A statewide initiative is encouraging volunteers to capture deer, coyotes, bear and other wildlife. Capture on camera, that is.

North Carolina’s Candid Critters program uses volunteer citizen scientists to deploy motion-activated “camera traps” to photograph wildlife in their natural habitat. The program is a collaboration between N.C. State University, N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, the public libraries of North Carolina and the Smithsonian Institution.

According to the project’s website, scientists are hoping to gain a better understanding of size and changes in deer population, where and how many coyotes live in the state and where other species of interest such as bear, elk, armadillos and feral pigs live.

After registering with the program and completing an online course, volunteers are asked to place a camera either on their own land or on public lands for three-week deployments. Participants can use their own camera, assuming it meets the program’s standards, or check out one of 500 cameras available statewide at 63 participating public libraries.

At the end of the three weeks, volunteers retrieve the camera, identify all animals that were photographed and upload all photos to the program website.

Since the project began in October 2016, there have been 3,296 deployments with 1.65 million pictures taken, said Monica Lasky, the project’s volunteer coordinator. Some of the staff’s favorite photos are posted by county on the project website www.nccandidcritters.org and on its Facebook page.

Bonnie Richardson of Germanton borrowed a camera from the Forsyth County Public Library for three deployments with the project in the spring of 2017.

“I thought it would be neat to see what’s going on in the woods,” said Richardson, who chose sites on family land in Stokes and Yadkin counties for her camera deployments. “And the fact that we could borrow cameras was the clincher, since I didn’t have one.”

“It was hard to wait the three weeks before I could retrieve the camera and see what I’d captured,” Richardson said. “I was hoping for the big surprise, like a bear,” she said, though she was able to capture deer, squirrel, turkey, coyote and raccoon.

“It was interesting to study the movements of the wildlife and what time they came out,” she said. The raccoon was the most interesting. He seemed to have a nightly routine going from one side of the woods to the other pretty much every night.”

Cornelia Barr, board chair of the Gateway Nature Preserve, said the group had two camera deployments in the spring of 2018 with a camera loaned from the Forsyth County Public Library. One deployment was placed in the forest side of the preserve; the other was placed in the floodplain, near Salem Creek.

“We saw some animals, like raccoons, that we expected to see, but the camera also captured photos of red foxes and deer, which we have never actually seen in the preserve,” Barr said.

“We think the deer travel up and down the Salem Greenway corridor but would like to watch the patterns of when they visit, whether nocturnal or diurnal, and to know where they live and where they eat,” Barr said.

“Using the cameras helps us demonstrate the value of greenspace in urban areas,” Barr said. “Insects, pollinators, birds and mammals can’t stop at the city borders.”

The three-year project is scheduled to wrap up at the end of the year, however, there is a chance the project will continue depending on funding and public interest, Lasky said.

Footnote: Great Outdoor Provision Company in Thruway Shopping Center will host a presentation on Spain’s Camino de Santiago Trail with guidebook authors Anna Dintaman and David Landis 7-8:30 p.m. March 5. The two will talk about the trail as both an ancient pilgrimage and modern long-distance hiking trail. They will also provide insight for those wanting to hike sections or the entire route. The event is free but registration is requested at www.great outdoorprovision.com.

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