Title Image

Title Image


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.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Las Gallinas Creek

Across the parking lot from my school lies a creek and walking path. The path is lined with towering Eucalyptus, whose eerie creaking sounds continually bring surprise and confusion among the students during outdoor activities.

In one of the most magnificent trees, a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks have been nesting for several years. Last spring, myself and a few other resident bird nuts at school followed the raptor pair and their young until fledging with a great, simple joy.

Red-shouldered Hawks

Red-shouldered Hawk

Recently, we have been speculating on the return of this faithful pair and another round of young.

Tuesday I arrived at work and immediately spied a group of birders with monstrous lenses trained upon the nesting tree.

"Aha," I cried, "the hawks are back!"

I sprint-walked towards the group and expected the confirmation of my thoughts.

"A Great Horned is squattin'," replied one of the birders.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owls do not make their own nests and are one of the earliest nesting birds, beginning as early as January. This combination allows them to take advantage of the "abandoned" nests previously used by birds that have yet to migrate back for nesting season.

Two owlets have been seen in the nest, with one appearing stronger and fiestier than the other.

with owlet

How did this development impact the hawks? Well, they have traveled 50 feet down the path and have been building a new nest.

The spring shall be an exciting one along Las Gallinas Creek.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Life & Times of Don Coyote (an excerpt)

One of the recurring characters at Younger Lagoon Reserve is a character dubbed “Don Coyote” by Jake. This coyote is easily recognized with his ragged, mangy appearance, especially on the tail.

Don made an appearance in the Bushnell marsh set 005. The results from that set were promising, so we didn’t want to leave the marsh. Bobcat prints o’plenty were seen about 50 feet from set 005, thus a decision was made to move the cam to this area. It was placed in a tree looking down at an angle at the print-laden path.

Two days in Don gave his greetings, stopping at a fallen branch doused in Fox Frenzy.

Showing his biting tendencies

Leaving his mark

Bobcat visit

Don visiting his work the next day

Later, two bobcats came to play

About two weeks later, Don inspects the play area

and again left his mark

What lies in the future for the remarkable Don Coyote? I am guessing biting and peeing, but perhaps this canine will entertain us with even greater wonders!

Bonus goodness: Upon leaving, we observed a Bobcat cruising through the mustard fields outside the reserve!

Bobcat outside the reserve

Friday, March 18, 2011

Snow in the Carmel Mountains

After a beautiful January that lead to amazing, taunting sidewalk graffiti things have turned here in Northern California.  It is rainy and stormy and three weekends ago we got some major snow on Hwy 17 going over the Santa Cruz Mountains.  The following weekend we got more snow on Loma Prieta that we could see from our Santa Cruz location and in Carmel Valley. So these pictures are ancient in blog years but I thought I would still share them.

Camera Trapping Campus met up for a feast in Carmel that included sauteed rainbow chard, home made Mac and Cheese with smoked beer sausages from El Salchichero, some BBQ beans, cheese and crackers and beer.

The next morning we headed to the Carmel River for some quick wildlife watching between storms before Christian headed down to LA.

Looking over at Pt. Lobos

Snow on the Mountains


Anna's Hummingbird

On the way back to Santa Cruz I ran into this guy near Elkhorn Slough.

Edited: Buteo lineatus. Juvenile Red-Shouldered Hawk

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Herping UCSC Part 2.

Last time I checked in I shared some photos from herping in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  In Part 2 we herp the UCSC Upper campus Reserve and the Campus proper.

Heading down Empire Grade we hit up the Upper Campus Reserve at a flooded meadow.  There we found a Pacific Tree Frog, Pseudacris regilla.


We finished our day on the UCSC campus proper on the hunt for the Santa Cruz Black Salamander, Aneides flavipunctatus niger or just Aneides niger if you prefer.  This is a sub-species (or species if you prefer) that is endemic to the Santa Cruz Mountains.  One isolated population is here on campus, so we headed down to the old quarry to flip some rocks.

At the first site all we could find were Ensatinas and Slender Salamanders, Batrachoseps gavilanensis.  I somehow managed to forget to take a picture of an Ensatina with their beautiful split green eye, but here is a handful of Slenders found under the same rock.


