Monday, January 27, 2014

Wil E. Returns

The Coyotes at one of my study sites grew sparse after some heavy ATV use began in the summer.

However, the snow seems to have curtailed the ATV activity, which gave the canines a chance to sneak back onto the site.  In fact, the beginning of the calendar year seemed to really bring out the 'yotes....

Although glimpses of them were as fleeting as you might expect at first....
The 'yote is in the far background in this picture, partially obscured by a dead branch

They also appeared to be appropriately skittish.  The IR flash of the camera caused this individual to turn-tail and run.  This is a response to IR cameras that I've observed from Coyotes several times in the past (see here , here and here).

Skittishness is probably one of their greatest survival mechanisms.  It might even be a reason why (despite the best efforts of humanity) the Coyote has avoided eradication throughout recent history.

Yet, sometimes, skittishness is over-powered by the desire to check out what the neihbors are up to.

This individual (on January 10th, perhaps the same one from the 5th and the 9th?) is very interested in the canine urine we deposited in front of the camera. 

Considering we are in the general time period of the breeding season, it's not too surprising to see the canines doing some territorial investigations.

I imagine "curiosity" treats the canine, much like it does the cat .....if said canines don't learn quickly.  Canine urine is a common tool in the trapper's toolkit.

Another quick capture on January 15th....

I've also seen a large number of tracks and trails throughout the site since the first of the year.  One of my research students even found an interesting trail in the snow two weeks ago.  It appeared to tell a story of ol' Wil E. catching a Cottontail (complete with blood and tufts of rabbit fur).  I'm pretty happy to see them return after their long absence this summer and very sparse appearances in the fall.

I can't imagine our resident forest ghost is particularly thrilled (seeing that Coyotes will exclude Red Fox)...but it hasn't scared him/her off completely. 

Although he does appear a bit more on-edge than before....

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Getting Rid of the Winter Blues: 2014 Edition

Back to the cabin we go for another year of fun, fishing and catching up with long-time friends.  The same six of us high school buddies made the trek north for three days of fishing and frivolity, as we have done for almost a decade.

The trip would not start easily, however, as Old Man Winter decided to show his face during our drive up. As a result, we pulled in at the cabin amidst a bout of freezing rain and snow.  Although we arrived unscathed, we were all glad to be out of the storm.

Andy looking out at the lake through a snowstorm
After unpacking, my first order of business was to set out camera traps.  The short duration of our stay means there is a low probability of catching things on the cameras.  In fact, you'll note that past years have yeilded very little (see here and here).  Regardless, the quicker the cameras are out....the more time we have to catch something. 

So, Justin and I made a rather hasty trip into the dark with a bucket of cameras and smelly stuff.  Whether I catch anything or not, it's fun to try.  Its also fun to bring a different scent lure each year.....just to mix things up a bit.  This year my lures of choice were Beaver castor, Muskrat Gland and Fish Oil.

Applying some Muskrat gland to a stick that will be stuck in the snow in front of a camera
After our quick adventure, it was back to the cabin for some catching up with the others.

"Catching up" often includes long, even-keeled debates on topics such as which NFL quarterbacks should be considered among the top 10 or 15 in the league.

Chad and Andy discuss things....

Chad and Andy discuss things further.....

After a discussion that left all parties satisfied, we played cards and then turned-in at a reasonable hour.  One needs plenty of rest to effectively fish in the morning.

We awoke to the sight of frosted trees, thanks to the Old Man's activities.....
....and the view from the lake was very nice.... 

Once out on the ice, we began to drill holes with the ice auger so that our fishing tip-ups could be set....

Justin (background) and Hank (foreground) help Dan (right) drill and clean out a hole in the ice

Then it was back inside for some breakfast.......

Nate is nice enough to cook most of the meals on the trip, and boy-howdy....they are good!

After breakfast, we waited....and played cards.  Cribbage is a favorite, as is Euchre. 

Dan, Chad, Andy and Justin wait for some action on the ice....

We have almost no demands on our time, which allows us to undertake whatever whim comes to mind.  For example, I was able to do some random meandering and hunt for tracks in the fresh snow.  Most of what I found belonged to White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus).

A heavily used Deer trail into the woods (note the woodpecker tree to the right).

Rodents and Shrews were among the more interesting trails I found in the snow, and although I was hoping for Fisher or weasel, I'll take what I can get....

A rodent trail (probably a Peromyscus of some sort...either white-footed or deer mouse).  Normally all four feet are more obvious in the trail, but the snow was deep here. Thus, the treail looks alittle more dumb bell shaped.  You can also see the drag mark from the tail. 

