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Thursday, December 29, 2011

These Holidays are for the Dogs...

Black-backed Jackal
(Tanzania, 8/11)
Greetings all! I has been a while since I posted. The end of the semester is always hectic and then that rolls right into the holidays. I have enjoyed my time off. I sleep more than I should, I eat too much and watch more Netflix than one man should. I blame the weather. It has been so unseasonably warm. Kind of like the dog days of December. Which leads me to this photo. Just look at how FULL this jackal is! There is a reason they call it "wolfing down your food". Many (if not all) Canids can consume huge amounts of food at one time. In Africa, we watched scavengers fighting over remains -- vultures, hyenas, jackals and even lions. Simply having the ability to carry so much food in your stomach is an advantage. However, this guy looks as if it couldn't even outrun me at this point, so there must be trade offs. For a comparison, here is the same species (not the same individual though) without a full belly.
Black-backed Jackal
(Kenya, 8/11)
We were able to see four species of wild Canids in Africa : Black-backed, Golden and Side-striped Jackals as well as Bat-eared Fox (Note that Hyena is missing from this list. They are not dogs! But more on that in future posts...). The Black-backs were quite common and we saw them everywhere. We only saw two families of Bat-ears and distant views of single Golden and Side-stripes.
Bat-eared Fox
(Kenya, 8/11)
One of my favorite memories of our Africa trip was seeing our first family of Bat-ears. That is partly due to the fact that I spotted them :). Nothing beats getting the jump on your guide. But they are just amazing looking critters. These ones didn't let us observe them long. They seemed to want some peace and quite and picked up and left as soon as we pulled over. But I managed a few photos including the last one that shows how these fox go their name. They are small enough (they top out at about 12 pounds) to prey on insects as well as vertebrates.


Bat-eared Fox
(Kenya, 8/11)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Trying out the Cuddeback Attack IR video

I purchased some Cuddeback Attack IR cameras through a grant. Now we are in the process of testing them out to make sure they work properly. I have to be honest and say although I have been (and continue to be) a big fan of the Cuddeback cameras, we are experiencing problems with two of the six Attacks. I am confident that the people at Cuddeback will make good on them, but it is disheartening. Anyway, I had two set on my property this past week and was anxious to see what was moving during the deer season. The answer, in short, is not much...

Raccoon
(Seneca Falls, NY 11/11)
There seems to be no shortage of raccoons on the property. Here is an image from a Cuddeback Capture (I had three of those out as well this week). I used some scent lure in a branch in front of this camera and the raccoon seems to be looking right at it. That nose must be in good working order! One of the Attack camera traps captured a nice video of a (the?) coon as well. That can be viewed here. I edited down to about 20 seconds from the original 30. It is worth watching to see the technique it uses to search for food under a submerged branch.


White-tailed deer running
(Seneca Falls, NY 11/11)
I also captured some video and stills of white-tailed deer. There are two deer here and it appears to be an adult doe and her fawn. This Attack was set very close to one of the Captures. Let's look at an image from the Capture first. This deer appears to be really on the move! There was a bit of a fog, but otherwise a great photo. But what got the deer so spooked? Well, I think I got the answer when I checked the Attack. In this first video, watch as a single deer seems to be alerted to the presence of the camera. Click here. Now I have always gotten photos of animals looking right at the camera and when it is a still photo, it is hard to convince me that the critter wasn't just guilty of looking in that direction. But with the video, I am seeing more of the story. Whereas the raccoon in the earlier video gave no evidence that it detected the camera, this deer sure gets spooked. But if that doesn't convince you, maybe this next video will. Before you watch, let me set it up for you. It occurs only two minutes after the previous video.   If you watch until the end, note the second deer that becomes visible (mostly a glowing eye..). She is coming from the location of the Cuddeback Capture. The time stamps on the two cameras lead me to believe that I captured a video of one deer being startled on the Attack and the deer it was traveling with reacting to that on the Capture. Kind of neat.... Oh, the link! Watch it here.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Dry Spell Continues.....

