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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Woodchuck love Part III: The saga gets confusing

Male woodchuck
(Seneca Falls, NY 3/12)
I was having so much success with the Cuddeback Capture at a woodchuck hole in my backyard that I swapped it out for a Cuddeback Attack so I could obtain some video and a better insight as to what was happening. I am so glad I did, because I obtained some very interesting video (see previous posts for the beginning of this story and some photos and video). Here is what has happened in the last few days. On Monday, March 19th, I arrived home from work with the borrowed Attack at about 630pm. The still pictures I captured on Monday showed activity at the hole at 630am, 721am, 1228-104pm (with 10 photos), 253-320pm (five photos) and two photos at 450pm. Tuesday, March 20th showed a very different activity pattern with no photos until the afternoon with activity periods spanning 204-215pm, 250-304pm, 435-445pm and 621-630pm.
But Wednesday, March 21 marked a dramatic change in activity. Not only did I obtain my very first pre-dawn phtoso of woodchuck but the camera documented what was essentially a three-hourblock of time with basically non-stop activity. Let's take a look:

I am sorry, I cannot tell if this is the male or the female. Feel free to chime in if you can tell. The video is worth watching, It appears that 'Chuck is actually vocaliing towards the end there...
Early rising woodchuck
(Seneca Falls, NY 3/12)
Here is the associated video:

The next photo was taken at 705am. Notice that the male is emrging FROM the den, This is the first time I documented him completely in the den. Notice how tolerant she seems. First the still photo, then the video:

But only five minutes later she seems far less accommodating. He shows some GREAT scent marking behavior here.

There were no images captured between the two videos shown above. So where are these woodchucks coming from? It appears they have at least one other hole in use for this burrow (I need more cameras!).
Here is a nice video in which the male remains motionless for about 8 seconds. Just when you forget you are watching a video, he blinks.

For the next several hours the story remains the same. The female appears to not tolerate the male. The male scent marks on the trunk and vine. Occasionally the male seems to emerge from the hole. The last images of the day are taken at 956am. Here is the still and video, respectively.

Now the plot thickens. After the above video at 956am on Wednesday, there is nothing captured until 350pm Thursday, about 31 hours later. What happened? Was the flurry of activity Wednesda morning the literal peak of the breeding activity? Did they mate? Is the female still in the hole? Possibly. as stated above, they have at least one other entrance that is not monitored by a camera. The last image of the female I obtained was at 900am on Wednesday. The 956am Wednesday photo is only of the male as is the only woodchuck photo captured on Thursday. I love a mystery!
Only woodchuck activity on Thursday
Lone male

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Woodchuck love Part II

Female woodchuck
(Seneca Falls, NY 3/12)
On Monday night, I swapped out the Cuddeback Capture with a Cuddeback Attack so I could utilize the video feature. When I got home from work today, I spooked the male. He ran to the north and appears to be using a nearby hole, not the one the female is using. I am certain I can tell the two apart. As I mentioned in my last post, the female is reddish while the male is more grizzled. She also has a darker cap than he does. I captured a dozen videos and stills today and will present three of them to you here.
The weather again today was both sunny and unseasonably warm. I expected the ground hogs to take advantage of it. I was not disappointed. For those of you that may not know, the Attack takes a still photo followed by a 30 second video. Here is the still photo and the resulting video. The video shows a nice interaction between the two 'chucks. At the beginning of the video, the male is off to the right of the screen. I don't want to spoil it all for you, but watch how he bites and rubs his cheeks on the vegetation. But it seems the female remains unimpressed:
Male woodchuck
(Seneca Falls, NY 3/12)
And the video:

This second video was taken a minute later, so I consider it all part of the same episode. Again, he tries to enter the hole and again he is met with a NO!!!

So we have seen the male marking the shrub and the vine that hangs near the entrance to the hole. now have a look at this last still and video. In the still, you can see the female sitting up and facing away from the camera. Check out her back. It appears that she is rubbing against it. Her fur is ruffled up and watch what she does in the video. She is active in the beginning and then seems to fall into a coma for about 15 seconds and then becomes active again at the end. First, the still:
Female woodchuck
(Seneca Falls, NY 3/12)
Now the video:

How long will this dance last? Has she rejected him every time? Who knows... And just as I was thinking of how to finish this blog entry I was distracted by the TV I have running for background noise. I am watching Season 2 of Futurama on Netflix (yep, I am THAT kind of geek). And LITERALLY just now the Professor says "The moment our eyes met we knew we would be going at it like woodchucks." (context is not important here, just relish the irony with me). If this male woodchuck is any indication, "going at it" takes a lot of patience and hard work... Perhaps tomorrow.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Woodchucks in love -- ?

