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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, June 30, 2011

High Sierra Sallies

Being the amateur herpers that we are, we looked high and low for herps during last year's camera trapping workshop in Yuba Pass.  We did not find much.  A single garter snake that we could not get our hands on, and a single lizard tail scurrying into the brush on the side of Hwy 49.  Probably a Scelopera.

So heading out this June to pre-set some cams with the Codger I was not holding my breath that we were going to turn up any herps in only a weekend.  See it was a month earlier, much colder, and there was way more snow on the ground then last year when we nearly got skunked over 5 days.

When we got to the SFSU Field Campus the Yuba River was raging and the garter snake spot was class II rapids with dangerous snags.  Not garter snake friendly territory.

We set  the last of our cameras and parted ways with half our group. CTC, randomtruth, Sean P and the Codger decided we could sneak pass the fallen tree in the road and try exploring one last spot.  We made it past the tree without scratching the car and headed on.  It did not take long to hit a snow bank in the middle of the road though so we had to give up and turn around.  Both cars had seen a promising open area so we stopped and got out of the car on the way back.

Our first find was an ecological phenomenon that the Codger will tell you about at some point.

The second was this little guy, the Long-toed Salamander, Ambystoma macrodactylum sigillatum. I am embarrassed to admit that I had the Santa Cruz Black Salamander, Aneides flavipunctatus niger, on my mind and mis-identified this guy as Aneides macrodactylum at first.  I had the species right and the common name right but I put it in the wrong genus.  Duh! There is another subspecies of this guy, Ambystoma macrodactylum croceum, endemic to a couple of vernal pools in the Monterey Bay area hence my twisted brain.

Photo by ecov ottos (Christian)

Christian flipped this individual under the last log before the car. A log I swore I had already flipped but had missed. There were excited outburts of four letter words not fit for print on the blog uttered and beer toasts to the find back at the cabin.

Photo by ecov ottos (Christian)

I am not sure where this Sallie's breeding pond is as there was no obvious one in the area.  He or she had a trek ahead of them or behind them, not sure but since the snow was not fully melted yet I will guess ahead of them.

Photo by ecov ottos (Christian)

This was a life-lister for most (all?) of the group. It was a great way to close our camera-trapping day. At least until we started our camera-trapping night catching Brother Fox.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Screechy in the High Country

Last summer, the call of the Sierras introduced Camera Trapping Campus to the wild, delirious world of camera trapping.

Less than a year later, we return early: slightly craftier and eager for challenges.

Assembling with a crew consisting of the Codger, Random Truth and a few other chums, we set up cams for the Codger's workshop.

A great time was had exploring new habitats and placing some cams in locations that had intrigued us the year before, but were unfortunately passed over due to time limitations.

After a hard day's work, the crew settled in for the night at an agreeable, cozy cabin. A hearty feast was prepared to fill our empty stomachs while stories and schemes were passed between the merry group. Codger and Random Truth were fresh off two successes with "Hornly", a plastic Great Horned Owl that attracted swift attention from the real deal.

Thus, it was decided that we must continue the experiment, this time with a homemade Screech Owl decoy placed in the backyard of our cabin. 3 hours of Western Screech Owl calls were loaded onto Random Truth's Ipod and the decoy was deployed at 9:00pm, with three cameras focused on the furry fake -- two homebrew cams courtesy of Random Truth and Sean P. respectively, and a Bushnell Trophy Cam set for video by yours truly.

set view w/ homebrew 1 and video Bushie

shot of Screechy from homebrew 1

The calls pierced through the mute night, providing a soundtrack for our after dinner beers. Minutes after midnight, the Ipod had done its work and shut down. We had not observed flashes from the homebrews, but regardless hoped for the best and retired to bed.

A morning check-in provided us with success, but not one we were expecting:

1:35 am visit

1:35 am visit

Brother Fox visited again 1 hr 50 minutes later.

3:22 am visit

3:22 am visit

Did the call of "Screechy" bring in our Fox friend? Unlikely, for the delectable smells of our feast (bacon-wrapped meatloaf) and an additional treat left in a nearby rock crevice (roadkill squirrel) would have provided a far greater and expected attractant.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

West Marin Roundup

Hit of Sunshine

The start of summer signals a time for camera trappers to prepare for a pilgrimage to the Sierras for a gathering of the cult of the Codger. For some it is a one time experience -- a landmark trip, yet too intense to repeat. Others return; eager to fly even higher towards the sun...

Camera Trapping Campus are these latter warriors and in order to participate in such festivities, all cams must be pulled from previous sites. What follows are the final captures from the 2010-11 season at the West Marin location.

Trail of Plenty:

gray fox sniff and run

bobcat observing

Wood Rat Midden:

gray fox deep rub


This is a new set, for which we had high hopes. An initial placement provided a stunning background, but little showed up within the frame. After a visit in mid-April the camera was moved closer in, focusing on a log spanning the creek.

When collecting cams a month later, I arrived at the set location -- no cam. Stunned, I searched
among the duff and in the creek to no avail. It made no sense; the camera had been placed well off trail and human traffic in the area had to be close to nil due to the terrain.
Relief, however, came two weeks later when my contact at the reserve informed me that they had a cam in their office that had been collected by the sheriff after a report of "suspicious activity"* in the area.

The results from the camera were disappointing, but it felt good nonetheless to know another camera was not lost to thieves.

acceptable masked bandit

po-po cam collector

All in all, a good rookie year in West Marin. We look forward to next season with a deeper classroom experience and a focus on the small mammals that inhabit the wetter habitats.

*methinks this was the scruffy CTC crew !

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Phibs in the Desert

It has been almost a month since I showed you the Desert Woodrat camera trap photos and promised I would tell you about another visitor to the midden so better late than never ...

It was certainly an unlikely visitor in the Mojave Desert in May, but the Providence Mountains have given us surprises before.  I found two of these Red Spotted Toads, Bufo punctatus, while setting the midden set.  I ran into the first one as I walked to the midden and was delighted to catch it.  The second one was right at the midden and tried to hop into the cholla fence when I grabbed him.  I got a cholla spine in the finger, but the toad came out unscathed.  One of the toads was certainly a boy as he would buzz and vibrate when held in your hand especially if you gave him a little love squeeze him like another amplexing male. "Let Go of Me!"

I then went back to camp and put toads in unsuspecting hands and laps. Quite the surprise to feel the cool touch of an amphibian in the middle of the desert. 

These photos don't have the best lighting as I took them in the evening light just before re-releasing them to go on their way.

Two years prior, while in this same spot in the Providence Mountains in May and 90°F weather we found another Bufo.  I think there is probably nearly near year-round water in the bottoms of the rock pile vein that makes one of the fingers of the Mountain range. An old spring shows up on some maps.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Taxonomic arguments

Actual camera trapping posts next week at the latest, but this may be the greatest news article ever written.