Ok, I probably shouldn't complain... I obtained GREAT results from the camera sets at my Father's property recently (see previous post), but things remain SLIM here at home. Saturday was the first day of the firearm season for deer. I was unable to participate as I was in Boston for a workshop. I returned on Sunday and managed to get out with enough light to slowly walk the perimeter trail. All five of the current camera sets I have out are along that trail. I was anxious to see a few things. First, I wanted to see if the opening day of the season got any deer moving and second, I wanted to see if I captured any photos of trespassers. I can report that I got photos of neither. In fact, I have captured very few images recently. I am at a loss for an explanation. Perhaps I don't "need" one. Perhaps it is just the law of averages... there are bound to be low activity cycles or times when I have the cameras in the wrong locations. I did manage two photos worth posting though:
Racoon in the snow
(Seneca Falls, NY 11/11)
We received a dusting of snow the other day that didn't last through the whole day. Heck, the snow was so sticky-wet that I really cannot call it a dusting. I like this photo. It seems to have some artistic value to it. I cannot take credit of course, but I am still pleased.








Gray squirrel
(Seneca Falls, NY 11/11)
Here is an extreme crop of a camera trap photo. Nothing special. Just a common old gray squirrel. I mean, you have seen thousands of them, right? But let me challenge you to take a moment and really look at one... this one or another, it doesn't matter. What matters is that you make the effort to become familiar with the familiar. I read an article once that said the vast majority of NYC residents have never been to the Empire State Building. When they were asked "Why not?", I expected the answer to be "I am not interested." or "That is a tourist attraction". Instead, the article said the most common reason given was "I can see it anytime." But in the end, they never go. Just like most people don't take the time to really look at the common animals around them...

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Camera Trap Results Wayland, NY November 2011

Berna and Sasha
(Wayland, NY 10/11)
WARNING! Let me warn you that this is a very comprehensive post (aka LLLLOOONNNGG) however I think it is worth the effort as we got some great pics and video to share. :)

