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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Camera trapping with my Black Bear Management class

On Friday, I took my Black Bear Management class to my Father's property in Wayland NY to retrieve 10 camera traps I had set out two weeks earlier. Let's see -- 10 cameras X 2 weeks = 20 camera/weeks. In other words we had squeezed in five months of work into two weeks by setting out so many cameras at once. Special thanks to Lisa Tracy of North Hennepin Community College (NHCC) for assisting with the camera sets.

I conducted a similar field trip last year with my students and had excellent results which I reported here. At that time, I was unsure if we would even get a single bear photo. Well, we obtained several including some nice video. So a approached this year's venture with more confidence. I repeated several of the sets and even used one of the cameras to target rodents instead of bears. So for class this past Friday, we all packed into the van and made the hour-long drive to retrieve the cameras. We were also targeting bear sign and any other interesting natural history finds along the way.

Our total species count (in no particular order):
-Black bear
-White-tailed deer
-Red fox
-Gray squirrel
-Red squirrel
-White-footed mouse
-Eastern cottontail
Obvious missing species:
-Striped skunk
-Eastern chipmunk
-Wild turkey
-less common species like gray fox and bobcat

(Wayland, NY 10/12)
Here are some of the highlights. The first camera set was on the same trail that produced a ten-point buck last year. No such luck in 2012 but a nice coyote and some antlerless deer. The second set was not too much farther, perhaps only a 100 yards away, but produced far more photos. This second camera was set on the mowed ATV trail and even eliminating the photos of Dad going back and forth to his tree stand, we got the greatest variety of species on this camera. Some of the better photos include:

White-tailed deer
Red fox

And our target species, BLACK BEAR
Last year, we had a bear on this camera heading on the other direction. So I believe we have a regularly used path, but an infrequently used one -- in the two weeks, this was the only bear photo at this location.
Set #3 was specifically targeting rodents. I will have to share the full results in another dedicated post, but here is a teaser photo. I stumbled on this downed limb that was being barked. I just HAD to set an Attack camera and get some video of the culprit. Although we photographed several species here, this was the only set that produced red squirrel.

Set #4 was a new location from last year. I saw a faint trail leading into some pines and when we went to investigate, the area was so vegetation-free that it was just begging for a set. We only got one species here, white-tailed deer, but multiple sightings made up for the lack of diversity.

Our fifth set was also a repeat from last year. As we approached the camera, I told the students that LAST YEAR, we had a black bear walk in front of this camera and camera set #2. Wouldn't it be cool if that happened again? Well, it did, except this year the bear was going in the opposite direction. Remember, camera #2 was on the ATV trail. Camera #5 was about 300 yards farther down that trail.
We were excited, but diversions to examine scat and identify trees had put us a little behind schedule. It was correctly pointed out to me that next year I should just plan for that and allot more time. :) Camera trap #6 was a bust. It was Dad's camera and although I thought i put fresh batteries in it, it was inoperative. No photos, and a new project for me this weekend as I am testing it out in the back yard. Camera trap #7 was the one I was most excited to check. Last year I had placed some scent lure into an old rotting log and we managed a nice video of two bears checking it out and one even licking the camera. I am not one to argue with success so I repeated the process this year. Well, we did not get a video of two bears, but we did get two videos of one bear!!! I have combined them below:

Let's discuss the behavior a bit. The lure is a sweet scent that is supposed to smell like something good to eat. This bear shows no signs of trying to ingest the scent or even to find the source of the smell to eat it, but rather looks more like a dog that just needs to roll in whatever stink they just found. the bottle is about four ounces and has now lasted two years. I am anxious to try some more scent luring for bears in the future.

Our eighth camera set proved to be a bust. When the batteries on the Cuddeback Attack get low the camera tends to respond by randomly or continually firing. I can accept that, but by "low" I mean a reading of 75%. To me, that is a design flaw. Anyway, I have to count this set as a total loss, despite the (are you ready?) 847 photos and videos recorded!! None of them were triggered by a critter. That left us with two sets. Set #9 was only a few yards away from #8 and I was silently seething at the failure of two cameras so close to each other. My annoyance soon melted as I checked the captures and found:
As we passed around the little preview camera we brought, I told the students "Fourteen hours ago, a bear was standing right here." It was a nice thought...
Our final camera set was anticlimatic. A few nice photos, some false triggers and no new species. Well, unless you count these creatures --
Brent and Ben
(Wayland, NY 10/12)
The day will come when we won't have to drive an hour to get into serious bear habitat. The "expanding bear range" is only 30 minutes to our south, which includes both of the College's field stations. Bears are resident but still relatively few and far between there. Although the bears have more chapters to write in their story as they move north and increase in numbers, they are increasingly being edged out of the wildlife headlines here in the Finger Lakes by other wildlife stories such as the newly arriving bobcat and fisher. These are exciting times to be a camera trapper!

1 comment:

  1. Ugh- Cuddeback. Design flaw INDEED!

    Super jealous of this trip, these students are so lucky! That property (of course belonging to a Van Niel) is magical, and I love the pictures. Nice red squirrel btw! He's less glam than the rest, but I like it.


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