Click, click, click!
A bear and her three cubs just got their family portrait automatically taken by a camera attached to a tree.
Click, click, click!
Look at that cougar and her cubs.
Click, click, click!
Day has become night, and a bobcat is out and about.
Photos tell the story of the animals at Sedgwick Reserve.
Motion-detection cameras at UCSB’s approximately 6,000-acre Santa Ynez site take pictures without the presence of a photographer. The cameras are attached to trees such as those by a watering hole. At any given time, cameras are operating at three to eight locations in the reserve.
Day or night — there’s an infrared capability — the cameras photograph everything from a striped skunk to a gray fox, snapping several photos when an animal moves.
The cameras are successful at capturing sights not normally seen because people aren’t around to scare the animals into hiding, reserve director Kate McCurdy told the News-Press on a recent afternoon at the watering hole. “If there was a bear out here, we could drive by and never see it.”
“With these cameras, they don’t have this awareness that something is watching them,” she said.
In addition to images, the cameras record the time and day the photo was taken and the outdoor temperature.
Ms. McCurdy said Santa Barbara volunteer photographer Grant Canova Parker operates the cameras, which he first set up a half-dozen or so years ago. The special cameras are essentially a secure, vertical box with a lens.
Mr. Parker, 24, has some cameras for stills and others for video. Every so often, he services the cameras by replacing their memory cards.
“He tends to leave these gifts of the camera cards in my office for me and sends me a text, ?I think you’re going to like this,’ ” Ms. McCurdy said. “It’ll be like a mama bear coming out of her den for the first time with these cubs. It makes me really happy to see this.”
“The thing that’s neat and surprising about these camera shots is how often there is more than one species in the shot,” Ms. McCurdy said. “You see a lot of foxes with deer. You see a lot of bobcats and birds in the same shot.
“There’s one series of photos where there’s a skunk. Every animal who came to visit, the skunk would interact with it,” Ms. McCurdy said. “Not from the stinky end, but the front end.
“He’s like the guy at the bar who just won’t leave you alone. ?Hey, come over!’ ” Ms. McCurdy said, chuckling. (It is a watering hole, after all.)
Speaking of badgering …
“Grant got a series of photos of a badger. He found a badger hole and put a camera on it,” Ms. McCurdy said. “Coyotes would come and see if the badger was at home.
“The badger would come flying of the hole, and the coyotes would jump back,” she said.
Mr. Parker’s videos have shown bear cubs trying to play with their mothers, Ms. McCurdy said. “His videos are awesome. He has some cameras in really remote places are that hard to get to.”
One of Mr. Parker’s videos shows a bear surviving for years despite a bad front left leg that he seems to drag, Ms. McCurdy said.
“I think, ?There’s no way he’s going to survive another winter,’ ” Ms. McCurdy said. “It looks like he got hit by a car or got into a fight, but he’s been showing up for once or twice a year for years in our cameras.
“They are totally survivors,” Ms. McCurdy said of the animals.
The cameras are not just there for our amusement; they are used in Sedgwick Reserve’s research. “It’s important to us to have species lists of what’s here and what isn’t here,” she said, referring to the reserve’s role in conservation efforts.
But Ms. McCurdy noted the cameras have their limitations for research.
“You sort through the camera cards. Sometimes it’s weeks after the photos have been taken, and the animal is long gone by then,” she said.
But she added the downside of web cameras with live feeds would be the time required to wait by a computer screen for an animal.
Ms. McCurdy said she would like wildlife cameras to transmit real-time notification when certain animals are photographed. She explained the process could be similar to facial recognition in tagging social media photos.
Ms. McCurdy added that the absence of a species from the photos or videos doesn’t mean it isn’t somewhere else at the reserve.
“We have had cameras up for years and have never got a picture of a ring-tailed cat,” she said, referring to a species in the raccoon family. “Can you say with confidence that they’re not here? That’s a really tough thing to answer.”
A study of raccoons, striped skunks, Virginia opossums and the interaction of the three species is being done in a separate photo operation by UCSB doctoral candidate Molly Hardesty-Moore and undergraduate students Juliet Cohen and Noelle Pruett.
They have three Bushnell cameras with motion detection and infrared capability at Sedgwick Reserve but have found they’ve been more successful with six additional Bushnell cameras divided between the UCSB Lagoon and Coal Oil Point Reserve in Isla Vista.
Ms. Hardesty-Moore, 25, told the News-Press last week the lagoon and Isla Vista cameras have picked up photos of 20 raccoons, 10 striped skunks and some opossums. She said the raccoons are very smart, to the point of checking out the cameras.
“It seems like raccoons are probably more dominant than the others, but it’s hard to tell for sure at this point,” said Ms. Hardesty-Moore, who is including the photography study in her doctoral dissertation about the interaction of the species for the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology.
She said she’s excited to learn more about animals who are urban neighbors.
“We live with them, and I want to know more about them.”
Reservations are required to visit Sedgwick Reserve, a gated Santa Ynez site that is part of the UCSB Natural Reserve System. Go tosedgwick.nrs.ucsb.edu.
No reservations are required for self-guided tours at Coal Oil Point Reserve in Isla Vista, also part of the UCSB Natural Reserve System. Go to copr.nrs.ucsb.edu.
The UCSB Lagoon is on campus and open to the public. There’s no need for reservations.