Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Lucky Shot in the Dark!

I was fortunate enough recently to be able to get away to northern Wisconsin for some fishing with high school buddies.  The set-up available to us was spectacular: huge house on the lake with a fishing boat and pontoon boat.  Also, unlimited dry firewood...a healthy supply of food and drink....and a fair amount of untouched northern forests to play in (when not fishing, of course).

I can't help but bring my cameras when I go on these kinds of trips.  In fact, I did it on a different fishing trip with high school buddies at a completely different location this January.

I'm realistic when I put cameras out in these situations.  I know the likelihood of actually catching things is pretty low.  I typically have one or two nights to work with (assuming we reach the site on Friday with enough daylight).  I also don't know the location particularly well, so may not have enough time to find the best place for a camera and have to stay close to our base camp (where I know I'm not tresspassing).

But I'm willing to risk disappointment, because there's always a chance that I'll get some Bob-tailed Cats (Lynx rufus), Fisher Cats (Martes pennanti), or....fingers crossed...Wolves (Canis lupus).

This time, I brought four cameras along.  Two of the cameras went in a boggy, sphagnum and fern carpeted forest across the street from our "cabin".  One was placed on the grass "driveway" used to back the fishing boats into the lake from the roadside.  The fourth camera was placed along the bank of the lake not far from our fishing dock. 

The latter two cameras were very close to the house.  Just down a short (but steep) slope from the fire pit behind the house. 

The first night, we sat up pretty late at the fire (1:30 am, to be exact) and I figured the nearby cameras were going to be complete busts.

The first few critters did little to quell my disappointment.

Feral Cat (grrrr...)

Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus)

......and a Mouse (Peromyscus sp.)

So, imagine my surprise when I saw this:

About 20 yards from where we had been making lots of noise just a few hours before!

Only my third camera trapped Bobcat (Lynx rufus)!  Needless to say, I was thrilled as I had actually gotten pictures of a species on my "wish-list" for the weekend!

Bobcat densities are generally reported to be on the rise in most of the continental United States, including Wisconsin (see further discussion of this here, and in Roberts and Crimmins, 2010).  Thus, I'm not surprised that Bobcats are in the area.  However, although their densities are on the rise, this is usually a loner species, that naturally exists in relatively low densities in parts of its range (Anderson and Lovallo, 2003).  This is particularly true of the Midwest, where densities as low as 4-6 individuals/km-squared have been reported (Berg, 1979).


The undisturbed plot of boggy woodland across the street from the cabin didn't yield Bobcats, unfortunately.

Numerous game trails.....if only I had more time to trap and more cameras to hang!  I decided to help the process along with a few little remnants left-over after cleaning the fish we caught.

The first taker is actually this Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata).  Neat to see them shredding and swallowing bits of fish flesh.

And the next visitors are what one could refer to as "the usual suspects" (but look at the size of that second one!).

At another nearby camera, baited with more fish, the Bandits again quickly zero-in on the free meal.

What's interesting about this clip is that it really shows how important the combination of scent and tactile sensation (i.e. "touch") is to a Raccoon!  Watch how he runs his fore paws over that fish, really trying to get a sense of it.

We have to remember that, out in the remote north woods, there's very little light....and the IR filter is giving us the false-impression that the area is lit-up like a Christmas Tree. 

Not so!  It's blacker than pitch out there at night (by our standards), and although Raccoons have better low-light vision than us....being able to smell and feel a potential food item is important.


Finally, I'll leave you with a first for me (I think).  It's hard to tell from these pictures and video clips....but I'm fairly certain that the cameras are picking up a Shrew.  I don't know what species, but given the size....I'm going to guess the Short-tailed Shrew (Blarina brevicauda), although there are Sorex in this part of the state too.

The critter I'm referring to is in the circled location on the picture below.

See a blown up version of this circled area here....

Now, take a look at it moving around in this video clip....which may help....

Interestingly, I tried to place another camera over a bit of fish remnants along the lakeshore.  Hoping for a mink, but didn't get any.  However, I *think* I got a video clip of a shrew chewing on the carcass.  He's close to the camera (so alittle washed out and out of focus). 

His backside is facing us, which also makes it difficult to ID him.  But, from this vantage we can see there's not an obvious long tail.  This would also suggest the Short-tailed Shrew. 

Short-tailed shrews are formidable little predators.  They eat, not only many invertebrates, but will also take small vertebrates (including smaller shrews, rodents, amphibians, and small snakes; Kurta, 2005).  I could find limited information that this species eats carrion, however.  They are known to hoard food, so they apparently have no aversion to eating dead stuff.  Jackson (1961) also reports recieving a letter from an individual whose property was apparently "overrun" with Short-tailed Shrews.  He recounts throwing the carcass of a freshly killed Western Fox Snake (Elaphe vulpina = Pantherophis vulpinus) onto a refuse pile that was "shortly devoured", aside from the skin.  

BTW....for those interested....the snake was dispatched for eating a fledgling Rose-breasted Grosbeak.  The nerve of that snake!

Literature Cited

Anderson, E.M., and M.J. Lovallo. 2003.  Bobcat and Lynx (Lynx rufus and Lynx canadensis). Pages 758-786. In: Wild Mammals of North America: biology, management and conservation (second edition). G.A. Feldhammer et al. (editors). Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

Berg, W.E. 1979. Ecology of bobcats in northern Minnesota.  Pages 55-61 In P.C. Escherich and L. Blum (eds.). Proceedings of the 1979. bobcat research conference (Science and Technology Series 6). National Wildlife Federation, Washington, DC.

Jackson, H.H.T. 1961. Mammals of Wisconsin. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison.

Kurta, A., 2005. Mammals of the Great Lakes Region (revised edition). University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor.

Roberts, N.M. and S.M. Crimmins. 2010. Bobcat population status and management in North America: evidence of large-scale population increase. Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management 1:169-174.


  1. That bobcat could have been on trail of that feral cat....Great catch.

  2. Nice catch on the bobcat. got all the markings you needed to not have to wonder if it was just another feral cat. The shrews were also very interesting. I have an upcoming shrew post I need to write, but you will see that it can even be difficult to ID shrews using homebrews. Some of the other rodents were much easier though.

  3. NICE entry! The quality of that video is awesome, Reconyx? Bobcats seem to be popping up in NY and WI! JVN just got a couple pics this weekend in the Finger Lakes too!

  4. Hi All!

    Thanks for reading!

    Dave: I hope that Bobcat tore that feral cat up...but I doubt we're that lucky :)

    JK: look forward to seeing your shrew post!

    Alyssa: Not Reconyx (which doesn't do video on any of its models that I'm aware of...although the Rapidfires take pictures so fast, it's almost like video). All of the videos were on Ltl. Acorns...with the exception of the last one, which is a Bushnell Trophy cam (2009 model). Looking forward to JVN posting about Bobcats and Finger Lakes!