About Me

My photo
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.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

One Month in Subterranea

This little movie is part of a continuing saga, a self-inflicted exercise in hope and frustration that started 4 summers ago when we found a collapsed mountain beaver tunnel in the northern Sierra Nevada.

In a strange way that narrow collapsed section of the tunnel resembled the shotgun-blasted stomach of Alexis St. Martin, the trapper whose misfortune set the stage for William Beaumont to become the grand old man of gastric physiology.

Like the gaping hole in St Martin's stomach, this mountain beaver's tunnel had a portal that exposed the mysteries within.

Collapsed mountain beaver burrows however are a dime a dozen.

What made this one special was that it opened up into an underground cavity big enough to accommodate a camera trap without blocking the passage.

Plus, this was not one of those thin-roofed sub-surface tunnels. This one was nearly 2 feet deep, making other cave-ins unlikely.

We started in 2010 by setting a still camera down there, a Sony s600 to be exact, and though there were lots of blank exposures the animal images were thrilling to see.

We learned that the mountain beaver's burrow system is a commons used by a lot of seldom-seen freeloaders like weasels, mink, and water shrews, not to mention great swarms of mosquitos.

Two summer's passed before I asked, "Why not video?"

It was an iffy idea, but I thought a few clips of the subway traffic would satisfy my whim and allow me to move on to other projects.

So I bought a home brewed DXG 567 from a fellow camtrapper and set it out in June, 2011 for the forthcoming workshop.

A bear cub unearthed the cam a couple weeks into the bargain, but not before the camera sampled some of the underground fauna.

In 2012 we tried again and discovered that chickarees actually mine the tunnels for truffles.

Now I was really hooked, even though the quality of the video schtunk.

The lens's field of view was too narrow, and depth of field was crumby.

So last winter I replaced the old lens with a $20 4mm wide angle lens from EBay.

The results are what you see above.

I am pleased with improved field of view, disgruntled with the focus, and flustrated with all the false exposures.

The camera is just too slow, and fixing it will be this winter's project.

My plan is to go back to the site and find all the entrances leading to that treasured tunnel.

If I can set external PIR sensors in the burrow entrances the camera will be rolling when the critters come cruising down the tunnel.


Joe said...

That is a nice setup.

Patrick Murtha said...

Incredible footage! I enjoyed this and have shared it.

Woody Meristem said...

Great video, you've got the opportunity to gather information about the tunnels that may never have been documented before.

Cindy said...

Dark corridors disappearing into the unknown, crumbling side tunnels, mystery guests, clouds of blood suckers, a fast whiskered murderer - why this is the film noir of camera trapping. It must have taken many, many creative hours to put that footage together. Boggled my claustrophobic mind.

Anonymous said...

Hey Codger
You could win a prize for this one at the International Camera trapping association if there is one. Great stuff!

Camera Trap Codger said...

Thanks all, I re-set the cam for another month, so we'll see if any new characters appear in the drama before the snows fall. And Cindy, I'm pretty quick at editing the footage. It's the captions that take time.