Saturday, September 24, 2011

Canis Cost-Benefit Analysis

The Primos Truthcam46 is a camera that has a pretty loud "clunk" whenever it takes a picture.  Although it has lots of good qualities too, I've made past posts about why this camera gets on my nerves (see here).  The up-side is that I can use it in areas where I don't really have any specific purpose but "messing about" with my cams, and it doesn't matter.

So, not long ago, I walked into the kitchen and my lovely bride pointed to a pan of recently used cooking oil on the stove.....complete with bits of crusty breading that had fallen off whatever delicious morsel had been fried there.  My wife's comment to me was: "could you get rid of this oil?"  A normal person might dump it in an empty tin can, allow it to congeal and then throw it away.

I call that WASTEFUL!

Especially when there is a camera nearby with no specific purpose but to catch pictures just for fun-zies!

So, our story begins with the application of the attractant.

Remember....for a camera trap......this brand is loud as hell when it takes a picture.  Pay special attention to the time-stamp.

The question is: what's more important?  Food or fear? (especially if you're a Coyote)

Day 1:

Elapsed Time: < 1 minute.

Elapsed Time: < 30 seconds.

Elapsed Time: ~ 5 minutes

Elapsed Time: < 1 minute

Day Two:

Elapsed Time: ~ 2 minutes.

Elapsed Time: ~ 3 minutes

Elapsed Time: ~ 1 minute, 15 seconds.

Day Three.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Climbing Canine.

From one of my camera sets back in North Carolina.

The climbing tendencies of Gray Foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) are well known.

As it was told to me by some "old-timers" :)  ....the tendency of the Gray Fox to climb may have saved it a little bit of historical grief from hunters, AND led to the introduction of the European Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) in North America.  Although native Reds did exist in many areas of North America at one time (having migrated across the land bridge from Europe during the Illinoian Glacial Period 130-300 thousand years ago), they became very rare by the end the Wisconsonian Glacial Period around 10-100 thousand years before present (Aubry et al. 2009).  Some native Reds still exist in North America today, but they are reportedly only found in remote locations, such as subalpine and alpine habitats of the Rocky Mountains, Sierra Nevadas, and in areas of Alaska and Canada.

So we can apparently assume that when Europeans arrived on the eastern shores of the New World, they found only Gray Foxes.  Because Grays would quickly run up a tree when chased by dogs and hunters on horses, they didn't make good sport.  Coyotes were also reportedly hunted from horse-back with the use of dogs on occasion. But 'yotes do not use the convoluted escape routes that Reds do, and are rather likely to bolt in a straight line when fleeing... making them less of a challenge.  The Red Fox, on the other hand, will break and run and run across open space to shelter...then break and run in a different direction to shelter and so on.  This made for a much better hunt ("View Haloo", if you will).

Therefore, to have something more sporting to hunt (in part) the Red Fox was introduced to North America.  Thus, Red Fox encountered in the Midwestern and Eastern U.S. are believed to be of European Stock.

But...we were talking about the Gray Fox and their notions to climb things.....

Although Gray Fox love to climb, I never thought my camera traps would actually ever catch a shot of them climbing. 

As it is often said: it's better to be lucky than good.

I wish I would have gotten a picture of it actually catching whatever it was after on that snowy December evening.

Literature Cited:

Aubry, K.B., M.J. Statham, B.N. Sacks, J.D. Perrines, and S.M. Wisely. 2009.Phylogeography of the North American red fox: vicariance in Pleistocene forest refugia. Molecular Ecology 18: 2668-2686.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Spirit of The Brute Endures!

Folks that follow my blog may remember my posts about some bucks with very nice antlers at one my sites in North Carolina (see here).  It turns out that we also have Brutes around here, which makes for some pleasant surprises when one checks the cams after a week.

As I have said several times in the past, catching pictures of "trophy bucks" is not the reason why I got into camera trapping.  However, I have to marvel at the appearance of an individual in the prime of his peak condition.....likely the biggest, baddest SOB on the block.

