Category Archives: Nocturnal Life

Warmer Weather Welcome Wildlife: We finally spotted one!

The weather is getting better and that’s good news for us! Winter was extremely cold and lasted longer than our team anticipated, making it a less than ideal time to track animals. But now that it’s April and a little bit warmer, there has been a significant increase in animal presence on grounds, even during the night. This is very exciting because we finally caught one on camera!


It is hard to tell, but we believe it’s a fox. Foxes are nocturnal animals, and though they can be seen during the day, they typically hunt during the night. They’re more than capable of surviving in urban and suburban areas, so they should thrive in a college town like Charlottesville.

More specifically, red foxes, (Vulpes vulpes fulva) are the most common species in Virginia. The below map is from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. It highlights the counties and cities in which these foxes are known to live. As you can see, they’re all over the state.

Photo from:

Of course, they still only live in areas that suit their needs. The image was taken behind a residential building on Jefferson Park Avenue (marked by the red “x” on the map below). Though there is activity in this area, there is neither a lot of heavy road traffic nor heavy foot traffic, making it a safe area for the fox to live. This area also provides an opportunity to move around the neighborhood without crossing any dangerous roads and without encountering too many people. In this sense, it turned out that we made correct assumptions about moving the camera further away from central grounds to areas that offer more safety and resources for wild animals.


We have yet to see results on our other cameras. However, we are hopeful. Like stated before, we should see an increase in animal population with an increase in temperature. We are very excited to see what this spring will bring to grounds!


Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Species Information: red fox. Retrieved April 17, 2014, from

Post by Julia Klaczynski, Second-Year, Civil Engineering

Blank Frames: Camera traps capture much but see little.

Week Four on the Nocturnal Life team has largely confirmed rising suspicions amongst the team. Seven days of traps set up on a trail at the beginning of Poplar Ridge and the Hereford Community Garden brought a single photo of what could have been a grouse, although the photos are blurred to the point of illegibility, which has been cherished along with our blurred deer and running opossum photos as a real catch.


Note the smudge in the bottom left corner. It is most likely an animal.

One of the hypotheses raised last week was that rabbits frequented the Hereford Community Garden. It was shocking, then, going through all two thousand photos that were saved on the camera’s memory card one by one and watching the lengthy endeavors of the Hereford students as they planted the garden for spring.

Here, I thought, filled with nutrients and freshly sown, everything will begin to come. It was heartbreaking to find how few did, but there was one who made up for the absences of the others.

This creature was so loyal to the place that she would never fail to pass by at least once every fifteen minutes or so, although she appeared to rest elsewhere during the early hours of the morning, undocumented. The Northline never let anyone down, and especially not this garden.

The team was unable to determine the results of the other cameras this week, but conclusions are not expected to differ. However, more evidence is necessary to further the thesis.

One of the many resources that Professor Beatley has shared with us over the course of the class involved the negative correlation between diversity of grasshopper species and level of human development in an area. The findings from the Nocturnal Life team seem to echo the sentiment of that study. The Grounds of the University of Virginia is highly human intensive environment. Excepting “pest” species like squirrels and raccoons, it cannot be expected that there would be animals in a place that has effectively designed them out of the area.

Post by John Sylvester, First-Year, Anthropology

A New Direction: Week Three Results of Camera Trap Hunting

Over the last few weeks, we have been setting up cameras around grounds, hoping to catch nocturnal life. Unfortunately, aside from a few people walking dogs and a lot of foot traffic, we have only captured a deer and an opossum. We have come up with a few possible reasons regarding why we have not gotten photos of as many animals as we had hoped, and also possible solutions to these problems. First, our goal to find nocturnal life around grounds is difficult to accomplish because streets surround much of the green areas. With so many streets, it may be unlikely that wildlife would go in these areas, especially when cars are frequently driving by. Because of this, we decided that it would be more beneficial to focus on putting the cameras near wooded areas instead. Hopefully this will help us catch images of more animals.


