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This blog is predominately about camera trapping in California. We camera trap to save our souls and to teach primary school students about biology and conservation. We will also touch on other camera trapping news and musings, sets from afar, mediocre herpetology, sucky birding, and other natural history discussions.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Coho Choogle


Today while going through the morning birding list round ups, I noticed that a Dipper had been seen in San Geronimo Creek, Marin County, near the Inkwells. I was planning on heading to San Rafael anyway, so I figured a side adventure would be easy and perfect for this holiday Friday.

No Dipper (though my lord what nice habitat for these amusing little guys when the water level gets up), but I was able to hang out with the unofficial animal of West Marin, the Coho Salmon.

Always a treat to get a look at these guys and as my third season as a Trout in the Classroom teacher is nearing, it was also an excellent reminder to start getting into the SALMONID STATE OF MIND.

Anyway, here are some photos and videos of the three coho salmon I saw this afternoon.



coho thrash


May the rains be thunderous this weekend to harken your brethren's arrival.

Note 11.30.14 : Dire news about the Redwood Creek Coho

Thursday, November 20, 2014


A team of Californian naturalists has described an endangered new species of bird hidden deep within the rocky crevices of the Sierra County High Country

"northern scree goose"

Some 2 million species of plants, animals and other assorted organisms have been discovered on Earth. Perhaps millions are left to be discovered and described.

Today Camera Trapping Campus has that distinct honor.

The new species belongs to Anser, a genus of waterfowl (grey geese & some white) in the family Anatidae.

spotted !
It is a difficult-to-see creature, living mostly among the large boulders of talus slope. With its grey dominant plumage, camouflage is provided to avoid both predators from above and large ground-stalking mammals, like California's only known Wolverine.

Further studies are needed to determine feeding habits, though it is theorized that they eat lichen from the boulders. It is definitely known that they don't like lettuce.

One vocalization is known:  a low grunt, "rrrrr".

The rare goose was first spotted at 6300 feet with canine assistance, as the barking by a naturalist's dog alerted the group to scan the slope for animal presence.

"these chumps are lost without me"

The recommended common name is Northern Scree Goose.

"northern scree goose !"

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Second Pelagic

Half Moon Bay weather buoy
a calm day on the Pacific

In Mid-September, CTC met up to again travel the seas off the California coast in search of glorious wildlife.
For our second pelagic, we were to depart from the Half Moon Bay Pillar Point Harbor. The leader of our trip: once more, the great Alvaro of Alvaro's Adventures.

Spirits were high among the group as we shivered along the slips... many were on a quest to catch a glimpse of a Brown Booby and consistent information placed them at the Half Moon Bay weather buoy. Additionally, word had come of a Guadalupe Murrelet sighting out of Bodega Bay and the birders were getting hard for the thought of any unexpected Alcids.

As we slowly departed the harbor a shout roared out from the deck, "White-faced Ibis!!!"
We could just glimpse the majestic wader rapidly streak across the dark gray sky heading back towards land.

The unusual sighting was taken as a good omen.

Drifting through a light fog, we entered Half Moon Bay. As the visibility began to diminish, eerie cries began to fill the marine air... the begging calls of a juvenile Common Murre.
common murre father and child pair
juvenile and pops

common murre
feed me
On our previous pelagic we had a few Common Murre sightings, but they were truly out in full force this day.

We continued on past a large raft of Sooty Shearwaters towards the weather buoy. Along the way there were several Rhino Auklets in the distance and closer to the boat, a school of mola mola that were at the surface.

mola mola

Some of the gulls that had been following us and our popcorn trail shifted their attention towards the strange sunning fish and began nibbling at their skin.
The mola mola have a multitude of parasites on their skin and the visits from these seabirds are one form of relief. A very cool behavior to see.

gull feeding on mola mola parasites
clean me

The buoy was finally reached and the camera shutters went nuts as our captain did a 360 or possibly a 720 around the two boobies. Who knows, I was in the same feverish state, which can be seen by the crap ISO and my failure to recognize...

weather buoy with Brown Booby pair

Brown Booby pair

However the real treat of the trip was what followed:

Orca !

offshore ecotype killer whale

The sighting of 4 Orcas!
Our captain had spotted one, and as we slowly crept up on it, three more appeared in the distance. For what seemed like one of the most tense 20 minutes of my life, the boat trailed the orcas -- all while we saw what appeared to be a sea lion breach the surface nearby -- was the pod on a hunt?
Unfortunately, despite all our bloodthirsty thoughts, no kill took place and a couple birders called for a change in direction to zone in on some Sabine's Gulls... not a plan that JK and I were down with.

Later we were to learn that closest to the boat was Orca O188, an offshore ecotype adult male.
Offshore ecotypes known are thought to be fish eaters -- especially fond of sleeper sharks -- and are rarely seen.
O188 was last reported sighting was in September 2009.

Not much is known about this particular ecotype, but since this trip the Orca Network has blown my mind several times, proving to be both a great resource of information and a location for citizen science to take place.

