Tracking camera series captures abundance of wildlife living in the shadow of Vancouver Island cities

Five tracking cameras installed along a dormant logging road outside Courtenay, BC, for one year show the biodiversity of even the smallest green spaces in the province, according to the creators of a series of the hakai institutea research and conservation organization.

The five videos that make up field notes released this fall on YouTube captures various species, from black bears rubbing their backs on trees to mark territory to martens playing in a beaver dam, to deer and their predator, cougars, visiting the same areas within hours of each other.

Bennett Whitnell, who produced the series with Grant Callegari, said its genesis was simply capturing black bears rubbing on trees, a way the animals place their scent on a territory to communicate with other bears in the Morrison Creek watershed.

But shortly after setting up the cameras in an area near Cumberland or Courtenaythey realized that there was much more wildlife in the area than people had seen before.

“It was amazing the kind of animals that were showing up along with some recurring personalities and also new characters throughout the season,” Whitnell said.

The project is the latest in a growing trend of using digital, motion-sensing and infrared cameras attached to trees or other stationary locations for long periods of time to allow a window into the natural world without interruption from human presence.

Cole Burton, associate professor of wildlife biology in the UBC School of Forestry, is involved in several projects use of trail cameras to monitor wildlife in their habitats to improve scientific knowledge and management.

He says technology has advanced to enable video and sound capture in wilderness areas, whether day or night, and in difficult conditions.

“These cameras really give us that awareness of how close we are to a lot of these animals and how important some of these spaces that we cherish are to ourselves, how important they are to wildlife as well.”

Nature documentaries are not new, and highly produced shows showcasing dramatic action in the animal world are easily accessible to most people on streaming services.

What sets offerings like Field Notes apart, though, is their slow pace of showing animals moving in and out of camera frames and generally going about their life in the woods without inhibition, although some animals do investigate the cameras.

“It’s like a hidden glimpse into the life of forest creatures that are always there, but we may not see them often,” said Josh Silberg, science communications coordinator for the Hakai Institute.

The videos show some of the same bears, martens, deer and cougars as they search for food, interact with each other and change throughout the year, such as fawns being born and losing their distinctive white spots as they grow.

One video even shows a mature male prodding a doe during fall mating season with his head and vocalizing with a grunt, a rare sound and sight to capture in the wild.

Another season of Field Notes is in the works and will focus on different habitats on Vancouver Island.

In the meantime, both Burton and Whitnell hope residents will be inspired by projects like Field Notes to invest in their own cameras and place them in their own green spaces to monitor wildlife.

“This forest is in such a small corner of BC and is easily considered your backyard trail,” Whitnell said of Morrison Creek.

“There’s so much wild stuff going on even in close proximity to a city. I think it’s important to appreciate these little green spaces no matter where you are.”

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