Photographing the Often Overlooked

When people hear there has been an oil spill, a lot of concern immediately focuses on the wildlife. It’s the megafauna that captures the attention. We often think of the dolphins, sea turtles, seabirds, sea otters, seals, and shore birds and worry about what will happen to them. But what about in an inland response? What do people think of then? Bears, coyotes, foxes, and rabbits are what I hear most often. However, these eye catching animals are often not the ones primarily impacted by spills. Often, it’s the smaller species that are impacted the most. The amphibians and reptiles whose home ranges are small and whose survival depends upon the water that is now contaminated.

 Amphibians and reptiles are often hard to spot and difficult to catch. Despite being oiled, the majority of them can still run, jump, or swim quite well, and in the muddy, oily water it can be incredibly hard to follow their movements. Lizards are especially hard to catch because they often quickly disappear into slits in rocks, or holes in the ground. However, Madi Boynton and her colleagues at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife might have just created a very clever way to spot these hard to see species. Madi and her team have created a camera trap setup that will allow us to capture close up photos of amphibians and reptiles. This could be extremely useful to us during spill responses. First, capturing photos of the amphibians and reptiles in the area could aid us in developing a better understanding of what species are present. Second, depending on the oiling status of the individuals, this could also help us better understand if these species are oiled.

So how does the set up work? A Reconyx HyperFire2 Trail Camera, a 7-gallon bucket, acrylic top with heat reflective tape, a strap, duct tape, and shade cloth are used to create the camera setup, and a drift fence is used to funnel the animals toward the camera, where their picture is taken. The bottom of the bucket is cut out, and the camera is then mounted to the reflective sheeting with the camera facing downward into the bucket. A hole is cut into the bucket at the top so that when the bucket is turned upside down, it creates an entry way into the bucket. Wooden guideboards are placed on either side of the entry to create a funnel into the bucket. The Reconyx camera’s focal point has been adjusted to a closer range so that the photos taken from inside the bucket will be clear. The bucket is baited with mealworms to entice animals inside.

I believe this setup has a lot of potential for us to improve our response capabilities during a spill response where amphibians and reptiles are impacted. If you are interested in learning more about this study, the camera design, or to see photos of what the drift fence and camera contraption look like, please check out Madi’s paper by clicking on the link below!


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