This particular camera set location was in a fallow grassland adjacent to where we live.  It is pinched between agricultural fields on either side...and is sort of a marginally suitable habitat "island" or "fragment"....mostly attractive to game species (deer, pheasant, turkey, etc.).  My daughter and I walk around in this area frequently.....I pull her in her wagon....and she picks up turkey feathers and milkweed pods that she finds (or I point out to her).  Last week, I took her out there in order to get her out of the house while I looked for a good location for the Cuddeback.....this camera hadn't been in operation since we moved here at the beginning of August, and I missed the color night photos.

I knew there were Coyote, and guessed there were Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) in the area.  I also had a faint hope for a Badger (Taxidea taxus).  Deer weren't my goal, although there was lots of deer sign in the area, and I knew I'd get deer pics (or turkey pics).  I found a spot where it looked as if the deer had been laying.  It was on a hill top, overlooking the ag fields, and the grassy valley below.  Great spot to see and smell things if you were a critter (a Coyote, I hoped).  I thought perhaps the deer activity and large number of turkey feathers in the immediate vicinity would draw 'yotes to that I set up the camera.

Not long after we left, a doe comes up the hill.

The next night The Brute shows up......perhaps following her scent.

The camera doesn't seem to bother him so much......

...and he comes back a short while later to get another nose full, before moving on.

Now, scoring bucks is particularly difficult (as any hunter knows).  I've never actually scored a deer antler rack in-hand.....but if you look at the Boone and Crockett scoring requirements, you can see exactly what I'm talking about.

I think most hunters would have this officially scored as a "non-typical" buck.   If you look at all three pics of this buck, there appear to be several abnormal tines coming off of both the left and right G1 points.  There also appear to be some abnormal tines coming off of the G3 and G4 points on the buck's left antler (tines that do not come off of the main beam, but instead arise from a "G" point are considered abnormal, I believe).  I can't tell if there are also extra tines coming off of these points on the right antler...but if we assume those are abnormal....all of these would count against one's "score" if this were treated as a "typical" rack.  However, if the hunter decides it should be scored as a "non-typical" rack, having many extra tines increases the score (any deer with abnormal tines scored as either typical or non-typical and the more abnormal tines, the more it counts against a "typical" score).

Please someone, correct me if I'm wrong.....I'm out of my element with this stuff!

I also don't know how many "point" buck this would be.

My guess would be a 10-pointer with a bunch of extra abnormal tines?

Your thoughts on this are appreciated!

Monday, September 5, 2011

First Upper-Midwestern Coyotes

I always consider it sort of a treat to catch Coyotes (Canis latrans) on my camera traps.

They're wary as heck....which means that they can be a challenge to get pictures of.  Always fun.

The second we moved in to this new location, I knew Coyotes had to be around.  Rural landscape, agricultural fields on either side of us, a decent-sized woodlot behind, with a fallow grassland behind that.  These suspicions were partially confirmed when the landowners nearby said several times in convincing tones that there were Coyotes on the property.  I've only had time to make a quick loop or two around the perimeter of the forest/grassland fragment behind our house.  Both times I scared up a group of three to four turkeys (i.e., coyote food) and I saw some scat with potential to be coyote on one occasion (although it was alittle small, and perhaps a fox).

Anyways, I intend on actually getting cameras out further in the woods.  But actual work has not allowed me to do so thus far.  So I just set some cams near the back porch for now.

Off to our east is a small apple orchard, bordered by some planted pine trees to the north.  Tree lines are always great for the critters....especially when there's a potential food source (i.e. apples) nearby.

Although it's not a great picture, several weeks ago I finally got my first 'yote picture at the new place.  It appears to be a smallish individual that quickly skirts the border between the pines and the apple orchard, and is gone.

Not great pics.  It's basically out of range before the first picture is taken.  That's what a camera with a trigger speed of over 1 second will get you when the subject is moving at a good clip.

But at least I've confirmed they are here.

One would hope the presence of coyotes could scare off the feral cats I've been getting pictures of.   However, to-date that has not been the case.  We haven't seen evidence of coyotes within the vicinity of our house very often, which perhaps makes this area a refuge for the cats.

Hopefully the noise from the clunky Primos doesn't scare it off indefinitely.  I would like some better pics.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Playing Hooky Again: a visit to a different museum!