I believe this is the trail of a shrew (Sorex or Blarina sp., but probably the latter).  The tracks are roughly comparable in size to those above, which is very small.  But, the footsteps alternate rather than bound as in the rodent above.

 By the end of day 1, we had done pretty well fishing.  A total of 11 fish...including the Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens) and Walleye (Sander vitreus) below.
Thus, we went to sleep satisfied.

The next morning broke clear and breezy.  The weather front, which had hung over us the day before, moved on.

Nate and Andy working on clearing the holes in the ice
So we marched back out onto the ice to re-deploy our fishing gear...

Nate and Chad checking the gear before deployment
...and then marched back inside to play the waiting game again....
The gang playing cribbage, patiently waiting for the next fish
Luck would not be with us for most of the morning or afternoon, however.  By late afternoon, we decided to try a different location nearby.  This required we haul our gear to the opposite side of the peninsula.  Here we drilled new holes, deployed the fishing tip-ups and....again....waited (this time continuously exposed to the elements, not inside of a cabin).

Thus, a nice fire was in order....

Andy and Chad work on the fire, no easy feat when it is on top of snow and there is very little dry wood around

The fire takes on life!

Although the fire and conversation were great fun, our last full day of fishing ended with only one capture: a single Northern Pike (Esox lucius).
Chad holds our only capture on the second day of fishing.
Despite a slow second day, our good cheer would not be diminished!

The camera traps deployed were a similar story.  Very little activity and what we got was mostly White-tailed Deer (which is a small improvement over the last two years).
They even did me the courtesy of investigating the scent I put out.  In the clips below, it's muskrat gland.
They even came in for a sniff of the camera.....

Of course we also got lots of pics of the two pooches that come along for the trip.....and their ball.

As you can see: few things in life trump Ball.....

Note: Wrigley (on the right) with Ball and Hank (center) whom first wanted Ball, but now sees the camera

Ball is all-consuming....

Wrigley repeatedly picking up and re-presenting Ball to us, while Hank investigates the camera

It matters not if the Master ignores them at first.  So long as they continually present Ball to the Master...the Master will eventually be driven to madness, and they will recieve their reward.....Ball.


There is one OTHER thing that almost rivals the importance of Ball for these dogs....and that's thieving bait that I've put in front of my camera traps.

Even if that bait is frozen Fish Oil.

Note the bottle in my hand, as I dump out some fish oil sporadically.

Now, note the giant frozen sheet of fish oil that Wrigley has decided to liberate.

After this year, I'll also give up using our left-over minnows as camera bait (or will only do it in front of cameras that are further away).  I've seen past evidence of Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) on the ice near our tip-ups scavenging the left-overs, which gave me the idea in the first place.

BUT...any camera trap on the ice with minnows in front only attracts two naughty canines.... :)

Hank (left) and Wrigley (right) stealing my bait....

And no matter how many times one yells "Leave it!", they are just so sneaky....

...and eventually they cleaned out every jowl-lickin' one of those fish-cicles.

It's also worth noting that the pictures above are but a few of several hundred that the cameras snapped of Hank and Wrigley.'s pretty hard to be mad at them.  I'm asking alot of the dogs by putting out food and expecting them to ignore it.  Plus, they know how to find the soft-spot.....

And so it was that our time at the cabin ended for 2014.  We pulled out of the driveway with heavy-hearts and drove off to face the real world again. 

It seems a shame that every day can't be like the time we spend ice fishing in January.

But...if that were so....we wouldn't have anything to look forward to next year, would we?   If I frame it in this way, then the road back to reality doesn't seem so dismal.

In's actually kinda pretty....

Monday, January 6, 2014

Bring In the New Year with Bucky!

The New Year Badger!

...and unlike the collegiate athletic team who uses his visage....this Bucky's New Year's outing gave me something to be happy about...

You'll notice the individual above is much-fattened since the last video clip we got back in October (assuming its the same individual).

Badgers are not obligate hibernators.  They do, however, reduce activities and movement in the winter months (reviewed here).  When we saw him or her in the fall, I still thought it might have been a transient individual.  There has not been a resident Badger on this property in recent years.  Furthermore, a Badger did pass through in the fall of 2012, but this encounter yielded only one fleeting picture, which indicated it was a transient.

I'm assuming that this Badger has a den nearby, given that they tend to stay closer to their dens in the winter, and it has been bitterly cold these past weeks. 

Anyone who follows this blog may remember that I have a particular fondness for Mustelids.  And, of course, I grew up with a love of Badgers, having been born in Wisconsin.  Therefore, I am happy to have something related to Badgers that I can celebrate for the New Year!