Even after the tremendous high of following Orcas, there was still more excitement to come:

Tufted Puffin!!!

A couple good looks at Tufted Puffins, which for this relative novice, were quite exciting.

Finally, there was the case of the passerine stowaways.
First to join us onboard was a Brown-headed Cowbird. Once it landed, it chose to stay up high on the boat, mostly out of sight.

The other visitor, a Yellow-rumped Warbler.
It was far more sociable, coming down to the deck many times to check out the food situation and say hello to several birders.
Yellow-rumped warbler comes aboard !

All in all, a pretty amazing trip with a handful of lifers and the damn ORCAS.
T'was an exhausting adventure, though. After 8 or 9 hours of exploration, we decamped for celebratory ales at the solid Hop Dogma. Halfway through our first and what would be our only pint, both of our heads were seemingly falling into our glasses, drunk on the day's experience at sea.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Face to Face

This past June, the usual crew assembled in order to help the Codger with pre-sets for the Camera Trap Workshop at SFSU Field Campus. Some of the adventures and outcomes have been documented already.

Here we will get a momentary glimpse from the forest, just below the legendary Deadman talus slope.

The result was our target species: a black bear came ambling through to investigate the foul smelling mess that the Codger had left 6 days earlier.

What followed was also somewhat expected, although we were hoping it would not occur...

The camera was then left pointing at the ground to fill up the SD card with glorious forest floor video.

This was my first bear on trap, and with recent news that the MARIN BEAR might be real, maybe others will soon follow...

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Herps in Belize

No not herpes. I came back from Belize with one disease, but not herpes.

Readers of this blog should be familiar with herps, our ectothermic friends, the amphibian and reptile.

Honestly, it was not the greatest herping trip and my photos are even worse. It rained. A lot. Even though it was the dry season, which meant I often was without a DSLR and often completely nude of photo taking devices.

However, I did manage to get a few photos from an old point and shoot on a night hike in the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. If you find yourself in Belize you have to stay in the sanctuary in one of the rustic cabins. Be prepared to cook for yourself and buy your groceries in Belize City before getting on a long bus ride to Maya Center and then into the Sanctuary.

Our first herp of the night was a Yucatan Banded Gecko, Coleonyx elegans. This is in the same genus as the banded gecko we find in the Mojave Desert or one might find in Arizona. Its impressive to see what I think of a desert gecko in a secondary rainforest that was getting a lot of rain (a few inches in a few hours the next day).





The next are a couple of Ranids that I am having a beast of a time IDing. Every time I think I have it down, I change my mind. I guess I cannot even be certain that the two individuals I am going to show you are different species. I am fairly familiar with Vaillant's frogs Rana (Lithobates) vaillanti from previous trips to Central America. The small ones have a lot of green on them, which made me think this frog was not a Vaillant's. That led to the endemic Maya Mountain frog Rana (Lithobates) juliani. We figured we could go home, look at a bunch of other photos online and figure this mystery out, but I think that has left me more confused. There are likely a lot of mis-identified photos of both of these species in the interwebs. Shocking I know, someone on the internet is wrong. Maybe it is one of the Rain Frogs, Craugastor (Eleutherodactylus)?

Is that a distinct white stripe on the upper lip, indicative of juliani? The upper lip is white but I don't know if that qualifies as distinct. Fingers seem slightly expanded at tips. No good look at toes, but looks like they are webbed. Tympanum looks equal to eye, not larger.

Blurry but trying to show the eye to tympanum size ratio

Below is was the first frog of the night. In the field we were calling this a Vaillant's frog, but that was before I had really considered Maya Mountain frog. We only started thinking juliani when we found the second frog (first frog in this post, confusing I know) and thought it just seemed different than the first. From Juilan Lee's A Field Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of the Maya World, the tympanum to eye ratio is a some what useful key.

Valliant's Frog: Eyes, moderately large, equal to or exceeding diameter of tympanum ... limbs well developed; toes extensively webbed; tips of digits slightly expanded
Maya Mountain Frog: Eyes large, exceeding tympanum in diameter ... Fingers unwebbed, slightly expanded at tips; toes extensively webbed


Extensive webbing on back toes, fingers appear to be unwebbed

That is a fairly large tympanum. Is that the distinctive white strip on upper lip? It extends pretty far past the jaw though.

So all opinions on these two frogs are welcome. So so confused.

Not pictured here was a very large adult Vaillant's frog that we saw the following night.

Also not pictured was a coffee snake Ninia, likely the red-backed coffee snake Ninia sebae. In an embarrassing lack of recklessness we saw this snake moving through the grass at night and the white neck stripe seemed to appear in more than one place as it moved, reminding us just enough of a coral snake that we didn't attempt to pick it up right away. By the time we realized it was a harmless Ninia, our guide's answer to "Is it venomous?" was "Only a little" and it was gone all in a matter of 5 seconds. Huge bummer as it turned out to be the only snake of the trip.

More posts from Belize, including some crappy bird photos, to come, maybe ...