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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, February 23, 2014

Fred Learns the String Test

I'll never know for sure where Fuzzy came from, but suspect that Fred absconded with it from a neighbor's front yard.

We had great fun with Fuzzy, as you'll see in the video, and the game was a good way to dust the truck.  

But Fuzzy's departure was as sudden and mysterious as its appearance, and that was end of the string tests.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

A White Winter Weasel

The short-tailed weasel or ermine, Dec 19, 2013, 1840 h

I just scratched the white winter weasel from my camera trapping bucket list. 

At least the white short-tailed weasel (Mustela erminea). 

The white long-tailed weasel (Mustela frenata) remains to be camera-bagged.

White weasels of course are just brown weasels camouflaged in white winter coats. 

You find them where you can rely on long snowy winters, which is north of the 40th parallel.  On the mild west coast, the white-weasel-line jogs north into British Columbia.   

I bagged my white weasel near Yuba Pass on a steep north slope, in a jumble of broken granite shaded by red fir.

Some time in the past a large mass of granite cleaved and released a large flake of stone that slid several feet and settled against its mother.

The result was a narrow slot, a shelter, the kind of place small boys and codgers in their second childhood love to explore.

I was ready to camtrap "the granite flake" two summers ago, but a yellow jacket nest changed my mind. 

It was only the size of a grapefruit, but big enough to scare me off.  

The nest was gone last fall, so I set the camera on October 8th using civetone and castoreum as elevated scent lures.  

View from north opening.
View from south.

Bill and I checked it last Wednesday. The Lithium AA batteries lasted 94 days, and in addition to the white weasel -- here's what we got: 

Montane vole (Microtus montanus): 6 visits/8 photos

Bushy-tailed wood rat (Neotoma cinerea): 8 visits/13 photos. Last visit:Oct 18. Here it gathers lichen as nest material and/or food.

Brush mouse (Peromyscus boylii): 58 visits/146 photos. Many photos recorded one or more of these characters gathering papier mache from the wasp nest.

Trowbridge shrew (Sorex trowbridgii): 1 visit/1 photo (Nov 14)

Long-eared chipmunk (Tamias quadrimaculatus): 11 visits/14 photos (Last visit: Nov 21)

Chickaree (Tamiasciurus douglasii): 11 visits/14 photos 

You all know, of course, that we're in a bad bad drought.

There was little snow on route 49 until we reached 6000 ft. Normally it would be down to 4000 ft.

Below the current snow line those white winter weasels are an advertisement to predators, mainly carnivores and birds of prey.

Not to worry my friends, the furry and feathered agents of natural selection have already started to fix the problem.

[thanks to "Bill W, MJC" for the good company and watchful eyes]


King, C. 1990. The natural history of weasels and stoats. Cornell University Press, Ithaca

Hall, E.R. 1951. American weasels. University of Kansas Publications, Museum of Natural History 4:1-466.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Camtrapping the Western Ghats

Karanth and team radio-collar a leopard
in Ngarahole National Park in the 1980s

Here are some terrific camera trap photos of carnivores from the Western Ghats, the major mountain range of southwest India.

They are a testament to the dedication and leadership of Ullas Karanth and his able colleagues at WCS-India

Ullas (lower right) has devoted his career to the conservation of tigers and the landscapes they depend upon.

The tell-tale equipment seen in the photos is a reminder of the first generation of commercial trail cameras. 

The Trailmaster active infra-red motion detectors seen in the background rely on a beam of IR light between a transmitter and receiver. 

The detector can be adjusted to detect different species based on the duration of beam interruption. 

The Olympus point and shoot cameras were quick acting 35 mm models that captured the action quite well.