Friday, November 30, 2007
We decided to shoot down the Sacramento valley this week and stop at Point Reyes National Seashore to gather the three camera traps. My permit to camera trap there expires in January, and the redhead, who happens to be the spirit of Christmas in this family, suggested we do it now before things get too hectic.
Before heading down into the gulch, I vowed to pull the cams without pausing to view the pics.
Normally the redhead watches me with binoculars from the road, and radios the whereabouts of elk. This has attracted park visitors who ask, "Any good birds today?" or "Have you seen any elk?" Usually she signals me as they approach, and I duck out of sight like a commando.
There was only one lone bull elk in the area, and when it disappeared into the next gulch, she informed me she was retiring to the car to read.
Finding the first camera was a workout. The GPS told me I was on top of it, but it took me 15 minutes to find it 6 feet away on the other side of the thicket. It took more time to pussy-foot my way to the other camera sets, because the rains have turned the bottom of the gulch into a quagmire, and the elk have churned it up like water buffalo in a rice padi. It took a full hour and a half to collect the cams and posts.
After dinner I downloaded the pictures, and the big surprise was the clapper rail. This is actually the California clapper rail, an endangered subspecies from the San Franciso bay area.
The bird visited this muddy drainage site a week ago at 4:10 in the afternoon. This was a new camera trap set I made during my last visit over 6 weeks ago, and it was also my final desperate attempt to get more pictures of mountain beavers. (The wiley rodents seemed to have disappeared from their haunts where I photographed them back in July. More about them in a few days.)
The location is a waterlogged thicket at the base of a steep hill. I don't think this is the kind of place a birder would look for rails. Nearby in Abbott's lagoon and the backwaters of Drake's Estero there is more typical marshy habitat, but there is plenty of cover here, and the soil is deep and wet.
The only other avian visitor was a hermit thrush.
Rails feed mainly on invertebrates they probe from the mud, but small vertebrates like this shrew are said to be fair game. (See the velvety gray hair and bicolored tail -- it's another Sorex trowbridgeii.)
These were lucky pictures, because the camera is set for night time shots. Dim overcast lighting and shade had fooled the camera into thinking it was night. In five months of camera trapping this gulch, this is the only rail captured by the cameras. I am pleased.