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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.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Winter Solstice

This is the final part of the three part series from a Winter Solstice set near Bon Tempe Lake in the Mt. Tam watershed.

The closers shall be the spirit animal of this half of CTC, the gray fox.
Very common to the Northern California camera trapper, these guys are usually the first to the scene, eager to sniff and rub any foul scent concoction laid down by naturalist/fauna.

This set had foxes coming in for a drink

Foxes screaming

Foxes leaping, running and knocking the camera 'round

One thing that would be neat to capture is their true leaping and climbing ability. Gray foxes have been observed to jump 4 feet high from a standing position, and have been seen denning 30 feet high high in trees. 
Perhaps a goal for this season of trapping !

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 ...

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Finding My White Whale

In Spring of this year, I got the call from Sean that we were on for a Zonata hunt, if I could get out during the week. Coming with us (more accurately taking us) was the esteemed California Mountain King researcher Mitch Mulks. If I was finally going to slay my white whale, Mitch was the person to help me do it. Mitch is the author of a beautiful book with lots of great photos of the different locales of Zonata (which looks to be out of print and going for $300 on Amazon!, maybe I need to sell my spare copy?!?). You should still be able to buy a copy for less than that at the East Bay Vivarium though.

We wandered around El Dorado County a bit and actually found this snake at the first spot we stopped at after about 30 minutes of searching. It was in a crack in the rocks, barely exposed. Mitch called me over to see it in situ before we pulled it out to get a good look. I have to admit I never would have seen it, and I don't know how he did. I guess thousands of hours in the field looking for Mt Kings make your eyes sharper. We admired it for 10 minutes and photographed it and then put it back in its little crack of a home.



We never sexed the snake, but we did notice an old wound on its side that was mostly healed. It looked like maybe it had been pecked with a beak.


The other guys had seen 4-5 rattlesnakes on the day and I hadn't seen a single one. In the midst of complaining about this fact, while walking along stacked granite wall, I got buzzed good. The rattles came about 12" at thigh height and I did the hip sway dance as I passed them. Walking back there were two individuals in this crack. One was calm and not bothered, the other shook that rattle constantly. I snapped a couple of proof photos and let them be.


Lastly we had a few other snakes on the day. This young yellow-bellied racer that I managed to mis-identify originally. My mind went to gopher snake, even though I knew it wasn't right by body shape and size. This was likely born this year.

We also saw, but didn't photograph including three whipsnakes, and a couple of garternsnakes.


The scenery wasn't half bad either. Remember when California Creeks had water in them?


Many thanks to Mitch for playing tour guide and sharing some of his spots with us. Looking forward to doing it again next Spring.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Calling All Frogs

A couple of videos of a male, Oophaga pumilio, calling. The female is in the upper part of the first video. Sorry about the dirty glass.

Isle Cristobal locale

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Change of Campuses


That is the message to myself in the draft of this post ... sitting in my draft box since March and I still haven't done it.

Sorry for the lack of posting. CTC has switched campuses. No more views of Monterey Bay on the beautiful UCSC campus. I started a postdoc at Stanford University in February and haven't been able to get out in the field much, let alone write-up any posts for this almost defunct blog. Thank God Christian has kept us alive with a couple of posts.

The banner is going to have to wait a bit longer for a picture change. I hope to start posting a bit more often, if we have any readers left.

The good news is that I didn't have to move far and I can keep up with some of the local Bay Area camera trappers in real life. Maybe I can get my cameras back out in the field soon too. I certainly missed seeing everyone at the annual Codger Kids reunion during pre-class set-up a couple of weeks ago.

So keep checking in ...

A couple of photos of the Stanford campus from other people because every post needs a photo or two. The aesthetics of imperfection and transience
Exploring the unknown...

A Happy 4th to our American readers

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Trail of the (bobbed) Tail

The bobcats of Mt. Tam have never been shy to CTC and the Winter Solstice set found one of their favorite paths.

They visited the area 8 times and from them, I'm thinking we have two individuals.

First on the scene stops and listens.

Then lots of walking the trail... away from our eye on the creek.

Finally, one walks toward us… !

A closing treat that I had missed upon first couple viewings of the videos: A bobcat walking the trail, followed by a trotting fox seconds later.

