We live in a forest sanctuary on the Hill, a sky island that we, and many wild animal species, call home. Animals typically roam around in particular locations within these mountains. This specific area is their home range or territory. In the woodland habitat that surrounds Idyllwild, the boundary between the natural and built environments becomes very blurry, especially with many homes backed up against large expanses of national forest land. Like people, who are often unaware of crossing county or even state borders, our local wildlife also often crosses invisible boundaries between urban and wild places, seamlessly traveling back and forth between Idyllwild and the wilderness that surrounds it. Who visits our backyards? How often do they visit? Keep reading—what we’re about to show about your own neighborhood might surprise you.

Camera trapping—a window into the wild:
In an effort to document some of the common and not-so-common wildlife species in the human-inhabited parts of our Pine Cove and Idyllwild, the James Reserve elicited the help of several locals. We placed motion activated trail cameras in the yards of their homes and businesses. These motion-detecting cameras record photos of animals and record the date and time of day of the photo, which can lend us insights into the habits of our local wildlife. The cameras were deployed for more than a month. Here is our report on the footage of the cameras at our 4 locations in town.

Images courtesy James Reserve
Images courtesy James Reserve

As different as day and night
Many of the species trapped on camera are active during the daytime (diurnal) and familiar to Idyllwilders. The bulk of photos from our cameras revealed the usual suspects, including squirrels, rabbits and birds. Robins, Steller’s jays, Spotted towhees, and Dark-eyed juncos were common birds. More unusual were migrating White-crowned sparrows. One of the largest and most common birds in one local backyard was our charismatic state bird, the California quail. Western gray squirrels were the most common mammal to be photographed, conspicuous in nearly all frames on all the cameras we set out. Less common were their ground dwelling cousins, the California ground squirrel.

After the sun goes down, things can get interesting. The night or nocturnal animals are not often seen by people, so it is after dark when the trail cameras can most enhance our abilities to track wildlife. Our cameras rewarded us with some fascinating and surprising glimpses of Idyllwild. Counter to our expectations, deer and even coyotes, are not as common as you might predict. But along with raccoons, they are no strangers to Idyllwild. Interestingly, the most common nocturnal mammal photographed in one area, the gray fox, is perhaps a species that most people overlook.

Another surprise is the bobcat, showing up in two different areas. In fact, the bobcat was photographed 34 times over 11 different nights of the 38 days of filming. What was the biggest surprise? It was the money shot of a mountain lion. This animal was caught moving along Strawberry Creek on its way to higher elevations.

What have the cameras taught us?
Some species happily coexist with the human residents of Idyllwild. From the smallest birds to the largest mammals, in some cases at least, local wildlife is finding it easy to settle down in and around Idyllwild. This is in large part due to the acceptance and tolerance of the human citizens of town for these species in our midst. Our window into the natural world reminds us what it is that makes Idyllwild an extraordinary place to live in. Hopefully, Idyllwild will always make room for the wild animals that pass through or live in our town, and in doing so, we will be able to keep the “wild” in Idyllwild.

Documenting what is wild in Idyllwild is the first step in understanding the wildlife of town. The next step is to get some idea of just how abundant many of these more elusive animals are. To monitor abundance of local wildlife, we would like to solicit the help of others in town that might be interested in seeing what is in their backyards. If you would like us to come and put a camera in your yard, please contact us at the James Reserve ([email protected]). Thanks to Idyllwild locals Megan McIntyre, Larry Donahoo and Chris Singer for helping us capture the footage used in this article.