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Thursday, June 6, 2013

The (almost) costly encounter

Last week was the official start of summer for me. With the semester over and the week-long Field Camp course completed, I could start attending to various projects around the house and property. But first things first... I wanted to relocate the Reconyx camera in hopes of capturing some woodcock images. I stumbled on a spot in our wet hedgerow last year at this time and got video of woodcock
Woodcock foraging for worms in wet soil
displaying and feeding (I have yet to blog about that, but here is a photo at right). Laura and I retrieved the camera from the back pond and worked our way to the "Half Hedgerow" (cleverly named due to it extending half way across the property). When we arrived, I found far more standing water than I was expecting. This area is wet into the start of summer (hence the reason it is a hedgerow and not field) but last year at this time it was merely damp ground. No woodcock would be wading in this water I assumed. But I created the set anyway, knowing the water would recede and in the meantime, other animals may present themselves.

So on May 29th I relocated the metal post I drove into the ground last year and attached the Reconyx. After a little trimming of vegetation, I was confident it was now only a matter of time before the target species arrived. The only thing that was troubling me was the high amount of water present. Compare to the photo above from last year.

The first species to be captured was this opossum. He was just pushing through.
Opossum in wetland
And then the birds began to arrive. One huge difference I have noticed between the Reconyyx I am using here and the Cuddeback brand cameras I have used for years is the way they detect organisms. The Cuddebacks have a narrow zone of detection and often miss these smaller birds. The avian captures have been a pleasant and unexpected surprise.

American Robin: This bird appears to be collecting mud for a nest. I believe this is a female as the coloration is muted. A male should show a stronger brick red color and a darker cap.

American Robin collecting nesting material
The next bird to arrive was this Brown Thrasher. As the brushy habitat on our property has increased, so has our Brown Thrasher population. Not only are these birds visually pleasing, but they sound even better. They are mimics.
Brown Thrasher

All of this coincided with a few unseasonably hot days. The Robin in the photo below is a good candidate for a male as it is darker. Note the time and temperature. About 73 degrees F at 9am?? Too hot for May... This photo is the last "wet" photo taken as well.
Last "wet" photo

The next burst of three photos was taken only nine hours later. The bird that triggered the photos is a Cedar Waxwing. But what is really interesting is how much water evaporated since the last capture at 9am.
First "dry" photo
The change was so stark I found myself toggling back and forth between these two images in order to see the difference. THESE were the conditions that would produce woodcock photos. But there were other visitors to the set first...
Foraging raccoons
One of these guys spotted the camera
Curious raccoon

Please note the position of the camera in this photo. Look at the double trunked silver maple on the left. This curious coon made its way right to the camera and I have numerous photos that look like this:
Raccoon fur
When the raccoon finally left the camera, it was positioned to take photos like this:
Camera trap tilted by curious raccoon
Well, I have had cameras nudged aside before, so nothing particularly alarming here. The camera continued to record the critters that came through. But the new angle greatly reduced the zone of detection.
A Gray Catbird was a new species for this set. Catbirds are also mimics, but not nearly as boldly musical as the Brown Thrasher. Nor are the sexually dimorphic like the American Robin.
Gray Catbird
Finally, some more mammals. These two gray squirrels seemed to be foraging. I am not sure if this is an adult and a young or a male following a female. 
Gray squirrels at camera trap
But that night the coons returned. My first evidence of their arrival was this. There were several photos taken over a period of two minutes, all looking pretty much the same.

Normally, telling a story with camera trap photos is easy. I just pull out the photos that tell the story and arrange them in order. But this story was different. This story wasn't told entirely with photos. When I retrieved the SD card that contained these photos, there was a problem with the camera. As I approached, I could see there was something wrong with the camera. It was wide open! I turned back and looked at Laura and said "Did I leave this open?" She assured me that I had indeed closed it before leaving on the 30th. Well, who opened it?, I thought. The camera seemed undamaged. The SD card was still inside. I reasoned that if a person had done it, he or she would have either taken the camera or at least stolen the SD card to hide the evidence of their presence. And to be honest, I was not entirely sure I hadn't had a "senior moment" and left without closing the camera. In fact it was a relief to learn that it was the last visit recorded above that left me with an open camera. Turns out there is no damage to the camera, but I hate to think of what a rain storm would have done to those expensive electronics! Those dexterous hands somehow managed to open the camera without tearing it down. And the camera kept working. Hours later, a coon passed by without even a glance at the camera. Notice how the background has completely changed. That silver maple is no longer even close to being in the picture frame. 

I was tempted to move the camera. After all, I didn't want these curious coons to ruin it. But I had yet to get any woodcock photos. I decided to leave the set in place and see what happened. I am glad I did...
Woodcock ground display


  1. Zip ties... discourage curiosity. I used to use a suitcase lock, but was prone to forgetting the keys.

  2. I quite like the picture of the 3 Woodcocks foraging. What a great shot, and you can almost miss them if you look fast. So cryptically colored. One of my favorite memories as a student of yours was watching them "dance" during late spring last year.

  3. John, thank you for passing on your knowledge and love for birds to those of us who were willing to listen...and convincing those of us who didn't that someday we would.
    Trail cameras are so much fun...never thought of targeting bird species. I shall take this challenge and run with it. You my friend are an amazing teacher. Keep it up. Keep smiling


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