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.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

St Elmo's deer

Occasionally you encounter a magical creature . . . like this black-tailed deer with an aura.

Was this yearling imbued with an awesome charisma?

Was it a case of St Elmo's fire dancing over its charged spikes?

Or was it just a spider that crapped on the window over my camera trap's lens?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Bobcat food

This is the area where the bobcat passed a few days ago.

Turkeys are an alien (=introduced) species in California, but bobcats and other predators have accepted them without prejudice.

The cam took 0.9 pictures/day here in 12 days, but the majority of the traffic was from this flock of hen turkeys and a couple of squirrels.

When I scoped these pictures out on the trail it was a ho-hum moment.

A couple years ago I would have moved the camera to a new location.

But sooner or later something less common will make an appearance.

So I'll just wait it out a bit longer.

I am not growing more patient. It's just that I have enough cameras now to work several locations at a time.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Just another bobcat

This one came down a deer trail about 100 yards from the house at 4:35 in the afternoon.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Nelson and Goldman in Mexico

[Edward Alphonso Goldman in mid career,
photo credit: Biological Survey Unit, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center]

Biological Investigations in Mexico was Edward Alphonso Goldman’s magnum opus.

476 pages of itinerary, habitat descriptions, species lists, black and white photos, and a folding map riddled with travel routes.

I discovered the book when I was an undergraduate restless to cross the border and savor field work.

It’s not a travelogue you’d find in a bookstore, but a snapshot of rural Mexico.

“Nahuatzen (8700 feet) October 8-15, 1892. . . . A notable resident of the pine forest was the imperial ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephilus imperialis), which appeared to be common.

“Santa Rosa (San Pedro Martir Mountains) (7000 feet): July 24-25, 1905. . . . During our stay the carcass of a burro in Santa Rosa Valley attracted about a dozen California Condors, and we were able to obtain a specimen in addition to one taken in La Grulla. Others of these great birds were seen, and they appeared to be rather common in that part of the mountains.”

It all started in 1891 when naturalist Edward Nelson, then 36 years, hired the 18-year-old Goldman.

Nelson needed an assistant to collect zoological specimens for the Division of Economic Ornithology and Mammalogy, the forerunner of the US Biological Survey.

Their charge was “to traverse a central section of the Republic” of Mexico.

They landed at the Pacific port of Manzanillo in January 24, 1892, and two days later they trapped a large narrow-headed tree-climbing rat in the tropical deciduous forest skirting the port.

Hodomys alleni was their first new species.

If it was that easy to discover new species, to hell with limiting themselves to central Mexico.

They recommended expanding the geographical scope. Ah, sweet youth and ambition.

For the next 8 years they immersed themselves in Old Mexico.

Conveyed by rail, steamer, schooner, mule train, or horse car they went up and down and back and forth across the country. They trekked the highlands of Guatemala.

They ate beans and tortillas, as well as the game they shot.

There were periodic returns to the States and the occasional rendezvous with colleagues, but when they weren’t on the move they were collecting and preparing scientific specimens. Over 30,000.

Field people tell really good stories. A host of cross-cultural phenomena punctuate travel abroad. Ten years would supply you with a lifetime of outrageously hairy tales.

So it makes you wonder.

Why didn't Nelson and Goldman share their adventures with a wider readership?

Was the US government interested only in Mexico’s wildlife? Or was zoological collecting a cover for gathering intelligence?

In other words, was their expanded geographic scope of interest driven by more than specimens?

However you look at it, the benefits had to outweigh the risks, which were considerable when the two young naturalists arrived.

Banditry, for example, was a way of life. The Rurales – Mexico’s version of the Texas Rangers were thinly spread across the country, but doing their best to knock the heads of banditos together.

[Pancho Villa, Wikipedia]

The Mexican revolution was brewing, and Doroteo Arango Ar├ímbula, otherwise known as Pancho Villa was beginning his notorious career. Only two years earlier he had been arrested for theft of mules and arms. 