As I mentioned in a previous post, we set nine additional cameras out on my father's property in Wayland, NY. Dad's and my camera were also out for a total of 11 cameras. All cameras were Cuddeback brand. We had three of the new Attacks (purchased through an NSF grant) and four each of the Capture IR and normal flash. I set out the cameras with two Technicians from the Conservation Department at FLCC. Neither Berna or Sasha had ever seen my father's property before, so in addition to creating the sets, we conducted a whirlwind tour of the 75 acres. Dad has a mixture of hardwoods, pine plantation, old field shrub and younger forb fields. It makes for a nice variety of species, but the ultimate purpose of this endeavor was to try and capture photos of bears for my Black Bear Management class.
On November 11th, we retrieved the cameras during an optional field trip with my students. The cameras had been out for a minimum of eight days (two were out for a few days longer...) and we were very happy with the results. We totaled 10 species of mammals and one species of bird. Not bad for our neck of the woods!
From left to right: Jack (my Dad), Sasha, Eric, Shellie,
Alyssa, Don and Andy
(Wayland, NY 11/11)
We arrived at my father's property just as the cold precipitation was letting up (not quite rain, not quite snow) and the sun was making a brief appearance. After some quick introductions, we headed down the trail to retrieve all 11 cameras. Anticipation ran high among the group as my Dad had seen two bears only two days earlier. Did they walk in front of one of our cameras?
Ten-point buck
Our first set was an IR camera on a well worn wildlife trail. We expected mostly deer. In fact, we captured ONLY deer on this set. The only photo of note was this large ten-point buck. Compare this new photo with this previous buck pic and tell me if you think it is the same deer or not. Camera set #2 was my own personal Cuddeback Capture and it was set directly on my one of my Dad's mown trails. We use the trails as footpaths and for his ATV. When setting this camera, I aimed it at a new deer scrape and further seeded it with red oak acorns that my Dad had collected. As expected, we got deer visiting the scrape and gray squirrel collecting the acorns. But we also got a wide range of other species (in fact, it turned out that this set produced the greatest diversity of species) including red fox, opossum, and....
Striped Skunk
Raccoon
Coyote
and BLACK BEAR!
Wounded black bear
(Wayland, NY 11/11)
Our excitement at getting a black bear photo (the first on my own personal camera btw) was dampened by the realization that the bear in the photo was injured. We could clearly see blood and I surmised that perhaps the bear had been shot by a hunter. We are in the midst of archery season for deer and bear and it is entirely possible that a hunter on a neighboring property wounded this bear. Given how far bears can travel, we may never solve the puzzle. We never got a photo of a hunter trailing behind, following a blood trail. But I am told it is difficult to follow blood trails on black bears given that their thick fur collects the blood rather than letting it fall to the ground. And it is entirely possible that this bear was injured some other way. Who knows? Camera set #3 was in a stand of small maples growing up under 30 year old pines. We managed only a few photos but added Eastern cottontail to our tally of species (for those that are counting, we are up to eight species....). Set #4 was another IR camera but we tried something different here. I had read that you can attract bobcat and fox to a set (camera or more traditional trap) by dangling a feather from a string to entice the predator to investigate. We had no luck with my turkey feather set per se but did get some deer photos as they wandered by....
Set #5 was also set on the aforementioned ATV trail, about 300 yards away from set#2 and directly on the edge of my father's border. We added one new species here (feral cat) and got some great photos of
Opossum
 Red Fox
and BLACK BEAR!
Injured black bear
(Wayland, NY 11/11)
This photo was taken only a few minutes before the previous one. We now know exactly where the bear entered my Dad's property and we can now see the injury more clearly. I have enlarged it below, but before you scroll down, take a look at exactly where the injury is located. A bow hunter will typically aim for the chest cavity in hopes of piercing the lungs and going for a quick kill. This is consistent with the injury shown here; the source of the blood is a bit higher and distal (forward) than optimal.
Close-up of injury to black bear
(Wayland, NY 11/11)
Again, I am not certain that an arrow made this injury but that is my opinion. We spent some time looking for blood at both camera sets and found none (the bear had passed by on Nov. 5th, and we were checking cameras on Nov. 11th. One final note: I wish this bear well. I never like to see an animal suffer. Bears are tough critters and perhaps this is a superficial injury that can be recovered from.

White-tailed Deer
(Wayland, NY 11/11)


Camera set #6 was not too far away and was set under an apple tree. This was one of our new Attack cameras and we had it set to obtain both still and video images. We only captured Eastern cottontail and white-tail deer, but I posted videos of both on YouTube. The deer video is of a little spike and the Eastern cottontail is only 16 seconds and shows a turn and a hop. :) There is nothing particularly exciting about either video, but I am thrilled at my new toy -- the Cuddeback Attack cameras. I have always avoided the video cameras in the past but am happy with this model because of several features, including the ability to capture a still photo before the video starts rolling. It was starting to get dim so the group hustled over to set #7. This was the set I had anticipated checking all week long. It was near the location where Dad had seen the two bears only two days earlier. And in addition, we had used a commercial bear scent here to try and lure bears in. The scent had the smell of black licorice (anise) and I was hoping for the best. We got to the Attack camera and found our scent rag was still in place. We took out the SD card to preview the photos and saw that there were only two photos. One was a massive flock of common grackles and the other was..... BLACK BEAR! This time, it was two bears, the same bears that Dad had seen on Wednesday and most certainly the same bears photographed here. In that previous post, I opened the discussion as to whether this was a mom and cub or two lone cubs. I am now more convinced that these are two lone cubs. Watch the video here (watch all the way to the end!) and let me know what you think. 
Two black bears
(Wayland, NY 11/11)

Camera set #8 was my father's camera. We were a bit disappointed with only a few deer photos. However, we took the opportunity to search for bear claw marks. Back in June, my Dad's camera captured two photos of a mother bear and her cub. I have those photos posted here. In the first picture, the cub is in a tree. We inspected that tree and found the marks from the bear's claws. We all took photos and by now, it was getting so dark that we were using our flashes.



