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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.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Devil Got My Camera

kinda like this
, but not really?

This summer during the Camera Trap Workshop, our sensei spoke to us about the camera trap blues. The woes of failing to get a particular animal, equipment malfunctioning in the field, camera trapper brain farts, and so on.

I got my first true dose this morning with a visit to the Marin sets.

First, a fiesty hack refused to download images. Then, a second hack's board broke just before it was reset. One more camera was remaining. It was another hack in a location that had promises of Puma and had previously delivered lovely bobcat and gray fox shots. (The Bushies were good children and complied with no issues.)

The wind began to stir as my lovely assistant and I picked up our pace. Our empty stomachs were projecting dreams of the picnic awaiting us upon the final check.
Other wild thoughts had entered my head. A record of the mountain lion would surely erase the days bummer! What about... the legendary MARIN BLACK BEAR? HAHAH YES.

"Where is it?"
"Uhh... should be right here."

No camera.
The post it was attached to was strewn to the side.

The effects of recent heavy wind and rain could be seen nearly every step of our journey. Rockslides, branches, trees fallen to the ground in what appeared to be a casual destruction.

It is possible the camera case could have become dislodged and disappeared down a nearby a ravine. A search failed to turn up the camera.

Or a human nabbed it. The camera post showed few marks (thus eliminating the fantasy of the MARIN BLACK BEAR destroying and removing the camera). The rocks supporting the post also were rather neatly in place. With all of the storm's destruction, this was a spot of relative calm.

Pretty low class if this is indeed the case. Hope you enjoy it, bro, along with a case of scabies.

Here is a happy bunny picture for the rest of you!
from wood rat midden 12.6.10

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Haggard Coyote

In 14 days at the same set where I got the bobcats there were three coyote visits.  In all three cases the coyote stood at the top of the bank and did not go up or down the trail that the bobcats were using.  This lead to less than optimal framing of the coyote which I had to live with as my primary goal was getting good images of the bobcats.  However all coyotes were looking straight at the camera so something about it caught their attention.
For some reason this coyote just makes me laugh.
Christian and I went to go move the camera to another set and not 3 minutes after we left the camera this slightly mangy coyote came wandering by the old set.

Still staring

It stood there and watched us for a minutes or two then trotted off.  You can see it is having some mange issues especially in the tail.  I think this is the same coyote we camera trapped on the 5th of December.

Movin' on

I had gone by the camera and set it to video for a couple of days just to give that feature a try. I will post more on this at some point but the video seemed to have a much slower trigger speed than still images so we only got a coyote in this video for the first second or two, but it looks to be the same coyote as the one above.

Later we had an encounter with a smaller looking coyote in the same area as we saw the one above, but did not get pictures of it.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Trail of Two Cameras pt. 2

(Resuming the examination of a coastal fir scrub trail where two cameras have been positioned to essentially face themselves.)

Previously, I touched on an advantage of setting one Bushnell on video versus still shots. The ability to get full body shots of medium sized mammals and extra behaviour information is a key difference, especially for use in my classroom.

A further review of the data exhibits more differences in the two cameras.
First, the data itself:

The video camera fired at 40% of the still camera's total. It follows a similar percentage for animal shots, though jumps up to 58% in the visit comparison and 55% in total species. This data, however, is clouded by the fact there were a significant number of shots at the still camera with an unidentifiable animal due to blurring.

So what do we have? More photos, more species, more visits with the still camera.

Okay, but tell me what the video is exactly missing?

With the video camera located higher up on the trail slope, smaller critters that roam at the base, near the still camera, do not register.

The area near the still camera is also more dense with trees and brush; the trail becomes narrow. The opposite holds true for the video camera. The expansion of open space could be a death trap for birds and small rodents.

The still camera option and location provides an excellent choice for species surveys, collecting across the size spectrum.
The video camera option and location offers a higher percentage of medium and large mammals with the opportunity for interesting behaviour notes.

