Documenting the natural world

  • A coyote captured on a trail camera at Quonquont Farm in Whately. Contributed Photo/Allison Bell

  • A deer captured on a trail camera at Quonquont Farm. Contributed Photo/Allison Bell

  • A porcupine at Quonquont Farm. Contributed Photo/Allison Bell

  • Sally Naser of The Trustees of Reservations sets a trail camera in its metal protective housing on a blow down near a beaver pond in Conway. Staff Photo/Paul Franz.

  • Sally Naser shows a picture of a deer as she she checks the memory card from a trail camera in a tablet. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Sally Naser of The Trustees of Reservations sets a trail camera aimed as some recent beaver activity in Conway. Staff Photo/Paul Franz—Paul Franz...

  • Sally Naser of The Trustees of Reservations with a trail camera that has a screen for instant playback. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Sally Naser of The Trustees of Reservations sets a trail camera aimed as some recent beaver activity in Conway. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Sally Naser of The Trustees of Reservations talks trail cameras to a group on private land that is open to the public through the efforts of the Franklin Land Trust. Staff Photo/Paul Franz—Paul Franz...

Staff Writer
Published: 3/6/2021 5:00:34 AM

When Allison Bell set up her first wildlife camera on her farm in Whately, she assumed such cameras were only really used by hunters. 

“I wasn’t aware then of too many local people, who were doing it as a recreational … backyard experiment,” said the co-owner of Quonquont Farm on North Street. “There are more people doing it now.” 

Over the last several years, the wildlife cameras — also called trail cameras — set up around Quonquont Farm have generated widespread interest on the farm’s Facebook page. Just recently, a video of two bobcats and a weasel family garnered more than 30 shares and three times as many “reactions.”

“We really have found that nothing makes people connect to the natural world like seeing pictures of real animals … doing what it is they do in their somewhat secret lives,” Bell said. “For most people, they don’t have the ability to see a raccoon acting naturally. … We found it to be a great pleasure to people, even before the pandemic.”

It’s a reminder to people that even as COVID-19 has in some ways halted life for humans, “life is going on” in the natural world, said Bell’s wife, Leslie Harris, the farm manager.

“We’ve had people email us and Facebook message us,” Harris said. “We had someone write a lovely handwritten letter.”

Beyond curiosity or entertainment, the cameras on the farm have also helped them better understand what goes on around the roughly 200 acres of property — only 20 of which is agriculture — when they’re not looking. When Harris noticed a bunch of broken branches and peaches that had been eaten, for example, they used the footage from the cameras to figure it out. 

“The bear was the culprit,” Harris said. “That helped me to understand what I needed to do to help keep the bear out.”

They’ve also used the cameras to determine who was making which footprints. 

Bell said her interest in trail cameras is “multifaceted” — not only is she is interested in regional natural history, she’s interested in plants and animals, and the ecology of the region.

“And then, having this property … is very interesting because it includes a number of different habitat types,” she said.

And understanding habitats is important for finding locations for trail cameras, according to Sally Naser, who oversees the trail cameras for the Trustees of Reservations of Massachusetts, where she serves as the conservation restriction stewardship director. Knowing what creatures you’re hoping to capture on camera — beavers, bobcats, birds or bears, for example — will help determine where a camera is best placed. 

Naser said she first tried her hand at wildlife cameras in 2007 when she worked at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, which had partnered with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute for a study on the effect of human activity on wildlife. 

“I was up until 4 a.m. pouring through those photos,” she said. “That was it. That’s where the seed got planted.”

Since 2013, Naser has been deploying her own cameras across Massachusetts, she said.

“It really is a great hobby,” Naser said. “It gets you outside. It helps you understand our coexistence with nature.” 

When she sets them up — she recommends doing so near a body of water — she leaves them for roughly six weeks before checking the footage they captured. Although time frames depend, person to person, Naser prefers to leave her cameras out for longer periods of time, rather than shorter. 

“It going to show you not only the wildlife but how the landscape changes over time,” she said. 

When she sets up her cameras, she also checks that they’re level and ready to capture the scene she intends to capture. The cameras are triggered by heat and motion, so the natural environment is necessary to consider, too.

“Most cameras you’ll have a choice. You can decide if you want to do videos or stills,” she said. 

Naser secures the cameras to a tree and tucks in anything that might be of interest to rodents or other curious creatures. Bears, in particular, can be “incredibly curious” of cameras when they notice them.

“They know it’s something that’s not supposed to be there,” she said. 

In her years of experience, Naser has not only deployed her own personal cameras, but she’s also worked with private landowners and local nonprofits, including Franklin Land Trust, to help get others started with trail cameras. 

“The options here for wildlife cameras are many,” said Melissa Patterson-Serrill, director of Community Outreach and Education at the Franklin Land Trust, as she followed Naser toward one of the cameras she’d placed on privately owned conservation land off Graves Road in Conway. 

Patterson-Serrill added that one of the benefits to the cameras is the effect they have on landowners, who may not have considered their land for conservation if they hadn’t gotten to know the animals who inhabited it.

“We can get all these great photos,” said Naser, “but the joy is in showing (people) something with these cams that they’ve never seen before.”

For more information on getting started with wildlife cameras, the Franklin Land Trust and Hilltown Land Trust are co-hosting a two-part webinar series, “Capturing Creatures: A Wildlife Camera and Nature Sketching Workshop.” 

The first workshop, scheduled to take place March 10 at 7 p.m., will feature Naser speaking on the subject of wildlife cameras — offering advice on selecting, siting and monitoring wildlife cameras. On March 11 at 7 p.m., Elizabeth Whelan will lead a workshop on sketching images of wildlife in their natural habitat.

Both programs will take place over Zoom and pre-registration is required. To register, visit

Mary Byrne can be reached at or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne


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