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Nature's way: Cameras capture wildlife without human hassle

A website offering an opportunity to catch a glimpse of rarely seen animal activity is on the horizon.

Jim Duis of Rock Falls, a Master Naturalist with University of Illinois Extension, had an idea to bring rare wildlife behavior to the public eye a few years ago.

He raised about $3,000 to buy cameras for the Lee-Ogle-Whiteside Regional Office of Education, which is constructing a website to help students and other enthusiasts see still images of animals.

Duis and Tina Smith, a friend and wildlife photographer, hatched the idea while spotting bald eagles at Lawrence Park in Sterling one day, he said.

“This is more accessible to people who otherwise can’t actually visit the site,” he said.

“This is a noninvasive way for people to experience wildlife.”

The first cameras were installed last year at the Andresen Nature Center in Fulton, and more since have been put up throughout the area. Their locations are being kept secret to prevent vandalism. The camera can take either time-lapse photos or be set for motion detection.

Paulette Bendixon, the ROE’s technology director, is building the website, and Mary Nelson, Extension’s agriculture and natural resource coordinator, is gathering content. A launch date has not yet been set.

Duis, who works at the Ruth Edwards Nature Center in Lowell Park in Dixon, also is an art teacher and activity director at St. Mary School in Sterling. He has done several paintings and drawings of wildlife over the years.

Sterling High School math teacher Joel Penne has kids who Duis taught at St. Mary. He approached Duis in the summer with an idea to build modern birdhouses that will help attract rare birds and keep them within the vicinity of the camera.

Penne’s technical math students created the birdhouses. which gave them a hands-on lesson in basic math skills. Duis provided basic design plans for a multitude of different species, and students built two for bluebirds, two for nuthatches, and one each for screech owls and wood ducks.

The houses must be installed under IDNR guidelines. Screech owls’, for example, must be orientated toward the winter sun.

“We try to take on a building project that allows us to apply skills from that class such as reading a tape measure, working with angles and basic operations with fractions,” Penne said.

A wild bobcat sighting Feb. 20 near Lake Carroll was another reason to start the project, Duis said.

Lake Carroll resident Nick Kane snapped the cat that day, and it wasn’t the first time one had been seen there in the last few years.

“Occasionally you’ll get something like that,” Duis said. “They were getting deer and birds, but put in a more remote area, you would have the potential to possibly see some unusual things.”

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