Black-tailed Deer 11.15.10

Saharan cheetah

One of the rarest cats in the World, the Saharan Cheetah, was recently photographed by researchers using camera traps.
The ghostly image of the Saharan cheetah has excited conservationists, as perhaps fewer than 10 of the cats survive in the deserts of Termit, Niger, where the photograph was taken.
Almost nothing is known of the Saharan cheetah, except that it endures extremely high temperatures and appears to survive without a permanent source of water.
Saharan cheetahs are thought to range in six countries: Algeria, Togo, Niger, Mali, Benin, and Burkina Faso. 
But the total population may be fewer than 250 mature individuals. 
The first ever camera trap photograph of one was only taken last year in Algeria.
More than 50 cheetahs are thought to live there, compared to 10 or fewer in Niger. 
Follow the link to a pretty goulish photo

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Hide yo kids, hide yo wife

And hide yo dogs and hide yo cats.  A gang of raccoons is on the loose in the East Bay with an extra strong presence in Alameda.

Raccoons appear to be getting more aggressive lately, with attacks on pets and humans on the rise. Alameda, in particular, has had an increase in raccoon attacks since the summer. 

As the City of Carmel-By-The-Sea says, raccoons have earned their bandit mask.  If you ever peruse the Carmel Pine Cone crimes report section you will quickly realize that raccoons have taken over the hamlet in gangs.

What do you get when you combine intelligence, manual dexterity, and a nocturnal lifestyle? Well, in the case of the raccoon, you have an animal well-suited to living near people. Chimneys, porches, and attics are all attractive denning sites from the raccoon perspective. Add readily accessible trash cans, or pet food and water bowls, and you've got the raccoon equivalent of a Hilton. Is it any wonder that conflicts arise between raccoons and their human neighbors? Luckily for both, a little patience and understanding can go a long way toward resolving any problems. Humane methods of conflict prevention and resolution have proven to be a less costly and less stressful than removal of a resident animal for both wildlife and homeowners. While removal may seem like a solution, it usually only creates an enticing vacancy for another animal in search of a ready-made home.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bobcats Week 1

When I saw the two bobcats while checking cams a couple of weeks back I wrote that it may have been a pair, but after seeing some new camera trap images and a comment by Aviva R. I am now leaning towards mother with a kitten from last year. Bobkittens (cubs?) may stay with their mother right up until the time that she is going to birth a new litter.

Do you guys have any thoughts on the pair vs. mom/kitten?

Here are two successive shots of two different bobcats the night I placed the camera.  You can tell they are different cats by their ear shapes and overall body sizes.  The little one lead the way.

Last years kitten?


The IR flash is harsh, so I was hoping I got some day time photos of them too and was in luck when one of them walked by the camera again the next morning coming from the same direction that they did the previous night.

Four days later a bobcat made three separate appearances.  Once at 11:48, again at 16:34 and a third time at 18:03.  I am not sure if all images were of the came bobcat or whether they were multiple cats.  I had my camera set to take pictures every 30 seconds so it is conceivable that both cats were together and I just missed the second animal.  If the second animal passed the camera under 30 seconds after the first, no image would have been taken.  I adjusted the camera to take pictures more often in the future.

Sniff sniff

Stay tuned for more bobcats from week 2 at this set.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Adventures and Misadventures in Hacking Cameras

The Codger, Sean P, Christian, Randomtruth feverishly hacking

On Monday we set about hacking some SonyS600 with the YetiCam board.  Christian, Sean P, Randomtruth, the Codger and I all met up at the California Academy of Sciences where the Codger is a research fellow.  We were kindly allowed use of the project room.  The project room is on the first floor and has one wall that is all glass and looks out onto the large atrium.  At least that is the view from the inside.  It is in fact built so that the viewing public can look in and see "Scientists at Work."  I guess I fit that description even if my science is of the molecular variety rather than wildlife biology.

