About Me

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Native Californian, biologist, wildlife conservation consultant, retired Smithsonian scientist, father of two daughters, grandfather of four. INTJ. Believes nature is infinitely more interesting than shopping malls. Born 100 years too late.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Irresistable can in the ditch

Once you punch a few holes in the can, the aging process begins.

After a few warm days the mackerel becomes an even more powerful attraction to carnivores.

The first yodel dog (above) appeared 5 days after Craig staked the can, and there were 8 more visits over the next 23 days.

A pair of coyotes, perhaps the residents, passed by without approaching the sample closely.

The others were apparently singletons/transients who sniffed deeply of the brewing fish,

and scratched at the soil.

And at least one clever coyote tried to lift the can off of the rebar stake.

There's no telling how many different yotes we photographed, but it is clear that the gully is used by more than the pair.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Fred's First Birthday

We celebrated Fred's birthday the day before Thanksgiving.

The g'kids made him a hat, which he tolerated for the photo op.

Then we lit a candle in his dog food and sang Happy Birthday.

The only thing he enjoyed was the dog food -- a junk food treat rather than his usual dried chow.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Burrowing owl at the badger dig

On November 1st at 6:43 AM the burrowing owl made its only appearance -- ten days after we set the camera.

It immediately crept down into the burrow entrance where the camera captured images of its speckled interscapular and wing feathers.

Perhaps this assured the bird that nothing predacious was lurking below, because it spent the next 10 minutes above ground posing for pictures.

In my undergrad years I  was quite taken with burrowing owls.

Their table scraps -- pellets, kangaroo rat legs,  and rodent skulls -- decorated the dashboard of my car,  mementos of good trips to the charming desolation of San Benito County.

According to Hans Peeter's book, Field Guide to Owls of California and the West (UC Press) burrowing owls decorate their nests and burrow entrances with chunks of cow flops and road apples.

Another endearing trait.

We'll be on the lookout for breeding burrowing owls in the spring.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Brawl at the badger dig

Set 305: a badger dig in the grassland.

There are several possibilities of course, but when you set a cam at a badger dig you are hoping for a badger.

Badger diggings are common in grassland at Chimineas, because California ground squirrels are abundant.

Set 305 was a ground squirrel burrow that seemed to have been enlarged by a badger.

Craig notes that big clods of dirt indicate that the digger is a badger, rather than a ground squirrel, whose excavation equipment is much smaller.

So we staked a camera next to the burrow, and knowing that diurnal ground squirrels could fill a card in a few days, we set it for night pictures only.

As we viewed the pictures last week, it was apparent that mice outnumbered badgers.

In fact there were no badgers, and less than one out of 3 pictures had an animal in it.

California pocket mice (Chaetodipus californicus) were the most common visitors, and had no doubt caused the false triggers.

Most of the pictures were presumably of one mouse puttering around the burrow tailings and entrance.

One expects small mice to live in small burrows, so my assumption is that this one lived nearby and was foraging for seeds in the exposed soil of the ground squirrel nest.

But it could have had a sub-burrow somewhere within the ground squirrel tunnel.

A few frames later revealed that an intruder had brazenly entered the resident's territory.

For its cheekiness it was paying the price.

The brawlers were locked in mortal combat.

They broke apart and faced off.

At that point the resident retreated to the burrow, and it seemed to be over.

But a few moments later they were at it again, this time boxing.

In the final frame the apparent winner watched the vanquished preparing to retreat into the forest of grass.

The brawl had lasted a little more than a minute.

Victory is sweet.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Chimineas in November

View from set 319

Just back last night from the Chimineas Ranch, and at the moment am downloading the latest photos.

View from set 318

An excellent though brief trip.

We were joined by Randomtruth, and talked camera trapping and wildlife practically nonstop.

RT also brought a camera trappers toy -- a plumber's cam, which we used to peer down a few burrows.

The LED encountered something you don't often find in pipes and drains -- dust.

Scoping a burrow with the plumber's cam.

And thus we found another project, how to make the plumber's cam more burrow-friendly.

On finding that a few cameras filled their memory cards with false triggers ... well, we sang the camera trapper's blues.

Nonetheless we got some interesting photos and added another species to the list, which you'll see in a few days, if not sooner.

At the end of two full days we managed to set 12 cams, with four more to go this week when Craig returns to the ranch.