For several weeks my daughter has been asking to go to the museum (or "the 'seum", as she refers to it).  Seriously.  What 3 yr old girl wants to go to a museum and see dinosaurs?  My daughter!!  I can't pretend that it doesn't make me alittle happy inside that she asks to go to the museum.  I loved the museum as a kid too.

But taking a 3 yr old kid to a museum takes a bit of work (and alot of energy).  Plus, it's not like the attending parent gets to really enjoy the museum much.  Basically, they get to just follow the kid, as they run from one cool exhibit to the next, to insure they don't get lost.  Then, you have to carry around a bag with snacks, extra clothes, wipes, juice boxes, a camera to snap pictures for mommy and grandparents...and perhaps a toy or two.

But who cares?!  When your daughter asks to go to the museum, you figure out a way to make it happen soon.


Because we had moved recently, we didn't have the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences nearby...a place we used to attend frequently in the past (see here).  Instead we got to visit a museum that was new for my daughter: the Milwaukee Public Museum.  This institution has special significance for me.  I had been there before, and it was actually the first museum I had ever visited.  My parents had taken me there when I was a young kid, and I remember being fascinated....intrigued....enamored...etc. with the exhibits.  They bought me a little book when we visited the first time with pictures of the exhibits inside, and I paged through that book over and over again....staring at the critters.  As a kid, looking at these animals in their museum displays struck me differently than seeing them on TV (such as on Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, or National Geographic specials).  Now...don't get me wrong....I loved those TV shows.  Yet, even as a kid, I got the sense that the actions of the critters being filmed were influenced by the presence of camera-men, hosts, etc..  Although the animals at the museum were not living, for some reason seeing them depicted in the dioramas was almost like viewing a snapshot of what went on when humans weren't right there rolling film or snapping pictures.

This is partially because the dioramas/exhibits were so beautifully and vividly displayed.


Carl Akeley

We can probably thank the late Carl Akeley's (1864-1926) influence for all life-like museum exhibits focused on natural history everywhere.  For folks who know museum lore (a select group, to be sure :)  ), Carl Akeley is a name you surely have heard.  He is most famous for his work at the Field Museum in Chicago, and the American Museum of Natural History in New York, at which an entire section is named for him (the Akeley Hall of African Mammals).  He is revered among museum taxidermists for the revolutionary way that he mounted animals at that time.  In the early history of museums, it was common to simply mount animals in very static stances and set many of them side-by-side in display cases or next to eachother on the floor.  Usually, the animal was standing and staring straight ahead.  Often the body form used to mount the skin to was not particularly flattering. So basically, early museum specimens looked less-than lifelike.

Carl Akeley changed all of this in several ways: he created a type of cement gun that made it possible to mount animals in more realistic and natural poses.  He also was the first to create very realistic forms for the skins to be mounted on.  These forms were often sculpted into dynamic poses, and even considered how the muscles would appear below the skin were the animal alive.  Akeley was also the first to display animals in diorammas that depicted realistic replicas of their native habitats.  In addition, they were often displayed interacting with other individuals in the diorama.  We can also thank Akeley for creating the first large multi-species dioramas that took up entire rooms (such as African Savannah Watering Holes, etc.).

Akeley personally collected many of the specimens that he later mounted.  It could be argued that he was in the category of a "great white hunter" at some point in his career.  He, for example, accompanied Theodore Roosevelt on an African expedition at the beginning of the 1900s.  Although I have not read that he ever collected animals as personal trophies.....but only for scientific and educational purposes.  Furthermore, his particular affinity for Gorillas lead him to mount and expedition in the 1920s to learn more about their natural history....and determine if killing them was justified for any purpose.  As a result, Akeley became a staunch opponent of hunting Gorillas for trophies, and supported their collection by hunting only for scientific endeavors.  He was instrumental in the creation of Africa's first National Park, now named Virunga National Park, to protect Gorillas.  He died of fever in the Congo during an expedition to Africa and is buried there.

What many may not know is that Carl Akeley was employed at the Milwaukee Public Museum before the other institutions mentioned above.  During his 8 year stint there he began perfecting the techniques that would make him famous.  He created the first complete habitat with animals in-situ diorama ever while at the Milwaukee Public Museum in the late 1800s.  Some of Akeley's exhibits are still on display at this institution today.  None of those pictured below are Akeley's, but you can be sure that his presence was felt by those who constructed these later dioramas at the museum that I remembered from my childhood.