The Living Roof
The Living Roof  by ecov ottos. Taken at the Cal Academy of Sciences

Hacking and story telling commenced with the Codger leading the way, walking the newbies through the hack.  Each step seemed more daunting than the next as even taking the cameras apart was not the simplest task.  However, Randomtruth who has done a few hacks on his own, gave us additional pointers.  The key as the Codger suggested was keeping wires straight and creating a nice key for yourself before you start.  Soldering wires to very small pads to control the shutter for example was difficult but we eventually all got it.  Some of us quicker (Christian) than others (JK).  The other two wires for the grounds were simple in comparison.

Christian taking apart a Sony S600

After a bit we had the cameras all hacked and it was time to hook them up to the boards and test them.  Here we had to go through some trouble-shooting with one camera that had a short due to two wires on the camera jack making contact with each other.  The other cams eventual worked once we got our fast boards versus regular boards sorted out which we got distracted with early in the hack, but the trouble shooting really allowed each of us to learn where and how to check for problems.

Sean P, Christian, and JK with parts strewn across the table

At the end of the day Christian, Sean and I all had our first homebrews functional with only a little bit of arranging the parts in the case left to do.  I cannot wait to put it to use.

Thanks a ton to the Codger for his patient assistance and the very kind Jens Vindum and Jack Dumbacher for arranging the use of the project room for us.  It was quite the experience.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Trail Of Two Cameras pt. 1

On the first visit to the Marin site, there was one spot that we knew was going to be a productive area.

Loads of coyote scat.
Several small side trails converging on to the main path.
A slight slope, offering kind camera angles.

One Bushnell Trophy Cam was attached to a Fir, looking up the trail in September. Over the following two months, the results were tantalizing.

The limitations of the camera were obvious, but we knew there was more to be seen from this spot. For all of the coyote scat, there was only one probable coyote capture in 53 days, despite physical evidence left by them.

My co-teacher, Ryan, was fervent in the belief that we use the Bushies for all that they could bring to the table. That we introduce an additional cam set to shoot video -- looking down the trail.
We did so during our class visit in early November.

Two weeks later, guess who showed up.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Deer in the Brush

Three different deer showed up at the first set at YLR finishing off the three species we got at that thick willow set.  The first was a pretty looking doe.  She showed up in the early morning and spent 25 minutes around the camera showing up in 9 images.
Female Black-tail deer, Odocoileus columbianus

Female Black-tail deer, Odocoileus columbianus

Almost a week later what appeared to be a doe showed up. A little over an hour afterwards a really nice looking buck showed up coming from the direction that the doe went.  And don't snicker at this buck East Coast readers.  For a little coastal black-tail this one is damn nice.  I got four images of him in a 2 minute period.
Male Black-tail deer, Odocoileus columbianus

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Book Reviews

This may not interest some of our readers, but we will be adding a book review feature to the blog.  We will try and keep the books relevant to Natural History, History and general adventures and misadventures, basically books that you might be interested in too, even if they do not deal with camera trapping. However, we reserve the right to write about Latin American authors that are not even tangentially linked to the outdoors because it may be one of my favorite styles of writing.  And they usually take place in the jungle, even if it is a brothel in the jungle, so that's close to the wilderness right?

I will have the first review coming in a couple of days.  These things are harder to write than one might think.

I also wanted to use this post to say that my autobiography of Mark Twain finally showed up in the mail today.  Twain is about as American as one can get and I look forward to reading about his adventures, especially the California ones.  

I will also point out that UC Press who published this book 100 years after Twain's death, as per his request, is a fantastic publisher.  They put out a wonderful line of Science books including the great California Natural History Series.  I encourage you to buy directly through UC Press so they can continue to support publication of works that might not otherwise see the typesetter.  Where else are you going to find a 624 page tome on the Greater Sage Grouse?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Nocturnal Visitors

I pulled the camera from our first set at YLR last Wednesday and finally got finished with tabulating the data and looking at the images carefully.  The last week of instruction at UCSC was stealing way more of my time than I would have liked.