Another issue that may be preventing us from catching images of animals is the positioning of the cameras. It is possible that there are more animals that pass by the areas where we’ve set up the cameras but the cameras just don’t catch them. To fix this, we decided to place two cameras in the same area in different positions and at different angles in the hope of catching an animal that only one camera may have missed.

Finally, to encourage more animals to come into the area, we have decided to add bait, such as peanut butter, near the camera. While this won’t be a completely natural sighting of nocturnal life, it will give us a better idea of what animals are living in the area. We have decided that we will only put bait near a few of the cameras so that we can compare how effective it is.

Due to the lack of images, we have decided to move the cameras to new areas. The first new area will be near Hereford and Runk where we have been told many students see foxes during the day. We will be placing two cameras in this area, in the hope of catching images of these foxes at night. Another area we will be placing the camera is the community garden near Hereford because we have been told that they often have problems with rabbits eating the plants in the garden. Hopefully we will be able to catch images of these rabbits or possibly something else. The camera that was placed by the Dell Pond did not catch images other than a few ducks and a lot of foot traffic, so we decided to move the camera near the stream behind the pond. This will hopefully reduce the amount of foot traffic which could increase the chances of catching images of nocturnal life.

Post by Kelsey Grant, Second-Year, Media Studies

The Importance of Locations: Week two results of Camera Trap Hunting

With our second week of exploring nocturnal life at UVA completed we are still tackling the learning curve. With all five camera traps set in place, we choose locations this week that we believed would catch some type of nocturnal life on grounds. The biggest obstacle of the week was underestimating the amount of foot traffic in some of the locations, as well as our secondary issue of needing to rethink locations maybe in a different viewpoint.

Our camera trap on the rugby side of the Architecture school in the garden caught some nocturnal life. We captured a picture of an opossum wandering around the wall right around midnight when little to no foot traffic was present. Opossums are a solitary animal which explains why only one showed up on camera; it has been shown that these animals are creatures of habit and will remain in an area as long as resources remain. Due to this information it would be interesting to see if any opossums will come back to the area the remainder of the study.


Our trap in the Dell proved to only find pictures of ducks and had a very surprising amount of foot traffic for the area that it was placed in. The original hope was to capture images of animals maybe using the water as a water source but none showed up. There are multiple reasons this could have happened due to either the random weather patterns we have been experiencing or the foot traffic of human night life scaring of any animals that would use this source. Due to the fact that the camera was placed there for a week, we have decided to move on from this location for now and will maybe come back to it in a few weeks to see if the weather had any significant impact. The traps in both the garden near the lawn and a location behind the IRC both resulted in no nocturnal life.


With no success in four of the five cameras, we have decided to once again try out new ideas. Our current course of action has been to place cameras in areas where we ourselves have seen nocturnal activity. Although this approach hasn’t been as affective as hoped, we have been able to receive a few promising pictures that can give us an idea of locations to look for as we decide where to place the camera traps. As we initially agreed, we have not set out any form of bait to lure in the animals because we wanted to see what animals would naturally come to a particular area. The group will discuss in over the next week whether or not we plan to continue this or if baiting may be a sufficient idea in order to see what nocturnal life there is around the area regardless of the specific function it would have come to the area for.

Post by Megan Waring, Second-Year, Civil Engineering

The Learning Curve: Our Successes and Failures in our First Week of Camera Trap Hunting

Spring break was an exciting time for our progress in exploring the nocturnal life of UVA grounds. Before break we were able to set up three of our five camera traps, and now with new memory cards we were able to position all five of them around grounds. In our first week of hunting, we enjoyed some success however we also came up empty at places, prompting us to rethink our locations as well as tactics.

We decided to place our two new cameras in the garden on the rugby side of the Architecture school, and then in the central wooded area by Gooch-Dillard Residences. We chose these two places because we frequently spotted rabbits in the garden, then the Gooch-Dillard area always appears to be a squirrel heaven, hopefully bringing in some interesting pictures.

