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Thursday, July 4, 2013

My milksnake brings all the fox to the yard...

In my last post, I wrote about a Reconyx set I made in hopes of capturing woodcock images. I had great success with this location last year, but this spring has been so wet that our hedgerow has been in almost continuous standing water since April. So while woodcock pictures have been rare, other animals have been picking up the slack. And the water has provided a certain artistic element to the photos that I had not anticipated. For example:
Doe and fawn 
Here the infrared flash gives them glowing eyes but the Reconyx delivers with a nice crisp image. Deer, and fawns in particular, have made almost-daily appearances to this set. A few of my favorites:
Cautious fawn
The image above is highly cropped. This fawn is right at the edge of the photo so I had little choices when it came to composition. Second only to the deer are the raccoon visitors. Two favorites:

I don't want to leave you with the impression that these are the ONLY visitors to this watery domain. Opossum, gray squirrel and various birds are commonly captured as well. Last week, we had another species as well:
Gray fox reflected
Above is the entire image. Below, I crop it down to Mr. Gray himself.
Gray fox
Even without color, this is unmistakably a gray fox. Note the short snout and the black line running down the dorsal surface of the tail. I always like my gray fox captures :) and this guy was only one of a pair
What really makes this such a great photo is the perceived size difference between these two animals. I have to admit my first reaction was surprise. I mean, that guy on the left looks HUGE compared to the other gray fox. But of course, it is closer to the camera AND it is standing on top of a mound. This is a great lesson in how careful one must be when comparing images. If you wish to compare the sizes of two animals, make sure they are exactly the same distance from the camera or it just won't be accurate.

The Reconyx is set to take a burst of three photos then almost immediately ready itself to take more photos if the animals are still triggering the sensor. I got several sets of photos of these fox, but here was the one that caught my eye (and inspired the title of this post):
Gray fox and milksnake
Wow! A photo of a gray fox is always a "win" for me, but one carrying food is even more special. I was so excited. But had the fox killed the snake or scavenged it? I scrolled back through the photos to find out. Stay with me now, as we are going to go backwards in time...
The photo previous to the one shown above didn't seem remarkable at all when I first glanced at it. But now under closer examination, I can clearly see the milksnake in the mouth of the fox:

Milksnakes are so distinctively patterned that on my property there really is no mistaking the identification. I continued to scroll backwards --

I need to crop and enlarge for you, but there IS a snake in the photo above. Thank goodness for the pattern on the milksnake or it would be invisible in this inrared photo.

A few inches below his nose and hidden by growing vegetation is the snake. At this point, I speculated that the snake was dead or it would have tried to escape. A quick scroll backwards through the photos confirmed that, but I am getting ahead of the story...

This photo on June 24th at 9:11 PM is the last image without a milksnake. I have zoomed in to the area in question and cannot make out any bit of a snake here:

A raccoon had triggered the above image and it continued over to this spot:
The coon drags up a dead snake. It is visible in the photo below just under the coon's snout.
But after another sniff, he leaves it behind.
I have only a partial answer. The gray fox did indeed scavenge the snake, but I still don't know how long it lay there before the fox found it. And why didn't the raccoon eat it? And as I looked back through all the photos, concentrating on the snake this time, I saw that another visitor had found it too. Remember that cute fawn peeking out from the edge of the photo above? Well, she too investigated the milksnake:
Finally, an image of the snake in color! :) Identification confirmed.
There is one more story I want to tell from these photos. The night after I captured the gray foxes, a coyote made an appearance. And lucky for me, he crossed in front of the camera in exactly the same spot as the gray fox did. This will allow us a direct comparison of size between the two species. But how best to convey that to my students? Since I do not own Photoshop, I had to get creative...

Here are the two images stacked for direct comparison. But I can do better. Besides, I will be using PowerPoint to show these to students...

I made a jpeg of a PowerPoint slide:

That works, but i still wasn't satisfied. So I tried enlarging them.
Better. But if I could combine the two images, that would be best. I am working with PowerPoint 2007 here at home and the best option I could find was to make most of the background transparent. Since this is a black and white image, it made the task a little harder...
There is the gray fox with most of the colors set to transparent and cropped as best as I could (is there a free form crop tool in ppt 2007? If so, I couldn't find it.) The last step was to lay this on to the coyote image. The best part of this is that the fox gets placed EXACTLY where he was in the original photo:
Comparing the size of a coyote to a gray fox
I am pretty pleased with the results. Not perfect and I assume I will get better as I try more of this.


  1. That's incredibly awesome! Gray Fox scavenging milksnakes!

    Wonder what killed the snake in the first place?

  2. You never cease to amaze me with what you discover in your pictures. I wonder how many "stories" I've missed by skipping over seemingly boring or blank pictures. The Reconyx is awesome with that standing water. Wish I could get a sugar daddy to hook me up with one....

  3. Gray fox are one of the few canines I don't know anything about so it was interesting to see this and the comparison. If you ever get curious about picture editing and don't want to dump loads into photoshop you can always use GIMP. It is very similar and free and can be run in a single window. PowerPoint did really well.


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