Carl Akeley was a fascinating man....stories about his expeditions to Africa are very interesting to read.  There are several books written about his life.  These run from his own autobiography, entitled In Brightest Africa, to more recent accounts such as the 1991 book African Obsession: the life and legacy of Carl Akeley.

So, needless to say, I remembered many of the dioramas at the Milwaukee Public Museum from my childhood.  Yet, I hadn't viewed any of the exhibits in that museum in about 20 years....and hadn't really wandered the entire building since I was a kid.

There were a few of these exhibits that were particular favorites from my youth, and I hoped they would still be as I remembered them.

I was not disappointed!

The museum has been updated in several areas since I was a kid.  More dinos....a beautiful rain forest exhibit, etc.. Alot of the exhibits that were new to me exist right on the first floor, as one comes up the stairs from the parking garage.

This includes the dinos...which my daughter kept asking for.  We took some time to check these out, including the Triceratops fossils below.

And everything was going swimmingly, until she rounded the corner where the life-sized diorama of a T-rex on a Triceratops carcass was housed (complete with roaring sounds and thunder).  She did a 180 turn and ran back to me saying "I don't wanna look at these".  

Below is a picture from the balcony looking down at this incredible display.

We'll get to these when she's older.

The other newer and large exhibit was a South American Rainforest.  Designed so that visitors actually feel like their walking through a rainforest while checking things out. 

A very nice set-up!

Then...on to the classics!

First we visited a wing of diorammas based on native upper-Midwestern flora and fauna.

Such as the North American Beaver (Castor canadensis)...

...and a nice exhibit depicting some Black Bears (Ursus americanus) stealing a bit of honey....complete with bees.

Also included are wings devoted to other regions of North America.

Such as Florida....

I always loved the water exhibits as a kid...mostly becuase there were usually alot of species in them.  Aside from the focal species...there were lots of little critters going about their business in the background and foreground.

I vividly remember this American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) set-up from my youth.  Not a particularly action-packed exhibit, but is a great example of a diorama depicting (what I always felt were) snap-shots of the the natural world, as they would be with no humans present to interfere.

There are also many exhibits with fauna from the western U.S.

A pair of competing bull Elk (Cervus canadensis) in a vivid display.....

This exhibit below was always one of my top two favorites as a kid.  I can't pretend it still isn't!  So dynamic.  You can tell a museum exhibit is superior when its almost explosive, despite the fact that the critters don't move.  Here we have the Cougar....stalking...crouching and ready to spring.  Mounted in a beautiful pose that depicts them well.  The Mule Deer are also beautifully portrayed, appearing majestic but wary and alert (and with apparently no idea of how close the danger is).

And it's not just the "New World" that's represented. 

The African Continent has some great exhibits.  For some reason, I didn't snap photos of my favorite one from that continent.  Don't know why.  Next time.

But, there are other nice dioramas that I got photos of.

An African Elephant (Loxodonta africana)...part of a giant walk-through room-sized exhibit with many species on both sides.

....a nice single-species exhibit of an Okapi (Okapia johnstoni), which is a stunning relative of the Giraffe that is native to the wet jungles of the Congo.  Interestingly, in 2006 this species was re-confirmed as present in the Virunga National Park (which Carl Akeley had helped institute).  Wild Okapi's had not been seen in the park since 1959.  They were again photographed in the park by a camera trap (woo-hoo!) in 2008.

The India Continent section of the museum also has one of my all-time favorite dioramas. Another that I remember from childhood and was thrilled to see it exactly as I remembered it. can almost feel the tension between these Bengal Tigers (Panthera tigris tigris) and the Gaur, or Indian Bison (Bos gaurus).  Much like the tiger, the Gaur is a species of serious international conservation concern according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).  The tiger was one of my favorite species as a kid, which is probably another reason why I like this one so much. 

The picture just doesn't do it justice.

I'm sure we'll take more trips to the museum in the future.  Maybe I'll be able to get some shots of other exhibits to share with you all.

Note: thanks to B. Henderson (Milwaukee Public Museum) for information regarding Carl Akeley.