Spies R us

See, but not be seen. Observe wildlife in their natural habitat being themselves. Day and Night!

After 40 years of hiking northern Arizona I can report that evidence of wildlife is everywhere. Each in its own niche of course. I’ve seen gopher snakes over six feet long and I found the shed skins of even longer specimens in the Wupatki area, lying on the black volcanic sand in the bright sun. The ubiquitous Wood Rat (aka Pack Rat) is the superior species of course. There is no terrain he has not conquered. There are huge nests that are over 100 years old.

This is owl country! Part of the collection of many bird raptors that live here along with those who just pass through on their migrations. In the canyons I visit on a regular basis the two species I see most are Barn Owls and Great Horned Owls. From March through May I observe many nests of these magnificent birds as well as Ravens.

Northern Arizona is a paradise! A banquet filled with the manifestations of biology, geology and archaeology, my holy trinity. And technology is making my observations and record keeping more efficient and easier. I have evolved from carrying a forest service printed-on-paper topo map and a compass to my smartphone with GPS software. To continue this exploration into digital solutions I’m acquiring a trail camera. Hunters have used these for a long time to confirm the existence of their intended prey and I’ve discovered that they also serve a security service as surveillance devices. Even the UPS driver can be watched during a delivery with these remote cameras. This page will record my experiences. Enjoy.

Nearly every summer night... raccoons as well.


“Charity begins at home.” So does trail camera photography! After spending the appropriate amount of time looking at YouTube videos on how to set up a trail camera, particularly my model, and downloading the PDF version the owner’s manual (the photos in the printed manual are all black lacking detail) I decided to mount the camera to a tree in my backyard and aim it at our bird bath. And, sure enough, we had a visitor!

This is a visitor we see often and we know is out there even when we don’t see it. Nearly as often are raccoons in our neighborhood. I’ve witnessed mother raccoons with as many as four juveniles in tow going from house to house looking for water and things to scrounge. During our current drought this situation has expanded. We can tell from our browsed flowers and shrubs that deer are coming from out of the forest for the same reasons. Even leaves from our apple tree are missing from up as high as a deer can reach. This activity is one of the reasons that I wanted a trail camera just for the night shots. So, increasing my experience with the settings and taking pictures will continue.

Wild crows remember all friends and foe, with trust they will enter your yard for water.

Everyone needs a morning drink! One of the local alpha crows is here shortly after sunrise for a drink of water. Newly bloomed hollyhocks enhance the domestic photo. Each experiment I’m doing with this trail camera, manufactured by the Browning company, teaches me something. In just two days I can see improvement in mounting, aiming and settings. Its a super device and I’m going to enjoy it. The sixteen megapixel capacity sure is evident in these simple unfocused snapshots. It is obvious that one must rely upon happy accidents for success. Last night the camera took over one hundred photos from which I picked four to archive. Even the wind blowing our flowers triggered the lense to take pictures. More to learn. Stand by.

The Intelligent Instincts of a Crow

In the hope of acquiring a better close up photo of the crows drinking from my water bowl I placed the new trail camera on a tripod and placed it nearer the water considering the lighting and background. The crows are brilliant and more wary of change in their environment that I had considered. Instead of better photos I got none. The crows executed a 100% boycott of the water bowl and I assume that it was because there was something unfamiliar nearby. They acquire trust slowly, after much observation and testing to be sure that “it is safe.” I’ve seen this before when I bought a new water dish and it was suspect until small efforts of testing occurred. Things like quick flyovers, even dropping pebbles into the water. Their behavior is a pleasure to watch!

When wildlife is thirsty

Water is LIFE! Once again this photo supports the idea that our present state of drought is making everyone thirsty. One of the reasons for buying this trail camera is because I’ve noticed animal browsing on our flowers and shrubs overnight. Dehydration is affecting everyone, including me. I notice the our local Game and Fish Department is asking for donations for the purpose of taking water into the forest for wildlife. This is a cause I believe in BTW. I’m assuming now that this is one lucky skunk and that, unknown before to me, he probably comes by here on a regular basis as we always provide bird bath watering dishes for the birds. We witness drinking crows, ravens, Steller’s Blue Jay, Northern Flickers, House Finches, bees and wasps and a myriad of other small birds. Regarding the drought, I’ve noticed no baby crows this year. Every year late in May new corvid families show up with the newborn. Not this year.

Remain aware that sometimes a wild fox can be rabid. Safety First. Keep them wild!

These photos were not taken with my trail camera but as watchable wildlife I feel that they belong on this page. Several years I observed that a mature healthy mother Gray Fox had been killed in traffic on Forest Street near Buffalo Park.  First, I stopped my car, got out and removed the still warm carcass from the street placing it deep into the local trees for natural recycling. I didn’t want it to become a bloody smear on the heavily driven boulevard.

A couple days later I was walking on the escarpments near Buffalo Park when I heard a distinctly fox-like bark, almost a growl but juvenile. Paying attention I realized that hidden in the dead leaves of Gambel Oak trees were two Gray Fox pups, old enough to live without their mother but would prefer not to. Not having ever seen a human before I wasn’t necessarily a threat. I considered the moment a gift for both of us.

These photos give testament to the fact that in time I became a familiar site to them and they would often come out to see me whenever I was walking in their territory. This wildlife experience continued for many years until natural cycles took them away. Also, real estate development robbed me of this wonderful nature trail and I can’t walk there anymore. I trust that all is well for better or worse as we all adjust.

Rodents beware!

First mounting of my Trail Camera out in the forest. I chose a Juniper Tree in the bottom of one of the limestone canyons east of Flagstaff. I left it on site for three nights and two days. It was August 2018. As this infra-red photo shows very early on Thursday morning a very healthy gray fox walked by going west or upstream. The camera appears to be working perfectly. I’ll keep practicing.

Here's looking at you, kid.

When shooting in the dark this camera uses infrared producing the equivalent of a black and white photo. An animal’s eyes shine like headlights under these conditions. Still fairly clear photos verify the existence of this species living within this territory.

Another phenomenon of a motion sensitive trail cameras that I’ve discovered is the ability of the wind to move grass or tree branches causing the shutter to fire. A typical event like this can produce hundreds of useless photos of the still scene in front of the camera. It is important to develop the observational skill of seeing these possibilities when mounting the trail camera. When circumstances are correct the camera functions perfectly.

This is the Business of Being WELL http://bit.ly/2aSaDnQ
Watching Wildlife!

I’ve experimented with various techniques to camouflage the camera as well as avoiding tree branches that would sway if the wind blows. I’ve recently purchased a locking cable that secures the trail camera to the tree making at least 95% secure from theft. I’m aware that human nature will vandalize if tempted but in the meantime I might enjoy the experiment and perhaps capture some unique wildlife photos.

Often on my day hikes I notice that “they” are watching me! Here a mother elk and her young watch me collect my hiking gear (day pack, trek poles, camera/phone, etc.). On the same day several turkey vultures found me a curiosity. I am amazed as to how big they are up close.