Ready for Action with Remote Cameras

Summer 2005

Rigging up cameras to capture ivory-bills on film

David Luneau, a former rocket scientist and current professor of engineering, has been chasing ivory-bills for years. He was a member of the team that searched for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in 2002 in the Pearl River area of Louisiana and was one of the first to hear about the Cache River, Arkansas, sightings in 2004.

Luneau became very interested in adapting remote cameras -- the kind deer hunters use -- to the ivory-bill search. "We purchased eight remote cameras in March 2004 that use an integrated infrared, heat-and-motion sensor with sensitivity settings that, when activated, cause the digital camera to take a picture," said Luneau.

He mounted them on trees in the swamp and pointed them at trees where there has been bark scaling. Luneau wanted to get as much as the length of the tree in the frame as possible so he worked to modify the detection zone of the camera so it would be elliptical rather than circular. He then had to mount the cameras vertically on the trees and created special brackets to do this.

"I also built a laser pointer with a flat surface on the back to aim the cameras with," said Luneau. "That way I can sit in a canoe and aim the camera very precisely with the laser."

He was downloading the digital pictures onto his laptop right in the swamp but after dropping two camcorders, a GPS unit, a clamp, and a pocket knife in the water, he decided to leave his laptop at home. He now redeploys the cameras by swapping out the memory card.

Waiting for the Ivory-bill

How one searcher used decoys

"Well I got tired of chasing the bird around the swamp and decided to try to bring the bird to me," said Bobby Harrison, long-time ivory-bill chaser and professor of art history at tiny Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama. Harrison and Tim Gallagher saw an ivory-bill fly in front of their canoe on February 27, 2004.

Bobby Harrison carved several life-sized decoys from tupelo wood and painted them to represent male or female birds. As Harrison says, "All it takes is a spot of paint to change the gender." He then selected an area he thought might be a good flyway for an ivory-bill and mounted a decoy on the side of a tupelo or cypress tree about 15 feet up from the surface of the water. Then two remote cameras were mounted a distance from the tree and trained on the decoy from different angles. It was painstaking work to get everything set up.

Then Harrison waited. Sitting in canoe completely obscured by camouflage, he stayed at least 200 feet from the decoy. At the end of four hours he retrieved his cameras and the decoy, and labeled his tapes so he could watch them in his motel room that night