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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, August 31, 2011

Showtl's Underworld, Part 2

Six hours after we left, Showtl made its first appearance.  

What a difference a month can make during the growing season.

We bumbled about looking for the underground cams.

Alders in full leaf and knee-high grass covered the landmarks we expected, and we fell back on the GPS and Audrey's cognitive map to find the underground cameras.

But showtl didn't let us down.

Our rodent made almost daily appearances, which means the site was probably located near its nest.

Only 21% of 281 exposures however contained animals. The rest were blank images.

Normally we'd blame this on moving vegetation and phantom puffs of hot air which the infra-red sensor can't distinguish from animals, but this doesn't explain false exposures in the showtl's cool burrow.

It is more likely the rodent was zipping back and forth, and the camera was often too slow to get pictures of it.  

Despite false exposures, we still got 57 images of our quarry, and what you see here are the best. 

What you don't see are the two predators lurking in the tunnel.  

They're coming soon. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Showtl's Underworld

My obsession with showtls took a new turn this summer.

We attempted our first subterranean camera trap sets.

Two hours later two cameras were positioned to capture photos of the beastie in its underworld.

The showtl's tunnel was squarely in the middle of an alder thicket, and Montana Carl announced his intention to stay clear of alder, which he claimed had taken liberties with his person ever since the first day of the workshop.

In point of fact, springy alder limbs had been goosing all of us.

Making the sets therefore fell on the shoulders of the more agile young folk, while the two codgers sat on the sidelines to kibbitz.

The first task was to find the best location.

Several cave-ins had left gaping holes, much bigger than showtl burrows, that murmured of water and mosquitos within.

"Who's gonna stick their arm down there and take some pictures of the tunnel?"

Seabass volunteered.

The pictures showed us that the tunnel was anything but straight, and passed through a morass of buried timber and roots.

In some places it was an open trench. 

Next, we had to decide which cave-in gave the best subterranean perspective.

Snow water had created a small cavern immediately inside one of them.

It was an ideal situation for a camera trap: we could stake the camera and yield right-of-way to passing showtls.

Seabass drove a 1" pipe into the bed of the subway, and lowered the cam on its mount to just above the water.

The afternoon dragged on as we fine-tuned the camera's position, but we were all fluffed up with our cleverness, and for good measure we hurriedly staked a second camera down another chute.

Then we headed back to camp for a well-deserved happy hour.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Camtrappers' rendezvous

Seabass enters the lair of the bear

Yes, sometimes you find a bear in the den, and sometimes you just look like you found a bear in the den.

Readers of Camera Trap Codger may have forgotten that only a month ago the stalwart class of 2011 deployed their final camera trap sets with remarkable derring-do.

I'm reminding you again, because this week we assembled on the north branch of the Yuba River to gather those cams.

It was a mellow late summer day, not unlike a rendezvous of mountain men.

The difference was that the trappers included three women, there were no Indians, no one bartered beaver pelts for trade goods, and there was no booze.

This latter point was an issue of some regret, as one of the ladies rather convincingly made the point that an alcoholic libation would have been an appropriate conclusion to such a productive day.

Next time.

Despite the aid of GPS we bumbled about finding our sets, but we had a good day and made a good haul.

It's going to take the Codger some time to tabulate the data and ponder the material, and I pen this post to alert you that the next few communications will highlight the results.

And you will not find all of the results here either;  some "free trappers" were working the area too.

If you do not subscribe to Nature of a Man and Camera Trapping Campus, shame on you, but be sure to check those blogs by the Codger's trainees.

Their transcendental essays and evocative photos will be well worth your time.

So stay tuned and have patience as we crank out the results.

Rancher cam traps cat chase

This just up from the Outdoor Pressroom: a cam trap in Nebraska gets a very rare picture.

Wow -- getting photos of puma with prey is rare enough, but getting them in the heat of the chase is very rare indeed.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Roadrunner hits the trail

"What the hell is that?!"

With suspicion Roadrunner centered the camouflaged box on its fovea.

"Damn, it's a camera trap violating my privacy."

"I'm outta here!"

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Two badgers

American badgers lead a solitary life, which means that most of the time they're loners.

Males and females consort briefly in the summer and early fall, and birth takes place in March and April.

The "mother family" is the most enduring social unit, but the family breaks up in the fall when the young strike out on their own.

This photo of two badgers was taken at the Chimineas Ranch on March 23.

Its hard to say what's going on.

We may be witnessing hanky-panky between consenting adults or an innocent game of "Gotcha" between siblings of last year's litter.

