Thu. Dec 7th, 2023
staff on camera

Today’s post comes from the Discovery Program staff at Neys Provincial Park and our Northwest Zone Office.

Parks are a popular place for visitors, but did you know they are equally popular for animals like bobcats, deer, and elk?

Although you may not see them while you’re there, here’s proof:

bear walking on the road

Ontario parks and other agencies use trail cameras to track the presence or absence of species, their spatial patterns, and habitat preferences.

This information helps park managers monitor and protect park wildlife.

So what are trail cameras?

trail camera

Trail cameras are weather-resistant cameras that are placed in trees near suspected animal corridors or easily accessible trails with a concentration of wildlife.

At other times, trail cameras may be installed in more remote locations in the park to monitor wildlife. Therefore, they often earn the nickname “bug cameras.”

These cameras are cameras with a motion or heat sensor.

Trail cameras can be configured to capture wildlife via photography or video, while also recording the date and time each image was taken. This is useful information when interpreting photographs.

The images then help Discovery staff and ecologists discover animal patterns and record the wildlife species that inhabit each park.

Preparation is key

In order to use trail cameras, they must first be configured!

This requires park staff, often the enthusiastic and energetic Discovery staff, to help get the job done.

staff walking on the path

The following sample checklist is used to help collect the equipment needed for this task:

  • Establish a plan for where cameras will be installed based on previously noted information, including known wildlife trails and tracks, potentially good wildlife corridors, and previous camera locations.
  • Make sure each trail camera has fresh batteries for long periods
  • Erase SD memory cards so they can capture as many new images as possible
  • carry a GPS unit to track the route to the site and record the coordinates of where the cameras are located
  • Pack safety equipment for the hike (weather-appropriate clothing, first aid kit, radio, etc.)
  • Bring a digital camera or laptop to review and ensure proper camera angles during setup.
  • Gather all camera equipment, including the strap system, to secure and lock each device to each tree.
  • Load all your gear into your backpack and get ready to start the day!
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I’m in the field… now what?

With any trail camera, it is important to find a prime location for its placement.

It is best to find a spot along a clearing or known wildlife trail. Consideration should also be given to placing the trail camera in locations where there are habitat requirements for wildlife such as food, water and shelter.


It is also important during setup to ensure that there is no vegetation directly in front of the camera’s view to avoid mistakenly shot photos.

Once you have found a place that meets these requirements, it is essential to find a sturdy tree to place it on. A tree with a thin trunk will probably blow too much in the wind, causing false shots, or the wind may even cause the camera to fall off the tree!

strike a pose

Once the camera has been mounted on a solid tree, it is turned on and tested by walking next to the camera and activating the sensor.

We can get some fun and creative photos of the staff here too!

staff on camera

Cameras are usually set to capture a burst of five photographs. The camera will take a burst of photographs to capture the movement of the animal and show a bit of its behavior.

After testing the camera, staff temporarily remove the SD card to review sample images on a digital camera or laptop to ensure the camera position is ideal. Some trail cameras will allow you to review the image through the camera itself!

Once the perfect camera angles are found, the memory cards are reloaded and the camera is turned on to capture images.

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Test images also record the date the camera was installed for monitoring purposes. Photos are taken again when staff pick up the trail camera later, so the date range in which the camera was deployed can also be noted.

Now we wait…

Neys trail cameras are checked every 3 or 4 weeks. This gives plenty of time to capture the park’s wildlife.

Checking the cameras

After the waiting period, Discovery staff will return to retrieve the cameras and upload the footage from the SD card to their computers. Revealing what you’ve captured on camera is the most exciting part of trail camera tracking!

At Neys, the following species have been captured on camera:

  • moose
  • White-tailed deer
  • Black bear
  • coyote
  • wolf
  • Red fox
  • river otter
  • white-footed hare
  • canadian lynx


Photos and data are entered into the Ontario Parks Monitoring and Inventory database for our staff to use for management purposes.

Trail camera photographs provide important information that helps improve our understanding of wildlife in Ontario parks.

Do not bother!

If you discover a trail camera while exploring provincial parks, do not disturb it as they are actively monitoring wildlife.

Remember, although you can’t always see wildlife while visiting a park, we can catch glimpses of wildlife thanks to technology and trail cameras.

Submit your wildlife sightings!

Take a photo and submit your sightings to iNaturalist to contribute to citizen science!

Not sure what you’ve seen? Tweet a photo and tag @OntarioParks with the hashtag #AskanOPNaturalist and our staff will try to identify it for you.