LARIMER COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4)– “Let’s see what we got here.” David Neils is unlashing another game camera from a tree. Each one is a box of surprises. He pulls one of his cameras free and starts to scroll through the video clips. There’s one. A big black bear has come lumbering by his camera in a narrow valley the he calls a pinch point.
It’s here west of Loveland that he’s found an incredible collection of wildlife on his cameras.
“Just unbelievable footage. Quite a few lions, black bears, bighorn sheep, deer, elk.”
Neils finds his spots by looking at 3D mapping. He looks for narrow passages. It’s there, the apex predators of Colorado find their prey. With his 28 cameras around Colorado and in his native Montana he’s become an expert on wildlife video and by extension, an unofficial expert on wildlife behavior.
It started young for Neils. As a boy in Montana, he would place dental floss across the game trails near his home. Whenever it was ripped down, his five-year-old imagination concluded it was a grizzly bear.
“And I asked my mom I said, ‘So, mom, am I the only one that wonders what the animals are doing when I’m asleep?’ And she smiled and she said, ‘Yes David, you’re the only one.’ I took it as a compliment back then.”
Some of his videos have been seen by thousands, even millions now have watched a cavorting yearling elk captured on video 10 years ago. One of his most rewarding moments posting the videos came in a note from a father in Europe who explained how his daughters would play it over and over and laugh.
“And he said thank you so much for posting this and bringing such joy to my two daughters. That was a cool moment.”
His early cameras were clunky but better technology has been a boon and has brought in wealth of video.
“There’s no better way to study elusive animals than these cameras.”
Neils uses four criteria when he looks for a spot to place his cameras. Wind direction, topographic pinch points, edges and limited water. All of them bring wildlife together in the tight valley/canyon we visited.
“What’s nice about this valley is you know these bears are not running into people. So they’re staying wild, they’re not becoming habituated to human food, it’s what we want really for all bears in Colorado.”
Mountain lions have used the pinch points to find their prey. Deer and elk have a tough time fleeing up the steep slopes. The lions work with the breezes and walk into the wind with their noses in the air, or by licking their noses to help the scent cling.
When the lions close in on their prey, it is over quickly. But he does not fear them. He was certain they were lying low in the brush around us as we spoke, but no cougar would be interested he insisted.
He has learned a great deal about how animals and cycles interact. In one area where the sun shines into the valley earlier in the spring and the water in plentiful, it greens up first. That means grasshoppers. Wild turkeys come in, ravenous for the grasshoppers, careless to danger.
“So as soon as the grasshoppers appear within one week I’ll see lion tracks, bobcat, coyote tracks on the trail right here trying to get those turkeys.”
In the same area, Neils and volunteers have hauled in water when the stream dries up. It’s led to bathing bears and gulping lions on camera. He gets a lot out of it, but the animals do to.
“And I should have a credit card swipe on it you know,” he laughs.
Off we went to check another camera.
LINK: David Neils Videos