About Me

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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.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Frazil Ice

Take a few minutes and learn about frazil ice in the Sierra Nevada.

Definitely worth viewing.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Ringtail country

Ringtail country on a winter afternoon.

You're looking at the outcrops and spires on the east side to Butte Creek Canyon not far above the roaring creek.

They also occur in the wetlands of the Sacramento Valley, but they're usually associated with rocky canyon country.

Naturalist Michael Ellis recently mentioned the ringtail's use of cabins in Bay Nature.

I've read about ringtails and prospectors' cabins many times, but so far I've found only one first hand reference.

It is in Robert Pavlik's book Norman Clyde, Legendary mountaineer of California's Sierra Nevada (Heyday Books, Berkeley, CA).

A ringtail moved into Clyde's cabin in the eastern Sierra where it indulged in nocturnal capers above Clyde's bed.

Clyde fed it outside the cabin, though apparently this wasn't necessary because the cabin was well stocked with mice.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Saltos Canyon

Saltos Canyon may have its waterfalls in January, but most of the year it's a dry canyon with a few seeps and stagnant pools.

In late September we searched the lower reaches of the canyon for water where we might place some cameras.

The only water we found were a few small pools, and yellow jackets lined the seeps like drunks in a bar.

The potability of the water is another question.

It leaves a rime when it evaporates, possibly a derivative of gypsum which is abundant there.

But few vertebrates can live without water so we continued our search for a suitable place to set a camera.

After a mile and a half the canyon opened up, and we found a pool pocked with hoof prints.

We set a cam there in the shade of the mule fat.

We returned a month later. 

Wood rats, Peromyscus, and a Heermann's kangaroo rat visited the puddles.

Though kangaroo rats and pocket mice can live on metabolic water from their food, a photo of a drinking k-rat would have been a prize.  

Black-tailed deer and cottontails also showed, but they weren't regulars.

Bobcats were more frequent visitors.

Two of them, though not together, were often snapped in a swarm of moths. 

So the bats were there too. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wiring the owl box

I just put it up and I doubt any self-respecting screech owl will move in.

Not in an owl box 40 feet from a house with a barking dog.

It's not like I had a lot of choices --  the power cord is only 60 feet long.

I attached the cam in the upper left corner of the box.

If anything uses it, I suspect it'll be a giant ninja attack squirrel.

So my challenge, besides getting up into the tree and hanging the thing, was protecting it.

I decided to shield the cam with quarter inch wire mesh, with a hole large enough for the camera's unobstructed view.

Unfortunately, a hole big enough for the camera is also big enough for a squirrel's head.

I asked the redhead to standby while I mounted it in the tree.

It was a bear getting it up there.

I strapped it on with bungie cords before bolting it in place.

"You're too old to be climbing trees", she remarked.

"You're right", I replied, "but try to you break my fall, okay?

No response.

"Hey, I'm not ready to be sitting in front of a TV tray with a comforter on my lap straining soup with my mustache."

"That may be", she said, "but don't expect me to break your fall."

Monday, January 17, 2011

Victim of the megaspider

It's frustrating when a giant spider catches your subject matter.

I can usually blame the bear guards, because that rectangular frame of spikes seems to be perfect spider habitat.

In this case however there was no bear guard.

The camera was staked among some ferns on a bank, and the spider also caught several hikers.

I can pnly conclude that the hikers were filling or caused indigestion, because the spider went away.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

You'll go far, Yorrick

Alas, poor Yorrick.

Someone used your Halloween noggin for skeet shooting.

Abandoned you with beer cans and spent shells.

Then the rains washed you down a country road.

There you caught my eye, and for a brief moment you fooled me.

I think you'll go far.

Maybe you'll roll into the Sacramento River.

And drift to the Golden Gate.

Where crabbers or fishermen will haul you in with the catch, and report you to the SFPD.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Notebooks for notekeeping

A few versions of my homemade camera trapping log, and the Moleskine notebook I use for general field notes.

New Year is time to make record books for camera trapping.

I print 4 pages of the data form in landscape format on the front and back of one piece of 8.5 x 11" paper, and fold it in half.

When I have 24 sheets ready, I stitch together 4 signatures of 6 sheets each.

Each notebook has 96 pages, each page good for one camera trap set.

Last year I filled one notebook by the end of October.

I carried on with a spare notebook I had made for practice, but the stitching was loose and I realized my craft is still in the primitive stage.

I highlight the set number when the set is closed
and  all the data fields are filled in. 

This year I made minor revisions to the data form, and decided to glue the signatures after stitching.

I'm pretty happy with the results, which look and feel like they will hold together.

I also added a title page and a ribbon to mark my page.

I've learned about this ancient art from Bibliophile's Bookbinding and Hobby Blog.

It's written by a mysterious Icelandic lady who inherited a plastics plant and binds books for recreation.

She covers her books with tanned fish skin among other things, and she has all the book binding links you need to get started.

One of my frustrations is hand-trimming the pages for the finished notebook.

An exacto knife isn't equal to the task.

The pages can end up uneven and ragged.

So I'm grinding a blade for a guillotine cutter which my neighbor Richard advises me can be bolted to the cast iron front of my 15" wood planer.

"Clamp the notebooks in a wooden press on the out feed rollers with the edge under the blade".

He says the pages will be impeccably trimmed when I crank the planer's bed upward.

