Trail cams and recommendations for creation of iNat observations

I was recently chatting with someone about their trail cam. They are keen to share observations with iNat but need a bit of guidance. Perhaps others in the iNat community have already addressed issues and might be willing to share advice.
First question:- it is common for a critter to hang around a camera - should there be a recommended time period to indicate a new occurrence? perhaps a break of 2hours? perhaps the trail cam observation could include a note to indicate how long the animal was present (start and end time).
Second question: If there are multiple individuals of a species/life history stage/sex then should a note be added with number of individuals versus posting each individual?
Third question: if the trail cam is still being used and if there is concern about vandalism if the location is revealed then what is the recommendation? should a huge precision be assigned (won’t the center of the circle be the true location?) or should the observation be obscured?



It’s same as regular observations, 1 specimen is observed once a day, same species as many times as you wish, location can be obscured or spot moved (centre will be anywhere you want it to be, but It’s not preferred, better obscure until camera is removed).


Unlike some databases, iNaturalist is not accumulated for a specific purpose, so the guidelines are minimal so as to include whatever people want to contribute. The quality control in using iNat data has to come at the other end, where users filter observations to get ones appropriate for what they want to analyze. Descriptive notes can be helpful for that.

If you’re using an accurate GPS on a good day, the coordinates will show the location of the cam, and the precision bubble won’t matter. One idea would be to obscure the observation until the camera is moved, then go back to the observation and make the location public.


I was not aware of this guideline. So an observation of the same animal at different times of day (eg. in the morning and several hours later at dusk) would be considered a duplicate?

Guidelines are far from being clear, they say “time”, so some people post same specimen if it moved or changed, but IMO as in the end it says about different date and logically 1 day is elemental part of time that’s long enough I never upload anything twice at the same day, but state in comments where and when I saw it later that day (I think first spot is the most valuable).

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I see! But the context of that last line is if the observer returns to the organism, not if it returns to the observer. Is that a significant distinction?

That’s a good question, I doubt there is, I think it’s another part of guidelines that should be edited to be stricter/easier to interpret, together with captive section.)

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Yes, I think the one day thing is a general guideline. But if some interesting observation happened (predation, etc.) or the individual moved a large distance, I still think it could be appropriate to add multiple observations in the same “day”.

I think the obscuring until the camera is moved approach is probably best. It will protect the camera but then offer high quality location data when the observations can be unobscured. Worth mentioning though that if there are sensitive species observed by the camera, you might want to keep all the observations obscured since someone could figure out the camera location from those other observations.


I usually only do one observation per species per day unless I can tell they are different individuals (different sizes, ear notches, other markings).

I suggest keeping the observations obscured. Even if you move the camera around, people would still know there is one somewhere in the area. I have a cable lock to secure my camera to the tree and a pad lock to keep it from being opened and card removed. Someone I know that has one for security purposes has a cable lock and a metal box that the camera fits inside. They also have a broken dummy camera that is easier to spot.

PS In my case the cable lock is also good to stop the camera from falling into the water if a beaver chews through the canvas strap. The beavers like to chew on the dock that I sometimes attach the camera to. The strap will hold it tight to the post but I loop the cable up higher on something horizontal so it will catch the camera if the strap comes loose.


My tips for avoiding trail camera theft

Don’t worry about obscuring your location data unless you use the same spot over and over. Merely collect your camera after a couple of months, record the observations and move the camera to a new spot at least a couple of kilometres away.

Don’t keep revisiting your chosen site just to ‘check on the camera’. Instead, make sure you have tested the camera in a known safe location until you are confident that it will work when you place it out.

Don’t use the webbing straps that come with most cameras as is. Most are too obvious when wrapped around a tree. Either camouflage the strap (markers are great for home designed cammo schemes) or use discretely coloured para-cord instead.

Bike locks are great but you’ll need to camouflage them too.

Try putting the camera above eye level. Most casual hikers don’t look up. They watch the trail.

Most importantly stay well away from public trails, fishing spots, campsites, parking areas, cut lines, etc. People are far more likely to stumble upon your camera in these areas.


I always used baling wire instead of straps or bungees to attach a camera to a tree. It’s virtually invisible and more useful in many situations and will easily attach to most cameras.


using camera height as a theft deterrent has some drawbacks, too.

A camera low to the ground might wind up capturing images of pretty small animals. I have pics of mice on trail cams! Also turtles, snakes, all sorts of stuff. Put the camera up high and you’re going to lose some sensor sensitivity. And you’ll have to angle the camera much more downwards.

A strong downward angle does have some benefits of its own, too. The sun is probably going to be less likely to accidentally trigger your camera, or wash out the images from glare if it’s triggered by something interesting at the wrong time of day.

My own use of trail cameras typically has involved downloading images and moving the cameras after a couple weeks, unless I have them on my own property, or on someone else’s property who has given me permission to place them there. I don’t visit them in-between, so it’s not like I’m beating in an obvious trail to my cameras. Watching where you place them otherwise, and avoiding trails, utility ROWs, fencerows, etc is smart. I’ve had some really excellent results aiming cameras at trees laying on the ground. Sometimes you can’t much get around these challenges. Try setting up trail cams in a prairie with no trees sometime. You either use existing fence posts, or you set your own posts for the cameras. And the cameras are REALLY obvious. Needs must sometimes.

I’ve never been so strict with separating observations as saying only 1 per day, either. I like using a 3 shot burst from my cameras when they’re activated. That way, if the camera makes a sound, or the IR flash isn’t actually no-glow and the animal stops to look at the camera, I’ll get at least one other shot of it. I’ve also tended to use a decent delay setting on the camera after each burst to let the animal clear the area. So I look at timestamps to help me decide if I’ve seen another animal, in addition to markings.

For occupancy type studies, all that matters is that there is ANY observation of a species at a site within a given day. More observations than one don’t matter. For those kinds of studies, you’re not going to mess up someone’s study by including more observations if you think they’re distinct.

For some studies, repeat obs do matter, but usually for those, individual animal IDs are important. So identifiable markings or tags are necessary.

Personally, I’d rather err on more observations than fewer. If someone does happen to be an expert at identifying individuals of whatever species from photographs, they can sort through them to decide if it’s just one individual observed multiple times or whether they are distinct observations of different individuals. Unless it’s REALLY obvious, I’m not that expert, though I may know enough that I can tease it out for some species.


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