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.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

"Trapped" -- a film about camera trapping

Last year, Emily Narrow wrote to tell me she was making a film on camera trapping.

Emily is pursuing an MFA in Science and Natural History Filmmaking at Montana State.

She wanted to use some critter photos from Camera Trap Codger, and of course I was happy to oblige.

She did a great job on that film, which captures the ups and downs of camera trapping.

Now she is busy with new projects.

"For my second year film", she writes, "I am coordinating with the National Park Service and the Yellowstone Association to make a film for them about Yellowstone in winter. That film should be finished around late spring/early summer. I'm also a junior producer on a science/natural history podcast called TERRA".


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Bear hair and a Texas toothpick

A pile of hair is not a regular find on a country road.

Around here beverage bottles and aluminum cans are the usual findings, then food wrappers and gun cartridges, and finally the odd bit of clothing, discarded, lost from a pickup truck, or abandoned due to temporary memory impairment.

They all have their stories, but most are not particularly interesting.

But a pile of hair like this is a different matter.

The obsessive dog groomers who walk their pets on the flume trail never leave hair balls like this.

It was unmistakably bear hair, and Fred sniffed it with more than casual interest.

But why was it there?

Did a hungry coyote chew a patch of mouldering bear hide there on the road?  

Could the carcass be nearby?

I climbed down the bank into the chaparral, but failed to interest Fred in taking up a trail.

During the past two days he energetically examined two bear skids on steep road cuts in the canyon.

Now he was more interested in going home to be fed, and all I found were crumpled Bud Light cans.

I snapped a picture of the hair pile and made a parting poke with a stick.

That's when I found the Texas toothpick, one of the few unpaired bones found in the body of many male mammals.

Yep, it was a baculum, also known as the os penis or penis bone, a rare and auspicious find.

I took it and headed home.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Another Arboreal Adventure and PSA Syndrome

Sonoma tree vole diorama, Photographer Gabriel Moulin,
courtesy California Academy of Sciences Archives. 

Fifty years ago the red tree mouse diorama at the California Academy of Sciences looked like this*. 

Periodically I would visit and stand there spellbound.  

Like the mossy gym sock exhibited in the same hall, the tree mouse diorama featured an intriguing nest with red-haired mice disporting themselves like sugar plum fairies.

I knew that some day I would find one of those nests. I was certain that I would know one when I saw it. 

Little did I know a half century stood between my youthful ambition and its realization, but faithful readers of this blog already know the codger encountered his first red tree vole a couple months ago.  

It was a fleeting engagement and not particularly satisfying.

The nest was a pathetic example of mouse work, a paltry accumulation of fir needles balanced over a recess in the trunk, and the resident's activities were usually out of the camera's view.  

I needed to find a brood nest like the one above -- an overstuffed cushion of fur needles, a spacious stage where a mother vole performs her nocturnal ritual and little voles play in the moonlight.

A week ago we resumed the search and wandered the logging roads with slack-jaws and craned necks looking like crazed birders.      

Nests we found, and some were even in climbable trees, but all were beyond reach unless you had a cherry picker or a very well-trained monkey.

They looked like tree vole nests, but only a fool
or a monkey would climb them to find out.

The afternoon was wearing on and I was ready to admit defeat when we wandered off the road into a young stand of Douglas fir, and there it was about 35 feet above us --  a messy tangle of sticks and fir needles right next to the trunk. 

Fresh clippings and resin ducts told us the nest was occupied.

It was an excellent climbing tree with whorls of reasonably stout limbs -- living limbs mind you, not the rotten ones so common on older trees. Terry fetched the ladder while I admired the tree and yammered about its suitability.

My first ascent convinced me that the climbing path needed a haircut. So dense were the springy wire-like twigs that I felt like a Lilliputian climbing a wire chimney brush.

That done, I drilled a hole in the limb and screwed in a lag bolt mount.

The camera was a HD video cam -- a DXG 567v with a small IR array home-brewed by the talented camera hacker "EgbertDavis" .

I dropped the camera stem into the mount, adjusted the camera angle, opened the back one last time, and powered it up.

Having tested the camera on wood rats last fall, I knew the infra-red illumination wouldn't bleach the subjects at close range.

Terry and I made 5 camera trap sets that day, but this was the set that haunted my reverie as I drove up the Trinity River Canyon on my way home.

Then the car radio lost its reception and disturbing thoughts started to seep in.

Had I tightened the wing nut enough to maintain the camera angle? Would the wind buffet the camera, cause false triggers, and fill the SD card with useless footage? And how long would the batteries last?

Two nights later a big storm blew in off the Pacific.

I emailed Terry: "We've been getting heavy winds and rain, and I'm a little worried about that cam in the Doug fir. Hopefully it is sitting tight".

