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Native Californian, biologist, wildlife conservation consultant, retired Smithsonian scientist, father of two daughters, grandfather of four. INTJ. Believes nature is infinitely more interesting than shopping malls. Born 100 years too late.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A prowling predator

Weekly camera trap rounds begin on Monday morning. The first camera is right next to the house on a dirt road, so I don’t normally get surprises. But at 8:21 on Thursday evening a puma came a'marching up the road. As luck would have it (expletives deleted), the camera snapped the picture before the cat was at the optimal "picture perfect" distance. The uncropped photo shows the original frame.

It's not a complete disappointment. At least I can identify the animal, and it's entirely in the frame. Last year, partial pictures of animals were driving me nuts. I missed a spectacular shot of a bear, because the camera was too slow and the flash was too bright. The image would have been stunning if the bear's nose was in the frame.

I tried to rectify the situation -- changed the camera position, adjusted the PIR sensitivity for a longer detection distance, and tuned down the flash. I also put some brush cuttings on the road to guide the traffic past the camera at an optimal angle. Then I tested the set up by strolling up the road at the speed of a bear. All of that should have improved the chances of capturing the gah-gah image of bear, and maybe puma or bobcat.

But dumb luck deals its hand without prejudice. Sometimes you get a winning shot, too.

There's a new product on the market for homebrew camera hackers that should tip the balance in favor of good fortune. It's Pixcontroller's new RF wireless motion controller board, and it works in tandem with one or more wireless motion sensors set farther down and/or up the trail. The wireless motion detector acts like a scout. When it detects a critter down the trail, it signals the PixController RF receiver controller to get the camera ready for action. This will expand that fleeting window of opportunity as animals pass the camera. (Don't tell my wife, but this new item is on my research and development list.)

Back to speculation about the puma. Who is it? Well, it's a macho looking cat, wouldn't you say? I suspect it may be the offspring of the trim female puma I have photographed three times since early December (See Dec 2006 posts: "No poodles tonight" and "The owl and the pussycats").

Four months ago she had a big-footed and slightly spotty-colored sub-adult in tow. Since then I think his body has caught up with the size of his feet, and he has become more independent.

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