Friday, March 14, 2014


In December, people were starting to freak out in California about water. I had heard from some local farmers that they were worried about their entire crop coming close to failure.

Several rainstorms came in 2014 and they changed the drought situation from completely dire to pretty screwed.

Back in December, camera trapping was experiencing the effects of the drought as well, however a cure was on the way. Teacher chum Ryan brought up the idea of a Winter Solstice hike up Mt. Tam from one of the reservoirs.

We would bring a couple traps and surely along the way we would find a nice stream to place a set? 

Environs were mighty dry as we began bushwacking, with most stream beds solely dusty rocks and an occasional puddle of stagnant water.

Eventually, we did find a section of the stream that was running and choose to settle, given what we had observed previously. The stream itself was slow moving as it wound between boulders and underneath two fallen Doug Fir. I focused my camera on the widest pool that had formed at one bend. The camera would remain up for six weeks.

Today's post focuses on our feathered friends. They can claim first visit, and frankly it always seems like a nice treat when they show up during sets.

3 sharp-shinned hawk drink visits

A couple of Band-tailed Pigeons then arrived for a drink and a bath. 
You can see the "scum" that begins to accumulate in the water. The Codger had a recent post where a flock of band-tails invaded a pool leaving their mark behind. 
The great discussion that followed in the comments section included the fact nugget that the scum is a powder produced by the pigeons and is a sign of good health.

Finally, one of the last visitors to the set, a Varied Thrush. Unfortunately not in color, so we miss out on the splashes of vivid orange, but we do get to see some nice behavior as it forages among the leaf litter.

Next up: Bob

Friday, February 7, 2014


I got back from a quick trip to Belize a couple of weeks ago. I should start to trickle out some posts from our adventures and misadventures there in the coming weeks.

However it was a little weird landing back in the States and filling out my custom form.


I had literally nothing to declare. Not even a bottle of hot sauce. No souvenirs bought for myself or anyone else.

Or so I thought.

Turns out I did bring back a souvenir.

Four of them for that matter.

Dermatobia hominis

One in my shoulder, one on my side-boob, on in my shin, and lastly one on my ankle.

I didn't realize what was going on until last night. I just thought they were bites that had gotten infected and were taking forever to heal. They kept oozing liquid and blood and there was a hard nodule under the surface of the skin that I thought was just an inflammatory reaction. Every once in a while a shooting pain would spread quickly from the bite. Sharp enough to wake me from my sleep, but nothing earth-shattering. Overall the bite site was sore, but I could tolerate it. But instead of getting better these symptoms got a bit worse.

My mom suggested it was botfly because her friends kid once went to Belize and got a botfly ... you know how those mom stories go.

But I was concerned enough that I did some google image search of botfly wounds.

"Shit. My bites look a lot like those", I thought.

Then I thought I could feel the larva moving when I pressed on the wound, but I wasn't sure if it was all in my dome.

Then I put some Vicks Vapor Rub on the open hole. After a bit one of the little bastards stuck their head out to breath. Only then was I 100% sure I had the botfly.

Vern at approximately two weeks of age. He lived in my shoulder. He was growing quickly, feeding off of my flesh. He might have lived to be 2cm if I hadn't ended it all so early

Botfly breathing tunnel in my ankle

Human Botfly, or Dermatobia hominis, can use mosquitos to be the vector for their eggs, which explained why I never saw a large fly bite me and still got the youngin' living inside of me. From wikipedia:

Dermatobia fly eggs have been shown to be vectored by over 40 species of mosquitoes and muscoid flies, as well as one species oftick;[2] the female captures the mosquito and attaches its eggs to its body, then releases it. Either the eggs hatch while the mosquito is feeding and the larvae use the mosquito bite area as the entry point, or the eggs simply drop off the muscoid fly when it lands on the skin. The larvae develop inside the subcutaneous layers, and after approximately eight weeks, they drop out to pupate for at least a week, typically in the soil. The adults are large flies resembling bumblebees. They are easily recognized because they lack mouthparts (as is true of other Oestrid flies).