Despite letters of introduction, itinerant naturalists like Nelson and Goldman have a way of raising the eyebrows of public officials and the military. 

When I think of them I hear faint mariachi music, and rippling in the heat waves I see mounted men in sombreros and panchos -- interrogating Nelson and Goldman . . .

”Trapping ratones!” Chuckles the Comandante as he turns to the troops.

“Ai muchachos”, he announces lustily, “did you hear that? The Greeengos want our ratonnnnnes.”

Wild laughter and stirring horses.

“Ahora, mi amigo, how about you tell el comandante why you are really here?“

Unfortunately, we don't know the stories, and if ever they were recorded, they might be stamped Top Secret -- and  forgotten in a vault somewhere in Washington D.C. 


Goldman, E.A. 1951. Biological investigations in Mexico. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections 115 (Publication 4017), 476 pp.

Howell, Jeff. Pancho Villa, Outlaw, Hero, Patriot, Cutthroat: Evaluating the Many Faces of 
(a fascinating article)

Thanks to Dr. Al ("Alfredo") Gardner, a well-seasoned naturalist-traveler with many tales to tell, for providing the US Biological Survey (USFWS) photos.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A pair of song dogs

[She's leading, he's following.]

A pair of coyotes passed the camera on the morning of December 31st. Though they were moving away from the camera, we were grateful nonetheless.

Judging from the number of turds on it, this a one hot coyote route.

We gathered a couple handsful of the fur-packed goodies back in December and made a false latrine right where the male coyote is pausing in the picture above.

During the previous period the latrine didn't slow them down at all. The camera made 13 exposures in 41 days, and not a single one had an animal in it.

Passing coyotes were probably out of sight by the time the camera fired up and shuttered (about 3.5 seconds).

Notice that they are staying close together. The mating season (January-March) is close at hand.

You can also see their tail glands quite well -- those are the black spots on the base of the tail.

A pair of coyotes on the last day of the year . . . could this be a harbinger of better coyote luck next year?

[The dog trot continues.]

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Fred's nocturnal activities

[11:34PM--worrying my boot in front of his crate]

It was time to set a camera trap in the garage.

Fred seems to spend a lot of time playing instead of sleeping.

The other morning, for example, the floor was littered with wall insulation.  

None of the 34 pictures showed him sleeping in his crate. He slept on the rubber pad after midnight.

But the position of my boot changed throughout the night.

Here are a few pictures:

[3:28AM: apparently playing with the boot again]

[7:19AM: noticing the camera trap]

[7:19AM--pondering the camera trap]

[7:20AM--waiting for me to open the door]

I'll be getting a larger crate soon, and will start locking him in it for the night.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Camera trapped hikers

I believe hikers are often better behaved around camera traps than other folks who wander the woods.

I don't have any data to support that statement, but these photos show folks who didn't even walk up and peer into the camera, as they often do. They would have to be blind to miss them.

It was the week of Christmas. That might have had something to do with it.

We pulled the cam on the trail where mother and son (or daughter) passed, but left the other one, which is an active game trail.

I hope I'm not pushing my luck.

Monday, January 19, 2009

On aquariums and PIR sensors

Will a PIR sensor respond to infrared energy underwater?

I attempted to answer this question today by holding a camera trap against an aquarium, and submerging my arm into the water.

The water was room temperature, considerably less than a codger's body temperature.

The sensor light did NOT respond to my submerged moving arm.

This tells me that a submersible camera trap will have to rely on a trigger based on something other than infrared detection.

The only aquatic mammals we have out here are beavers, muskrats, the water vole, two species of water shrews, otter and mink. There are a pile of diving ducks, waders, and the water ouzel.

I am assuming that even with well insulated coats and plumages, all of these warm-blooded creatures would still give off infrared energy.

If only there were a controller board that allowed alternative trigger mechanisms -- like photoelectric beams.

