. We have help on hand – more than a thousand trail camera hosts and nearly six thousand Zooniverse volunteers helping us classify these pictures. The idea behind a Snap-a-thon is to spread the word about the project even farther while running a fun competition using the Zooniverse website.

How a Snap-a-thon works is very simple: participants team up or play alone to classify pictures on Snapshot Wisconsin’s Zooniverse page for a set amount of time, typically 20 minutes. Each team is given a checklist of species. During the competition, participants tick off any of the listed species that they see and classify correctly. For uncommon or difficult-to-classify species, participants must raise their hands to get verification from the project team before their classifications are counted. Uncommon species or uncommon occurrences (like multiple species seen together in a photo sequence) also earn participants a higher score. In the end, we tally up the scores and declare a winner. So far, we’ve had 4 such contests and our contestants want to keep classifying even after the time is up. So, it’s pretty addictive!

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Snap-a-thon checklist

 

Pictures from previous Snap-a-thons:

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Snap-a-thon at UW-Madison

 

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Snap-a-thon at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin

 

If you’d like to host your own Snap-a-thon, drop us an email at DNRSnapshotWisconsin@wisconsin.gov and we’ll provide you with resources!

Celebrate Citizen Science Day!

citizen-science-day-logo-bigCitizen science invites you to contribute to scientific research no matter where or who you are! For the Snapshot Wisconsin project, citizen scientists deploy and monitor trail cameras and classify photos on Zooniverse. We’d like to take the opportunity to acknowledge our hardworking citizen scientist volunteers and promote Citizen Science Day 2018.

On April 14th, the Citizen Science Association kicked off a month-long extravaganza to promote citizen science. Citizen science is an incredible opportunity for the public to contribute to a wide array of science projects, from air and water monitoring, galaxy identifying and wildlife science. To see a calendar of the hundreds of events happening around the world for Citizen Science Day, check out this link.

The Wisconsin Citizen Based Monitoring Network is another great resource to find citizen science projects in Wisconsin. Check out the events list for ways to become involved.