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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.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Adventures in Monterey Pt 1

On my way down to Carmel to meet Christian, among the hellish labor day weekend traffic, I made a quick stop at Jetty Road/Elkhorn Slough to take a look at the Sea Otters that frequent the area. I thought I only had about 20 minutes before I needed to get back on the road so that Christian and I would have a similar Carmel ETA. Turns out traffic was even worse for him and I could have taken longer and worked a bit harder to learn the camera and get better photos, but these will serve as try #1.

The otters were mostly sleeping in a big raft when I got there, so the opportunity for adorable action shots weren't there.

Rubbing eyes was about the most action these guys would do. A cropped shot where nothing seemed to be quite in focus. 

This one floated a bit away from the main raft and was the closest otter, but the bastard did nothing but backfloat


Foot tags abound

Wait, wait, an exciting eye scratch




Cute little critters that would eat your face off if you give them a chance.

Note: Edited for egregious typos

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Dusky Warbler

Went hunting for the Dusky Warbler at Coyote Point Marsh in San Mateo first found by Logan Kahle and Bob Toleno on 10/8.

Admittedly this is a bird I never would have IDed correctly if I had run into it by myself without knowing it was there, but once you know what to look for and a shit ton of patience we were able to find it. That supercilium almost makes it look like a wren.

Arrived a touch after 10am and a few people were already staked out. After maybe 30 minutes Adam Dudley and Dorian Anderson got a quick 3 second look, while I was busy looking at the wrong bird, a dull common yellowthroat. Then a lot of time went by without hearing or seeing it. At about 1pm I decided to give up and head back to the car. On the path back I ran into another birder, Patrick, that separated from the group and had just got on the bird. This time the bird gave us much better looks. Still skulking in the shadows and not sitting still for very long, but longer than 3 seconds. We saw it off and on for about 45 minutes, when I decided it was finally time to go into lab.







This is what a dusky warbler's butt looks like

I got a new camera recently and I have gotten it out only a few times so far. Damn grant writing and bench science screwing up my photography game. This yellow-rumped warbler is far from crushed, the focus is a bit off, but I am posting them anyways to be able to compare to 6 months from now when I get a little better with the camera. Hopefully my easy bird picture taking abilities improve quickly



Speaking of easy birds, this black phoebe was sitting on the same culvert that the dusky warbler was skulking around. Use that as a reference if you go out on the search.




And finally a couple of Mallards and a coot, because why not, new camera.




The end

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Toad SuperBloom

Let's stay down south, but go back to a campus.

In late May, CTC met up on JK's turf down on the Farm. The plan was for a birding excursion at Lake Lagunita: in the weeks previous stunningly full from a year of plenty, but at this time returning to more of a vernal pool state.

The day was blustery and there really wasn't much action as we walked the first half of the loop. A pair of Hooded Orioles -- the day's winged highlight -- had just scattered off into the foliage when JK somehow scoped:

Anaxyrus boreas halophilus

A Western, or California Toad! While one of the more common amphibian species in our state, either of us had not come across one in a while -- and pretty neat to find as a toadlet.

So after trying to photograph the hell out this poor jittery youngster, we continued down the trail, coming upon where the diversion from San Francisquito Creek feeds into the lake. 

It was there where the thousands of our previous friend's brothers and sisters revealed themselves in a an almost hallucinatory manner. Each step we placed down on the earth, toads took to the air. Inside every burrow, hole and divot, their horizontal pupils were watching. In undulating waves, floating down the stream like Huck & Jim.

By now the sharp wind had calmed to a light whisper and we moved on, leaving the toads to continue their journey...

toad motherload location

this was one many being carried down the stream

the light stripe down the back is a key ID mark

flooded burrows were another common hangout

getting in close

what is your count? (higher-res)

Thursday, August 17, 2017

50% Dipping at Devil's Slide

The other day Christian and I met up quick at Devil's Slide to look for the wayward Northern Gannet. I had seen it once almost a year to the date at Maverick's beach in Half Moon Bay, and once very poorly on a pelagic with Alvaro's Adventures, but Christian had yet to get a glimpse worth counting. With reliable reports for a couple of days running we headed over in the afternoon. Turns out morning would have been better. Or any of the next 5 days. We dipped hard.

But we did get a chance to see the Rock Wren family at the Egg Rock overlook and snapped a few pictures before my camera battery died. The damn birds don't hold still long and some long grass was between them and my lens so while none of these qualify as a crushing it was nice to get out for a bit and try my hand at some photography again. Its been awhile.






Here is Egg Rock, where the Gannet likes to hang out, but just a bunch of murres and cormorants occupying during our visit.


Decent Birding!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Return

Last summer, there were optimistic thoughts for the river otter field studies my students and I were engaged in. Our cameras had been collecting consistent solid videos each period, the students were learning signs of otter in the field and we were observing several critters during our field work, including an epic hunt of a coot.

The new school year rolled around and the pendulum swung back. Cameras malfunctioned, were swallowed up by a rising pond and with new human disturbances, the otters vanished.

Environmental Science curriculum shifted away towards studies of coho salmon and coast redwoods. The responsibilities of Adult Life also intensified and with it, camera traps began to capture nothing but dust and cobwebs.

