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Friday, October 28, 2011

Dad's Camera Trap Set continues to produce...

I have posted a few entries regarding my Father's camera trapping adventures. He has had a particularly good run as you can see here. I spent the day with him yesterday. Mother Nature joined us with a nice gift of wet sticky snow, the first of the season. We had a nice day of hunting. My highlight was a nice red fox trotting by at about 40 yards in the fresh snow.  Dad decided he wanted to adjust the placement a little so the next batch will show a different angle. I took the opportunity to make two camera sets of my own. Anyway, we checked the camera and got a few nice photos:

Ten point buck
Photo by: Jack Van Niel, 10/11
1. Ten-pointer! This is one nice deer. There is one tine there that is pretty small, but I believe it is at least an inch and therefore "countable". There have been no shortages of buck photos from this set, but many have been yearlings with thin, narrow racks. But this guy has the look of an older deer. Some people believe that the number of points on the antlers can tell the age of the deer, but the diameter of the beams and the spread of the rack are much more reliable indicators of age. More on that in future posts.



Black Bears, Fremont, NY
Photo by: Jack Van Niel, 10/11
2. Black Bears: Ahhh..... a nice family scene here. But what do I have? Two siblings? A cub in the foreground and Mom in the back (The more I look at this photo, the more I am convinced that the bear in the back is larger and an adult)? I cannot say for for sure. If they are both cubs, Mom is probably just off camera someplace. Despite the size of that lead bear, it is a cub. Cubs in New York are most likely born in January and weigh less than a pound each. At this exact same spot in June, my father took these photos of a mother and cub. I cannot say for sure we are looking at the same bears. Regardless, the cub(s) in THIS photo were that small in June. Now, in October, cubs can weigh upwards of 100 pounds. They will den with or near Mom this winter and when they emerge in the spring, they will be yearlings. I am bringing my black bear management class down in two weeks for an optional field trip. Let's hope we have some black bear photos of our own to discover.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Early scrape activity

White-tailed deer scrape
(Seneca Falls, NY 10/11)
I am not bow hunting this year. But that doesn't mean I have no interest in the comings and goings of deer on my property. This past Sunday I went to check my camera traps and found two half-hearted scrapes. This first scrape is larger and is under a black locust sapling. It is a bit difficult to see in this photo but click on it to enlarge. You are looking at the bare area in the mowed grass trail. Scrapes are normally found with a tree branch hanging above it. The purpose of the branch is for the deer to apply additional scent. They will mouth the branch and perhaps rub their pre-orbital glands as well. This next photo is a nice close up of the scrape itself.









White-tailed deer scrape
(Seneca Falls, NY 10/11)
Here is the scrape up close and personal. The scrape is made by the male. He uses his hooves to clear the vegetation and then urinates through his tarsal glands to produce a calling card for other deer to investigate.









White-tailed deer scrape
(Seneca Falls, NY 10/11)
The second scrape I encountered was not as fully formed. Only about 20 feet away, this other scrape was much smaller but contained a nice clear deer track. The track is just above my finger. Note how much vegetation remains within this scrape. I have seen this behavior before and often these early scrape attempts are never quite finished and probably play a very small role, if any, in the reproductive story each fall.

I was anxious to check my camera and see if I had captured any images of bucks. In fact, I had only a single photo of a buck. I cannot say for certain that this buck is the one that made these scrapes, but the camera is only 20 yards from the scrapes on the same trail.  Not a bad buck...
Male white-tailed deer
(Seneca Falls, NY 10/11)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Nobody makes chocolate rabbits in THIS pose...

I posted here about a camera set my Dad has on his property. This past month has been unusually productive and I promised to share some photos.

Eastern cottontail
(Seneca Falls, NY 10/11)
Eastern cottontails move so fast it is hard to see exactly how their legs are positioned. Most people don't know that when they are running, their back legs actually extend in front of their front legs. I just got back from checking my two cameras and got this nice photo of a rabbit in a classic body scissor position. Imagine now that you are looking at its tracks in the snow. The front tracks would be smaller and close together while the rear feet would be larger and set farther apart. And remember, the front tracks will be behind the rear tracks.



Eastern cottontail
(Fremont, NY 9/2011)
This is my new favorite eastern cottontail photograph. I man, how cool is this? Look at the extension of those back legs... I can't get over the idea that he is laid out on some sort of invisible table :) These are the times I wish I had video...

