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The Secret Life of Animals, Captured on Camera

PictureMountain lions on camera

Irvine Ranch Conservancy’s wildlife monitoring cameras help experts study local animals and habitats on the Landmarks
Whether we know it or not, the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks are home to a large and diverse population of wildlife habitats. On any given day, animals such as deer, mountain lions, bobcats, gray foxes, coyotes, owls, hawks and more are roaming the Landmarks. Irvine Ranch Conservancy experts are able to keep a close watch on these species and their natural habitats with the help of wildlife monitoring cameras.
In order to help monitor the health, movements, and populations of wildlife on the Landmarks, Irvine Ranch Conservancy staff has strategically placed a network of heat and motion-triggered remote cameras throughout the wildlands. These camera traps are serviced every two weeks by trained volunteers, who then collect the memory cards to be sorted and observed for unusual activity, injured or ill wildlife, and any trends or seasonal cycles.

​“One of the original goals of these camera traps was to observe wildlife activity and how it responds to human activity and other disturbances,” commented Catherine Le, Irvine Ranch Conservancy’s Wildlife Monitoring Coordinator. “The photos are a way for us to determine how wildlife respond to recent human activity and how long it takes for wildlife activity to return back to pre-disturbance activity levels.”
With 57 wildlife camera traps currently spread across the Landmarks, millions of photos have been collected and over 900,000 wildlife images have been recorded from 2007 to 2018. Visitors may come across these cameras in areas including Fremont Canyon, Limestone Canyon, Weir Canyon, Gypsum Canyon, Coal Canyon, Bommer Canyon, Shady Canyon, and Buck Gully. The cameras are often located by trails, near water sources and near areas of habitat connectivity. The captured images allow Irvine Ranch Conservancy staff to make informed, scientifically based decisions about levels of public access and other land management actions.
Those looking to experience wildlife on the Landmarks firsthand can register for volunteer-led activities or explore the open spaces during self-guided access programs. On Saturday, March 2, nature lovers can attend WIlderness Access Day at Black Star Canyon. These monthly activities are a chance for self-guided exploration whether you’re hiking, biking or horseback riding. Keep a lookout for native residents of the Landmarks – you never know what you might see!
Take the family out to witness first-hand interactions between plants and animals during the Wildlife Walk at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary on March 2. Led by Sea and Sage Audubon in partnership with the Irvine Ranch Water District, Wildlife Walks is a monthly nature walk for all ages at the beautiful San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary. Celebrate the changing seasons as experienced naturalists lead you around the pollinators’ garden, deep ponds, and shallow ponds of the 300-acre freshwater sanctuary.

Wildlife monitoring cameras have also been a useful tool during and after wildfires. Irvine Ranch Conservancy staff are able to observe the effects wildfires have on the Landmarks and understand the recovery process and the response of many animals post-fire. The 2017 Canyon Fire 2 had a major impact on the Weir Canyon Nature Preserve and its habitats. On March 9, you can join IRC volunteers to learn about nature’s amazing adaptations for wildfire recovery during Fire Recovery: Watch Weir Grow. Weir Canyon contains fascinating real-life examples of how grassland, coastal sage, and oak woodland habitats can recover after a devastating wildfire.
Interested in getting a glimpse of the images captured by wildlife monitoring cameras? Head over to Irvine Ranch Conservancy’s Youtube to view wildlife slideshows put together by IRC staff and volunteers.
The Landmarks are a vital resource and provide a safe place for wildlife to flourish. Irvine Ranch Conservancy experts are continuously working on their wildlife monitoring program to ensure the Landmarks stay as healthy as possible. Visit to learn more about wildlife monitoring and for more details on programs, hikes, and other activities where you can experience wildlife firsthand.