The following piece was written by OAS Communications Specialist Rachel Fancsali for the Snapshot Wisconsin newsletter. To subscribe to the newsletter, visit this link.
You now know that Snapshot Wisconsin has contributed to important research not only statewide, but also nationwide with Snapshot USA. But did you know that over the past year and half, Snapshot Wisconsin has been contributing to an international collaborative art exhibit?
One Snapshot volunteer took on the challenge of running a special camera trap to contribute to the University of Zurich Graduate Campus’s Triggered by Motion project. The project will be creating an immersive, walk-through pavilion where visitors will be able to experience the biodiversity of wildlife from 14 countries around the world, and video footage of north woods Wisconsin wildlife will be on display for the world to see!
Connecting Science, Art, and the Public
The University of Zurich (UZH) Graduate Campus focuses on engaging with the public through events and exhibitions, utilizing its cross-faculty platform to create collaborative exhibitions that connect science, art and the public. The project Triggered by Motion is one of several collaboration projects that will be featured in the overarching Planet Digital exhibition, which explores the digital transformation of our world.
In the field of wildlife research, trail cameras are an excellent example of digital transformation in research. As many Snapshot volunteers already know, trail cameras are a non-invasive method, allowing a glimpse of wildlife behind the scenes. The goal of the Triggered by Motion project is to give a unique perspective on how researchers use camera traps to learn about the world, bringing the audience closer to this research method.
Each trail camera video for the project will condense a year’s worth of footage into a 20-minute time-lapse. Then the videos will be synchronized, so that daylight will slowly move from one screen to the other, circling around the pavilion to imitate the rotation of the earth.
In June 2020, UZH was referred to Snapshot Wisconsin. At the time, there was another trail camera in southern California, but UZH was looking to diversify its North American captures. The teams from UZH and Snapshot Wisconsin were able to connect and discuss the possibility of Snapshot Wisconsin participating in the international project.
Snapshot Wisconsin checked all the boxes for Triggered by Motion: it’s a well-established project, located in the northern half of the U.S. and operates year-round. Also, the cameras that Snapshot uses normally take still photos that fulfill the project’s data needs, but they are capable of capturing video footage. What really set Snapshot Wisconsin apart from other Triggered by Motion participants is our program’s applied research focus, with Snapshot data contributing to wildlife decision support.
With that, Snapshot Wisconsin became a part of the Triggered by Motion project. Now it was up to the Snapshot team to find a volunteer and set the modified camera.
Finding a Volunteer and a Camera Site
When it came time to choose a Snapshot volunteer to work with UZH, volunteer coordinator Claire Viellieux knew just the right person. “I met Blayne Zeise at the last in-person volunteer recognition event in 2019, and he has a good record of checking cameras and uploading in a timely manner,” Viellieux said.
After talking with Viellieux, Blayne Zeise was happy to help. “I had actually asked her at the volunteer event about adding another camera anyways,” Zeise said.
Zeise had already been running his own personal trail cameras on public lands for a couple of years before joining the Snapshot Wisconsin program in 2018. “I started out with a couple of $30 cameras from Walmart and started using them on public lands, then worked my way up from there,” Zeise said. He heard about Snapshot Wisconsin through some of Snapshot’s yearly advertising and decided to give it a try. “I thought it would be nice to have a better-quality camera with a lockbox on it, especially on public land,” Zeise said.
Zeise is very familiar with several public lands in the Marathon and southern Langlade County areas. His own cameras have been monitoring wildlife by river crossings on the Red River in Langlade County and Plover River in Marathon County. Zeise monitors his Snapshot Wisconsin camera in a fishery area just south of Antigo in Langlade County.
This familiarity with the landscape was a huge factor in Zeise’s decision on where to put the camera. “It’s mostly birds and deer at the river crossings,” says Zeise, “but there’s a larger diversity of animals at the other site [the fishery area].”
However, while biodiversity of the location was a large factor, it wasn’t the only one. Zeise knew that he may have to check batteries more often with capturing video footage, making it imperative that the location is easily accessible in all seasons. “The location I picked is a short hike, and there is still a lot of animals that pass through there,” Zeise said.
A Rough Start
Unfortunately, right off the bat, there were some roadblocks to deployment.
