eMammal Survey at Rockingham County Farm


On a day just beginning to turn grey with rain, Carl Droms and I slog across an already wet meadow crisscrossed with spider webs.   We’re here to deploy a camera for the eMammal project, part of Virginia Working Landscapes citizen science work for the summer of 2017.   We’re already an hour and a half into the day, which started when we used Carl’s GPS (more trusty than mine) to navigate back to the spot on a farm just outside of Broadway where we left 2 cameras in the woods 3 weeks ago.  That successful retrieval was followed by an attempt to relocate the same 2 cameras in a nearby field, at 2 of the remaining 3 deployment locations.

Our efforts so far in this day had been foiled by a group of very nervous cows unexpectedly residing in that pasture with their calves, and more significantly a very large bull, who showed a bit too much interest in our presence.  Having decided to retreat and live to fight another day, we slip back through the gate at the electric fence surrounding their field, and proceed on to the last remaining location for the project this summer.


Garden spider at camera site. Credit Peggy Plass.

This meadow is uninhabited, except by the virtual carpet of spiders that we encounter there.  Big and beautiful, with bodies 2 inches long and legs which pretty much double that circumference, it’s hard to take a step without falling into the arms (of which there are many) of one of these lovely creatures.

This is the third outing of the summer for Carl and me, working on the eMammal camera project.   Virginia Working Landscapes partners for a variety of citizen science projects with owners of private property which is being actively “used” (hence the “Working” part of their name).  This summer, HMNs have participated in grassland and pollinator surveys with VWL, in addition to the work that Carl and I have done with eMammal.  Our location is the only one in Rockingham County this year, so we’re especially proud of our cameras and the images they’re capturing.  Every 3 weeks, we retrieve the 2 cameras, which are motion and heat sensitive, designed to snap a series of 5 pictures whenever triggered by movement in front of them.  We swap out their SD cards, change the 12 rechargeable batteries, and redeploy them in a new location.  Our assigned farm, just outside of Broadway, has 7 deployment locations in all.


Peggy recording camera information for eMammal project. Photo credit: Carl Droms

Bringing the SD cards home and downloading the photos is especially exciting.  So far we’ve got quite a lot of pictures of white-tailed deer.  But, there’s also been a coyote, a fox, a groundhog, and maybe a raccoon (that picture wasn’t so clear).  Seeing these images of animals going about their secret lives never ceases to give me a little thrill, even when they’re animals that we see quite commonly.  The eMammal project involves citizen scientists all over the USA and in four other continents as well. At the eMammal website (emammal.si.edu), visitors can view photos, play around with data, and participate in animal identification games.  Eventually, the photos from our project will be found at this site!

As the intensity of the rain begins to increase, Carl and I finally manage to get our camera attached to the somewhat slippery grow tube surrounding a young tree.  As we walk back towards the road, dodging spiders, I’m already thinking about what images we might find in 3 weeks when we’re back to collect this camera.  There are reputed to be beavers in the stream beside this meadow….

– Peggy Plass, Cohort IV, July 2017

Top photo is from Peggy and Carl’s eMammal project camera placed at a Rockingham County farm. Photo credit: eMammal and Virginia Working Landscapes