Leaving the quarry proper we flipped a few rocks on the ground.  Previously we had been looking for rock on rock hideouts.  However, these ground rocks yielded four juvenile nigers!  In person they seemed much more solid black.  The flash accentuates the blue/white flecking.  I had never noticed that green hue that showed up in one individual.  These guys were probably the find of the day.




Heading back to the car we found this arboreal Salamander, Aneides lugubris, under a log.  It was completely patternless but in need of a bath.



We also found a very nice scorpion, Uroctonus mordax spp, who was not too happy we had lifted up his rock and this unidentified millipede.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Herping in the SC Mountains and the UCSC Campus Part 1

My buddy John from the East Bay Vivarium came down this past weekend and we did some feasting and herping.  The only thing we collected were the following pictures.  I have to say the weather was not perfect.  Warmish, but some cloud cover.  Not the best for reptiles nor for amphibians. None-the-less we had an excellent day.  More species than I had expected, although we got shut out on Rubber boas and Zonata.  I never expected Zonata; it is still too cool and early but it would have been nice.  Come May hopefully I can bring you some Zonata pictures.

First we headed up Empire Grade to hit some spots on the side of the road.  Flipping an old carpet and another rubber mat we ran into our first herps.

Under the rubber mat was a pair of Northern Alligator Lizards, Elgaria coerulea.  The normal female was gravid with a uterus full of babies that she will give live birth to in a few months.  The male was stunning and patternless.  Even this far north in California the Southern gators are more common so this was a great treat.  I always enjoy seeing wild morphs, such as the leucistic Coleonyx we find in the Mojave Desert.

Patternless male

Gravid female

Next under the old carpet we found my first snake of 2011.  It was a nice adult Ring-necked snake, Diadophis punctatus.  In the third photo notice the mangled tail.  The evolved defense mechanism worked!



Mangled tail means the defense mechanism worked
Also under the mat was a Western Skink, Eumeces skiltonianus. We found four or so more at the next stop too.


Next we hit up another Empire Grade spot and found a pile of roofing tile.  John was much more ambitious than I was and started digging through the 200 plus tiles.  We found Blue-bellies, Sceloporus occidentalis, under every few tiles.  We must have seen 40+ individuals.  Nearly all the adults were female (9 out of 10 or so).  There were also dozens of youngsters running around among the tiles.


At the bottom of the one of the tile piles was this gopher snake, Pituophis catenifer catenifer.  It looked as if it was just coming out of hibernation, maybe throwing a coil or two out when the sun shined its life giving rays near the tile pile.


Stay tuned for Part 2 when we get to the Amphibians.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Estero Americano

The 4-day Presidents' Day weekend allowed for a type of adventure that I am hoping to embark on more in the future: waterway exploration.

Recently, my co-teacher and I both becam
e boat kayak inflatable craft owners, opening up areas on the map we have been dying to explore.

The first voyage was to be the Estero Americano/Americano Creek, an estuary that begins as a trickle in Cotati. We were to launch from Valley Ford, where the creek starts to get deep. Estero Americano then defines the boundary between motherland Sonoma and beautiful, but vile Marin.

After collecting some snacks and supplies at the fine deli in town, the craft was prepped and ready to get wet.

It was a chilly, but calm morning and we eased down the estuary enjoying the peaceful surroundings, the green hills and the occasional Bufflehead skimming the water's surface.

About 3 miles in, a medium-sized burrow was spotted. We decided to stop to investigate, and eat lunch.

the burrow

Nearby our landing spot and the burrow, on a small stone rise, remnants of a feast were discovered.

Alongside with the wing and entrails, several pellets were also found.

wing detail

Is this the feast of one creature? A dining spot that they frequent? Was this spot connected to the burrow -- Burrowing Owls had been reported in the area the previous week.

Or were there two feedings here? A raptor surprised by another bird or mammal?

This was our conversation as the weather began to turn. The wind picked up and the sky darkened with the threat of rain. Additionally, we feared a lowering tide would make travel upstream difficult, so a return to the launch point was in order.

This fear was realized, as a third of the way back we were grounded several times. We decided to take to foot, deflating our craft and hiking through farmland.

Here, hovering White-tailed Kites and curious Northern Harriers watched over our march through the mud, capping our inaugural aquatic journey with fantastic aerial displays.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Local Condor Talk

Slightly out of focus Condor photo by JK. From Grimes Point on the Big Sur Coast.

