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Knollscam catches wildlife for world to see

Tom Brass’s wildlife camera atop Haywood Knolls catches plenty of animals, including a bear, black coyote and red fox.  [YOUTUBE SCREEN SHOTS] Tom Brass’s wildlife camera atop Haywood Knolls catches plenty of animals, including a bear, black coyote and red fox. [YOUTUBE SCREEN SHOTS]

Growing up in Minnesota, Tom Brass learned from his father how to trap muskrats, “whack ’em over the head with a hatchet” and make a few bucks selling the coats.

“They were a dollar, dollar-fifty for a fur,” he said. “I got tired of killing them. It just felt like slaughter.”
He and his father also hunted, which taught him a secret he uses today.
“Even when I was young, my dad would say, ‘We’re going to hunt next to the state park because they feel safe there and they don’t know where the border is,’” Brass said.
He turned to saving souls before he turned to saving images of animals on video and sharing them with the world.
“Since I’ve been an adult I don’t think I’ve hunted a single time,” he said.
He became an ordained minister and Christian counselor in his home state before he and his wife, Charlotte, moved to Hendersonville, in 2011.
Known to HendersonvilleLightning.com readers as the creator of the KnollsCam videos, Brass, 66, has been delighting YouTube viewers with his shots of animals in their natural habitat for five years. He started filming the critters, using motion-triggered cameras, soon after he and his wife bought their home in Haywood Knolls on a 1-acre mountaintop lot.
“I heard a lot about all the wildlife around here and I wasn’t seeing any,” he said. “With all the rhododendron it’s kind of hard to see them.” He gradually learned more about how to lure the four-legged forest residents into camera range. Animals, he said, are like people. If there’s a clear path they’ll use it instead of fighting through brambles, briars and bushes. A gardener as well, Brass has planted and continues to nurture an 8,000-square-foot moss garden in his yard.
“Above that it’s just trails and I keep them groomed with a rake because the animals like to walk through quietly,” he said. “I widened it to 2-3 feet and kept the leaves out all year long and after a period of time they started taking the trail.”


2½ million page views

For a while he baited the film “stage” with smelly meat. Then he read about scents biologists use to attract mammals and he switched to that. He buys liquid smoke by the gallon from Amazon. Bears, foxes, coyotes and other stars of the KnollsCam clips like to rub against trees that Brass has sprayed the scent on. His scenes got better and better.
“Then I got excited about it and started sharing them on YouTube,” he said.
Every story is a coronavirus story these days, even one about animal videos.
“Lately I’m getting these comments, about how beautiful they are, so much better than coronavirus news,” he said. “I’ve gotten quite a few comments about how people are anxious about all the coronavirus news.” When people find out he’s the KnollsCam creator, they often share how grateful and amazed they are at the prodigious wildlife in one of the bigger subdivisions in the county.
“Mostly, they say I’ve lived here my whole life and didn’t know all this wildlife was here,” he said.
He ticks off the species of all that wildlife: bobcat, bear, blonde coyote, black coyote, red fox, gray fox, squirrel, box turtle, snake, turkey, white-tail deer, raccoon, possum. His YouTube page has 6,760 subscribers and has racked up an astonishing 2,481,000 views, thanks in large part to big hits that have gone viral. A black coyote video generated 158,000 views. “Waterhole Wildlife” got 437,000 views. One called “A Montage of Wildlife” has been watched 624,000 times. A bobcat stalking (and catching) prey drew 900,000 views.
“I just got a really cool video” at the watering hole, he said. “It’s a young hawk that lands in the watering hole and he’s never seen his reflection before, apparently.”
Occasionally, a cable TV channel or website with a large audience will discover one of his videos and seek permission to link to it.
“The Weather channel took a bear video,” he said. “Internet news sites will ask if they can use the video or link to the video. That’s fun when you get that. It probably helps boost all this.”
With multiple cameras trigger-ready 24 hours a day, Brass gets to know some of the animals well.
“One of the things I enjoyed the most was watching the baby bobcats in different stages from kitten to little teenage bobcats, when they’re about 9-10 months old,” he said.
And then there was the romance in the woods, critter-wise.
“I do have a video of possums racing through the forest,” he said. “It was a male chasing a female during mating season making a clicking sound and they actually really got going.” The female eventually relented. “There they were together and she was tolerating him.”
Faint praise, to be sure, but on Tom Brass’s KnollsCam stage you've got to take happy endings when you get them.

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To visit Brass’s YouTube page, search for “Wildlife behind our home in Hendersonville, NC.” Tom also shows his “Serenity Moss Garden” to the public. It’s open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, May 30-31. The address is 253 Park Lane.