Now what? Again remedies from wikipedia:

Recently, physicians have discovered that venom extractor syringes can remove larvae with ease at any stage of growth. As these devices are a common component of first-aid kits, this is an effective and easily accessible solution.[3] 
A larva has been successfully removed by first applying several coats of nail polish to the area of the larva's entrance, weakening it by partial asphyxiation.[4] 
Covering the location with adhesive tape would also result in partial asphyxiation and weakening of the larva, but is not recommended because the larva's breathing tube is fragile and would be broken during the removal of the tape, leaving most of the larva behind.[4] 
The easiest and most effective way to remove botfly larvae is to apply petroleum jelly over the location, which prevents air from reaching the larva, suffocating it. It can then be removed with tweezers safely after a day. 
Oral use of ivermectin, an antiparasitic avermectin medicine, has proved to be an effective and non invasive treatment that leads to the spontaneous emigration of the larva.[5] This is especially important for cases where the larva is located at inaccessible places like inside the inner canthus of the eye.

I tried the venom extractor kit first. That worked for the one on my shin, but just gave me a hickie at the other three locations.

So asphyxiation with camphor flavored petroleum jelly, AKA Vick's Vapor Rub. That worked anywhere from 12-18 hours later.

I was tempted to let the one I called Carlito, live in my ankle, and hatch him out, but it was living on close to the joint, so if I did too much walking, he'd get angry and start throwing those spines into the wall of his tunnel (my flesh) and things would get sore.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Magnificent Triple Take

"So there is a Mountain Lion going through my sister's backyard…"
I share a incredulous glance with teacher chum Ryan.
she continued, "It must be going after her chickens!"

The call was put out to place a camera trap in this particular San Anselmo backyard and our suspicions were confirmed with the appearance of a bobcat.

Of course the real treasure of this capture is the action in the diamond window of the chicken coop.

A great double take is a relatively common occurrence and with practice can be performed with excellence.

a master of the craft at work

However a triple take requires such an alarming event to take place for it to even truly be warranted, that it is a rare event to behold, especially so when its performer delivers it so beautifully, as this distressed chicken does.

A tip of the hat to this bird.

*This will hopefully be the end of the archive clean, with JK and I maintaining a couple of projects in the field currently and some recent adventures to detail.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Should Be Guest Blog: Take It Slow

CTC chum and teaching colleague Ryan continues his shyness, or a desire for a camera trap curse, so here I am again to muse of his adventures...

Every summer, usually a couple days before the final day of school, Ryan splits the Bay Area for the East Coast to visit family.

The main destination is Indian Lake, a part of a chain of lakes called ... the Indian Lakes in Ontario, Canada.
The goals here: achieve an advanced state of chillness to recuperate from the stressful life of a special ed teacher, do some fishing and hang with the kiddos.

Along the way, his naturalist skills continue to develop.

Last summer on a wander, he noticed distinct chew marks on a tree he believed to be from a porcupine. A camera was set up in the area and the result was a new species for the CTC family!

like its summertime neighbour, taking it slow

JK and I look forward to future Canadian dispatches from the horse's mouth this coming summer.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Weasel Wednesday / Mustelid Miércoles

It would be nice if this was a regular feature.
We'll see if the camera trap gods allow it !

taken last spring at the las gallinas dock -- our usual happy hour spot

Monday, January 6, 2014

Ballad of the Booby

an August in twenty thirteen
the blue-footed boobies
journeyed north for the anchovies
word came they were all juvies

a terrible birder joined the quest
anxious for a brief glimpse
Bodega! Reyes! The City!
denied in each instance

a guano rich rock in Marin
the final chance for the success
highway one hugs the winding coast
he, oddly free of stress

then at mile nine - quick over a fence
sharp shrubs, slick sediment
left his clothes torn with hands bleeding
damn all impediment!

at the edge where spray could be felt
rest along a rocky rise
binoculars out on the search
relentless scans tire eyes

to the north a lonely fisher
while straight a-west booby
"nay, there two clearly on Gull Rock"
the birder cried with glee

after an hour he was sated
steep hike up, yet peppy
a glorious success today
what could halt this jolly?

there at the top - two old birders
with scope trained obscure
"come have a look" they said with grins
without sweat, a sight pure