Opinion Columns & Blogs

Discovering the wonders of a critter cam

By Pam Stone

It was with great anticipation that I set up the ‘critter cam’ (also known as a hunter’s trail camera) borrowed from my neighbor, Jay (because Paul didn’t get it for my birthday despite two months of hinting and hiring a sky writer), alongside my arena where, each morning, paw prints of various sizes and shapes indicate some sort of animal rave occurring the previous night.

Seriously, each morning on the dew dampened sand, besides the creepy, little, human hand-like prints of raccoons and the waddle of flat palmed possums, I’m pretty sure I’m seeing coyote, and, holding my breath with hope, a bobcat. Deer are common, with the herd of split hooved gals generally moving on a diagonal line across the arena, and I’ve seen a rabbit, seemingly turned into no more rabbit, after viewing a flurry of fox-like prints surrounding it and seeing and absence of further tracks.

I love this idea of an entire, nocturnal population appearing in the wee hours and following Jay’s advice, I strapped the critter cam against a post, the motion detector within it set to snap any image that crossed it, up to about 20 feet away. It was 7pm and I couldn’t wait to remove the chip and plug it into my laptop, the following morning, after barn chores, to see who had been partying at 3 am.

Nothing. Except my big, stupid head looming over it to make sure I’d turned it on, around 7:02 p.m.

Hmm. Unstrapping the cam, I had the idea to try attaching it to a tree, behind our house, as Jay had done. He strapped it up high, pointing downwards, and caught a female beaver and her kits (responsible for damming his pond) as well as a bear, sitting and gorging on deer corn, with a coyote standing next to him, as if saying, “Seriously, dude, wanna give someone else a chance? You’re not at the Golden Corral.” And we’ve had bears on our property this year, in those very woods, quite near our house. In fact, our neighborhood has reported a three-legged bear feasting on muscadine grapes and whatever he can find, bless him. So anticipating a bearapalooza, I strapped the camera to a young birch and could hardly sleep that night, ready to leap out of the house at 6am to gasp over the images.

Nothing. Except my big, stupid head looming over to make sure I’d turned it on, around 6:50pm.

Alright, time to get creative. I’ve often thought there were animals that pass through an empty paddock that is set back in the woods (providing lovely shade in the summer for hot horses), because the water in the trough often looks a couple of inches lower in the morning, so for sure, if I strapped the critter cam to one of the fence posts…

Success! An image had been taken! I fairly flew back into the house and plugged the chip into my computer. The image came up, taken, oddly, only a couple of minutes after I had turned it on, around 6:57 p.m. Eagerly, I clicked on it to enlarge and saw very clearly, with my own eyes, our dog, Rosie, taking a wee, before following me back into the house.

This was not what I had expected. I was crushed, dejected. Evidently, a memo had been sent out to all wildlife to avoid any area where I had placed the camera. It made no sense. All I could do was keep trying. And to preserve motivation, I decided to click on a website that promised, “The 10 Strangest Trail Cam Photos Ever Taken!”

Oh, dear God, I wish I hadn’t.

Because at first, it was really, really cool. There was an image of an owl descending, it appeared, upon a deer. Then, an incredible image of a raccoon, I kid you not, riding on the back of either a wild boar of a small bear, seemingly intent on getting a lift to grab a bird feeder. But then, the hair rose on the back of my neck as a grainy photo clearly showed two, startled deer looking at what could only be described as the ghost of a little girl, in a dress, standing among them. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the next image displayed was of an evil, horned and winged creature (google it yourself if you don’t believe me) chasing after a doe who is leaping away for her life.

I snapped my laptop shut and brushed past Paul on my way out of the house.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“To get that critter cam,” I said, not stopping, “and bring it inside. I’ve decided I don’t want to know what’s in those woods, after all.”

Because, with my luck, it’ll capture a clown.

Reach PAM STONE at pammstone@gmail.com.

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