About Me

Wells, BC, Canada
Richard is a working photographer and writer in B.C. His camera focuses on natural history. archeology, travel, and documentary photography. His photography blog may be found at: http://richardtwright.blogspot.com/

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Game cam - capturing a backyard fox - London, UK

 The fox went out for a chase one night
prayed to the moon to give him light
for he had many a mile to go that night
before he reached the town-o, town-o, town-o
he had many a mile to go that night
before he reached the town-o.

For all the years my son and his family have have lived in London, England, I have heard about the fox(s) that visit his back yard on a nightly basis. When I was there a couple of years ago I saw the tracks on the fence, and early one morning caught a glimpse, but no photos. When I visited this November I decided to pack along one of my game cams, a Ltl Acorn 5210A, on the chance he/she was still visiting.  Sure enough, there were the tracks on the white wall next to the garden gate.

So we set up the Ltl Acorn on one of Rich's Manfrotto tripods and turned it on.  
The "yard house" is the site of the nightly visits. The gate the fox uses is seen
to the right. Note the foot tracks on the white wall to the left of the gate,
and the marks on the gate. In this photo (not in chronological order) the security light
has turned on and is casting a shadow of the camera and tripod on the visiting fox,
who normally seems to enter left and exit right.
Sootie could sense, smell or hear the fox in the middle
 of the night. He would catapult himself down three flights
 of stairs and head out to protect his turf, often pausing
 to pee and mark his territory right where the fox had marked.
One of the features of the Acorn is the ability to record moon phase, temperature, date and time. With this information we were able to figure out that one or more foxes was visiting two to three times a night, and, what time Sootie, our Minature Schnauzer guard dog, went out to investigate or chase the fox.

Another great feature of the Ltl Acorn is the side scanning PIR sensors. Many or most game cams rely on one sensor to turn on the camera and take a photo. In effect what the Acorn does is pick up movement with the side scanners and tell the camera to get ready to take a photo.
Secondly, like the Bushnell Trophy cam, which I also have, it has an infrared or "black" flash which is invisible to animal or human eyes.  The advantage is that it does not spoke the target. The disadvantage is that it renders a black and white photo at night, not a color image.
The infrared image made it hard to figure how many foxes we were dealing with as their coloration was lost in the infrared spectrum. We figured we had at least two, though our neighbour had seen three at one time.
I should mention that the Acorn sensors are sensitive enough that I have some great video of a rain storm that set off the camera.  And, some great sky shots when my son's automatic lawn mower decided it was time to cut the lawn, on the night I had put the tripod on the lawn.  It mowed down the tripod and stalled out.  No damage to either.

We can see that this fox appears to have dark trimmings on
 its tail and dark ears and paws, The guess is that it is red with black highlights.
 Certainly it does not appear to be a black phase. This image is cropped from a vertical.
Over the three weeks that I was there we tried several setups.  My goal was to figure out where the fox entered the yard, where it exited, what it was interested in, how many we had and to get an image of a fox in mid-jump.  We figured it came from the left, as that was the direction in most of the images. I did not get a mid-jump photo as the shutter and camera reaction time is just not fast enough, as the next image shows.
Up or down? We figure this fox was jumping down from the neighbours fence, at 5:30 a.m.

However, the Ltl Acorn also has the capability to capture video in AVI mode.  And, the camera can be set to take stills, video, or video and stills.  So I set the camera to take 3 photos and then turn on the video. Now, this is not exactly National Geographic quality but it did show us the exit strategy of the fox(s). A set up, a jump, a grab and push with the back legs and up to the top of the 6-foot gate. (Unfortunately at this point I have not been able to get the AVI video to upload to this blog. I have converted the AVI files to QuickTime and am waiting for YouTube to "process the video". Eventually it will be posted to YouTube as "London Fox1" and "London Fox 2". I will post the links here.)

Update: I finally am able to post the video clips. For those that are interested it was two issues.
First I had to convert from AVI which the Acorn uses to QuickTime.  Then while in the QuickTime version post to YouTube. However, then the files would not post to YouTube, but sat for hours with a moving blue strip saying it was processing. A search on the web found a post that indicated I had chosen by account by my Google email (which it had asked for) rather than the channel name. Once I did that all was well. Here they are.


Clearly the still images, while purported to be 12 megs, are not of a quality that could be used for publication, at least not the night, infrared photos.  However, what I enjoy most is that the camera is capturing behavior that I would not otherwise observe, behavior that is taking place and being recorded while I sleep. It was always interesting to get up in the morning, grab a coffee and download images to Aperture 3 and see what we had captured that night.

Clearly this fox was a female.
Sootie would come out and mark this same spot.

With a slightly altered setup I managed to get a shot of the fox
 on the neighbour's fence.
This one is checking something out before it crouches to exit via the gate.
What I learned was that the camera does not work well in a vertical setup. I tried that and got one decent image but obviously the side sensors are now facing up and down, rather than sideways, and do not turn the camera on in time to capture the movement. And, as my son observed, even when you know the subject is there, and its habits, a good image is hard to capture.
I am now considering adapting one of my Nikons to use in a camera trap so that I can get higher resolution photos with more control. I will use an infrared beam to catch movement but in this setup I will not use a infrared flash. In the daytime this will allow the motor drive to kick in and capture more images at a higher shutter speed.
Now that I am back home in the snowy mountains of British Columbia the cameras will be set up to try and continue capturing mountain caribou and my backyard critters.

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All photos, video and text copyright to Richard Thomas Wright 2012.

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