Have you ever wondered what animals might be walking through your yard while you’re not looking, or what critters are living in the woods behind your house? PPC Eco-Justice team member Connie McAdams had both the curiosity and the wooded property that motivated her to become a volunteer “citizen scientist” with the Candid Critters program. She learned that Candid Critters is a project that helps answer those questions while doing some important research. Candid Critters is a three year collaborative project with the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, NCSU, the NC Wildlife Commission, and hundreds of volunteer citizen scientists across the state.

Volunteers don’t have to be real scientists, and they don’t even have to provide their own camera. Candid Critters provides cameras to be checked out from local libraries, and provides training so volunteers can collect and report scientifically valid data. Benefits of participating in the project include spending more time outside in the woods and fields, discovering more about local wildlife and learning why healthy and contiguous eco systems are important to critters’ well being.

Connie has been a part of the 116 camera deployments here in Chatham County. Nearby, there have been 95 deployments in Wake County and 179 in Orange. Thousands of pictures have been recorded, and anybody can view photos online for Chatham or for the entire state. Photos can be sorted by species name, county (subproject) or date range. The cameras are set up to photograph larger mammals, so it is not surprising that most of the pictures from Chatham and across the state are of deer. There are also an abundance of squirrels, raccoons, and even coyotes. Chatham cameras have captured an albino fawn, a few bobcats, (one of them on Connie’s property) and of course those ever abundant deer.

There are also birds like herons and wild turkeys. Some of the more elusive animals captured on Chatham cameras include otter and fox. Although we know there are other mammals in Chatham, like beaver and skunks, they tend to be camera shy. Domestic animals such as cats and dogs also make an appearance on occasion. Although there are lots of bear photos from the eastern and western parts of the state, there are no official Candid Critter photos of bear in Chatham County. (However, as Connie can attest with her own eyes, there is an occasional bear to be seen wandering through the county on its way elsewhere.)

Curiosity is a major motivation for participation in this project. It may also motivate a person to search through photos from the project. Each image provides the date, time of day, and temperature when the photo was taken. Weather conditions like rain or snow or flooding can often be seen. This coyote photo was taken in Onslow County a few weeks after Hurricane Florence blew through. It makes one wonder what impact that storms like this fueled by global warming had on this beautiful animal and other wildlife around the state. Scientists can learn a lot about animal populations and behavior just from analyzing the data found on these photos. The rest of us can learn a lot too. For instance, you might even discover that there are elk and armadillos that call the forests and fields of North Carolina home.

But what does the future hold for wildlife that now call Chatham home? With ours being the second fastest growing county in North Carolina, Chatham’s critters are in effect being served with eviction notices due to diminishing forests and fields to call their own. As wildlife habitat is sacrificed to satisfy human wants and needs, it will be interesting to learn just how many critters will be smiling for the candid critters camera in the decades to come.