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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