"We had wind gusts up to 40 mph", he answered "and last night got a big hail storm which lasted about 10 minutes".

I envisioned the fir's limbs whipping furiously in the storm, and then I saw the distressing aftermath -- a heap of broken boughs and my DXG lying on the ground.

Manic expectation, doubt, worry, disillusion, chagrin, and finally the blues -- this is the emotional roller-coaster called camera trapping.

As for the haunting doubt and worry -- I guess you can call it Post-Set-Anxiety Syndrome.

+++++    +++++     +++++

*/ Of course, the wire mesh and support structure wasn't visible; the photo must have been taken when they demolished the exhibit.

Friday, March 16, 2012

2012 Camera-trap Photo of the Year kick-off

16 March 2012

Caught on camera: Global search for the BBC Wildlife Magazine Camera-trap Photo of the Year 2012 begins

BBC Wildlife Magazine launches its 2012 Camera-trap Photo of the Year competition today, kicking off its annual search for the most exciting and revealing camera-trap images captured around the world.

The competition, sponsored by the World Land Trust and Páramo, is open to anyone working on a research or conservation project that uses remote camera technology. This year also sees the competition opened up to keen amateur photographers for the very first time, with the launch of a new British Wildlife category for anyone experimenting with remote cameras in the UK.

Entrants to the BBC Wildlife Magazine Camera-trap Photo of the Year competition can submit a maximum of 12 camera-trap images into any of the four categories:

·      Animal Portraits - Images taken during the course of your research which capture the character or spirit of their subject.
·      Animal Behaviour - Images captured during the course of your research which show interesting or unusual behaviour.
·      New Discoveries - Images should show something new to science, such as a species never before photographed in the wild or outside its known range, or behaviour never before recorded. The caption must make clear what the discovery is.
·      British Wildlife - Images must be taken in the British Isles by amateur photographers.

Sophie Stafford, Editor of BBC Wildlife Magazine, commented: “Remote camera technology is an increasingly important tool in conservation efforts and is helping to unravel the secrets of rare and secretive species around the world and close to home. This year, in response to reader feedback, we are delighted to invite amateur photographers to enter their photos of British wildlife. I can’t wait to see the results.”

The winner of each of the three ‘research’ categories will be awarded £1,000 for their project. The overall winner will be chosen from one of these three winners and their project will win an additional £2,000.

The winner of the British Wildlife category will win a top of the range Páramo Halcon jacket worth £310. The winners, up to three runners-up and up to six commended images in each category will be published in the December 2012 issue of BBC Wildlife Magazine and in a gallery on the BBC Wildlife Magazine website, www.discoverwildlife.com.
Entry is online at www.discoverwildlife.com/competitions, and all photos must be submitted by the closing date of 13 July 2012.

For competition rules and further information on how to enter, see the April issue of BBC Wildlife Magazine on sale 17 March 2012, or visit www.discoverwildlife.com/competitions

For all media enquiries, please contact:
Carolyn Wray
Press Office | Immediate Media Co
0117 3148812 | carolyn.wray@immediate.co.uk

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Nones of March

The goose pen on the Nones of March at 1607 hr.

Buoyed by the speciosity of the goose pen's visitors, I was seized by a creative impulse.

I would try for some portraits of the visitors framed in one of the goose pen's portals.

There were 8 or 9 of these openings, but we didn't know which were used by critters as entrances and exits.

I had settled on a small portal when I noticed Terry's countenance looking down at me within the chamber.

"I think you should put it over here", he said with gravitas.

He was right. The larger opening would admit larger animals, and maybe the bear would come back and peer inside.

If it entered, of course, it would knock the camera down, but what the heck.

I staked the camera at an angle looking up through the charred window,  but the bear didn't come back.

Instead, there was a celestial event.

On the Nones of March the setting sun aligned itself with this particular portal.

According to the Naval Oceanography Portal my camera recorded the position at an azimuth of 242 degrees.

That was perhaps the most interesting event recorded by the two cameras we had set in the goose pen.

The striped skunk, gray squirrels, and wood rats that made a showing were not as cooperative at this gray fox.

I pulled both cameras and made new sets elsewhere, hoping they are properly aligned for a zoological rather than a celestial event. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A memory of jitterbug perfume

A saw my first live spotted skunk in the middle of highway 45 in Chihuahua, Mexico in August,1965.

Highway 45 was a two lane road at the time, and for all I know it may still be.

It was a strange vision on a lonely road in the middle of the night.

In the headlights of our WW2 Dodge Power Wagon it looked like a powder puff doing the jitterbug.

As we slowed down we saw that a very animated spotted skunk was trying to catch a large moth on the asphalt.

It was an enchanting sight I never forgot.

I still find these spunky little guys to be real charmers, so here are a couple shots from a recent camera trap set in Butte Creek Canyon.