Monday, October 10, 2011

An apple a day...

As mentioned in a previous post, I just received over 300 photos from my Father's camera trap in Wayland, NY. Since the camera was set under an apple tree, there are plenty of deer photos. These four tell an interesting story:

Doe and fawn
Photo by: Jack Van Niel
(Wayland, NY 9/2011)
In this first photo, you can see a doe and her fawn with their heads together. But with that trunk in the way, I just couldn't tell what was going on. There is a large amount of contact between does and fawns so this could have been lots of things. My best guess however was that they were eating apples or maybe some of the acorns Dad had also spread around.







Doe and fawn eating apple
Photo by: Jack Van Niel
(Wayland, NY 9/2011)
This second photo helps tell what may have been happening in the last image. What is happening? Is this a photo of two deer that just happen to be vying for the same piece of food? Is mom trying to take this from the fawn or is the fawn trying to take this from mom? My Father asked: Is the doe teaching the fawn that apples are good to eat? In the end, I do not know. A quick (and I do mean quick!) search of my references did not produce anything to support that theory. But I didn't find anything to reject that theory either :)




Doe and fawn
Photo by: Jack Van Niel
(Wayland, NY 9/2011)
Photo number three shows that the apple is now gone. But who got it? If mom was trying for it, did she manage to "steal" it away from her fawn? Is that an apple tucked into mom's left cheek? Is the fawn sniffing out a consolation prize? I have heard anecdotal stories that deer at feeding stations have a "take no prisoners" attitude when it comes to food.  But that photo above looks for all the world like a mother gently teaching her offspring the ways of the world, at least the ways of apples. So, who got the apple? I think I know...





Fawn
Photo by: Jack Van Niel
(Wayland, NY 9/2011)
Although the time stamps have been cropped out of these photos, these were all taken in a very short period of time (camera was set for 30 second delay). In this last photo, the fawn is licking her chops... just as one would after eating a nice juicy apple... :) Is this proof that mom was teaching her fawn to forage for food? Heck no. It isn't even proof that the fawn got that apple. But we can speculate. I will file this observation away and hope that more evidence will present itself in time...

The Big Five: Leopard!

This post is one in a series on Africa's "Big Five". You can view all my Big Five posts here. Although we were not particularly tuned into seeing the Big Five, all of the animals on that list (Elephant, African lion, Rhino, Leopard and Cape buffalo) were certainly on our wish list. But seeing the Big Five was not a priority per se. As it turned out, we saw multiple animals of each species of the Big Five, however the leopard turned out to be the least encountered. We "only" saw two leopards. I say "only" because it was conceivable that we could go on safari and see none.

Traffic jam at leopard sighting
Photo: Danika Van Niel
(Samburu National Reserve, Kenya 8/11)
Our first leopard siting was in Samburu National Reserve. William, our guide, was alerted to its presence over the radio. By the time we arrived, there were at least a dozen safari vehicles already present. The only problem was, all of the guides around us had also just arrived and no one within earshot of us knew where the leopard was. You have to picture the land rovers packed in close to each other and guides asking back and forth in Swahili "Ambapo ni chui?" (or something like that) while the tourist tried the same in English. All I learned was that SOMEWHERE on the rocks ahead of us was a leopard. I began to carefully scan with my binoculars and finally it popped out of nowhere! Once I saw it, everyone else wanted directions as to where it was. So despite there being so many people there, it was exciting to "refind" the leopard on our own.

Leopard
(Samburu National Reserve, Kenya 8/11)
The photo at left was taken when the leopard was on the move. It is not the greatest photo as the light was low and I was hand holding my big lens, but it is our best :) Our only other leopard was in the Serengeti. It was far away, but 1) our guide found it without any help and 20 it was in a tree! No photos but fond memories of that one.

