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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.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Summer Bird Count -- Stanford University

Hey something about campus! More 50% on brand posts. And a same day post, what the what?!?

A dry Lake Lagunitas in the morning

Christian and I headed out to the Stanford campus for the annual Audubon Society Summer Bird Count. The trip was lead by Rob Furrow, a most gracious teacher and gifted birder. We were also joined by Jason and Alexander, two Stanford students.

We met up at the somewhat redundantly named Lake Lagunitas at 6:30am. Oh, but its also not a lake, at least not this year. Wasn't really even a vernal pond. Sadly it didn't hold water like last Winter. No toad SUPERBLOOMS. However, it didn't get mowed this year leaving lots of great seeding plants for birds to feed on.

Jacket weather lasted about 20 minutes. We could tell it was going to be a hot one early. It turned into a scorcher reaching 90°F by noon. We ended the day with 62 species and about 6 hours and 10 miles of birding by bike.

I have done other Christmas Bird Counts and Summer Bird Counts on campus, but this was the first time I brought my camera. Even so I didn't really spend much time taking pictures. Our goal was not only to count birds, but to observe any evidence of breeding success. We saw quite a bit of that. Fledgling Western Bluebirds, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Oak Titmouses (Titmice?), Song Sparrows, and the rusty chest of 3 White-tailed Kites were abundant at Lake Lagunitas. Young Mallards were swimming in San Fransquito Creek. White-breasted and Pygmy Nuthatches were seen feeding fledglings in the riparian habitat along the creek. Even cooler was a greedy little Brown Creeper getting fed by two adults in an oak tree. We saw Acorn Woodpeckers feeding young and a young Nutall's Woodpecker sticking his head out of a nest cavity. The most abundant birds of the day were House Finches, many of whom were also feeding fledglings.

The early light and leisurely pace was good for some Western Bluebird photography in the dry lakebed.

An adult male Western Bluebird looking regal as all hell



And one of the fledglings waiting for mom or dad to come back with breakfast.






This fairly rough looking Red-tailed Hawk was on the ground in the Arboretum doing a pretty piss poor job of looking like a tree trunk.



I got 4 new campus birds today, breaking 100 for a total of 102. A flyover Double-crested Cormorant was actually bird #100 (pretty lame #100 if you ask me). I didn't realize that I was missing Kestrel, otherwise I would have been more excited as it flew over my head (and only my head, the other guys were looking for a group of 30 wild turkeys reported to us by some golfers with robot caddies that followed them like a puppy. Oh Silicon Valley).

One of the two Hoover Tower Peregrine Falcons was present for a brief glimpse, but quickly flew off to figure out a way to give more tax cuts to rich people and start another war in the Middle East.

Western Fence lizards were out in full force, but it was a snakeless day. I thought for sure we'd stir up a Yellow-bellied racer or a Gopher snake in the dry lakebed.

Full ebird list can be found here.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

24 hours in Pt. Reyes

I met up with Ken to head up to Pt. Reyes to meet up with some UC Berkeley folks for 1 day of adventure in and around Pt. Reyes National Seashore. We planned to do a little small mammal camera trapping, birding, herping, and mammaling(?).

Since this is supposed to be a camera trapping blog I will start with a few pictures from an old barn where the targets were mice and small carnivores. In one night the only guy to show up was a Peromyscus maniculatus, Deer mouse. Handsome fellow. The scat on a board we found didn't seem to entice anyone.

On the mammal front, on a lead from Christian (a different one) we staked out a structure within Pt. Reyes at sunset trying to grab a few pictures of a gray fox in the after sunset fading light. Considering the photography conditions I'll take this photo 8.5 times out of 10.


The benefit of hiking with a herper is that we are looking down a lot. It means we can miss a lot of birds because they tend to be up, but in this case it allowed us to find this little owl. I first noticed the large amount of whitewash on the trail, which made me look up into the darkness of a tree overhanging the trail and see a little ball of puff 10-12 feet off of the ground. Again the photography conditions were brutal (This was the catalyst that pushed me over the edge to buying a monopod currently in route).


A Northern Saw-whet owl. If I am being honest with you, we mis-ID'ed this one in the field though. We thought it was a Pygmy Owl until looking at the photos at home (and adjusting the exposure a bit). It just seemed so small IRL. Does it still count after being misidentified in the field? We'll have to ask the birding rules committee. Either species would have been a (non-heard-only) lifer so real-time excitement was not diminished.




Zoom in on that mess.