Briefly, the camera was up for 14 days in a Willow thicket.  We recorded 3 species, plus an unidentified critter who barely got in the frame.  There were 9 separate visits (10 if you count two raccoons visiting the camera at the same time as separate visits) which equaled 0.66 visits/day.  The camera took 29 pictures, 26 of which had animals in them for a positive trigger rate of 89.7%  and 2.1 triggers/day or 1.9 positive triggers/day.  I will play with adding some of the this data in chart form in the future if people find it insightful at all.

Now to some pictures:

I struggled to get a good raccoon shot.  They were almost never in frame or way too close to the camera.  I even got a blurry belly shot as one raccoon came to check out the camera.  All raccoon images were in IR and they seemed to be most interested in the ground cover in front of the camera.  Raccoons visited three times and there were at least four individuals.  They visited on days 3, 11 and 12 between 23:30 and 23:55 each time (time stamp off by one hour).  The day 11 and day 12 visits were only 24 seconds off of being exactly 24 hours apart.  That masked bandit keeps a pretty regular schedule.

A Dusky-footed Woodrat was the first visitor to the camera coming by on the first night.  It reappeared on Day 2 and Day 8, when the above picture was taken.  This set was around 20 meters from the midden that I posted earlier, so maybe this rat lived there.  Of course I don't know if the three visits were the same rat or two or three different rats.  The woodrats appeared as early as 17:34 as you can see in the above image (time-stamp is off by one hour).

All images with Scoutguard SG550

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bad day to leave the DSLR at home

Bobcats two days in a row!

This time a pair at Younger Lagoon Reserve.  I had a Canon point and shoot with me at the time but did not bring my DSLR.  This was supposed to be an in and out mission to check on a camera and only possibly move it, so I went light.  I won't make that mistake again.

The pair of bobcats were pretty bold and one of them sat there watching me for 5 minutes or so as I snapped a few photos and watched it fill up my binoculars.  They were a little different in size and I suspect the larger bolder one was the male and the smaller shyer one the female, but this is pure speculation.  Bobcats do not show strong sexual dimorphism, but when they do it is strongest in the coastal low-elevation portions of their range (Dobson SF and Wigginton JD).  Considering the bobcats could hear the waves of Monterey Bay from where they watched me I think that qualifies as coastal.  I watched them for a bit and might have been able to sit there for hours without them spooking, but unfortunately they were sitting in the path I needed to go down.  I turned back to where I had come from a waited and few minutes and then came back around the corner but the larger one was still sitting there blocking my way.  I decided to very slowly keep moving towards them and they eventually, very calmly, sauntered into a willow patch.  It was such a treat to see them and have them never spook, just retreat at their own leisurely pace.

White-tailed Kites, Elanus leucurus, were putting on an aerial show, chasing each other and hunting in the fields.  I saw at least 5 individual kites today with a total of 8 sightings.  Some sightings may have been a previously seen kite.  Next time I am out there I will have to try and photograph these guys with a DSLR.

Bobcat photos below:

Not super easy to see, but both of are in this photo.

The larger bolder animal.  Sat there looking at me for quite some time.

The shyer, redder, smaller animal

These three photos were cropped.

Dobson SF and Wigginton JD, Environmental influences of the sexual dimorphism in body size of western bobcats, Oecologia, Volume 108, Number 4, 610-616, DOI: 10.1007/BF00329033

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Bobcat Sighting

No pretty pictures, but saw a bobcat this morning in the field across from the West Entrance to campus.  It was just to the west of the "High St" (no jokes) label.  See where the tree line goes north-south then jogs west-east quick before going back north-south?  Saw it in the open field heading towards the east end of that west-east treeline if those directions make any sense.

View UCSC in a larger map

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Conference of the Birds

John Burgess / PD

Attn. Bird Mavens!