Our next camera trap which we placed in Lambeth before break has proven to be a disappointment and produced no pictures or activity. Reasons for this could be the abundance of human activity and infrastructure around the field, or simply poor placement as choosing the right spot across the entire campus can be compared to finding a needle in a haystack. In light of this lack of activity, we have decided to move the Lambeth camera to the Dell pond closer to center campus. The pond always seems to be abundant with bird life, and we also hope to catch some mammals sneaking in for a drink. An update with our success on this project will come next week.

The camera trap which we placed in the Lawn garden has proven its functionality; however it has captured only human activity, no nocturnal animal life that we are trying to document. We foresaw this as a potential problem with the amount of human traffic through the gardens, but we continued with it as it would be really neat to find out what animals roam around Jefferson’s academical village. We have now moved this camera to Carrolton Terrace on JPA where multiple stray cats as well as raccoons have been spotted. We’re hoping for great activity from this spot.

Our final camera which was placed in the IRC dorm area has proven to be our best success. With a total of 18 pictures we captured a wandering dog, some windy branches and human activity, but most excitingly a fairly blurry picture which we believe to be a deer. Catching a large mammal is about as exciting as it gets, and we look forward to continuing this trap.

What to take away from our first week of camera hunting? Placing the cameras is incredibly difficult and our success or failures can hinge on aiming a camera five feet in the right or wrong direction. Our successes have proved that there is in fact an animal nocturnal life underworld in Charlottesville, and that we will be able to find.

Where do we go from here? We hope to find more success with our newly placed cameras. At the beginning we made the group decision to not use baiting in order to produce the most natural activity results, however if our next week doesn’t prove fruitful, bating is our next step. When we consulted with Mrs. Bliss-Ketchum, the expert from Portland State, she advised using a mixture of peanut butter and oats as bait. This could be our next move as we need more activity in order to chart generalizations and patterns of the nocturnal life around grounds.

Post by Rob Wyatt, Second-Year, Commerce

Nocturnal Team Update

The nocturnal BioGrounds team now has a total of five cameras. On March 7th before spring break, team members set up 3 of the 5 cameras.

The goal of this project is to understand and observe animal activities at night therefore location is crucial when setting up the motion detectors. Our team members decided to place the cameras at 3 distinct locations on grounds: dumpsters behind Lambeth, the Observatory Hill and the garden behind the lawn. Dumpsters behind Lambeth provide continuous food supply and shelter to stray animals e.g. cats, raccoons and skunks. These creatures will frequently visit dumpster sites to search for food. In cold, unpleasant weather, animals may also temporarily hide in dumpsters to stay warm. Animals prefer places where there are few human activities, therefore, our team members placed the second camera at the Observatory Hill located far away from all dorms and academic buildings. Observatory hill is also surrounded by trees and bushes thus serve as good hide out or homes for creatures where they can feel more comfortable. The third camera is placed in the gardens behind the lawn. These gardens are frequently visited by birds and squirrels and may also attract raccoons from time to time since it is located away from the roads.

The cameras are strapped to trees or lampposts at around 1.5 to 1.8 meters above ground. This gives the camera a wider view and increases the probability of capturing more animal movements. When setting up the camera, team members have to make sure not to face the lenses directly east or west. Direct sunlight entering the lenses can burn and destroy the camera. Once the camera is secured, the switch is turned to manual. When motion is detected, the camera will automatically take three pictures of the moving object and save it to internal storage.

Camera strapped to a tree located in one of the gardens behind the lawn.
Camera strapped to a tree located in one of the gardens behind the lawn.

