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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.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A dead zone?

Are there dead zones in the woods? Lonely places eschewed by mesocarnivores and larger mammals? Is the German concept of Niemandslandstreifen between territorial boundaries real, or just a fanciful notion from feudal Europe?

I wonder about these things when 109 days of camera trapping yields a measly 5 pictures -- and none with animals.

After the first two weeks and one blank picture, I convinced myself that camera trapping is a probability game, that sooner or later something interesting would walk by the camera. So I decided to leave it in place and play the waiting game.

I patiently visited this particular camera set every couple of weeks. The setting seemed good, a deer trail on a north slope, amidst oaks, cedars and firs, not far from fallen timber and beyond the chapparal. What ecologists call patchy habitat.

Back in August I dug a little hole on the trail and filled it with precious used kitty litter. Something scratched at that lure, but that week the controller batteries had failed.

That gave me hope. Then, not far from there I smelled dead meat and encountered the 2-year-old bear. More hope, but still no pictures.

Last week I renewed my efforts, and baited it with the scent patch. When I checked it a week later I found I had left the camera on the view setting. Bad karma. In SE Asia I might blame the forest spirits.

Whatever it was, I had had enough. No mammal or bird had been photographed. No picture had been taken since September 19. I packed it home thinking that bad luck and malfunction were conspiring against me.

Then I tested it, and guess what? It worked like a charm.

I'm not ready to buy into the idea of the dead zone, bad karma, or forest spirits. I think the critters were sidestepping the camera.

It's time to go back, disguise the camera, and use a bait.

The loneliness of the camera trapper is a boring topic, I know. But why should I be bored alone?

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