You leave the food at the feeding station. You might watch for awhile, but eventually you go away. You come back and the food is gone. Or tossed all over the place. Did the raccoons get it? Did that limping cat come and did it get some? Are there any newcomers that need to be trapped and neutered? Any animal or human visitors you don’t know about?
You can make some educated guesses. And you can hang out in your car a lot. Even then, furry (and other) visitors can come round from the back, use bushes for cover, or otherwise thwart your surveillance.
When facing these questions, I decided a camera was the answer. Being familiar with security and alarm systems, I bought a cheap home security system that was motion activated and wrote still photos or short movies to an SD card that I could take out and view in my computer. Security tech friends lent me a night vision camera to use with it and rigged both the camera and the recorder to run on batteries.
Presto! I got to see the night’s activity. I got to see when the raccoons arrived and that the cats had been there first. And Felix hogged most of the food!
But there were some problems. I kept the recorder in a fabric lunchbox as protection from the weather (it wasn’t built to be outside). This encouraged condensation. Moving to a different location I returned the cube batteries and night vision camera to the tech friends. The camera that came with the system required voltage that required an expensive and unrechargeable battery. It worked fine on AC power but none was available by the feeding station.
It has been said that there are few new ideas. So I did some research and found that yes, someone else had wanted to do this and a type of camera is available for just this situation. They are called trail cameras, scout cameras and game cameras and are used by hunters and others who want to scout out what game comes into a specific area.
Because I was trapping (with permission) in a military area, I didn’t want a strobe or other visible flash that would bring military police on the run to investigate flashing lights! So I looked for a model with infrared flash.
I had learned from using the security system that cats do perceive infrared/night vision. When facing it at eye level on the other side of their food, some of them backed away. If it was overhead shining down it didn’t seem to bother them.
So I bought a Tasco Digital Trail Camera with Night Vision, model #119215C from a local Outfitter’s store. You can also buy it from Amazon. It is weatherproof, no need to put it inside something else. It requires regular AA batteries, not anything specialized like the cube batteries I was using in the security system. When opened up, there is a display inside for simple programming such as choosing whether you want still shots or short movies. Photos are stamped with the date and moon phase. There is a loop for padlock insertion to prevent theft.
Following is some of the footage shot with this camera. In the first video, you can see feral cat Tattle-no-Tail react to the infrared coming on (there is a programmable delay between motion sensor and camera activation).
Here is a still shot, extracted from video by Microsoft Movie Maker. This is the same spot — with a raccoon instead of Tattle-no-Tail — shot in night vision and aimed a little higher to show the the feeding station:
Another video showed what we thought was an otter. But I extracted a still shot that showed a very squarish face and so concluded that the visitor was a wild mink.
I have to say, I am very impressed with this camera. It does it all for so little effort!