After a few years of buzz about the (potential and then final) acquisition of the Jenner Headlands by the Sonoma Land Trust, few reports have emerged -- even among the devoted folk that frequent birder lists.

This weekend we have a wonderful reminder from the Press Democrat. A Hawk Hill Jr. welcoming migrants such as the Ferruginous Hawk? Yes, please.

Public access is limited, so check out the preserve site for info.

h/t: my pops

A Cackler and a Cooper's

A Cackler Goose from Antonelli Pond in Santa Cruz, CA.  A fairly rare migrant in this area.  Notice the much smaller size and shorter bill in comparison to the Canada geese in the photo.

A first year Cooper's Hawk also from Antonelli Pond in Santa Cruz, CA.  It only perched in the tree for 20 seconds or so before flying off to hunt coots.
Obviously not camera trap photos. Taken with a Canon DSLR and a Tamron 18-250mm walking lens which is not the sharpest lens in the world, but is very versatile.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

From The Morning

Hello and thanks to Jake for the warm welcome.

As mentioned on here in previous posts, I am working on a project in Marin. In tandem with the Camera Trap Codger, some chums, my 6th grade class and little bit on my own, the search has been for smaller mammals at springs and middens. At the other end of the spectrum, Puma concolor is also on our wishlist.

In coming months I will post the adventures and misadventures of this project and with the possibility of non-trap topics such as street art and urban exploration.

I'll start off with a sweet profile shot of a Western Gray Squirrel taken from a small spring set in the shadows of late morning light.

Nearby, a tree that perhaps our friend has been stripping for nest materials:

Black Bear in West Marin

There have been several reported sightings of a Black Bear in West Marin County.  While black bears are seen from time to time in West Marin and Southern Sonoma Counties it is a rare sighting.
Point Reyes National Seashore staff has received a half-dozen reports in recent weeks from visitors and local residents about an unusual visitor roaming the area -- a black bear.
"Although none of these reports have been confirmed by staff, it seems likely that at least one black bear is visiting the seashore and surrounding lands," said John Dell'Osso, chief of interpretation at the seashore.
The bear was last spotted a week ago about 1.5 miles from the aptly named Bear Valley Trail trailhead near seashore headquarters. It also has been spotted at Tomales Bay State Park, Tomales Point and there has been evidence -- a torn-up trash can -- that it has been at Heart's Desire Beach.
Dell'Osso said there shouldn't be any cause for alarm.
Maybe we need to think about bear proofing our Marin County cameras!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Introducing Christian

Haskell Peak view
I am happy to announce that my good friend and fellow camera trapper, Christian, AKA ecov ottos, has joined Camera Trapping Campus and will hopefully be posting from his projects in Marin County with the Codger as well as other topics. Beyond wildlife photography, Christian has a great eye for urban photography and fun Holga shots. He was into Holgas before it became the thing all the cool kids wanted to do and continues with it even after the fad has ended and everyone uses their hipstamatic app instead.  The above picture is a Christian Holga from the Camera Trap Codger's Camera Trap Workshop in the Northern Sierra's that we both attended last year.

Bad Aim

One of the benefits of the cheaper off-the-shelf trailcams like the Scoutguard is its quick trigger speed.  The major downside is that it does not have an LCD display. You have to plug in a remote control with a postage stamp LCD screen which works fine for aiming the camera as long as you remember to bring it with you.  Alas, I forgot it when I set up this set on the UCSC Upper Campus Reserve.  I placed the camera in a thicket of brush that had a little canopy with a game trail going through it.  This lead to a well hidden camera but a very short distance between the camera and the trail.  As you can see, even though I thought I had the camera low enough on the tree it was a bit still high.  However, I was barely able to get shots of animals no more than 18" from the camera crossing directly in front of it.  Homebrews may have missed these shots.  Curve was used as scent for this set.  I don't think I will forget the LCD remote next time and hopefully get critters in frame.  FAIL