I'll keep you posted on that one.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Tracking the trail boozers

The trail boozers had recently passed through.

An empty bottle of Stoopid was stuck in a stump.

A cast-off bottle like that would never drown a shrew, I thought, so maybe they're not really that stoopid.

I changed my mind a few steps later.

A bottle of Arrogant Bastard was lying on the side of the trail.

Their choice of beverages seemed to say it all.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Turds revisited

Scat found on the flume trail, October 23, 2010

Not sure of the critter that dropped this load, but it didn't look like the usual coyote and gray fox scat I am used to seeing.

Fred sniffed them with unusual interest, telling me it was not the same old stuff.

It was twisty and segmented, but I wasn't tempted to share in Fred's olfactory experience.

So I scanned the trail for other hikers and dog walkers, and discretely took the picture above.

The turds were still there yesterday, and two and half months of winter weather had prepared them for closer visual inspection.

They were filled with black and white hair.

Young and Goldman wrote that "Skunk hair has been found in puma dung throughout most of the animal's range in the United States".

That doesn't prove they were left by a puma, which often cover their scat.

So the identification as puma scat is just a guess.

The same scat 2 and a half months later.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

On camouflaged trail cams

The eyes give it away every time

"What's that thang stuck on the tree over yonder?" The cowboy asked his friend.
"Y'mean that thingmabob with the eyes?" replied Rusty.
"Yep, that's it, what the hail is it?"
"Why that's a trail cam. Some city boy musta stuck it up there." 
"Well", said the cowboy, "I think we jus' found us a new toy."

Why do manufacturers camouflage their trail cams when the lens, flash, and passive infrared (PIR) sensor windows look like an upside-down face with a toothy grimace?

Camouflage is disruptive coloration and even if the colors don't match the background it tricks the mammalian eye by breaking up the outline of the object or animal.

Trail camera users and camera trap home-brewers seem to like their cams painted in camo, and trail cam manufacturers try to satisfy the need.

But as I've said before, detecting a camo-painted trail camera is easy if the animal can smell better than it can see, and finds itself downwind of the camera.

Our good vision blinds us to a world dazzling with scent.

My point is that trail cams could be more effective in deluding visual creatures like people.

With their rectangular heads, shiny eyes, and toothy grins camouflaged trail cameras are still attention getters.

They don't fool many would-be camera thieves.

I am not suggesting that trail cam companies stop camouflaging their products, but they could make a camouflaged trail cam that is more than a designer statement.

Just put a dull finish and a disruptive pattern on the fresnel lens and flash, and find a way to disguise that glaring IR flash.

Some home brewers could also disguise their cams a bit better by putting camo tape and Sharpie pens to shiny camera parts in the case.

I said "some" because many home brewers are clever artisans, especially when it comes to faking tree bark with Liquid Nails Adhesive.

All of this got me to thinking about living camo over the holidays.

So I started collecting lichen, moss, and bark blown from the trees on the flume trail.

Decorating a cam seemed appropriately festive.

So I hot glued the plant debris to thin wood squares and velcro'd the pieces to a big old Pelican 1060 case.

The camera's eyes didn't go away, and now it kind of looks like a bearded troll with one Andy Rooney eyebrow.

That green PIR window needs to be toned down, but once that's done I think I'll set it under a pile of fallen branches.

I wonder how long it'll take for someone to steal it?

Camera trapping and self realization

Camera trapping offers recreation, physical challenge and mental exercise, not to mention education, and even varieties of spiritual revelation.

It can also usher in a deeper understanding of self and an appreciation of one's better half, as Chas Clifton of Southern Rockies Nature Blog recently discovered.

Don't worry Chas, we've all been there, and we're better men for it.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Dimming the lights

Testing the Bushnell at night.

The Bushnell Trophy is a nicely designed little trail cam.

In fact, it's so little it's actually cute.

Its 32 infra-red LEDs reach out as far as 45' to dimly reveal the skulking monster buck that deer hunters dream of.

Trail cams are designed to have considerable flash range.

Bright IR lighting however is a problem at close range, especially if the trophy you seek to photograph is a 4 to 12 inch small mammal.

I decided to try to dim the IR LEDS for close-up subjects.

I reduced the number of exposed LEDS with black electrician's tape, and walked up to the cam as it snapped pictures.  

Three variants of blocking the LEDS. 

Even with 1/3rd of the LEDs blocked my image was overexposed at a distance of about 8 feet.

The bright central area is apparently designed
for photographing animals in the distance.

I moved the camera to the shed and made an obstacle course for the deer mice that dance and relieve themselves on the work bench every night,.

It's like a moonless night in there, and it smells like a rodent latrine, not that that has anything to do with the subject.

Covering the flash with opaque electrican's and camo tape dimmed the flash so much that the mice looked like shadows in the shadows.

The home-made filter with holes punched for the
ambient light sensor and motion indicator.
Even so, there was an annoying bright spot in the center of the photos.

Next I made a filter to diffuse the light.

I covered a piece of fly screen with translucent white plastic on one side and white closed-cell plastic tissue (the kind used for packaging) on the other side.

This dimmed and diffused the light sufficiently to see what the mice were actually doing -- they were dancing a jig.

The fixed focal length of the plastic lens doesn't give a sharp image by any means, but it's good enough for closeup pictures between 2-3 feet.

If I can figure out how to edit the footage I'll show you some video of the mice in the obstacle course.