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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.

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.