Post by Linda Chen, Third-Year, Environmental Sciences

Nightlife at UVa, and we’re not speaking of the Corner

The job of the Nocturnal Life team is to gather information on the animals that can be found on UVa grounds at night. The nocturnal fauna is more diverse and numerous than most people think; indeed, it is easy to miss it, because it’s most active at times when humans sleep (or stay inside) and because as diurnal creatures, we’re not very good at seeing what happens in the dark. And yet, a lot happens. Some signs might be found in the morning by those who know what to look for: tracks, animal waste, etc. Studying the nocturnal fauna of our University brings us a new insight on the vast biodiversity of grounds and the complexity of the ecosystem we live in.

Our goal is to accumulate data on what animals go out at night, and to determinate where and when they might be found. The best way for us to do so is by taking pictures of animals at night using camera traps. These are special cameras meant to be disposed outside (they’re waterproof, have a long battery life etc.). They have “night vision” – meaning they can take pictures in the dark – and are movement-activated. So basically, the idea is just to place them in a strategic place, wait for an animal to walk in front of them and come get the photos in the morning. As I’m writing this blog post, we haven’t received the cameras yet. The University has promised us five of them, and we should start taking pictures in the next few days. What we have done right now is set up our plan of action and methodology.


Where should the cameras be?

We first decided which were the best locations to set up our camera traps on. UVa grounds includes a lot of different environments with different potential fauna. Five cameras is enough for us to get pictures of various places, but not enough that we don’t have to be careful in positioning them.

Forest – When speaking of wildlife, the most obvious kind of area would be a woodland. There are a few wooded areas on grounds, the largest being Observatory Hill/Mount Jefferson around the McCormick Observatory, north/north-west of Hereford and in the Poplar Glen neighborhood. There are also small chunks of forest near Fontaine Research Park, in several places of North Grounds near the Law School and Lambeth Residential Area.

Near the water – We think it would be interesting to set up a camera or two close to the aquatic areas on grounds. There is the Pond, the Dell and the portion of Meadow Creek visible near the old dormitories or near Lambeth. Placing cameras here would maybe help us see animals that came to drink, birds, or aquatic fauna (like frogs).

The gardens – The various gardens near the Lawn and all around Central Grounds are definitely a good spot for us. They could give us insight on the nocturnal fauna of a densely built/inhabited area of grounds. Maybe we could find some bats here?

Urbanized places – near the hospital or in more urbanized places of grounds (near West Main Street, the gardens close to the Corner, etc.), we might try to see if there’s a kind of fauna that dwells near human activities. Maybe cats, mice, rats, and other semi-symbiotic species.

The dumpsters – everybody knows squirrels like to feast in the various dumpster across grounds, like near the IRC. Other animals might be sighted there at night, especially racoons or groundhogs.

UVa BioGrounds areas

Technical aspects

Finding good spots for the cameras is one thing, but it’s not everything. A lot of technical details must be taken into account. We contacted the expert researcher on Portland State University nocturnal fauna, Leslie Bliss-Ketchum, and she gave us some advice. The angle at which we place the cameras seems to be extremely important: it could determine whether we get a lot of pictures, or none at all. Leslie suggested that we lure animals, at least in the beginning, by placing oats and peanut butter on the ground near the cameras – so that we may see whether the angle we chose worked or not. We’ll also need to secure the cameras against potential theft and relocation, especially in public areas.

One of the aspects of the project will also be to set up a routine of checking-up the cameras, relocating them, storing the pictures, etc. We’ll work as a team to split up the work of placing and fetching the cameras, especially in relatively remote/inaccessible places.

Objectives and final project

What we hope to get is a lot of pictures of the most diverse species group possible. With enough data, we should be able to place a species’ habitat on a map of UVa grounds, as well as distinguish patterns regarding the time of the night when they come out, if urban activities disrupt them, etc.

Our findings should be presented on an interactive map, where it would be possible to see which species lives where, and to see what photos was taken at what spot. Hopefully this will help raise awareness about the diversity and richness of the nocturnal fauna in our University.


Image credits

Camera trap:

Map: from and edited by Gabriel Poulain


Post by Gabriel Poulain, Third-Year, Political Science