When setting up a Snapshot camera for filming at the office, Viellieux noticed the camera couldn’t meet the criteria set by UZH. To avoid motion blur and distortion once on the big screen exhibit, the video footage needed to be captured in 60 full frames per second with a 1920 x 1080 resolution. The Snapshot Wisconsin cameras, suitable for Snapshot Wisconsin’s research objectives that uses a large photo database, were not designed to meet that high of criteria for filming. Zeise tried one of his own personal cameras as well, but also had no luck.
UZH staff still wanted Zeise and Snapshot Wisconsin to be a part of the project, so they purchased and mailed a camera for Zeise to set up. After a small setback getting the UZH camera to film at appropriate times, Zeise’s next challenge was monitoring the camera’s battery pack with the extra demand filming had on battery life. “It just sucks up so much energy doing 30 second video every half hour during the day, and 15 second video at night,” said Zeise.
Most other Triggered by Motion trap sites were using solar packs to power the cameras. Zeise’s concern with this solution was how easy it would be for someone to walk off with the solar pack, especially being located on public lands. For most of the year, it was not difficult at the fishery area to change the rechargeable batteries that most Snapshot Wisconsin cameras use. With the rechargeable batteries, Zeise had to change them every three days.
Zeise’s main battery challenge would be in the north woods’ snowy and bitter winters; changing the rechargeable batteries every three days, or more frequently because of the cold, was not going to be efficient. He made the switch to lithium batteries, which meant changing batteries every two weeks. “Better than trudging through the snow!” Zeise joked.
Once the weather warmed back up, Zeise switched back to the rechargeable batteries. The system worked well for the year that Zeise collected data.
Capturing the Best of Wisconsin Wildlife
Zeise’s decision to record at the fishery area was spot on. A large variety of species were seen in the video clips including bear, bobcat, foxes, deer, coyotes and more. Zeise also saw a few neat interactions between species, such as the apparent squabble between a ruffed grouse and a pileated woodpecker (see screen capture below). UZH would also occasionally ask Zeise to confirm what animal was captured. “One time they asked me, ‘what are those really blue colored birds?’, said Zeise. “They were blue jays! I guess they don’t have them over there [in Switzerland].”
What Zeise found most interesting about using video is being able to see how animals used the area. “I was really surprised by how much the deer relied on that area for browsing,” Zeise said. “I even asked Emily [at Snapshot] if there was a way to ID the plants that the deer were using. She recommended a plant ID app, and I was able to ID species such as black ash, bitternut hickory, and black walnut.”
Operating a different kind of camera also brought new findings. “I was kind of surprised with the video that the coyotes were not spooked by it. With some of the Snapshot Wisconsin cameras, they hear the click and just about jump out of their skin,” Zeise observed.
The UZH camera, a Bushnell Dual Core No-Glow, is designed to remain inconspicuous. “They call it a no-glow, but it’s really like a hard black plastic filter to help hide the infrared. The coyotes and foxes probably see it, but the deer may not,” said Zeise.
With the completion of data collection, UZH was able to construct the exhibit. The project ended with 22 camera traps in 14 countries around the world, enlisting the help of 29 researchers and seven citizen-scientists to monitor the traps. The Triggered by Motion project is at the very center of the Planet Digital exhibition, and the physical exhibition premiered Feb. 11, 2022 at Museum für Gestaltung Zürich. The exhibition will stay at the museum until June, when it will be packed up and shown across the world. The dates and locations of the traveling exhibit are still to be determined.
However, a digital publication of the entire Planet Digital exhibition is available, and the Triggered by Motion project page can be viewed here.
Hopefully, the exhibit will make its way to the U.S. at some point, and we can walk through Snapshot Wisconsin and Zeise’s contribution to an international project! “If it travels to the U.S., I would definitely like to go see it in person,” said Zeise. “I think that was one of the coolest parts, just to be a part of a big project, with three locations in the U.S and over 20 worldwide.”
“I get to keep the camera too,” Zeise said, “It’s a pretty sweet deal.” Zeise mentioned he already has plans for the camera, including deploying it at one of the river crossings he monitors. There’s a spot where a lot of blue heron hang out, and he wants to capture that action.
The Snapshot team is honored to have played a part in connecting Zeise with this international project, and we are lucky to have great volunteers, willing to go beyond just hosting a Snapshot camera.
A big thank you goes to Blayne Zeise for all his help and really taking the reins on monitoring an extra special camera!
View the entire Planet Digital exhibition here.