And oh yes, Fred proved that he has a powerful nose for antlers, even if they are hanging on a wall and attached to a skull.

Many thanks to RT for help and good company, and to Kim and the Redhead for cooking the apple/berry pie and beef stew. We ate well!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Leaping coyote

Camera traps occasionally get pictures of coyotes in flight, but usually not like this.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Gully bear

The bear came up the gully.

And paused to sniff.

It didn't take him (or her) long to realize the smell was coming from under the log or rock.

So he pulled it away, and found it wasn't edible.

When he encountered the camera, he sniffed but didn't bother it.

Then he continued up the gully and was gone.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Coyote beautiful

Whoever came up with "coyote ugly" never saw this aristocratic face.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Message from Tigerland

"The mango tree in which I sat and photographed this tiger in 1978 was in the Ministerguthi nallah about 2 km from Bandipur village, where I had established my base camp."
AJT Johnsingh

Drudgery makes the mind fly.

Tedious homeowner rituals send my thoughts sailing, and often they settle somewhere East of Suez to dwell on old friends and places, once so familiar, now far away and changed by time.

A recent message from A.J.T. Johnsingh, who has been traipsing through Indian jungles since boyhood -- reassured me that this old friend still lives an adventurous life.

AJT Johnsingh in Eravikulum National Park, Kerala, India

He shared these photos and wrote, "On 4th November early in the morning I was walking in Sigur Range (east of Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary) with four colleagues along a path that parallels the Moyar river.

"Lying and facing away, as we found her."

"We saw a tigress resting on the path about 20 m away, and stopped to observe and photograph."

"She became suspicious of our presence and was about to stand up."

"She had two cubs about the size of domestic cats that were playing behind a bush."

"Standing and growling at us before bounding away"

"When the tigress growled at us, the cubs in confusion almost ran towards us."

Seems we both still get our jollies getting surprises in the woods.

Johnsingh has logged years in the jungle studying large Indian mammals, has encountered elephants, gaur and tigers at close range, and owes his survival to keen senses, quick reflexes, and good jungle lore.

The young post-doctoral fellow who studied radio-telemetry at the National Zoo's Conservation & Research Center in the late 1970s grew into a senior wildlifer and an icon of jungle savvy admired by the younger generation.

We were both devotees of Jim Corbett's books about life in the Indian jungles, and when Johnsingh finished his postdoc I confessed that someday I wanted to see Corbett's old haunts -- and trek the Rudraprayag pilgrim trail together, where the famous man-eating leopard snatched sleepers from a crowded waystation without detection.

Johnsingh welcomed the prospect, but I never found the time to break free.

The good news is that my friend did go to see Corbett's haunts, and wrote a book about his adventures -- On Jim Corbett's Trail and Other Tales from Tree Tops.

Readers of Corbett can't help but wonder what if anything remains of the intimate places he described so well.

Read Johnsingh's book and you'll find out.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Old men and old machines

"I've got a log splitter that'll split 'em sideways."

Childhood friend and co-codger Paul was waxing bragadocious about his Lickity-Log-Splitter -- the first of its kind and according to Paul, the Cadillac of log splitters.

Clayton Brukner patented the Lickity Log Splitter, with its stationary wedge and hydraulic platen, in 1959 when he was head of the Waco Aircraft Company of Troy, Ohio.

Brukner's mechanical inclination and production smarts came from a childhood of wandering around his daddy's workplace -- farm equipment factories in the midwest.

A self taught mechanical engineer, he drifted from thresher construction to aircraft assembly, and after WWI founded the Advance Aircraft Company with his friend Elwood James Junkin.

Brukner wrote that "My aircraft engineering background taught me to employ properly heat treated steels in the design of the machine (i.e., the Lickity Log Splitter), with the result that a machine weighing slightly over 500 lbs. is capable of a 36,000 lb. force if you can log that will require it."

Last Thursday Paul came rolling in with the Lickity Log Splitter on his flat bed trailer, and it looked more like a piece of wreckage with paint-eczema than a Cadillac.

The old dinosaur needed a snort of ether to fire up, but my how it worked!

It was soon splitting stumps with a terrible roaring vengeance.

"Don't put your hands on the ends." cautioned Paul as I dropped a stump onto the rail.

"A laborer lost his hand between the wedge and a log."