It looks like I won't be making a cheap submersible camera trap very soon.

But I'm not ready to give up the idea.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Cat-licking deer

Would someone out there please lick their cat and tell me what it is like?

The redhead thinks maybe they're salty like a snack food.

I'm grateful to our neighbor Dan who took these pictures in front of his house. As you can see, there is more than one cat, and more than one deer.

In the old days, a graduate student could publish a note on such an observation in the Journal of Mammalogy.

"Feliphilia in male black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus)"

Those days are long gone.

That doesn't mean there isn't a biological explanation for deer that lick cats.

It's just that nowadays cat-licking deer is a subject more suitable for the blogosphere than scholarly journals.

That is, as long as you don't drag it out.

With that, I've said enough.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

New family member

Fred is our new family member.

His mother, Roxie, who lives up the road, is a border collie. I pay her visits and know her well.

His father is a black lab, we think.

Roxie wasn't supposed to get pregnant, but you know how it is these days.

I visited Fred and his 6 siblings for the past week and a half--observing and testing their personality traits. Then we played.

There's nothing like a pile of puppies on your chest and puppy breath.

I decided I wanted a female. We are used to women in this family.

But Fred liked me more than the other pups. He wanted to chew my ears.

While the other pups slept or horsed around, he followed me and looked at me with deep admiration. Codgers aren't used to that.

So Fred picked me.

Yesterday I took him for his first walk, 2-miles -- a bit long for a seven-week pup, but he was at my heels the whole time.

I have great plans for Fred, so you'll be hearing more about him.

Thanks, Brenda and Tom. You're great neighbors.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Mountain lion research in the news

(Michael Macor / The Chronicle)

The feature article in last Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle was about a research project on mountain lions. The University of California study, which you may read about here is taking place in the Santa Cruz mountains.

They're using camera traps, too.

I squandered many months of my youth roaming the hills there.

I saw a lot of woodpeckers, but I never saw a mountain lion. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

On the beat

Bobcats seem to be common in Marin County's coastal scrub and forest edge where we got these photos.

Unfortunately, the cam was a wee bit slow getting this second photo as the cat continued up the trail.

This cat looks different, but the location is only about 100 yards away.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Camera trap pachouli

Recently I made some adjustable aluminum and wood camera mounts for free-standing posts.

I use these 5/8" square tube posts and the sliding mounts when trees are sparse or unsuitable for attaching the camera.

I'd been admiring my camo paint job for several days, but noticed they still smelled of paint.

This was unsatisfactory. They would be a beacon of foreign scent to critters in the woods, and I have to use them next week.

So I dried them next to the wood burning stove. That helped, but I could still smell the paint.

Well, I was shredding brush today when I got a briliant idea: I decided to make some "camera trap pachouli".

I cut a bay sapling and fed it to the shredder. Then I added the Christmas tree (Douglas fir).

I filled a couple of plastic bags with the resulting potent smelling "pachouli" and buried the oven-dried camera mounts inside.

They have 4 days to marinate; then I'll use them.

Will the pachouli mask the scent of the paint?

I don't know.

But I felt very clever doing it.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Texas ocelots caught on cam


News flash from the Outdoor Pressroom-- ocelots in Texas.

Read the full article here.

Proof once again that trail cams are far less scary than people.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Face Book Face

Here's a real life caricature of a yearling white-tail.

It's a camera trap shot taken in West Virginia by my good friend and native Montanan Carl Hansen.

Carl's a photographer, and he used to travel with me in SE Asia.

He documented our field work with excellent photos, especially candid photos.

He took a lot of pictures of me running around with an insect net.

In my less active moments his pictures showed me looking a bit like this deer.

Being playfully inclined, I decided to photograph Carl's activities.

He was fond of wearing rather unusual field garb, and that would have sufficed.

But those pictures were already on the internet.

So I settled for taking pictures of him only when he was sleeping in broad daylight.

