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Native Californian, biologist, wildlife conservation consultant, retired Smithsonian scientist, father of two daughters, grandfather of 4 small primates. INTJ. Believes nature is infinitely more interesting than shopping malls. Born 100 years too late.

Monday, May 7, 2007

The snag of fleeting promise

The snag looks promising, wouldnt you agree? As soon as I saw it I thought of small owls or large woodpeckers. So the next day I trundled down the hill with my rucksack filled with sections of a mounting pole, nylon cord, camera, and tool kit. I staked the camera about 6 feet away from the cavity so the sensor would monitor a large area.

It rained that night, but I got one picture. I zoomed in on the LCD, and Whooppeee -- it was a saw-what owl! A new subject to camera trap.

The image was trashed by a drop of water, but I was buoyed by my discovery and moved into action. "Don't bother changing memory sticks", I told myself. "Be patient. In one more day you can savor a whole series of owl shots."

I moved the camera closer to the cavity and messed around for a half hour getting the sensor perfecty aligned. I was feeling the thrill of the camera trapper's chase. Envision the scenario, decide on the optimal angle and distance, double check all the settings, then study the camera's position from all the angles. When I was finished I marched up the hill and felt nice ("like sugar and spice"). The happy prospect of finding a new species does that to you.

The next afternoon I lowered the cam and found . . . WAAHHH! -- 141 pictures! I clicked through a dozen pics of the snag, but the absence of owls didn't worry me. I knew that the nesting screech owls often come and go before the shutter releases--which accounts for empty frames. Then I got home, and found only three images of an animal.

The snag was a high rise for deer mice. Apparently the opening of the nest cavity connected to an "elevator shaft" all the way to the ground. The mice climbed past the nest hole all night long, and triggered the camera on average every minute and 18 seconds.

I consoled myself with the good fortune of getting one picture of a saw-whet owl, and pulled down the camera set. A half hour later I found another promising snag -- a butt-rotted oak with a large den opening at the base. You'll be hearing from me soon.


Owlman said...

Hey Chris
I've been looking at the back of this owl that you are calling a "Saw- whet" and although I hope I'm wrong it looks more like a Screech owl to me. I'm looking at the markings on the feathers as well as what appears to be small "ear" feather tufts. Did you get any frontal shots? I have seen a few Western Screech owls with the rusty brown feathers similar to Eastern SO's.

Camera Trap Codger said...

This is a long overdue response, but Pam Rasmussen said the same thing. I accept your esteemed opinions.