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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Another camera-set meddler!

My last post described a coyote taking down a camera trap set last winter. Well, my troubles continued with a set I made with my Father's camera on his property in Fremont, NY. I placed the camera near his hunting stand to scout for deer activity. But the very first image on the very first night of the set reveals an animal either investigating the camera or simply trying to climb the tree it was attached to. My initial reaction was raccoon and I believe the second photo adds evidence for my claim.

It is a little like looking at ink blots at this point, but I think we are looking at the face of a raccoon here. The muzzle, an ear, part of the mask -- it all makes sense. But maybe I am just seeing what I want to see. Regardless of who the culprit was, the result was a camera that was pointed mostly towards the ground rather than straight ahead. I still managed to get photos of animals, but they were all pretty close to the camera. And as fascinating as blurry photos of squirrels can be, that was not the intent of this particular set.

White-tailed deer
(Fremont, NY 8/12)
 In the five weeks this set was out, we managed only a single photo of a deer (she looks empathetic, as if she went out of her way to literally stick her neck out for us). This particular angle really emphasizes the shape of a white-tailed deer's face. Look at the placement of the eyes. I imagine that items disappear from view as she reaches in to nibble them.

But the real stars were the mice. With the camera pointed so low, I captured more mouse photos in this set than any other I have made. These Cuddebacks are not really designed to get crisp images of tiny mammals, so I am fine with the results given the camera I was using:

Peromyscus sp.
(Fremont, NY 8/12)

There are two mice in our region that are closely related and difficult to tell apart, even when in the hand. Both mice are in the Genus "Peromyscus" and since I do not know what the species name is, I used "sp." to signify the word "species". In other words, I am saying this is one of the species in the Genus Peromyscus and that is as precise as I can be. That stick in the center of the photo above was just too inviting and there are numerous photos of a mouse perched upon it.

One final shot below shows TWO mice in the same photo. Note that the mouse at the bottom left is much more gray than the other. The most likely explanation is that it is a young mouse. Years of running a mouse trapline in our pantry has taught me that juvenile mice come in this gray color and molt into the brown adult pelage from the sides up. I have caught mice with a gray dorsal stripe that were in mid change. For the record, I find camera trapping more rewarding. But I doubt I could convince my wife that setting a camera in the pantry would do the job....

Adult and juvenile mice
(Fremont, NY  9/12)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The trickster takes offense

Twice this week I have been thwarted by critters. Here is the first. Technically, I am incorrect when I say "this week" since the event I am about to share happened in February. In my defense, I just received these photos two days ago. We work with two educator/researchers in Massachusetts regarding black bear sign. I have written a few posts about Nick and Val but here is one entry discussing trail cameras specifically. It had been a year since Nick and Val had sent us any photos but I received a CD in the mail on Thursday. I unwrapped this early Christmas gift with much anticipation. Santa must have thought I was good this year.

One simple story to share is this one of a coyote being far to curious about the camera. I have never had this happen before. For perspective, here is a nice shot of a coyote as they normally act around the camera trap -- total disregard.
Eastern coyote
(Quabbin Reservoir, MA 2/12)
But in December of last year, a coyote came upon the camera, grabbed the strap and started at it.
Eastern coyote with camera trap
(Quabbin Reservoir, MA 12/11)
I spent a lot of time looking at this photo to make sure it isn;t a domestic dog. But I am convinced this is a coyote. Feel free to comment with other opinions.

And there the camera laid for weeks and weeks until Nick checked it and remounted it. Today I made a new set at our back pond and before I left I wrapped that strap around the tree until it was tight :)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Another owl visits the water

Raccoon and Great Blue Heron tracks
(Seneca Falls, NY 9/12)
In a previous post I wrote about capturing an image and video of an Eastern Screech-owl at our pond. This week, it was a different owl leaving different evidence of its passing. When checking cameras  on Sunday, my wife and I came upon some nice tracking mud at our wetland. First, we have raccoons and a Great Blue Heron. Notice that there are heron tracks going in each direction. I wonder if this was the same heron photographed a few weeks ago at the pond. The long hallux or hind toe helps distinguish this track from other large birds like turkeys and geese.

But it was the owl tracks that really got my blood pumping. I cannot recall ever noticing owl tracks before. These are large tracks, so that rules out the little screechie. And after 17 years of ownership, I can only recall hearing one or two Barred Owls. But we routinely hear Great Horned Owls and I suspect that these are from that species. Let's have a closer look and pick out some details....

Great Horned Owl tracks
(Seneca Falls, NY 9/12)
 MOST birds have four toes (but not all... there is an aptly named Three-toed Woodpecker for example and ostriches have only two toes...). And MOST of those birds have three toes that point foreword and one that points back. Refer to the photo above for a classic bird track. So these owl tracks have the typical four toes but they are not arranged in the typical manner. There are two toes that point foreword and two toes that point (somewhat) rearward on each track. These two prints are paired so that the track on the right is from the right foot of the bird as the left track is from the left foot. You can see the advantage of this arrangement to a predator: If an owl pounced on a prey animal the eight total toes form a cage with restraining claws in every direction. The name for this arrangement of toes is zygodactyl. Aside from the aforementioned owls, woodpeckers are also zygodactyl (to help them cling to the side of a tree while hammering). Anyone with a pet parrot or parakeet may have wondered about the odd arrangement of toes before as they are also zygodactyl. For you track nerds out there, the number one toe is pointing straight down (my fingers point to each number one toe in the photo to the left). The number two toe points straight forward in the photo followed by the three and four on the side...