Claw marks from black bear
cub climbing
(Wayland, NY 11/11)
Black bear scat
(Wayland. NY 11/11)
On the way to our final three sets, I took the students to a hop hornbeam tree that I found in October 2010 (no photo). There are two bear bites and several scratches on the tree. The amount of healing on this tree in just the last year is impressive, and gives me a good feel for how difficult it is in some cases to find older bear sign. It will be interesting to see what the cub claw marks look like next fall. Set #9 produced only some deer photos, leaving us hustling to the last tow sets. But Dad had a surprise for us. Just the day before, Dad had found some bear scat. It was older scat, but exciting none the less. We picked the scat apart a bit and found hairs that appeared to be squirrel and scales from pine cones. Sasha made the correct dentification though -- the "pine scales" were really beech nut husks.
Bear claw marks
(Wayland, NY 11/11)
Set #10 was a complete bust with not one single photo (need to check that the camera is functioning properly), however the location of the camera gave us a chance to inspect some more bear scratches on a pine tree. These scratches go rather high up the tree and appear to be from a climb rather than as a marking. Thanks to Sasha for finding this tree on the day we set cameras out! By the time we got to set #11, we had nearly completed a large circle. We added one new species at this set in the hemlocks: red squirrel. Not a bad haul! We COULD have gotten a few other rodents (such as Eastern chipmunk), gray fox, wild turkey and perhaps even a bobcat (although they are still uncommon in this area). But I want to focus in the positives. The students that were able to come saw bear habitat, a wide variety of sign and retrieved some amazing pics and video. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Dry Spell ...

Just a quick post to express my frustration with my sets. I have four cameras out at home and none of them are producing much. We are right in the midst of the rut here and I had high hopes for a few of the cameras. Yesterday afternoon, I went to check them again and startled a mature buck with a massive rack. I literally ran tot he next camera in anticipation but did not have any photos of him (or even a younger brother!). But I am NOT giving up!!! This afternoon I am retrieving 11 cameras from my Father's property with my black bear class so perhaps my luck will change! Stay tuned.....

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Checking Squirrel Boxes @ East Hill Campus


Red squirrel nest from box
(Naples, NY 10/11)
This spring, we erected nine flying squirrel boxes at FLCC's East Hill Campus. We used these plans. On Halloween Day, we went out and checked their status. Our intention was to check for evidence of occupancy, not to evict anyone. By now, the breeding season is long over and any young squirrels would not be tied to the nest boxes. Our first box was empty, but our second box had a nest in it. Unfortunately, I am pretty sure it was a red squirrel. The opening was chewed to enlarge it to allow the larger red squirrel access.
 As you can see, there is a hollowed out portion of the nest in the center. Red squirrels favor conifers rather than deciduous trees and this box was attached to a pine tree. The nest itself was made mostly of strips of bark (I am no expert but the bark sure looked like grape vine to me). I say mostly because there were a few odd pieces in the nest. A few leaves and needles and deer hair. But the most interesting find was a piece of rope that had been teased apart and frayed.....
Rope from red squirrel nest
(Naples, NY 10/11)




Thanks for being a good sport, Alyssa!

