Learning to Tag Austin’s Urban Wildlife

More than a dozen CAMN members met along with members of the Goodwater and Bastrop Master Naturalist Chapters on October 12, 2019 to learn how to identify urban wildlife captured on the cameras stationed throughout Austin by the Urban Wildlife Information Network

The cameras are set up in parks, nature preserves and along creeks that wildlife use as travel corridors. The purpose of the project is to better understand how wildlife is distributed in Austin and how these animals are using our green spaces, said Amy Belaire, an urban ecologist with the Nature Conservancy.  The data also helps with future management decisions for city parks and green spaces, Belaire said.  Organizations participating in the project include the Nature Conservancy, the City of Austin, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, St. Edwards University Wild Basin and BCCP Vireo Preserve.

To entice wildlife to the cameras, a fatty-acid disk lure is placed near the cameras.  This approach is  currently under evaluation as researchers are evaluating a different bait that is less smelly and easier to handle. The cameras are activated four times a year in fall, winter, spring and summer.

Austin is one of twenty-four cities in the Urban Wildlife Information Network; cameras went live in Austin in 2017, starting with fourteen sites.  Other cities in the network include Los Angeles, Fort Collins, Denver, Madison and Chicago.  Austin now has about thirty sites, including ten cameras sat up along Waller Creek. See the camera location map here.

The cameras are activated by movement and take photos every thirty seconds. Some unusual wildlife captured by Austin cameras include ringtail cats and jackrabbits along with the usual suspects,  deer, coyotes, armadillos and even an occasional domestic dog, cat or Homo sapien.

So where do CAMN volunteers fit in? Each camera requires two sets of eyes to tag wildlife captured by photos. These photo tags are then verified by Caitlin Higgins, an Environmental Scientist/Field Technician. 

If you are looking to log some volunteer hours at your computer, especially during Austin’s never-ending summer, this volunteer gig may be just right for you. Belaire and Higgins said if they receive enough interest from other CAMN members, they may schedule another volunteer workshop in the future. If interested, please contact Caitlin Higgins.

By Ramona Nye, Class of 2019