Thursday, November 18, 2010

Wilder Bobcats

My colleague and fellow grad student Esteban likes to ride his bike up to campus through Wilder Ranch State Park once a week or so.  Although it takes longer than the traditional routes it is a beautiful ride and has the potential for wildlife sightings.  He has been seeing bobcats, Lynx rufus, nearly every ride up for the past month now.  I gotta get out on that trail with my DSLR as soon as I can.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Midden and a Carcass

I set-up a camera this morning at the new location here in Santa Cruz.  It is a very interesting mix of habitat which should yield some good results.  Habitats includes salt marsh, riparian and chaparral.

On the hike I ran across a dusky-footed woodrat, Neotoma fuscipes, midden made of willow, cat-tail and what I think was dried hemlock stems.
I also found a dead raccoon, Procyon lotor, that was in the middle stages of decay.  Most of the fur was still left on the body, but the skull had been almost completely cleaned.  The carcass did not appear to be disturbed by scavengers.

I set the camera up about 20 meters from the dead raccoon on a game trail that looked to get moderate use.  There were also beds, probably deer, nearby along the trail and predator scat in the immediate area.  Here's hoping for some pictures of the wild cats and dogs.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Urban Coyotes

The City of Chicago has released GPS fitted coyotes into the city to help with the rat and mouse problem in what they are calling their Urban Coyote Program. This may be the greatest thing I have ever heard of.
A coyote loping along the South Loop streets this morning was probably at his job searching out rodents, according to city animal welfare officials.

A video shot overnight shows the coyote running down State Street as cars and a moving truck pass by. Brad Block, a supervisor for the Chicago Commission on Animal Care and Control, said the animal has the run of the Loop to help deal with rats and mice. He said no one has called today to complain.

"He's not a threat...He's not going to pick up your children," Block said. "His job is to deal with all of the nuisance problems, like mice, rats and rabbits."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

New Locations

sweet fog at Audubon Canyon
Heading to Marin tomorrow to check some cams with some friends.

Today, I also met with some folks about a new location here in Santa Cruz. Hopefully I will be trapping there by next week and have some good pictures soon.  I am really excited about this new project and will say more when it is up and running.

Photo by ecov ottos.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Just got three lures in the mail today from Cumberland's Supply.  I can smell them through the box although Zara has not lifted her head off of the couch as I look at them.

Cronks: Predator 500 and Predator 700
Kaatz Bros. Lures: Evanesce, Predator Curiosity Lure

We will see if these bring in the coyotes, foxes and bobcats at the next set.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Still Waiting ...

It is raining here in Santa Cruz so the camera is going to stay out for a few more days, but rain means it is amphibian season.  I have a couple of Pacific tree frogs,  Pseudacris regilla, singing in my very urban backyard and flipping hide spots revealed quite a few Slender Salamanders, Batrachoseps gavilanensis. So a non-camera trap Ensatina photo while we wait for the rain to slow and see if we got anything on the first set.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

First Camera is out.

Put my first camera out today (10/17/10) on campus.  I will leave it up for about two weeks and then pull it down.  I will be moving my camera around a bit to keep the hippies from finding it and stealing it even if it means missing out on some of those species that don't like to visit the your trap until a month after it is set.  The camera I have up now is a ScoutGuard.  I still need to buy yeti boards and have RandomTruth help me hack some Sony S600s.

I scouted locations for a couple of weeks and ran into a coyote, well almost ran into.  I came up over a ridge and we were about 10 feet from each other by the time either of us realized the other was there.  I was not quick enough to get my DSLR up and photograph it.  It bailed quickly down the hill.  I tried circling around the ridge hoping to pop out at the top of the ridge and cut it off.  Almost made it, but there was a creek with steep banks that I was not expecting separating us.  Fired off a couple of long distance shots in very low light.  You can almost tell it is a coyote.