Bobbie Jo checks squirrel box
(Naples, NY 10/11)
Flying squirrel nest
(Naples, NY 10/11)




















We continued up the hill checking boxes and finding  many empty and others with chewed hickory nuts inside and still others with nesting material. Students took turns checking the boxes and all seemed to be having fun. We warned them that actually seeing a flying squirrel was not a certainty. When we got to box #7, Bobbie Jo volunteered to take a turn. Well, she opened the box and saw the nest material start to wiggle and tried to catch the occupant. But the flying squirrel escaped before she could grab it. We all got great looks as it sat in the crotch of a branch. I only had my small camera, but one of my students, Adam Rogers had a nice camera and took two nice pics I will post below. I climbed the ladder and took a quick pic of the nest myself. I got a short video of the squirrel exiting the box and posted it to YouTube here.


Thanks again to Adam Rogers for sharing his photos with me! Check out how flat that tail is.... :)
Flying squirrel
Photo by: Adam Rogers
(Naples, NY 10/11)

Flying squirrel
Photo by: Adam Rogers
(Naples, NY 10/31)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Dad's Camera Trap Set continues to produce...

I have posted a few entries regarding my Father's camera trapping adventures. He has had a particularly good run as you can see here. I spent the day with him yesterday. Mother Nature joined us with a nice gift of wet sticky snow, the first of the season. We had a nice day of hunting. My highlight was a nice red fox trotting by at about 40 yards in the fresh snow.  Dad decided he wanted to adjust the placement a little so the next batch will show a different angle. I took the opportunity to make two camera sets of my own. Anyway, we checked the camera and got a few nice photos:

Ten point buck
Photo by: Jack Van Niel, 10/11
1. Ten-pointer! This is one nice deer. There is one tine there that is pretty small, but I believe it is at least an inch and therefore "countable". There have been no shortages of buck photos from this set, but many have been yearlings with thin, narrow racks. But this guy has the look of an older deer. Some people believe that the number of points on the antlers can tell the age of the deer, but the diameter of the beams and the spread of the rack are much more reliable indicators of age. More on that in future posts.



Black Bears, Fremont, NY
Photo by: Jack Van Niel, 10/11
2. Black Bears: Ahhh..... a nice family scene here. But what do I have? Two siblings? A cub in the foreground and Mom in the back (The more I look at this photo, the more I am convinced that the bear in the back is larger and an adult)? I cannot say for for sure. If they are both cubs, Mom is probably just off camera someplace. Despite the size of that lead bear, it is a cub. Cubs in New York are most likely born in January and weigh less than a pound each. At this exact same spot in June, my father took these photos of a mother and cub. I cannot say for sure we are looking at the same bears. Regardless, the cub(s) in THIS photo were that small in June. Now, in October, cubs can weigh upwards of 100 pounds. They will den with or near Mom this winter and when they emerge in the spring, they will be yearlings. I am bringing my black bear management class down in two weeks for an optional field trip. Let's hope we have some black bear photos of our own to discover.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Early scrape activity

White-tailed deer scrape
(Seneca Falls, NY 10/11)
I am not bow hunting this year. But that doesn't mean I have no interest in the comings and goings of deer on my property. This past Sunday I went to check my camera traps and found two half-hearted scrapes. This first scrape is larger and is under a black locust sapling. It is a bit difficult to see in this photo but click on it to enlarge. You are looking at the bare area in the mowed grass trail. Scrapes are normally found with a tree branch hanging above it. The purpose of the branch is for the deer to apply additional scent. They will mouth the branch and perhaps rub their pre-orbital glands as well. This next photo is a nice close up of the scrape itself.









White-tailed deer scrape
(Seneca Falls, NY 10/11)
Here is the scrape up close and personal. The scrape is made by the male. He uses his hooves to clear the vegetation and then urinates through his tarsal glands to produce a calling card for other deer to investigate.









White-tailed deer scrape
(Seneca Falls, NY 10/11)
The second scrape I encountered was not as fully formed. Only about 20 feet away, this other scrape was much smaller but contained a nice clear deer track. The track is just above my finger. Note how much vegetation remains within this scrape. I have seen this behavior before and often these early scrape attempts are never quite finished and probably play a very small role, if any, in the reproductive story each fall.