But the photo makes one point clear: one can learn a lot from camera trapping.

This single photo tells us that friendly social interactions take place outside of the seasonal periods of mating and family life.  

There's still a lot to learn about the ecology of Striped-face.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Striped-Face in a Bluffing Mood

Is this badger's body language telling you anything?

If you think he looks like any other badger, kinda cute and snuggly, look at the next picture.

This is the usual appearance of Striped-face when he encounters a camera trap on the trail.

The animal is composed and attentive, and you might even say he looks curious.

That's how the working badger usually looks when snapped by a camera trap.

What about the badger in the first image -- the one stiffly braced on spread legs and looking as round as a cream puff?

If you still think he looks cute and snuggly I hope you never meet this fellow.

Note that his back is up, and he seems to have raised the hair on the far-side of his body.

That grizzled badger hair so famous for shaving brushes also outlines the creature's contour and shows off its bloated appearance rather nicely.

This is the "broadside display" of a bluffing badger. It's a defensive threat that shows off the animal's size to best advantage.

For badgers it's an unusual reaction to a camera trap.

Old Striped-face may be a tough customer, but he's a rambler who strays far from his burrows, and sometimes he stumbles into hungry predators larger than himself (not to mention the occasional scary camera trap).

That's when bluffing is a good defense.


Wemmer, C. and Wilson, D.E.  1983. Structure and function of hair crests and capes in African carnivora.  In Behavior and Ecology of Mammals, edited by J.F. Eisenberg and D. Kleiman, American Society of Mammalogists, Special Publication Number 7:239-264.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Coyote gets BT Jack

The coyote caught BT Jack in mid-June, and strolled past the camera 45 minutes before midnight.

BT Jack is the black-tailed jackrabbit; that's how I abbreviate the species in our data tabulations for the Chimineas Ranch.

A 5 lb jack rabbit is a decent meal for a 30 lb coyote, and this coyote seems to have already devoured nearly half of it.

Another coyote happened by but was less composed.

And the bobcat was a bit spooky, though it didn't depart till it had sniffed the bait under the rock.

Camera trap article

Camera traps seem to be in the news these days, and here's a brief article hot off the press, thanks to Kirk.

A nice selection of photos, almost all of which are IR images.

I liked the giant anteater shot best, but wish the end of his snout wasn't out of the frame.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Striped Face, the cunning Badger

"The badger was in his hole. Stooping over, the young man shouted: "Oh, cunning striped face!  Oh, generous animal!  I wish to speak with you."
"What do you want?" said the badger, poking his head out of the hole.
"I want to find the sun's home," replied Scarface. "I want to speak with him."
"I do not know where he lives," replied the badger. "I never travel very far. Over there in the timber is the wolverine. He is always traveling around, and is of much knowledge. Maybe he can tell you."
Striped Face had a cameo role In Blackfoot Indian legend.

On the Chiminea Ranch he also plays bit parts.

He comes and goes, and rarely hangs around for long.

This badger didn't shrink from climbing a steep hill where a fermenting can of cat food beckoned.

The bait was stuffed into a cleft in the outcrop

Striped face visited the set on five occasions and left 13 images.

On his first visit he circled the rock.

It took one circuit and he discovered that the scent came from above.

Apparently he couldn't reach it.

Those stubby legs weren't equal to the task; so he went away.

A couple nights later Striped face came back.

In Blackfoot legend only the wolverine knew that the trail to the Big Water led to the sun.

This badger also seemed to know the sun's home.

Indeed, he seems to have paused a moment to watch it fading beyond the Big Water.


George Bird Grinnell, 1962. Blackfoot Lodge Tales, The Story of a Prairie People. University of Nebraska Press. [The excerpt comes from the story "Scarface, Origin of the Medicine Lodge"].

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Errant gopher

It's not a very good picture of a gopher, and I am not even sure of the species.

It could be the montane pocket gopher, but I suspect it's the common garden variety -- Botta's pocket gopher. Both occur in the area.

Yes, we are still at the Aplodontia burrow in the thicket beside the Yuba River.

I am posting the photo because camera trapping a pocket gopher is a rare event.

At night gophers do move about above ground, especially when dispersing from their natal range, or the land of their birth.

That's when the barn owls pick them off, and judging from the abundance of pocket gopher remains in owl pellets, there's a awful lot of nocturnal gopher traffic above ground.

Apparently this gopher succumbed to wanderlust too, and Bill's camera captured three images of it when it stumbled into the showtl burrow.

In the last photo it is heading in the opposite direction.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Princely Mouse

The Western jumping mouse (Zapus princeps) is a good looking rodent.

