Forest Surveillance

Toward the end of this last fall I worked with my friend Dawson Dunning running a bunch of remote sensor video cameras not far outside of Glacier National Park.  We were trying to record video of Grizzly Bears rubbing and marking trees for part of a Wild Horizons documentary about wild North America.

Dawson downloads and reviews footage in a downpour.

The cameras were primarily DSLR’s in custom made Pelican Cases that were connected to infrared motion sensors.  The idea was to position the cameras near rub trees to get the action.  These trees had previously been identified as rubs in a bear study and were fitted with short metal barbs to collect hair for analysis when the bears rubbed.  Remote video recording has come a long way from low-res closed-circuit cameras and the systems we were pioneering represent a dramatic improvement in our ability to record natural events in the wild.  The cameras are not without their challenges however.  Amongst these are the issues of how to keep batteries charged (especially in cold weather), how to keep incidental and non-target triggers from filling up the recording media before a bear comes along, how to deal with rain and snow and keep lenses clean and free of condensation, and most importantly, how to make bears wander by while there is nice light for video. Or any light at all for that matter.  Most of the bear activity we captured was at night and left us with little more than scuffling sounds and a black screen.  It was pouring rain each of the 5 or 6 times we made the circuit to change batteries, clean lenses, off-load cards, etc.  Running around in the rain with giant, heavy backpacks full of laptops and batteries and spare cameras and cables is kind of a drag.  Unless you consider the alternative of not running around in the amazing bear woods getting pretty pictures for a living.  Another job might have been drier… but we wouldn’t have seen that mountain lion jump out from behind a bush 30 yards away and run off into the mountains.  Here are a couple more phone pics (what can I say?) from our adventures.  Thanks Dawson!

Dawson works on the camera set-up close to a rub tree where hair from the last bear to pass by awaits collection
One of several camera configurations we experimented with.


Leave a Reply