Capturing a wild moment

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Motion-sensor cameras offer a unique view of nature

Coming across wildlife in Santa Cruz County isn’t an uncommon thing. A unique meeting of land and sea, the area is host to a number of species that often make themselves known to their human neighbors.

But certain creatures are much easier to spot than others.

Part of the lynx family, bobcats and their subspecies can be found all throughout California, from high mountainous regions to deserts and valleys. They are far from endangered, with their populations remaining strong across North America and Mexico.

But the creature is usually shy and reclusive around people — tending to stay away from urban areas unless drawn in by a food source.

Recently, a bobcat was caught on camera in broad daylight on the Green Valley Road property of Joan and Bob Culbertson of Watsonville. They said the photo, taken with their newest motion-sensor camera, was the best one of a bobcat they’ve ever captured.

For years, the couple’s cameras have taken photographs of coyotes, birds of prey, deer, foxes, wild turkeys and more that pass through their farm at all times of the day. Not long ago, they even spotted a mountain lion lapping up water from their dog’s water dish right outside their house.

Bob Culbertson is a retired State Park Ranger who is still heavily involved with local environmental and wildlife conservation, particularly with Watsonville Wetlands Watch. He says the wildlife cameras have been an exciting addition to everyday life on his and Joan’s farm.

“We never know what’ll be coming through next,” he said.

Motion-sensor cameras are often used in hunting, and even sometimes for home security purposes. But for the Culbertsons, it’s always been about getting a chance to view and better understand the wildlife surrounding their home.

“We have a wonderful diversity of animals here,” he said, “and it’s really clear when you can observe them closely like this, without scaring them off.”

As technology continues to evolve, motion-detecting cameras are getting smaller and cheaper. You can buy them everywhere from electronic and hardware stores to online retailers. Many scientists have taken to using them for research purposes — acquiring behavioral data of many elusive species.

It takes a certain amount of forethought, however, to know exactly where to place one of these cameras. You need a place that not only gives a clear view, but also where they might be drawn to. Angling the shot is tricky, as you want to be able to capture animals as short as a skunk and as tall as a full-grown buck.

For the Culbertsons, experimenting with these cameras can not only be fun but rewarding. Being up-close and personal with local wildlife can give you a unique appreciation.

“It’s wonderful we can live so side-by-side with nature here,” he said. “We just need to be reminded to do what we can to protect it.”

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