/ Articles / Snapshot WI volunteers expect the unexpected

Snapshot WI volunteers expect the unexpected

February 28, 2020 by Beckie Gaskill


Snapshot Wisconsin is a citizen-based monitoring program that has rolled out across the state in the last several years. Volunteers with at least 10 acres of land, or access to 10 acres of private land, are invited to host a trail camera, provided by the DNR, on their land. The trail cameras are strategically placed in locations where animals are most likely to come through. 

Data gathered from volunteers’ trail cameras throughout the state are used not only to estimate populations of various species, but also to learn more about geographic ranges and distributions of those species. 

Volunteers in our area commonly see deer, fox, rabbits, bear, coyotes, and many other animals. And, while most know there are many other species, it is not often that they are caught on camera, or they are caught on camera in an unusual way.

Such is the case of this determined-looking blue jay caught recently on Kathy Biernat’s Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera in Manitowish Waters on the Trout River. She said they have managed to capture photographs of many deer, a fox or two, and even a bear, in the past, but this photo really caught their eye.

Photographs on each trail camera are encrypted, so volunteers upload the photos from an SD card to the Snapshot Wisconsin website. It is recommended volunteers check their camera, changing out SD cards, replacing batteries, and ensuring the area around the camera is clear of branches and other obstructions, at least once every three months. Once the photographs are uploaded, the volunteer gets and email letting him or her know the photographs are ready to view. Then the volunteer can log into the system and view all of the photographs the trail camera snapped for those last three months.

Once logged in, volunteers have the first shot at tagging animals in their photographs. At times, the cameras can be triggered by the wind or heavy precipitation events, and those photos are classified “no animals present.” Next, the volunteer can look to see whether it was a person, such as the volunteers themselves, going to check the trail camera. Those photos are classified as “human.” Once those photographs are out of the way, the part most volunteers enjoy the most starts. This is when volunteers get to see what types of species are on their land, when they move through, and can even follow an animal year after year, watching an antlered deer’s progress if it is lucky enough to make it through from one year to the next, for instance.

The program gives the volunteer the option to input the number of animals, and some other data as well, depending on the species. For instance, for deer, not only number of animals present may be selected, but whether the animal is an adult or fawn, and if it has antlers or not.

As of Februray 1, 1,755 volunteers hosting 2,147 trail cameras snapped 38,446,952 photographs of wildlife in the state. Those interested in joining the growing group of volunteers are encouraged to contact the Snapshot Wisconsin team. More information can be found on the DNR website by searching, “Snapshot Wisconsin.”

Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at [email protected].

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