Gift idea: Get a close-up look at wildlife with a critter cam

Whether you’re camping or have a cabin, a wildlife camera can help you get a look at creatures that visit while nobody’s looking.

It was just after 6 a.m. when a large cinnamon-colored bear decided to visit my house in rural Chelan County.

I was fast asleep inside when he strolled down our driveway and sniffed around the stump where I’d left some dead mice the night before.

That’s when I caught him — not in a trap, but on a wildlife camera. They’re also called game cameras, trail cameras or just plain critter cams.

Five photos in the series are spine-tingling. You can see fur, fur, a close-up of his face, a giant paw as he takes a swipe at the camera and more fur as he wanders away.

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My wife knows I’m passionate about seeing animals in the wild, so she knew that a trail camera from Costco would be a terrific Father’s Day gift last year.

There was a time when the use of game cameras was limited to park rangers and pro photographers, but in recent years dozens of affordable motion-activated models have hit the consumer market.

Using one has added a new layer of interest to my wildlife spotting, not only allowing me to look for animals at night but helping me to understand more about their behavior and how active creatures are when no one is looking.

What’s lurking outside?

Maybe you’re an avid camper who has always wondered what visits your campsite after dark. Maybe you spotted tracks in the snow and were curious about what passed by. Perhaps you own some land in the country and want to know what (or who) drops by when you’re away.

Once you start playing with one of these cameras, you realize how much potential they have.

When Will Radecki, of Van Zandt, Whatcom County, discovered loose insulation under his house, he used his camera to learn that rabbits were pulling it down. When he saw signs of animals rooting through his compost pile, he captured a shot of a black bear poking around just minutes after he threw out some vegetable scraps.

Recently, he bought a hard-wired Nest model that alerts him with a text or email when something passes by, allowing him to track what he, with tongue in cheek, calls the most threatening predator of all: his daughter’s boyfriend.

A gift of experience

A creature camera is the gift that keeps giving. Every few weeks, I pull out the SD card and check the latest round of photos. As the images transfer…

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