I was anxious to check my camera and see if I had captured any images of bucks. In fact, I had only a single photo of a buck. I cannot say for certain that this buck is the one that made these scrapes, but the camera is only 20 yards from the scrapes on the same trail.  Not a bad buck...
Male white-tailed deer
(Seneca Falls, NY 10/11)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Nobody makes chocolate rabbits in THIS pose...

I posted here about a camera set my Dad has on his property. This past month has been unusually productive and I promised to share some photos.

Eastern cottontail
(Seneca Falls, NY 10/11)
Eastern cottontails move so fast it is hard to see exactly how their legs are positioned. Most people don't know that when they are running, their back legs actually extend in front of their front legs. I just got back from checking my two cameras and got this nice photo of a rabbit in a classic body scissor position. Imagine now that you are looking at its tracks in the snow. The front tracks would be smaller and close together while the rear feet would be larger and set farther apart. And remember, the front tracks will be behind the rear tracks.



Eastern cottontail
(Fremont, NY 9/2011)
This is my new favorite eastern cottontail photograph. I man, how cool is this? Look at the extension of those back legs... I can't get over the idea that he is laid out on some sort of invisible table :) These are the times I wish I had video...

Monday, October 10, 2011

An apple a day...

As mentioned in a previous post, I just received over 300 photos from my Father's camera trap in Wayland, NY. Since the camera was set under an apple tree, there are plenty of deer photos. These four tell an interesting story:

Doe and fawn
Photo by: Jack Van Niel
(Wayland, NY 9/2011)
In this first photo, you can see a doe and her fawn with their heads together. But with that trunk in the way, I just couldn't tell what was going on. There is a large amount of contact between does and fawns so this could have been lots of things. My best guess however was that they were eating apples or maybe some of the acorns Dad had also spread around.







Doe and fawn eating apple
Photo by: Jack Van Niel
(Wayland, NY 9/2011)
This second photo helps tell what may have been happening in the last image. What is happening? Is this a photo of two deer that just happen to be vying for the same piece of food? Is mom trying to take this from the fawn or is the fawn trying to take this from mom? My Father asked: Is the doe teaching the fawn that apples are good to eat? In the end, I do not know. A quick (and I do mean quick!) search of my references did not produce anything to support that theory. But I didn't find anything to reject that theory either :)




Doe and fawn
Photo by: Jack Van Niel
(Wayland, NY 9/2011)
Photo number three shows that the apple is now gone. But who got it? If mom was trying for it, did she manage to "steal" it away from her fawn? Is that an apple tucked into mom's left cheek? Is the fawn sniffing out a consolation prize? I have heard anecdotal stories that deer at feeding stations have a "take no prisoners" attitude when it comes to food.  But that photo above looks for all the world like a mother gently teaching her offspring the ways of the world, at least the ways of apples. So, who got the apple? I think I know...





Fawn
Photo by: Jack Van Niel
(Wayland, NY 9/2011)
Although the time stamps have been cropped out of these photos, these were all taken in a very short period of time (camera was set for 30 second delay). In this last photo, the fawn is licking her chops... just as one would after eating a nice juicy apple... :) Is this proof that mom was teaching her fawn to forage for food? Heck no. It isn't even proof that the fawn got that apple. But we can speculate. I will file this observation away and hope that more evidence will present itself in time...

The Big Five: Leopard!

This post is one in a series on Africa's "Big Five". You can view all my Big Five posts here. Although we were not particularly tuned into seeing the Big Five, all of the animals on that list (Elephant, African lion, Rhino, Leopard and Cape buffalo) were certainly on our wish list. But seeing the Big Five was not a priority per se. As it turned out, we saw multiple animals of each species of the Big Five, however the leopard turned out to be the least encountered. We "only" saw two leopards. I say "only" because it was conceivable that we could go on safari and see none.

