Eye on Wildlife: Profiling @backyardwildlifeblinks

A young skunk (Mephitis mephitis) explores an urban backyard in this still image from @backyardwildlifeblinks on Instagram.

As part of our Eye on Wildlife series, The Fur-Bearers are connecting with animal lovers who are ethically monitoring their property with surveillance or trail cameras, capturing stunning images and videos of local wildlife.

Recently, we connected with Emily Havermann, who works at a licensed wildlife rehabilitation centre, and posts wonderful images and videos on Instagram with the account @backyardwildlifeblinks.

Q: Did you decide to set up monitoring for security and discover wildlife, or set up for wildlife intentionally? If the latter, why?

A: I purchased outdoor security cameras as a way to monitor my dog while in the yard and any potential interactions he was having with wildlife. I adopted him as a feral dog from a forest in Madagascar. And although he was used to living amongst lemurs, chickens and a variety of other animals, I was a bit nervous about the safety of all animals involved in the yard. The cameras were a great way to be alerted to situations such as skunks being out of my sight (at the back of the yard) so I could postpone letting the dog out. I also purchased indoor cameras to monitor my red-eared slider (turtle) and companion rabbits. As a bonus, I get to see if packages arrive at my front door or if there is any suspicious behavior on the property. Even though I work in wildlife rescue and rehabilitation and thought I was aware of how many wild animals are surrounding us at all times, I was shocked to capture the variety of species and the behaviour I did. Best of all, you get to see what wildlife do when they are more relaxed because humans aren’t close by.

Q: What kind of system are you using, and was it hard to set up?

A: I have been using seven Amazon blink, outdoor, battery-powered, HD, 3rd generation cameras and three blink mini, indoor, plug-in, HD, 1st generation cameras along with the blink app since December 2020. Because I bought 10 cameras, they came to: $62.71 CAD each (including tax and any applicable shipping costs). I was using a free trial of the plus plan for about 1 year and 11 months but am now paying $169.50 (CAD and including tax) for 10 cameras per year for the plus plan subscription. This particular subscription allows for you to view about 1,000 videos on the cloud at which point you can save your favourites). There is an option to use USB instead.

Each camera comes with a small mount which provides you with a fairly large range of angles the camera can sit in due to how short the mount is (it could be better). The mount is attached to a surface of your property using two screws.

If running cables along walls or ceilings is going to be problematic for the plug in indoor cameras, I can see why you would only want to use battery operated cameras. That being said, because I was capturing a lot of companion animal action inside, if the cameras weren’t plug in, I would probably have to replace the batteries every few weeks.

The outdoor battery-powered ones (I have used these indoor as well) were so easy and quick to set up. You pop in your two AA lithium batteries and two screws through the mount and you are pretty much done. The outdoor cameras are weather resistant, provide both day and night HD view, have two-way audio and videos are saved temporarily on the cloud after the camera is triggered by motion detection or you manually choose to view a camera live. Each outdoor camera fits in the palm of your hand and pops on and off of the mount with no hardware required. My indoor cameras offer all the same features but are not weather resistant (along with having to be plugged in). Amazon Blink has a variety of cameras available, including solar-powered and with flood lights.

Q: What are a couple of the most interesting things you’ve witnessed in your yard?

A: I was absolutely shocked and thrilled to see red foxes and eastern coyotes in my suburban yard. Even though I am fortunate enough to see them regularly throughout my neighbourhood and all across the city, I had no idea they were visiting my yard once in a while. The house sparrows are always a riot as they are the most curious about the cameras and inspect them regularly. It is fascinating to watch birds in flight up close, squirrels and raccoons leap through the air and eastern cottontails chase each other. My favourite capture is that of a slug (or snail?) moving across the camera lens. Cottontail rabbits and Virginia opossums are favourites of mine and I have learned how much they use the yard, where as I never used to see them in person. With the cameras I get to confirm who is nibbling my plants, who steals dips or drinks from my kiddie pool and how wildlife are getting in and out of the yard. I have discovered who shares the same den, who lives in my garage and on occassion, who shockingly visits the inside of my sunroom. On a more serious note, if any animal is sick or injured and requires assistance, I can react appropriately. This has helped greatly in trying to provide as wildlife-friendly of a backyard as possible.

Q: With a background in wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, what are your thoughts on using or providing food to help get images/support wildlife in your yard?

A: I am fortunate for all the natural food sources growing in my yard, be it the grass/ clover/dandelion for cottontails, or the mulberries for a huge array of birds and mammals. I am also fortunate to have been exposed over the past 16 years at work to all the conflict that can arise with feeding wildlife in “unnatural” ways. Some of the more common examples being: bird feeders, baiting wildlife with food for photography and feeding coyotes. Many people don’t realize they need to regularly clean their bird feeders to avoid highly contagious conjunctivitis from spreading (especially amongst the finch species). Even more people don’t realize that if you are going to provide food, you can’t choose to feed just one species, you have to be prepared to feed everyone. During COVID many of my neighbours installed bird feeders but are now complaining how the small songbirds are being eaten by the birds of prey. Bird seed also attracts species that neighbours perceive to be a nuisance. These two complaints are very common amongst the general public. I won’t go into details regarding cruelty cases involving feeding and neighbours that don’t agree with each others actions.

Q: What’s something you wish you knew when you started using wildlife cams that you can share with others who are interested?

A: Mounting cameras high up to take advantage of wide views of large areas can be great for first detecting who is using your property. Once you know how and where your property is being used, don’t worry too much about using the screw in mounts, in fact move your camera(s) constantly… whether you leave them on the ground, wedged between two tree trunks facing up, or on an outdoor window ledge or fence top. Don’t expect for your AA lithium batteries to last as long as the company claims (a two year battery life for Amazon blink outdoor) as if there are birds flying past, tree leaves/plants swaying in the wind, you may have to replace the batteries every couple/several months. I also had to turn off real-time notifications due to all the times the motion-sensor is triggered. Keep in mind you can also modify a lot of camera’s specifications within the app (one of my favourite aspects of this system) including its sensitivity to motion and length of video clips. Due to the strength of the Wi-Fi signal, some cameras placed far away may not work or capture every movement. Be prepared to become addicted to watching the previous day’s videos every morning. With a free trial or subscription, the cloud stores up to 1,000 videos but with 10 cameras you have to check in at least every 2-3 days so you don’t miss any good videos before they disappear.

Emily regularly posts her favourite wildlife videos captured on the property she shares with local animals via @backyardwildlifeblinks on Instagram. A vegetarian/vegan for more than 30 years, she has worked as a wildlife advocate for the past 16 years at a licensed wildlife hospital. The credit card holder of one red-eared slider and three domestic rabbits, Emily is also passionate about photography, kayaking, plants/trees, and helping others.

Do you have a favourite trail cam or security cam account that tracks local wildlife? Let us know by tagging us on social media or emailing info@TheFurBearers.com.

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