The din of machinery sounds like boots and saddles to tinkerers, and in no time neighbor Richard came putting down the driveway on his own antique, a vintage Honda 90 trail bike.

It was good timing, because we soon discovered that most of the stumps were 3 inches longer than Lickity Splitter's throat.

No amount of sledging made them fit.

Paul removed the steel stop that backed the wedge.

"It needs to be 3 and a quarter inches shorter."

Richard carried it off on his motorbike with Fred in tow.

So where did Paul find his yellow relic?

It was in a weedy lot in Carmel, California, an eyesore to some but a clear statement about Yankee thrift.

It wasn't for sale, and it didn't work, but the owner didn't mind chatting.

The splitter had seen many good years, and when the state widened Route 1 ("the coast highway") in the 70s, they felled the old eucalyptus aisle, and the Likity Splitter reduced a lot of very big stumps to firewood.

Paul finally talked the owner into parting with the machine, hauled it to Scotts Valley, and got it working, though he still laments the $100 dollars he paid for a new gas tank.

"I just didn't want to fool around making one out of parts."

When Richard came down the driveway he delivered the original part intact and a new and shorter wedge stop he had just welded from his own scrap.

"I didn't want to cut the original piece, so now you have two."

We were back in business.

Twenty-four hours later we had split and stacked a cord and a half of black oak.

Codgers can be pretty helpful when the work is done with big old machines.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Gully cams -- a self portrait

Leaving with high hope, an unintentional self portrait.

Self portraits are inevitable when your controller's dip switches are set to shoot around the clock. 

(It doesn't happen when the camera is set to take night photos -- unless you work at night.)

So, unless you sneak away or creep up to your camera trap there's a good chance it will take your picture.

I regard my own self portraits as collateral damage and usually delete them, but this one of Craig retreating from set 301 almost has painterly qualities. 

As he walked away the camera took a sequence of 14 pictures, and this one just stood out.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Gully Cams

A Western screech owl perches near the camera 
but at the edge of the frame where there was no eye shine.

Unless there's a visible bait, sound lure, or water you don't expect owls to come to camera traps. 

Craig set a couple of cameras in or near gullies, which many mammals use as travel lanes.  

He used a punctured can of mackerel under a rock as bait, and a couple of scent lures, none of which should attract owls.

The surprise was that an owl visited each camera. 

Western screech owl faces a gully camera. Picture was cropped, 
but bird was close to the center of the frame, thus the eye shine.

You can't rule out the possibility that they were attracted to rodents attracted to the bait. 

Second photo of the owl, after retreating. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Gearing up

A mix of old and new camera traps ready for the field.
Large cases contain 2D-cells as backup power; 
small cases contain 4 AA cells as backup power.

I've been gearing up to deploy additional cams at the Chimineas Ranch and Marin County.

Seven camera traps were out of order, and parts for 5 additional units had been accumulating dust and dog hair for several months.

When I started home-brewing my own camera traps I often encountered problems, and I always thought it was due to some technical failure beyond my limited knowledge of electronics. 

The problem was almost always due to dying or dead batteries in the camera or controller. 

So I got in the habit of using the multimeter, and when something goes wrong the first thing I check are the batteries. 

Weak batteries however were not the problem in these cameras.

The easiest fix only required tweaking.

It was a case of lens impotence.

The lens would struggle to extend while grinding noisily for several seconds, and then it would suddenly appear.

By then of course the animal that triggered the camera was long gone.   

All it needed was tough love. 

Believe it or not, you can fix a jammed lens motor by slamming the camera in your hand while the lens gear is grinding. 

More often however, finding what doesn't work requires fairly simple trouble shooting.

Test the camera with a functional controller,  and vice versa until you know what component has failed.  

Then test the wired circuits for continuity.

Very often there is a short, a solder contact has broken, or a wire has been pinched. 

I repaired 4 of the units by replacing controllers or rewiring the cameras, built 5 new units with new Sony s600s and YetiCam controllers, and laid one camera to rest -- a source of spare parts.  

Fixing a camera makes you feel pretty good.

Sometimes you even hear trumpets blaring that familiar theme from Rocky.  

Monday, November 9, 2009

Sonoma puma

These photos were taken by Rod Jackson on November 2.

It was a little past 12:30 AM when the cat walked past the camera on a farm in Sonoma County. 

Rod directs the  Snow Leopard Conservancy, and is an old hand at camera trapping. 

