In early March, over 160 people from across the country (and even the Atlantic Ocean!) joined Hilltown Land Trust’s two-part webinar series “Capturing Creatures: A Wildlife Camera and Nature Sketching Workshop” led by wildlife camera specialist Sally Naser and artist Elizabeth Whelan.
This record-breaking attendance was undoubtedly aided by a recent article in The New York Times featuring Naser, as well as her large following on social media. While many of her fans are local, steadfast supporters of conservation, she has followers from all walks of life who live across the globe.
“When the pandemic first hit, I heard from a nurse working in a COVID unit who said my Facebook posts helped her unwind at the end of the day,” Naser said. “It was incredibly rewarding to know that my work, which has brought me so much joy, could provide that support for someone else too.”
Naser started capturing critters with wildlife cameras less than ten years ago, when she and her employer The Trustees (HLT’s affiliate organization) received a grant from the Norcross Wildlife Foundation to purchase four full camera set ups (cameras, bear boxes, and cable locks). The goal was to build deeper connections with landowners who had moved onto already-conserved properties, by showing them what wildlife used their land.
Naser found that many people were unaware of the variety of wild animals that lived so near to their homes. By showing them wildlife photos taken on their land, she demonstrated the value of conservation and helped them understand why previous landowners had protected their property.
In addition to sharing exceptionally cute pictures of Massachusetts megafauna, Naser also hopes to show that we need to find a way to co-exist with, rather than fight against, the natural world.
“If I can move someone from cursing beavers to realizing just how much they do to support all the wildlife in our area, I feel like I have accomplished my goals,” Naser said.
In addition to landowners, Sally is on a mission to reach more people through her social media channels. Using images from over forty cameras placed on conserved land across the state, Naser educates her nearly 22,000 followers on Facebook and Instagram about the wild species that call Massachusetts home.
“I make a conscious effort to try to answer every question that people ask on my posts. If Mary Holland [Naturally Curious] or Sue Morse [Keeping Track] have already answered this question in a blog post, I’ll share a link to their sites.”
In college, Sally was captivated by Tom Wessels’ beloved Reading the Forested Landscape: A Natural History of New England. When she took a course on animal signs and tracking from the legendary Sue Morse, Sally felt like she was learning the animal kingdom equivalent of Wessels’ book.
Naser understands the draw of the cute and amusing, and hopes her fun images will entice people to learn more about the wildlife around them. She loves capturing videos of bobcats—especially kittens—and bear cubs. Some of her favorite images are a three-part series of bobcat kittens about to be made: a courting bobcat pair near a frozen vernal pool in late winter.
“You can see the female bobcat flip over on the ice, and the male is staring directly at the camera like ‘could we get a little privacy?’ I’ve been trapping at that vernal pool ever since and have never captured that again.”
When she first started sharing her bobcat images, she realized how little people are aware of the presence of these cats in Massachusetts.
“People were surprised by how many I captured.” But she understands why—“They are so elusive; when you are out hiking in the woods, the bobcats see you, but you may never see them.”
Naser sees trapping with wildlife cameras as a completely different way of learning about the natural world.
“Trail cameras have shown me things I never read in a book. For instance, from reading, I assumed that owls always swooped down on their prey. I had no idea owls will also sit in a vernal pool with their feathers getting wet, and forage like raccoons by grabbing frogs and salamanders in their talons!”
Video of hunting barred owl from Naser’s YouTube channel
For those interested in getting started with wildlife camera trapping, Sally recommends beginning with a moderately priced camera, around $100-150 from a bigger brand. And be sure to get a bear box!
“Bears are very curious and have exceptionally good noses. They want to investigate any new smells and your scent is all over that camera. I’ve seen too many cameras ruined because a bear decided to investigate!”
As for the set up, Naser recommends first deciding what animals you want to capture and then learning about their behavior.
“Everyone needs to eat and drink, so set up near a water source or the preferred food source for the animal you are trying to capture.”
If you decide to take up camera trapping, let Naser know.
“I would love to hear from your readers what they are getting on their trail cams! Photos and video from wildlife cameras IS reality, unlike so-called ‘reality’ TV, and way more entertaining.”
This webinar series was done in partnership with Franklin Land Trust and was supported in part by grants from the Plainfield Cultural Council, the Ashfield Cultural Council, and the Conway Cultural Council, local agencies which are supported by the Mass Cultural Council, a state agency.