From the Santa Cruz Bird Club listserv
On Thursday March 10, the Watsonville Wetlands Watch is hosting award winning environmental journalist John Moir’s presentation “The Race To Save the California Condor From Extinction" as part of our Speaker Series.
By 1982, only 22 CA condors remained in the world. Extinction seemed inevitable until a small group of scientists undertook a risky and controversial program to save our largest bird. With rare photos from the recovery effort, John Moir will recount the riveting saga of bringing the condor back from the brink. In addition, he will explore the current challenges facing the condor program. Moir will also link the condor’s plight to the wave of human-caused extinctions that are sweeping across Earth’s ecosystems and discuss the urgency of new international efforts to save our planet’s biodiversity.

The presentation is from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at the Fitz Wetlands Educational Resource Center at the top of the Pajaro Valley High School campus,Harkins Slough Road, Watsonville. Admission is free, but reservations are requested by contacting Kathy Fieberling at kathyfieb@yahoo.com or 831-345-1226.
John Moir is an award-winning environmental journalist whose special interest is the preservation of biodiversity. Moir’s nonfiction book Return of the Condor, was a finalist for the 2008 William Saroyan International Writing Prize from Stanford University and was also selected as one of the five best pieces of science journalism in 2007 by the National Association of Science Writers. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Smithsonian, Washington Post,Christian Science Monitorand elsewhere.

I will be attending.  A beer on me at SmoQe afterward if you want to talk camera trapping.  The Watsonville Wetlands would be a very fun place to put up a camera or two.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Roosters and mi Abuela

Photo by Flickr user Caitlinator

My Grandmother passed away on Monday after a long battle with lung cancer.  She had quit smoking almost 30 years ago, shortly after I was born, but it still got her in the end.  She was a fighter and the kindest, most wonderful person you could ever know.  In her middle age she dead ringer for Sophia Loren.

Originally from Chihuahua Mexico, she taught me many things, among them the art of tamale making. I will always have tamales on Christmas over ham or turkey if I have my way. The key to great albondigas is fresh herbs (one bay leaf the length of your ring finger) and that a good chile relleno can be made in the oven instead of frying it when you are worried about getting fatter. 

My biggest regret in life is not learning Spanish from her as a kid.  We would visit her and my grandfather in Alpine, California for a week or two every Summer.  She thought it would be a great idea to only speak to us in Spanish during that time so that we would learn.  I was a dumb, stubborn kid and refused to participate. Like I said, biggest regret.

My Grandma Morayma was an animal lover and passed that on to me.  Well, she was never too excited about me bringing home lizards and snakes, especially snakes.  In fact she hated snakes, but other animals were her love.  She always had a chihuahua or two ... or four. But her true love was for roosters and hens.  She never met a rooster she didn't love.  I know she always cooked too much rice or corn at dinner so that she "had" to feed the leftovers to the chickens. Christmas always meant some new rooster themed gift. I know other people who like something and get that thing as a gift all the time to the point that they are sick of one more pig statue, but not my grandma.  She never tired of chickens or roosters.  When she got really sick, I know one of the hardest things she had to do was give up her chickens. 

Every time I see a rooster or hear it's call I will think of you Abuela. I love you.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Too close to the truth?

From the fantastic xkcd

Good Birding.

Bite It

The forces of Camera Trapping Campus met up in late December, this time down south at Younger Lagoon. I was to set up a Bushnell Trophy cam, joining Jake's cam on the High Plateau.

The location of this set was a marshy area that was loaded with prints of raccoon, bobcat and deer.

One month later, a camera check. Upon entrance to the reserve, we were greeted by a fine CALIFORNIA THRASHER. We took this as a good omen.

California Thrasher
Toxostoma redivivum

The camera appeared quite abused -- muddy from the winter storms and without the plastic covering for the IR flash. A quick search turned up the missing piece and its own damage.

The excitement was soaring, the files could not download fast enough!

Initial photos were full of raccoons and ghostly B/W blank shots.

146 photos in, it appeared.

the best shot of the culprit

What could have caused the coyote to maul the camera? Certainly not the flash, for that is infrared. Perhaps the overwhelming stimuli caused by a scent?

Later, our mangy friend stopped by for a noble portrait. Or was it his mugshot?

Our mangy friend