You may not realize it, but we share the Irvine Ranch’s nearly 60,000 acres of open space with a host of animals that we rarely see.
Just over the next hill may be a great horned owl, a baby bobcat or a family of mule deer out for a stroll.
One way to see them is through the Irvine Ranch Conservancy’s wildlife cameras.
IRC Managing Director of Science and Stewardship Jutta Burger explains.
What is the Wildlife Monitoring Project?
Since 2007, IRC has used remotely triggered cameras, which are strategically placed throughout wildlands owned by Orange County Parks, City of Irvine, and City of Newport Beach, to track the health, persistence, and activity of wildlife as well as its relationship to human activity.
What is its purpose?
Data from the cameras allow us to document the wildlife of the Natural Landmarks and track changes in activity patterns with seasons and over years as well as in response to disturbances such as drought, fire, and human activity. This information helps IRC make decisions about where to focus public activity and enables the documentation of injuries and diseases that animals might have. It also helps IRC monitor trail use and unauthorized access by people, and to estimate the numbers of difficult-to-monitor species such as bobcats, coyotes, gray foxes, and mountain lions. The data are analyzed regularly to track long-term trends and shared with researchers and agencies. We have also used photo records to track disease outbreaks, such as mange, and to estimate the numbers of difficult-to-monitor species such as bobcats, coyotes, gray foxes, and mountain lions.
How does the program work?
We have 50 active wildlife cameras installed in the wildlands. Each one has a passive infrared sensor that is triggered by heat and movement, and a built-in flash allows us to obtain colored images at night. The pictures are stored on memory cards that are collected by volunteers, and an IRC staff member sorts through the images and identifies the species and their behavior.
What animals have your photographed?
Approximately 700,000 photos have been archived from 2007 to 2017. Species that the cameras have captured include bobcats, coyotes, mule deer, mountain lions, gray foxes, striped skunks, Virginia opossums, raccoons, brush rabbits, ground squirrels, Turkey Vultures, Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, California Quail, American Kestrels, Red-tailed Hawks, Red-shouldered Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks, Golden Eagles, Barn Owls, and Great Horned Owls.
Describe one of your favorites.
It’s impossible to choose! The photos provide a glimpse into the secret lives of the animals on the Natural Landmarks, so while most of the pictures are of animals traveling along roads or drinking at water sources, some show different individuals playing or interacting in other ways. However, it’s always exciting to catch a baby mountain lion exploring the land with its mother, possibly for the first time.
How popular are these photos online?
Some of our most popular social media posts include images from the Wildlife Monitoring Project. People seem to really enjoy seeing the different types of animals that live in our backyard.
Why do think people find them so interesting?
Many people are probably surprised at the amazing array of wildlife on the land that they love. Many of the species that we record are secretive, so direct encounters with them in the wild are very rare. The photos provide a window into a secret world.
What has the program taught you?
The program has shown differences in the activity patterns of certain species in different areas of the Landmarks. Activity is negatively impacted by human recreation and drought, though wildlife can quickly return to areas following pulses of human activity, such as wilderness access days. We have also found that some wildlife species, such as mule deer and coyote, become more nocturnal in areas with high human activity. One of the most important factors is habitat connectivity – larger areas of habitat support more species in higher numbers.
To learn more about IRC’s wildlife monitoring program here.