Great Horned Owl tracks
(Seneca Falls, NY 9/12)
 I found a second spot of owl tracks which is likely to be the same bird. In this case, the bird landed on the harder mud at the edge and then moved forward into the shallowest of water where the mud is softer. Now you are looking for four distinct tracks in the photo, all from the same bird but each pair is an entirely different shape. The initial tracks present the toes in a more traditional arrangement with three toes pointing forward and one back. In the photo, you are looking at the track that I have framed by my hand and its fainter mate a little lower and to the right. It isn't until the bird moves forward into the softer mud that the zygodactyl arrangement is obvious. Toe number four is flexible and can point towards the rear or the front as the need arises. I do not catch owls when I band birds but I have handled many woodpeckers and students are always impressed with the flexibility of that toe. Note the clear circular talon marks in the harder mud and how different the track looks in the softer mud. Below, a closer view of the same tracks.

I woke up this morning to the sound of steady rain outside. I knew that meant these tracks were erased forever. I had wanted to visit them one more time. Instead, I am daydreaming of what will be the next story written on the newly cleaned slate....
Great Horned Owl tracks
(Seneca Falls, NY 9/12)

Monday, September 17, 2012

A different perspective

I wasn't trying to be creative. It was only out of necessity that I placed my Cuddeback Capture camera on an angled limb high above my head. You see, I wanted to know what has been using a trail in my south hedgerow and the underbrush simply prevented a good view without some major trimming. And I had no tools or motivation to do the work. So I located a branch that grew above the trail and set the camera as high as I could. That was five days ago. I am only getting deer photos. I wonder if I need to asjust the aim of the camera in order to get anything smaller.

White-tailed deer
Seneca Falls, 9/12)
I hate to be picky but I am not entirely happy with the angle of the photos. They look "interesting". Perhaps it will grow on me...
Anyway, have a look at the darker winter coat coming in on this doe. The summer coat is not only redder in color but is also thinner. She appears to have at least one fawn with her.

Here is a blurry photo of a doe but the coat is just too interesting not to post:

Doe growing her winter coat
(Seneca Falls, NY 9/12)

Finally, a buck. Not a very wide rack, indicating he is probably young. The photo was very foggy so I added a lot of shadow.
White-tailed deer, male
(Seneca Falls, NY 9/12)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Eastern Screech-owl

Eastern Screech-owl
(South Bristol, NY 5/12)
It is funny how "Camera Trap Karma" works. I have only ever captured one image of an owl before after years of camera trapping. That was back in May of this year and I promptly forgot about it (I didn't even blog about it!). That photo was taken as part of class I teach each summer and my technician was a former student, avid camera trapper and blogger. For whatever reason (I haven't asked) she thought of that image and decided to blog about it yesterday. See that post here.

I checked my cameras last night and lo and behold obtained my second capture of an owl, this one also an Eastern Screech-owl.

Notice that in this recent image, the screech-owl is on the ground. That is the edge of our backyard pond. I wonder if the large number of frogs drew him in. Or was it the insects?
Eastern Screech-owl
(Seneca Falls, NY 9/12)

I had the Attack set to take a 30-second video. Nothing super special.... the owl scratches and moves a little closer to the water. But it gets the imagination going. I watched a Barred Owl catch a frog in south Florida about 12 years ago and I sure would have liked to have a video of this guy doing the same....

Monday, September 3, 2012

Think MINK... again!

Camera Trap set
(Seneca Falls, NY 9/12)
The mink bonanza continues. I first wrote about my recent luck with mink here. Today I checked the set and swapped cameras. I put out a Cuddeback Capture and moved the Attack. I would like a few crisp color photos. I also repositioned the camera so it was pointing at a small opening that had lots of mink tracks and scat....

 I got some more mink pics but there were other visitors including:

(Seneca Falls, NY 9/12)
Greater Yellowlegs
(Seneca Falls, NY 8/12)
But we really want to talk about mink. Let's look at a few (or the same one twice?):
(Seneca Falls, NY 8/12)
(Seneca Falls, NY 9/12)
And a short video. This guy looks like he is burning calories and not gonna let anything go unnoticed.

Mink track
(Seneca Falls, NY 9/12)
With all this mink activity, there was bound to be some mink sign as well. There was some nice mud for tracks. Mink have five toes on the front and hind feet, however toe number one is "weak" and is not always obvious. Look carefully at both the tracks to see all five toes in each.

Mink scat and trail
(Seneca Falls, NY 9/12)
Here is a mink scat. What is particularly nice about this was the mink trail that was visible due to the mud transfer from the mink to the vegetation. Here is a wide angle shot. Use the boots as scale. Notice the mud all around the scat, as well as a trail of it going down and to the left. There is also a substantial trail heading toward the top of the photo.

Finally, a nice close up of the same scat. I did not collect this one to tease apart. Most members of the weasel family have this kind of ropy tapered-at-both-ends look. Oh, and if you missed the mud in the last photo you should be able to see it here with no problem.