Traffic jam at leopard sighting
Photo: Danika Van Niel
(Samburu National Reserve, Kenya 8/11)
Our first leopard siting was in Samburu National Reserve. William, our guide, was alerted to its presence over the radio. By the time we arrived, there were at least a dozen safari vehicles already present. The only problem was, all of the guides around us had also just arrived and no one within earshot of us knew where the leopard was. You have to picture the land rovers packed in close to each other and guides asking back and forth in Swahili "Ambapo ni chui?" (or something like that) while the tourist tried the same in English. All I learned was that SOMEWHERE on the rocks ahead of us was a leopard. I began to carefully scan with my binoculars and finally it popped out of nowhere! Once I saw it, everyone else wanted directions as to where it was. So despite there being so many people there, it was exciting to "refind" the leopard on our own.

Leopard
(Samburu National Reserve, Kenya 8/11)
The photo at left was taken when the leopard was on the move. It is not the greatest photo as the light was low and I was hand holding my big lens, but it is our best :) Our only other leopard was in the Serengeti. It was far away, but 1) our guide found it without any help and 20 it was in a tree! No photos but fond memories of that one.

Cheetah
(Samburu National Reserve, Kenya 8/11)
Leopards can only be confused with one other African animal and that is the cheetah. However, there are several ways to tell them apart. Look closely at this cheetah. I took this photo on the same day as the leopard pic above. Cheetahs are more sleek overall. They remind me of greyhounds. Also, look at the black "tear streaks" on the face of the cheetah. Finally, look at the difference in the spots. Leopards have spots in clusters or rosettes on the torso. Of course, there are other differences. Leopards are ambush predators while cheetahs are known for their incredible bursts of speed to cathc their prey. And cheetahs are the only cat int he world that has claws that do not fully retract. One final difference: cheetahs are not known to attack humans, while leopards do. This last fact is what puts the leopard in the Big Five and excludes the cheetah.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Why I Love Camera Trapping!

For a while now, I have wanted to write a post describing what it is about camera traps that make them so enjoyable, so entertaining, so useful and so addicting. I have always hesitated because I have a hard time putting it all into words. Sure, there are some obvious things to say. Pulling the memory cards IS like Christmas morning. Even when there are only a few images, one never knows what one will find! Yes, the excitement of the 'hunt" drives me, however it seems to becoming more than that. I also should say something like "Camera trapping is part art and part science". I am still not sure I am going to form a cohesive post but after my parents visited yesterday, I thought I could finally give it a try...

Black bear
(Wayland, NY 9/2011)
My father owns 80 acres of land in Wayland, NY. He bought it primarily as a place to deer hunt. I was 12 when he bought it and having a place to wander and explore nature was life changing for me. I do not believe I would have chosen the career path I did if he never bought it. Dad has two Cuddeback Capture cameras and sets them out for weeks at a time. My parents came over yesterday and brought one SD card that had been out for about a month (8/26 -9/24, 2011) and contained 349 photos. The camera trap was set facing an old apple tree. As if that were not enough, Dad spread out a bag full of acorns he had collected last fall on the golf course. The results were fantastic! He captured images of seven species of mammals (including a single shot of black bear and five different bucks) and two species of birds. Their were several interesting aspects of natural history documented including shots of particular gaits, interspecies competition as well as cooperation, molt, parasite loads and antler development.

Raccoon eating acorn
(Wayland, NY 9/2011)
It was a rush looking through my Dad's photos, not just to see the animals but to discover what stories the images had to tell. It is this interpreting that I enjoy the most. As a teacher, one of my primary goals is to make natural history accessible and understandable to my students. One way to do that is to teach them to make connections themselves (to paraphrase a parable, it is my version of teaching them to fish rather than giving them a fish). I find that increasingly I am talking about camera trap photos as data and asking students to draw conclusions about them. I am pushing them to consider how the images from, let's say, an entire week fit together to tell a story. We are paying more attention to dates and times to discover patterns. Part of my enjoyment stems from watching my students catch the camera trap bug too.