Late in the school year, a handful of otter reports began to trickle in (PSA: please submit any observations you have to Otter Spotter !) and with the days winding down, I finally mustered up the opportunity for the class to ramble down and check things out with our own eyes.

8 months of disappointment were pushed aside as we were given another hunting performance (unsuccessful) and the scat-splattered trail gave communication that several otters were likely residing.

Cameras were deployed in two new locations, with a homebrew being used for the first time.


noble profile w/ bud

A few other critters dropped by to check in:

young grackle being a grackle

this raccoon vibing the return of Twin Peaks

Hopefully these charismatic beasts continue to stick around for next year's students to study. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Fleeting Glance: Birding in Havana

Cuba is a confusing and at times truly frustrating place, but one with a magnetic culture, history and ecology that has intrigued me for many years.

April 2016 marked my second trip to the island, the first occurring nearly five years ago in 2012. The first trip was a wild, whirlwind of a trip with three co-workers, one of whom would become my wife. There is a bit more to that side of the story, but that will be saved for the Special Ed teacher tv series script (in progress).

Relevant to this blog, exploring natural history that first trip took a backseat to a frenzied week in Havana that focused on Cuban staples such as music, baseball and gallons of rum, all with the attractive aura surrounding us as Americans in Cuba pre-Thaw.

Last April's trip was with my wife only and while much of our plan was a continuation of her family discoveries from the first trip, we also set aside some time for deeper explorations based on our own interests -- so I got some vinyl crate-digging in and a birding trip to the Jardin Botánico Nacional, just south of the city.

It was a brutally hot day and we were half-delirious from lack of sleep and Zika paranoia after three nights of unwilling participation in a mosquito buffet...yet we chose to walk the grounds rather than explore all 500 acres on the tractor tour? Anyway, we stumbled around the gardens for a couple hours which were at times, loudly soundtracked by Mockingbirds and legions of Greater Antillean Grackles.


Anoles were ever present, clinging to broad leaves and sides of structures.
Cuban Green Anole

Cuban Lesser Racer?

This dead snake is notable because it is the first and only snake seen in Cuba, counting both trips.

A few more birds !
LaSagra's Flycatcher with nest material

Cuban Emerald
Cuban Emerald

Bonus city bird:

Red-legged Thrush with lizard snack

Thoughts and plans for trip number three to the island are already brewing, with Viñales and the Zapata Swamp part of the itinerary !

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Siberian / Sub-Tropical Saturday Search Social


It has been said that these are dark times and here in California this has been experienced psychologically in the mindframes of stunned and outraged progressives/rational beings/humans with a soul, but also literally with the onslaught of storm after storm.

Yesterday the clouds kindly parted to make way for glorious sun, an invitation to voyage and embrace the light.

The winter storms have brought in some unusual characters to the Bay Area and after the last Pineapple Express came through, there was a determination to see a couple of these visitors before they took off -- or met a darker fate -- RIP little Ross's Gull :( 

First stop was in Pacifica for the Emperor Goose. An inhabitant of the Siberian and Alaskan tundra, records do show appearances in CA -- primarily the Northern part of the state -- about every other year. This is the second record of the bird in San Mateo County.

Many locals were also stoked on the sunshine and walking along the Sharp Park levee required a decent amount of navigation around strollers, oldsters and frisky canines.

However, the Emperor abided and performed well for the half-dozen or so birders inching towards the park fence.

Emperor Goose

Emperor Goose

Emperor Goose

While it appears that the two goose species were on friendly terms, whenever the Emperor would forage near a Canada, the larger cousin would immediately turn, hiss and nip at the intruder from the north.

Also of note on the ocean side were several large rafts of Surf Scoters. I don't have a ton of sea -watches under my belt, so this was a unique and cool sight. No images because my lens is too weak.

The Emperor was first observed on January 23rd -- will it stay for the spring?

Following the great success of the morning, next up was the quick trip across to Colma, where JK was waiting at Cypress Lawn Cemetery. Yes folks, birding with the dead... initially kinda awkward, but one quickly gets back into the birding spirit, especially while on the quest for the brilliant Vermilion Flycatcher!

Now the Vermilion is a more common visitor in CA, particularly in the south, but for a Sonoma County boy a real treat (ebird shows only one record from north of the Golden Gate to Humboldt).

This bird was first discovered in November of last year and the fear was in us that the day-glow freak was gone after the latest round of soakings. Brief cries of alarm were attributed to finches with their red hues and there were moments where we tried to convince ourselves and the two other kind birders we teamed up with that the flash in the foliage we had seen was It.

A leisurely loop around the stakeout point did yield some nice stuff: a large flock of Cedar Waxwings, a Western Bluebird clan and the always welcome Say's Phoebe.

Western Bluebird
blue wing-lines are rad

Say's Phoebe
the lord Say's

When it was just about time to throw in the towel, an intensely out-of-place dab of color came into focus in the distance.

Vermilion from afar

The spectacular creature let us creep forward to truly bask in its splendor before zipping off.

Vermilion Flycatcher

Vermilion Flycatcher

These are the best shots I got and they do no justice to this fine specimen. Truly paralyzing in person.