Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Back on the mountain -- part 2
The second camera trap set had nothing to offer in the way of scenery. It was just a pile of hairy turds on a trail, signaling that a large carnivore had passed this way. Carnivores keep tabs on one another by sniffing each other's scat. It's a hell of a way to manage one's social affairs, but it works.
So, 3 weeks ago we all agreed that the scat pile would make a good camera trap set.
As to the species of carnivore, we were uncertain. No one in our group was game enough to take the analysis farther than the sniff test. It was either a small bore mountain lion or a large bore coyote. Now, a young buck mammalogist with a six pack -- you know, a graduate student -- might have settled this question for us, and I would have had a better story to tell. But that wasn't the case.
Those weathered old turds, however, had lost their tang. So I doctored their bouquet with a few drops of aged crab stinkum, and a twig dipped in artificial civetone.
So much for background.
We disarmed the cam and called up the data. 137 photos! Not bad.
The bobcat was the first visitor. The scent cocktail had worked. The cat came back 3 nights in a row, and most of the 14 pictures were of it sniffing the scat or grimacing with the "flehmen face".
A gray fox appeared only thirteen minutes after the cat's last visit. It left only two partial images of its arched tail bristling like a bottlebrush: a sure sign that it was pumping adrenalin. It must have smelled the cat's recent presence, pranced about with that air of defensive bravado, and then got the hell out of Dodge City.
Next was a long string of blank daytime pictures caused by convection or 'hot air puffs'. A steller's jay and a junco were the only daytime visitors.
A more confident fox returned six nights later. After scent rolling in the turds, it cocked its leg and spritzed. We got 21 photos of foxes, and one photo of a pair together. They visited the set 15 times.
We also got two partial pictures of a striped skunk, but what really got our attention was the bear. It showed up on the 4th night, 2 hours past midnight, fresh from its bath.
Whether it had noticed the turds, I can't say, but it definitely noticed the camera and approached it boldly. This is not an image I want to see while in my sleeping bag.
Over a period of 3 minutes the camera had snapped 4 pictures of the bear, and the camera hadn't been touched.
Rich was thrilled with the pictures, especially the bear. It was the first time he'd checked a camera trap-line, and I'm sure he is pleased with his recent purchase of parts for 7 home brew camera traps.
In high spirits we headed for the next cameras.
Rich: "Two cameras and seven species!"
"This is quite a place", I reflected, "and these Napa county bears are kinder and gentler than those rowdies up in Butte county."
(There are three more cameras to go, so stay tuned for the next installment -- part 3).