He has relied on remote camera technology to census snow leopards in the mountain wilds of Asia for three decades. 

He also tests new camera traps near the conservancy's headquarters in Sonoma County.

This particular one was a Sony s600 with a YetiCam controller.

There is a hint of spots on the coat in the upper photo. 

According to Logan and Sweanor, the dappled coat usually disappears by the time the cats reach 2 years of age, but faint markings may persist on the legs until 30 months.

Many thanks for sharing these images, Rod. 


Logan, K.A. and L.L. Sweanor. 2001. Desert Puma, evolutionary ecology and conservation of an enduring carnivore. Island Press, Washington, D.C.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Gray fox's co-napper

I had missed it completely.

The napping tarantula hanging from the wall of the sandstone grotto.

Behind the sleepy gray fox.

My fellow camera trapper and Cal Fish & Game biologist Craig Fiehler pointed it out to me. 

It seems the spider joined the fox in its high noon siesta.

It just hung there peacefully for at least a half hour.

Just wanted to pointed it out. 

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Trail Camera Curriculum

It's time for an update of Dawn Tanner's school trail camera project I wrote about a few months ago.

Dawn's teaching aid has now been published. 

"Taking Action Opportunities -- connecting kids to wildlife with trail cameras" is a 74 page 12-lesson guide with a DVD.  

It is designed to "help teachers use trail cameras in schoolyards and protected areas to connect students to habitat loss and landscape fragmentation issues and empower environmentally responsible behavior."  

The target classes are elementary and middle schools. 

This is a step-by-step guide for teachers, who also receive a USB drive with the files they need for the lessons, and camera trap photo from three protected areas.

It starts with the simple fun stuff -- learning how to scout and identify animal sign, and then how to set trail cameras in school yards. 

The students then make predictions about which species of mammals will be found in the school yard.

When the photos start to roll in they identify the species and compare their findings with their predictions. 

Compiling data comes next, and that leads to the use of spreadsheets to graph the results. 

Thus they gain an understanding of activity cycles, species differences in the duration of feeding bouts, etc. 

In the classroom they also study dietary adaptations by examining skulls of camera trapped species. 
Camera trap findings are related to habitat. 

The kids learn to use Google Earth to compare satellite imagery of their school yard with protected areas in the state and abroad.

The DVD introduces the teachers and students to three Minnesota scientists who use camera traps to study wildlife -- Ron Moen who studies Canada lynx in Minnesota, Dave Smith who studies tigers in Asia, and Hadas Kushnir who studies lion-human conflict in Tanzania.  
Appendices supplement how-to information found throughout the manual, and include a student opinion survey.

Now, what I want to know is how come this wasn't going on when I was a kid?


For more information contact Dawn Tanner by email:  tann0042@umn.edu. 


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Poison Water guzzlers--predators

The only predators that visited Poison Water were bats, and Townsend's big-eared bat (Plecotus townsendii), seen here, was a new record for our species list.

It didn't show up at the sandstone cave. 

The big-eared bat is most often found roosting in caves and mine tunnels, and is not regarded as a common species, though large roosts of several hundred bats are occasionally found. 

It is also a late flier, beginning to forage well after sunset.  

It's hard to believe and a bit of a mystery, but no bobcat, coyote, gray fox, bear, or mountain lion stuck its head into Poison Water to face the camera trap. 

Nor any striped skunks. 

In summertime in the Sierra Nevada foothills, I've camera trapped striped skunks tanking up two hours before sun set. 

Perhaps 4 days just wasn't enough time, but I would have expected at least to see a gray fox or a skunk.

We need to do more camera trapping at Poison Water.  

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Poison Water guzzlers--black-tailed deer

Three black-tailed deer stepped over the boards to drink in the confined space of the spring. 

The one that caught my eye was this doe.  

She has notched ears, which make her identifiable in the field. 

She also has scars on her neck, and they are not completely healed.

I believe there are two punctures on the left side (the right side of the screen) -- there's a large tear at the base of the neck, and a smaller one midway in the track of missing hair.

The angle of the picture doesn't show the right side of the neck very well.

If there is a puncture, you can't see it. 

The skin was also torn across the neck.  

Here's a different view.

In the third picture, you can see scars on the upper left leg and shoulder. 

Any opinions out there as to what might have caused these wounds?