Monitoring and Citizen Science

Welcome to the Monitoring page, which explains some of the ways in which you can use your camera to monitor your surroundings and what you can do with the information you collect. If you can't find what you want or are interested in some other area of camera use, please contact me and I'll put my research skills to use. 

The Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre has a camera trapping resources page on their website. It's focussed on camera trapping for wildlife and feral monitoring, but many of the ideas are applicable to other situations. Check out their very handy manual on An Introduction to Camera Trapping for Wildlife Surveys in Australia
 
Mounting and positioning your camera
Once you know where you want to set up your camera trap, you'll need to do some on-ground inspection before putting your camera in position. First, you need to know what is the likely position your subject will be in. Whether it's Potoroos in a National Park, deer in the high country or foxes in the back paddock, one common principle will help you get the pictures you want: know your quarry! Having an understanding of where they forage (trees or ground, dense bush or open areas), when they are active (dusk, dawn, day, night) and where they might travel or congregate (game trails, rub trees, water sources, carcases) improves your chances of success.
 
Then you need a suitable mounting position for the camera so that the location is within the cameras detection and flash range, and that the shots you get will be suitable for use. If you're trying to get shots of small native mammals, then the camera needs to be fairly close to the subject. However, if the subject is too close, night shots may be overexposed. Most cameras will come with at least an adjustable strap allowing the camera to be mounted onto a tree or post. The trouble is, the tree is rarely in just the right position or allows the correct angle for the area you want to cover. Use of a camera mount will overcome many of these limitations. Other possibilities include using wedges of foam or wood to adjust the camera angle, or taking your own post to the site and setting it up just how you want it. Research has found that pointing the camera straight down at the ground improves your chances of photographing small animals (see the abstract). Also read the Camera Modifications page for more ideas.
 

To bait or not to bait?

Using baits to lure animals in to the camera is a useful technique, but must be done properly to avoid long-term issues. Some things to consider are:
 
Feeding or luring?: will the bait be a food source for the animal or is it just smell that brings them in? Providing a food source for the animal may change their behaviour and also runs the risk of introducing diseases to the population. If you just want to lure the animals with smell, you'll need to protect your bait. Bait stations are usually hand made and have been constructed from tea infusers held in a wire cage, cocoa shakers with a bolt to hold the lid on and PVC pipe end caps with holes drilled in them.
 
Do I have a specific target animal?: using specialised baits and scent lures can improve your chances of getting shots of specific target animals. The range of bait mixes reported for mammal trapping research is almost inspiring enough for a "cookbook". Besides the usual mix of peanut butter, oats and honey, people have used fish oil, sardines, chicken (including KFC!), dog food, strawberry essence, truffle oil, vanilla, pistachio oil and aniseed. You can get more specialised lures and scents for dogs and foxes.
 

Potential problems: you have to be careful when handling baits as you can get scent onto things you don't want the animals investigating. I once had a Black Rat decide that the camera inside my camera box was tastier than the bait lure. Either that or the camera annoyed it for some reason, as the cameras aren't as invisible and silent as previously thought.

 
 
Mind you, some animals are just curious.
 
 

Permits

Not really an onerous undertaking, but you need to be aware that there are some areas and uses which will require a permit, especially if you are using baits or lures. Firstly, with any camera use, be sure that you have the permission of the relevant land owner or manager to undertake camera monitoring. If it's private land, you probably just have to ask the owner. If it's crown (public) land, then you have to ask the relevant manager, which may be a park authority, land management agency or local council. Most won't have a problem with what you're doing, especially if you share your results with them. Some may require you to apply for a permit and this is most likely in National Parks and other major reserves. Ask the local park rangers what is required.

Security monitoring

A full discussion on security monitoring would be worthy of a website on its own (I'm sure there are some out there), but I'll just cover a few of the major issues here.
Firstly, the cameras we sell are not CCTV cameras, which you can check in real time. You only find out what has been happening when you remove the card from the camera and check the pictures. 
Battery operated monitoring cameras are useful for security where there is no reliable source of power and no internet or cable connectivity. They can be moved around if you only want to own a few cameras and have many sites to cover.
Secondly, while you can set up security cameras on your own property, you will need to check with local authorities to ensure that any pictures you obtain can actually be used as evidence or to initiate an investigation, if you want official action to be taken. Best to talk to your local police to find out exactly what you are allowed to do and what they can do once you have any pictures.
Thirdly, setting up security cameras to cover public areas can be covered by numerous pieces of legislation and regulations, even down to local council requirements. You'll need to do some background research for your state and shire to ensure you're not going to break the law, even with the best intentions.
Fourthly, be very careful what you do with any pictures you obtain from security monitoring. Forwarding pictures of an incident to the local police is OK, posting it on YouTube or Facebook may land you in it! Check out this article for a summary.

Citizen Science

Citizen science is a subject that is appearing more and more in media and scientific publications, but what is it? Citizen science is scientific research conducted, in whole or part, by amateur or non-professional scientists. Citizen science is sometimes called "public participation in scientific research”. Before you get too excited, this doesn't mean you can rock up to the nearest laboratory and ask to borrow a lab coat and get your hands dirty (but it would be fun!). Citizen science tends to be most useful in disciplines which require good powers of observation. Amateur astronomers have been proving this for centuries, but recent interest has been in monitoring flora, fauna and other things important to the environment, farming and general human welfare.
Citizen science, however, is not a modern idea but an old one. The early pioneering scientists weren't paid to do their work but did it because they were interested. Mind you, it was usually people of wealth who had the time and money to spend, but they were intelligent, educated and keen, so real progress was made without having to apply for government grants. The paid professional scientist has only become typical in the last century and a bit, so citizen science is really a return to the roots of science: people doing science in their own time because they want to! Recently, the formation of Citizen Science Network Australia means that the promotion and development of citizen science in Australia will only improve.
One of the major research programs to rely on an army of volunteers is the Atlas of Australian Birds. Over 7000 volunteers have contributed over 6 million bird sightings, allowing the distribution and abundance of most bird species to be accurately mapped and monitored. Many organisations are using "citizen science" to help them collect a comprehensive record of sightings from a wide area.
  • The Invasive Animals CRC, which runs a Feral Photograph competition.
  • The Atlas of Living Australia accepts records of all sorts of flora and fauna sightings.
  • NatureShare accepts flora and fauna records.
  • FeralScan accepts sightings of a wide range of feral species.
  • Fungimap, recording sightings of fungi
  • Waterwatch, investigating small freshwater animals and measuring chemical and physical properties of waterways
  • Reef Watch, monitoring marine life
  • BowerBird, for recording photos and sightings of all sorts of flora and fauna 
The development of apps to allow recording of photos, sightings and observations in the field with hassle free transfer of data to an online site means that citizen science doesn't necessarily involve a lot of paperwork. You can make your own for Apple or Android devices using EpiCollect. Check out more on the Software, links and Apps page.