Cheetah
(Samburu National Reserve, Kenya 8/11)
Leopards can only be confused with one other African animal and that is the cheetah. However, there are several ways to tell them apart. Look closely at this cheetah. I took this photo on the same day as the leopard pic above. Cheetahs are more sleek overall. They remind me of greyhounds. Also, look at the black "tear streaks" on the face of the cheetah. Finally, look at the difference in the spots. Leopards have spots in clusters or rosettes on the torso. Of course, there are other differences. Leopards are ambush predators while cheetahs are known for their incredible bursts of speed to cathc their prey. And cheetahs are the only cat int he world that has claws that do not fully retract. One final difference: cheetahs are not known to attack humans, while leopards do. This last fact is what puts the leopard in the Big Five and excludes the cheetah.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Why I Love Camera Trapping!

For a while now, I have wanted to write a post describing what it is about camera traps that make them so enjoyable, so entertaining, so useful and so addicting. I have always hesitated because I have a hard time putting it all into words. Sure, there are some obvious things to say. Pulling the memory cards IS like Christmas morning. Even when there are only a few images, one never knows what one will find! Yes, the excitement of the 'hunt" drives me, however it seems to becoming more than that. I also should say something like "Camera trapping is part art and part science". I am still not sure I am going to form a cohesive post but after my parents visited yesterday, I thought I could finally give it a try...

Black bear
(Wayland, NY 9/2011)
My father owns 80 acres of land in Wayland, NY. He bought it primarily as a place to deer hunt. I was 12 when he bought it and having a place to wander and explore nature was life changing for me. I do not believe I would have chosen the career path I did if he never bought it. Dad has two Cuddeback Capture cameras and sets them out for weeks at a time. My parents came over yesterday and brought one SD card that had been out for about a month (8/26 -9/24, 2011) and contained 349 photos. The camera trap was set facing an old apple tree. As if that were not enough, Dad spread out a bag full of acorns he had collected last fall on the golf course. The results were fantastic! He captured images of seven species of mammals (including a single shot of black bear and five different bucks) and two species of birds. Their were several interesting aspects of natural history documented including shots of particular gaits, interspecies competition as well as cooperation, molt, parasite loads and antler development.

Raccoon eating acorn
(Wayland, NY 9/2011)
It was a rush looking through my Dad's photos, not just to see the animals but to discover what stories the images had to tell. It is this interpreting that I enjoy the most. As a teacher, one of my primary goals is to make natural history accessible and understandable to my students. One way to do that is to teach them to make connections themselves (to paraphrase a parable, it is my version of teaching them to fish rather than giving them a fish). I find that increasingly I am talking about camera trap photos as data and asking students to draw conclusions about them. I am pushing them to consider how the images from, let's say, an entire week fit together to tell a story. We are paying more attention to dates and times to discover patterns. Part of my enjoyment stems from watching my students catch the camera trap bug too.

White-tailed deer, male
(Wayland, NY 9/2011)
Over the next several weeks, I will use my father's photos to tell several stories. You will see how (and when) deer change their color, when fawns lose their spots and watch a pair of antlers go from warm and fuzzy to cold and pointy. I will post the oddest eastern cottontail pose I have yet to see and we will watch raccoons by the handful and a mother deer with her fawn vying for apples. I condensed the 300-odd photos down to a manageable 30-something and wonder what I will find when I go back for a second (or third) look. And as I was looking over so many deer photos, I was struck by the idea that I was evolving in my camera trapping much the way hunters do. I found this website that succinctly describes the five stages: Shooting (success = shooting game), Limiting-out (success = taking as much as the law allows), Selective (success = taking game of a certain quality), Method (success = taking game by more challenging methods), and Philosopher (success = sharing your knowledge, etc). Often, this journey is non-linear and I feel as if I am straddling a few of those stages right now. But the point is that camera trapping is so fascinating to me because of its complexity. I have many students that come to me with camera trapping experience that is limited to only using the cameras to scout for deer. I push them to think of these things as professional tools that can be an important part of their education. For me, this has only added to the value of the photos themselves. Stay tuned for more lessons from this batch of photos, as promised...

Friday, October 7, 2011

CON 236: Wetland Mammals FLCC

On October 18th, my Wetland Mammals class will be presenting the results of their field studies (in C231 @ 1230 sharp for those of you that are local... pizza! soda! great presentations!). Consider this a preview post of things to come....

