Cryptic Camera Trap Capture!

Earlier this year I bought my very own camera trap. I enjoyed using them during my degree and, even though I couldn’t see any real need for one other than pure curiosity, I saw one on sale and couldn’t resist. When I first bought the trap I trudged down my garden every night to set it up, and every morning to check what I’d caught. The summary of my early attempts was: nothing lives in my garden. After this, I decided that I’d start setting the trap up in my local woods and see what lived there…..The weather and my own forgetfulness got in the way and I didn’t use the trap for months.

A couple of weeks back, however, a friend’s dog had come over and spent the entire day running up and down one of our flowerbeds. My dad was convinced that she could smell an animal there, and he wanted me to find out what it was. I was asked to set the trap up on the garden once again.

Somewhat hesitantly, I agreed to give it a go. Rather than place the camera in the trees at the bottom of the garden, as I did in the summer, I decided to attach it to the fence bordering the flowerbed; if an animal was indeed walking through the flowerbed then it’d have to go past the fence. It’s worth pointing out to anyone thinking of doing this themselves that it’s usually a good idea to look for signs of animal activity before deciding where to put your trap, rather than basing it on a hyperactive dog!

So, trap in place, I went into the house, snuggled up in bed and went to sleep. The next morning I got up bright and early (sort of…it was 10am) and went to see what I’d caught. Expecting absolutely nothing, I was pleasantly surprised when the first photo I saw was of a woodpigeon, caught at 9:30 that morning. The pigeon was, at that point, the best thing I’d ever caught on my own camera trap. That was until I scrolled through the pictures. At 2:30am, something walked past the trap.

Now, normally when one uses a camera trap, the photos enable you to easily identify what you’ve seen. This was the case when I mammal trapped out in Borneo, and was again true for the woodpigeon. It was not true for my newest garden capture. I’d clearly done something wrong in my setup and the photos didn’t include the animal’s head, only its side and part of its back. I’m going to be honest: at first I thought it was tail-less with extremely long legs. Only on my 10th or 11th view of the 15 second video the trap had recorded did I realise that the long back leg I’d seen was in fact the tail.

Whatever it was, it was certainly a mammal. Based on the plants in the background it seemed to be between 8-10 inches tall. Badger seemed an obvious answer, and I mentioned this to my dad, who completely dismissed the idea. You see, we’ve never had badgers in our garden before. Nor have our neighbours. It’s probably worth mentioning that we live in the middle of a town, and completely secured the perimeter of our garden early this year so that our pets couldn’t escape. We checked and there are no holes anywhere, absolutely none. My dad, quite rightly, pointed out that were there a badger in our garden then we have essentially made it our prisoner……….the idea just did not make sense.

So, we moved on to other potential explanations. Hedgehog? No. No spines. Cat? Never seen a cat with such a bad back, but it could well be. In fact, we were all set to declare cat until I showed the video to some biologist friends of mine. They overwhelmingly voted badger. One friend had worked on a badger project over summer and she said she could tell just by how it walked. We even googled other camera trap images and videos and compared; I was convinced.

My dad, however, still did not believe me. Like any good scientist, I set out for more proof. I placed the camera trap in the same place the next night. In the morning I went down and…nothing. The night after that we put some mealworm out in front of the camera, thinking that our mystery animal might stop for a snack. Once again, no photos. We tried again and again and again. We moved the camera to different locations, changed the sensitivity and tried with and without mealworms. Still nothing. In fact, increasing the sensitivity meant that one morning I checked my trap to find 18 photos of rain!

By now I had all but given up. I don’t give in easily, but this “badger” had worn me down. I tried one more time before going away for the weekend (my parents are terrible with technology and, despite me showing them time and time again how to set up the camera, they still hadn’t grasped it). When I checked it the next morning I hope I’d been lucky again, like that first night. The weather had been good and the mealworms were gone. I turned on the camera. I pressed the replay button. I flicked through the photos and there was an animal. Just not the right one. As I checked the stored videos to confirm, I sadly watched as yet another woodpigeon ate up all of my strategically placed mealworms and then went on its way.

My nemesis....

My nemesis….

The mystery of the “badger” of the Brignall household is still unsolved. I’ve since returned home and my short break has spurred me on. The camera trap is out once again and I am determined to identify this animal once and for all. If any of you have any alternative ideas, (or if you’d also like to confirm that you think it’s a badger), then let me know in the comments-here are the photos!



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Emilie Brignall

Emilie Brignall

Oxford biology grad, trying to find my place in the world.
Emilie Brignall

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1 Response

  1. Could well be a badger.
    Judging by the height of your fence in the background it would be quite easy for a badger to climb it.
    You could try examining the fence for any signs?

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