Don't forget to look down sometimes and then back up when you see a whitewash.

On CTC's secondary brand - the herping - it was amazing. We found ~25 snakes and I had two of the best cover boards of my life. But before those we saw a couple of Thamnophis elegans garter snakes on a short hike including one sad DOR youngster. I still don't have a macro lens for my newish camera so herp photos are limited and taken on my phone.

The first snake under a board was a 2-3' Pacific Gophersnake - Pituophis catenifer catenifer that I didn't manage to take a picture of because seconds after I lifted that board, screams from another board being lifted gave a hint to at least 8-10 Pacific Ring-necked Snakes, Diadophis punctatus amabilis. Here I hold 3 of them in my hand at once. Most were in shed, which seemed slightly curious.

Under the next board was a smorgasbord of snakes. I think we got 2 of 3 species of garter snakes but in the chaos and fleeting looks as snakes darted in every directions I can't be 100% sure.

(1) Aquatic Gartersnake -Thamnophis atratus likely integrades in Marin County.

(2) Coast Gartersnake - Thamnophis elegans terrestris. There may have been some integrades with Mountain Gartersnake - Thamnophis elegans elegans because some of the individuals we saw had a lot of blue and almost no red at all to them, but I am not really sure if that is the best field mark for determining subspecies, certainly not better than location that suggest T. e. terrestris.

(3) California Red-sided Gartersnake - Thamnophis sirtalis infernalis. I believe this is the one we dipped on, but it might have been in there as there were some snakes with a lot of blue like I said above (but not a lot of red).

Garter snake IDs were incomplete because under that same board there were better snakes to grab including several Western Yellow-bellied Racer, Coluber constrictor mormon.

But the real winner and Snake O' the Day was a male Northern Rubber Boa - Charina bottae. What a treat!

Other mammals seen were loads of Tule Elk, distant coyote, a bobcat, and several raccoons.


At Bolinas Lagoon we didn't spot any otters but the Harbor seals were making noise and a Clark's Grebe was looking regal.



All in all a fantastic 24 hours in Pt. Reyes.


Sunday, January 21, 2018

Autumn Adventures: F Raccoons, New Birds & The Cinco

Autumn 2017 will be a time etched in the memories of Bay Area residents. The raging inferno across the North Bay and its voluminous smoke trail were a sobering moment of reflection, with a fresh appreciation for time and all that one has, materially and in the community. On a personal level, a little mammal was also welcomed into the world the first week of October and has blown the collective mind at home.

That appreciation of time is truly been a focus personally and when it comes to adventures outdoors, they are primaily in the realm of work with my students. They continue to put in the effort with the river otter study, which has reaped unique results.

New (expected, but never captured) mammals have been present in our sets with glimpses of a coyote and the invasive muskrat.

Several new species of birds have shown up -- some of them the more secretive sort that we don't often see during field visits -- offering opportunities to discuss a variety of organisms and their behaviors.

I think this is the year I finally got the Hutton's Vireo/RC-Kinglet distinction down (sof course, omebody will say this is actually a Hutton's)

After a down year in 2016, the otters have been reliably present and pretty consistently in a pack of 5. The Cinco, as they have been dubbed by my students -- possibly due to slight adjustments in camera placement -- have been on our cameras with a much greater frequency this past autumn and now into winter. During a two week stretch around Thanksgiving we had 29 unique visits - a new benchmark by a hefty margin.

For every success, we must recognize our failures...which will be entirely blamed on raccoons.

Rascals or Assholes?

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Soooooooooooooong Sparrow

So its 2018 and I am going to try and post again this year. I have had trouble making the time to post the last couple of years, and although I don't have more time, I am going to try and up the blogging. Not sure how many people, if any, still read this thing, but it is a better format than Instagram and Twitter (I don't Facebook) for sharing photos and a few thoughts. So we'll see if anyone if still out there in the wildlife biology blogosphere.

Yesterday, I headed out to the bayside trail along the public part of the Facebook campus to see if I could find the Harris's sparrow that was first reported by Don Pendleton on December 12, 2017.

Spoiler alert: I dipped.

But I did see/hear 4 Song Sparrows, including this one. I am not good enough to know for sure that this is a juvenile, but it looked a bit awkward and skinny and kinda sucked at singing so it felt very much like teenager to me. Other calls in the area were much sweeter than this dude's.



In the middle of a Sunny Day Real Estate cover


Hey, I didn't claim that blog posts were going to be good or epic or anything, just that they should exist in larger numbers.

Quantity over quality in 2018.

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