In truth, we all slept in broad daylight. It was hard to sleep at night in a pool of sweat under an insect net.

Yea verily we cat-napped by day. We nodded off to jet lag, trains lulled us into dreamy slumber, and heavy rice and curry lunches knocked us out.

But I staved off Morpheus longer than Carl, and got the pictures.

He never knew it till we got home and the film was developed.

Those were good times.

And we're still good friends, or he wouldn't have sent me this photo.

Carl's going to retire in just a few days.


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Dinner in the tall grass

[The leftovers of a coot dinner, Llano Seco, Butte County]

This was NOT a case of "death in the tall grass". 

The remains were next to an access road along a dike next to a canal of flowing water.

I believe the coot was killed somewhere nearby. The predator plucked it and ate it here.

The predator is unknown.

It could have been a raccoon, possum, otter, or mink . . . or a coyote or bobcat.

I'm ruling out raptors, because I would expect them to drag the prey into the open or fly with it to a roost.

Llano Seco is one of the smaller components of the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex, but it's the nearest (33 miles) to our house.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

2008 annual report

A few words to wrap up camera trapping in '08.

First, I expanded my home range, which means I made 75 camera trap sets in three states.

Most were in California (Butte, Napa, Yuba, San Mateo, and San Luis Obispo Counties), several were in New Mexico (Mora County), and one was in Virginia (Arlington County).

The yield was 2488 animal photos. The majority (2371 photos) were of  32 species of mammals. (I am not certain about my identifications of mice and shrews, so the species estimate is conservative.)

These statistics have nothing to do with relative abundance, and if anything, have more to do with the habitats I have chosen to set the cameras.

I added several new mammals to my species list: desert cottontail, white-throated wood rat, Douglas squirrel, Allen chipmunk, northern flying squirrel, Heermann's kangaroo rat, beaver, American marten, elk and feral pigs.

Bigfoot continues to elude and play tricks on me, like running in front of the camera and giving me blank images. I am convinced they have a sense of humor, but one of these days I am going to trick their butts.  

Two observations got me jumping: gray foxes carrying recently caught wood rats at Rich and my cams in Napa County, and black bears dragging nesting material into their den at the Wind River Ranch.

The 21 species of birds were incidentals. I wasn't looking for them.

It's hard to get good pictures of small birds with these cameras, and I just haven't spent enough looking for raptor roosts. 

Nonetheless, little birds just show up, and their variety makes camera trapping more interesting.

The bird thrills were the pileated woodpecker, blue grouse, and the bathing Cooper's hawk and screech owl.

My new MO was camera trapping with fellow codgers. This was the upshot of a little workshop with some old college buddies I did here a year ago.

As a result, Reno Taini reintroduced me to the wilds of the coast range in San Mateo county, while Rich Tenaza opened the gates to the Cleary Reserve in Napa County.  

Brian Miller led me to the bears den at the Wind River Ranch in New Mexico. I can't say enough to thank Brian and Carina for their hospitality to Dave Rentz and me last September.   

In June we visited Greg McMillan on his splendid ranch in San Luis Obispo County. Greg  treated us just like family. Not only did he cart us to the springs on his property to set cams, but he secured permission to camera trap on his neighbor's spread.  When we couldn't align our schedules he collected the cams and mailed them to me. I photographed more species there than any other locations. Thanks, Greg.

I also want to thank Etienne BensonMickie Enkoji, and Douglas Fox for three popular articles on my camera trapping activities. The articles generated food for thought about ethics and interpretation of animal behavior. 

Plus the publicity boosted blog readership. I'm self motivated when it comes to camera trapping, but I can't deny that its nice to hear from folks too.   

Thanks for your interest.

Several whacky new projects are cooking, so stay tuned. One of these days you will see the Sonoma Tree Mouse disporting itself on its arboreal midden of food scraps or a tree climbing mountain beaver pruning alder twigs in the high Sierra.