CON 236: Wetland Mammals is structured around the use of our Muller Field Station south of Honeoye Lake. The class meets for a three-hour introductory session the first Friday evening of the semester. Activities run from the mundane (planning a menu, explaining the logistics of overnights at the field station, etc) to the academic (basic tracks and trails lecture, defining a wetland, assigning journal readings). Our next meeting is a very full weekend at the Muller Field Station (MFS). After Friday's dinner, we meet in the great room for a review of the weekend's schedule and our first lecture. The course focuses on four wetland mammals: beaver, muskrat, river otter and mink. We have all four species at the station and in the surrounding State land.

On Saturday morning, we are out the door before dawn. We car pool to the parking area South of the station and walk the channel trail back. This gives us a chance to look for wetland mammals and their sign. Of course, we stop for other things as well. This year's hike yielded wood ducks, fresh bear scat and a nice deer carcass. We found two active beaver dams as well as many other signs. Students are given a checklist of the four wetland mammals and their associated sign. By the end of the hike we had tallied such highlights as muskrat feeding sign, river otter scat, beaver scent mound, and the elusive mink itself!

After breakfast, Sasha conducts a short canoe safety and use lesson and we are off to explore the area North of the station. We bring Cuddeback cameras with us and students try their hand at setting camera traps. The cameras will only remain until the following morning. Saturday rounds off with river otter scat dissection, a beaver natural history lecture, the basics of the scientific method, an evening canoe (beaver tail slapping!), journal article sharing and the creation of groups. Each group of three is charged with brainstorming a field study question they would like to explore. Each group is given two Cuddeback Capture cameras, use of the canoes, a variety of scents and lures and two weeks to collect data.

Beaver,
(Richmond, NY 9/2011)
On Sunday, we collect the cameras during our early paddle. We get some interesting results including this beaver and a raccoon imitating a muskrat :) . The rest of the day is much of a repeat of Saturday with lecture, field work and students working in groups. By the middle of the afternoon, we are ready to meet at the pond and have each group present their ideas for a field study. The ideas are great and we approve all projects with only minor suggestions. By 4pm, the cameras are deployed and the station is clean. Ten cameras are now our eyes in the swamp for the next 12 days.


Raccoon
(Richmond, NY 9/2011)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

My First Bat Photo

Bat in flight
(Richmond, NY 9/2011)
At our Muller Field Station, we have a storage building that has bats roosting in the seems between the boards. So I set up a camera trap by clamping a 2x4 scab to the eave of the overhang. Well, after two weeks I managed a single bat photo! This was not the first time I tried to get a photo of a bat. I read somewhere that researchers used an eraser suspended from a wire to draw bats to the camera. However, that attempt (written about here) produced no bat photos. I mention all of this because I am sure by now you have seen the photo I am so excited about and are a bit underwhelmed..... But I was excited to see the results. One wing is better than none! :)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Muskrat Success!

In my last post I explained that I had moved two cameras out to our small wetland hoping for muskrat photos. It took a while, but my wish has been granted. These are by far the best 'rat pics i have obtained. Our wetland is a recreation and was dug as part of a USFWS private lands restoration program. We ended up with a three acre wetland and a ten acre warm-season grassland.
Muskrat
(Seneca Falls, NY 9/2011)
Anyway, it wasn't long after the wetland was dug that we spotted our first muskrats. We now have three ponds in addition to our wetland and we have 'rats in all four bodies of water. They are welcome additions to our property, except when they create bank lodges that collapse and cause havoc with my mowing and weaken the artificial dikes that created the wetland in the first place. In this first photo, we have a muskrat moving down the dike to the open water.




Muskrat carrying vegetation
(Seneca Falls, NY 9/2011)
In this next photo, a muskrat is carrying a large amount of vegetation, probably reed canary grass, into the water. Is this to be building material for a lodge or is this food? I am not sure. I will have to watch for evidence...









Muskrat standing
(Seneca Falls, NY 9/2011)
In this next photo, it seems that the muskrat is standing on its hind feet. A quick Google search of "muskrat standing" produced lots of images like mine along with taxidermed specimens, photos of woodchucks and Mother Google asking me if I am sure I didn't mean "meerkat standing".








Muskrat
(Seneca Falls, NY 9/2011)
These muskrat photos cannot have come at a better time. I just returned today from our second and final weekend at the Muller Field Station with my Wetland Mammals class. We had camera traps out for two weeks and had some very interesting results (I will share in the coming weeks). But one thing we did NOT photograph, was a single muskrat...