(Seneca Falls, NY 3/12)
The weather. The weather has just been amazing. Saturday was another warm and sunny day. Unfortunately, the cameras haven't been as cooperative. The set on the wetland hadn't produced a photo in about a week (but that WAS a nice merganser...). I tried one set with the camera pointing up the trunk of a shagbark hickory and that too was a bust. Finally, a third camera in the back yard has only been giving me run of the mill cottontail photos. On Saturday I decided to change them all...
So I determined one camera would go to the northern hedgerow where I hardly ever trap, one was destined for a metal post driven in the field where we see woodcock every year about this time (I tried this last year without success) and the third camera was going to go in the walnut tree in the back yard (the one with the knot hole in it) in hopes of a flying squirrel. But that all changed as I stepped out the back door and FROZE at the sight of two woodchucks on the edge of our mowed lawn.
Woodchuck bites
(Seneca Falls, NY 3/12)
One was reddish and sat still. The other was browner, gruffer and was constantly moving. I assumed that was the male. Twice I watched him approach the female, nose to nose and twice she vocalized and he jumped and backed away. After being rebuffed he would proceed to gnaw on branches and vines around the holes. This is a marking behavior, common to other squirrels besides woodchucks, where scent is deposited from glands at the corners of the mouth. The third time the male approached, he circled the female and tried to approach from behind but she would have none of that either. I slowly backed into the house, ran for the Nikon, changed lenses and eased the back door open only to find my wife standing in the driveway, having just returned from a bike ride. I managed the one photo above before the two woodchucks departed. That gave me the chance I needed to both set the camera trap and get some photos of the bite marks the male had left. This first photo shows some marks on the trunk of the shrub at the entrance of the hole. I watched him make these marks so they are nice and fresh. They are a little hard to see so I have another photo of them only closer.
In this photo, it is a little easier to see the bites. Again, it isn't the biting or the visual mark left behind but rather the scent that is most important. A few hours later I checked the camera, hoping for some photos of this behavior or perhaps some interaction between the two woodchucks. I got neither, but I did get some good photos such as:

and this expressive one:

and my only photo of the pair:

Seeing the pair together is a sure sign that it is breeding season as woodchucks are the least social of all the marmots in North America. The nice photos didn't stop there:

and a regal shot in the sun:

Sunday and Monday produced more photos but no photos of the scenting behavior. But I remembered a photo I got a few years ago, not 20 yards from this spot. At that time, I did not know about the scent marking behavior and wondered why this woodchuck would gnaw on such a thick branch. I now believe he was marking it with his sublingual glands...

Monday, March 12, 2012

HOME-ly photos

I have been trying something different with the cameras this week, with limited results so far. But that's the risk of new ventures. For about a week, I have had a cameramounted on a post in our wetland with no photos. Finally, yesterday proved just ducky...
Hooded Merganser and Mallards
(Seneca Falls, NY 3/12)
In tha background are Mallards, but do you know the identity of the duck in the foreground? That is a female Hooded Merganser (a new camera trap species for me!). All birds have a four-letter ALPHA code used by bird banders and other ornithologists as a shorthand when recording data. Mallard becomes MALL, American Robin becomes AMRO and Hooded Merganser becomes HOME.
Hooded Mergs are cavity nesters and are a more common breeder in NY than the Common Merganser (illustrating one problem with common names...).
We don't have the requiste cavities for Hooded Mergansers to nest on our property, so during the breeding season we are HOMEless...
Female Hooded Merganser
(Seneca Falls, NY 3/12)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Red Fox dinner

Eastern cottontail
(Seneca Falls, NY 3/12)
Pulled both of my cameras today. One had dead batteries and the other one was frozen shut! The camera in the back field continues to produce nice results. Eastern cottontails are common on our property, partly due to our efforts to create habitat. Any limbs that fall in the yard are collected and made into brush piles. Succession is turning old farm fields into shrublands. And the rabbits (among other species) have responded. Danika, my daughter, is particularly pleased since rabbits are one of her favorite animals.
Besides a few cottontail photos, I captured images of opossum, raccoon, gray squirrel and red fox.

Note the time stamp on this photo. It's a nice pic but nothing too special...
Red fox
(Seneca Falls, NY 3/12)
Apparently, it was a good night of hunting. I am assuming that the photo below is the same fox, 36 minutes later. What a great photo!!! ...unless you are a rabbit or a rabbit-lover (sorry Danika)
Red fox carrying eastern cottontail
(Seneca Falls, NY 3/12)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Signs of SPRING: skunk mating season and blackbird flocks

Common Grackle and Red-winged Blackbirds
(Seneca Falls, NY 3/12)
Although the thermometer seems to have been set at "Spring" for the past few months, the calender is finally agreeing. I checked the cameras today and found two genuine signs of spring. First, two photos of migrating blackbird flocks. I see Common Grackle and Red-winged Blackbird. Interesting fact: Red-wing males migrate before females and establish territories. When the females arrive, they seem to select males largely on the territory they have selected and held. The Red-wings on my wetland are already singing.

Red-winged Blackbirds
(Seneca Falls, NY 3/12)
Female Red-winged Blackbirds are not black nor do they have red in the wing. I have been doing a bit of mist netting with my students lately and i look forward to cathcing some Red-wings with them. The males are so much larger than the females that they take a different size band. That is not all that unusual in the bird world, but it IS unusual for the species of birds that I work with. I wish this photo wasn't so blurry, but you take what you get!

My other sign of spring is a set of two skunk photos taken only a few minutes apart. I assume the first photo is a female and the second is a male following her scent. I have no proof of this but I can support my idea. First, I experienced almost exactly the same thing almost exactly one year ago in exactly the same spot. Last March, I had this camera on the same tree and wrote this. Second, I do not get photos of skunks this close together outside of the breeding season. Even this year, where I had more skunk photos in February -- more different skunk individuals -- I did not have skunks trailing so close behind each other. Compare the two skunks photographed to the ones shown here to see if these are known or new skunks. What do you think?

 Thirteen minutes later:

Thirteen minutes doesn't feel like he is "hot on her heels" but consider a few things. How do they find each other in the first place? Probably by scent. So a male crosses a fresh scent of a female and he starts to follow. By the time he is photographed above, he has narrowed the gap to 13 minutes between himself and the female. Presumably, she is meandering a bit; looking for food. Presumably, he is not and that is how he can continue to get closer and closer.