It's two-toned body trim, yellow sides, and long tail are distinctive features, and it befuddles its predators by jumping like a grasshopper.

It's the jumping mouse of the mountains, usually found along creeks and drainages. Its relative, the Pacific jumping mouse is coastal in distribution.

This fellow made an appearance at the Aplodontia burrow staked out by Bill.

My first encounter with the Western jumping mouse was in June 1962 on the Little Truckee River in the Tahoe National Forest.

School was out, and four of us, three budding biologists and a geologist escaped into the northern Sierra Nevada to do some collecting.

Here's what I wrote in my field notes:

"I set 15 traps (2 rat and 13 museum specials) . . .  in a marshy area beside the river -- I thought I might get some shrews."
"The two rat traps I set near burrows on the 'sagey' slope across the river."
"The next morning we woke up at 7:30. I picked up my traps and then ate breakfast."
"I caught 4 jumping mice -- an entirely new genus for me (Zapus)."
"I skinned them out and then we ate lunch."
"After lunch I decided to do a little cicada collecting . . ."

7:30!! What a bunch of lazy butts. I might note that we had trouble boiling the noodles the night before and didn't eat dinner until 11:00.

We might have been drinking beer, too.

Ah, the sweet days of youth.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Marten at dawn

Day was breaking when the marten caught a faint but familiar scent of squirrel and followed its nose to a old fallen red fir.

That's where it discovered the camera trap that periodically flashed in the dim light.

But the camera didn't detract it from its goal.

It soon discovered that the squirrel was deep beneath a huge splinter of sap wood. 

It squeezed down into the gap and seized the prize.

A week later a large male marten crossed the log.

Perhaps the scent of squirrel and marten still lingered.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Toxic rats

This is why rats are so fascinating -- though their body plan is similar, they aren't really all the same.

Read about toxo-rat's chemical defense here and here

It proves a point: if you are a big and slow, you better have good defenses.

Thanks to Richard in Lampang and Michael aka Moth Catcher for the links.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Class of 2011

(left to right) JR Blair (SNFC Director), Audrey Nickles, Lissa Derugin, Bill Wilson (SNFC alumnus), Chris "Codger" Wemmer, Sebastian "Seabass" Kennerknecht, and Carl "Montana" Hansen"

The class was small, but when the goal is teaching, small is beautiful.

Monday morning started with a lecture on camera trap sets, followed by a field demonstration on making a set (i.e., selecting of a site and positioning the camera).

Seabass demonstrates his set using
a DSLR and external flashes

After that, the class made their own sets and I kibbitzed.

That afternoon we started checking the camera traps set last month.

Back in June five of last year's class joined me in setting cams for the workshop.

So instead of the 4-5 cams I usually set by myself, we had 12 cams waiting for us.

We puffed our way up a hill to a log set among red firs, and we found a long series of pine marten photos waiting for us.

My old buddy Carl suggested I'd "cooked the results".

Those two photogenic martens had posed superbly, and I did lay it on rather thick as I scoped out each successive shot.

In addition to the daily routine of exploration, and setting and checking cams, we spent the evenings re-hacking one of Carl's cameras, photographing flying squirrels at a feeder, and getting the analog-digital converter to work with my new "gopher cam".

We'll talk about the latter -- a "burrow scope" for snooping in tree cavities and underground dens -- in a future post.

Carl got the Codger's "gopher cam" working. 

Later in the week we forded the North Yuba at a log jam to explore the wonders of talus and giant red firs.

"Okay, troops, tell me the size of this tree".

Earlier in the week we had measured one with a 15 foot circumference, so again I dug the tape measure out of my pack.

This one measured in at 17 feet, and the two best guesstimates were only off by a foot. 

Seabass then drew our attention to a cavity on the other side of the old veteran. 

It was a respectable cavity with a vertical hollow of unknown length.

There was enough space in there for a coyote or even a few bear cubs. 

A perfect cone of frass inside announced an infestation of wood ants, but as ants go they were friendlies, 

We all agreed it was a good place to set a camera. 

The class conferred on what kind of set to make, and settled on a Jonah set (in the whale's belly).

Lissa crawled in, set the cam, and took a self portrait. 

In a few weeks we'll have a camtrappers' rendezvous to see if anything visits the hollow in the old giant, or if the showtls passed our subterranean cams.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A camera trapping pioneer

Here's a great article about Hobart Vosburg Roberts, a camera trapping pioneer, and one that I had not encountered in my research on the topic.

Thanks to J. of CougarMagic fame for the link.