White-tailed deer, male
(Wayland, NY 9/2011)
Over the next several weeks, I will use my father's photos to tell several stories. You will see how (and when) deer change their color, when fawns lose their spots and watch a pair of antlers go from warm and fuzzy to cold and pointy. I will post the oddest eastern cottontail pose I have yet to see and we will watch raccoons by the handful and a mother deer with her fawn vying for apples. I condensed the 300-odd photos down to a manageable 30-something and wonder what I will find when I go back for a second (or third) look. And as I was looking over so many deer photos, I was struck by the idea that I was evolving in my camera trapping much the way hunters do. I found this website that succinctly describes the five stages: Shooting (success = shooting game), Limiting-out (success = taking as much as the law allows), Selective (success = taking game of a certain quality), Method (success = taking game by more challenging methods), and Philosopher (success = sharing your knowledge, etc). Often, this journey is non-linear and I feel as if I am straddling a few of those stages right now. But the point is that camera trapping is so fascinating to me because of its complexity. I have many students that come to me with camera trapping experience that is limited to only using the cameras to scout for deer. I push them to think of these things as professional tools that can be an important part of their education. For me, this has only added to the value of the photos themselves. Stay tuned for more lessons from this batch of photos, as promised...

Friday, October 7, 2011

CON 236: Wetland Mammals FLCC

On October 18th, my Wetland Mammals class will be presenting the results of their field studies (in C231 @ 1230 sharp for those of you that are local... pizza! soda! great presentations!). Consider this a preview post of things to come....

CON 236: Wetland Mammals is structured around the use of our Muller Field Station south of Honeoye Lake. The class meets for a three-hour introductory session the first Friday evening of the semester. Activities run from the mundane (planning a menu, explaining the logistics of overnights at the field station, etc) to the academic (basic tracks and trails lecture, defining a wetland, assigning journal readings). Our next meeting is a very full weekend at the Muller Field Station (MFS). After Friday's dinner, we meet in the great room for a review of the weekend's schedule and our first lecture. The course focuses on four wetland mammals: beaver, muskrat, river otter and mink. We have all four species at the station and in the surrounding State land.

On Saturday morning, we are out the door before dawn. We car pool to the parking area South of the station and walk the channel trail back. This gives us a chance to look for wetland mammals and their sign. Of course, we stop for other things as well. This year's hike yielded wood ducks, fresh bear scat and a nice deer carcass. We found two active beaver dams as well as many other signs. Students are given a checklist of the four wetland mammals and their associated sign. By the end of the hike we had tallied such highlights as muskrat feeding sign, river otter scat, beaver scent mound, and the elusive mink itself!

After breakfast, Sasha conducts a short canoe safety and use lesson and we are off to explore the area North of the station. We bring Cuddeback cameras with us and students try their hand at setting camera traps. The cameras will only remain until the following morning. Saturday rounds off with river otter scat dissection, a beaver natural history lecture, the basics of the scientific method, an evening canoe (beaver tail slapping!), journal article sharing and the creation of groups. Each group of three is charged with brainstorming a field study question they would like to explore. Each group is given two Cuddeback Capture cameras, use of the canoes, a variety of scents and lures and two weeks to collect data.

Beaver,
(Richmond, NY 9/2011)
On Sunday, we collect the cameras during our early paddle. We get some interesting results including this beaver and a raccoon imitating a muskrat :) . The rest of the day is much of a repeat of Saturday with lecture, field work and students working in groups. By the middle of the afternoon, we are ready to meet at the pond and have each group present their ideas for a field study. The ideas are great and we approve all projects with only minor suggestions. By 4pm, the cameras are deployed and the station is clean. Ten cameras are now our eyes in the swamp for the next 12 days.


Raccoon
(Richmond, NY 9/2011)