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CRP Mountain Lion Study

CRP Mountain Lion Study

Where Deer Abound, It’s Good News for Lions!

This morning was much drier than it has been for camera checks and we found no fog or mist as we started out in the dawn chill. It was clear sky with a peachy glow reflected across the landscape, including the ponds where cranes and migratory ducks and geese are now finding good forage and resting spots for the winter.

A dry dawn at the Preserve as we head out for camera checks. Erin Hauge

In addition to Sandhill cranes, there are Snow geese and Greater White-fronted geese, Northern Shovelers, Cinnamon Teal and Green-wing Teal ducks and many more species that trek the Great Pacific Flyway annually. You may even see Tundra swans out in one of the ponds! Plan your visit and come out and see for yourself the ever-changing beauty and incredible diversity of the Preserve’s habitat and wildlife!

Greater White-fronted goose. Erin Hauge

In the Field

We started out with the farthest camera on the Inner route today and drove in on a comfortably dry road.  Because the microclimates can vary so much on the Preserve, even when there’s been no rain for awhile there can still be very damp pockets of habitat that harbor muddy roads but we were in the clear today.

Crew member Rick, doing some camera wrangling! Erin Hauge

We stopped to observe the telephone poles in the area that are accumulating lots of scratches and scrapes.  Based on our observations, we’re figuring that a lot of the scratching on the poles is caused by rutting bucks who rub their antlers on trees and in these cases, telephone poles, to leave scent and work their antlers, which will be falling off soon. Bucks can rub up and down and across the surface of the tree or pole and can shred the pole with upward motions meaning we see peeling of the wood that curls upward.

We also see scratching that pulls pole shreds downwards and these could be made by bucks and also by bobcats who are in the area.  Just like domestic cats, bobcats scratch trees and vertical surfaces to sharpen and groom their claws and also to leave scent.  On these poles we even see what look like claw marks that configure to a bobcat’s paw on the poles.

While we can’t be sure without putting a camera on one of the poles to catch the scratchers in the act, it’s fun to check on these poles every week and try to figure out who’s leaving their mark!

Buck scrape and likely some bobcat scratching, too on this telephone pole near the Tall oak forest. Erin Hauge

We know there are a lot of deer in the area because we saw lots and lots of deer tracks in the hard, damp substrate of the road between the fallen leaves. And we even found what looks like buck scrape left in the roadway there to let other bucks know he’s there and to alert the does about who he is.

It’s easy to see the road is hard-packed but damp and many deer are passing here, traveling both ways. Much of the deer travel here shows travel from the left to the right. Can you find deer tracks showing the deer are traveling from the right to the left? There are some human tracks mixed in here, too. Erin Hauge

 

It looks like this scrape could have been made by a pretty good-sized buck, pawing at the damp road to leave scent and a visual que. Erin Hauge

We saw a lot of deer tracks and a huge amount of deer activity on all the cameras so we know the deer seem to be doing well on the Preserve right now and are using just about all the territory that our cameras are covering.

This is very good news for mountain lions and any big cat who makes it down to the lower Preserve will find a banquet fit for a lion!  All the deer we’ve seen look alert and pretty healthy so this means that they could be more of a challenge for a lion to bring down.  When a mountain lion ambushes an individual deer who may be farther from the herd, be sick or old or just not paying attention, the other deer in the herd will scatter to safety, leaving the lion to concentrate on his or her kill. Surprise ambush is a lion’s best friend when it comes to catching a deer by surprise and being able to eat that day.

As discussed in an earlier blog, the Cosumnes River Preserve is good mountain lion habitat. Ideal lion habitat includes good home range, where a lion will find prey, water and good cover and shelter locations, and also edge zones, where lions have cover to observe and ambush but also room to run when chasing and maneuvering on the hunt.

Example of an edge zone on the left. An area where lions have cover but also room to run. Example of home range on the right. Remote with lots of cover and possible den locations, a slough nearby and deer and other prey animals frequent the area. Erin Hauge

We had excellent assistance from one of our youngest crew members today as he inspected the camera casings for security issues and generally kept an eye on things. Like any good scientist, he prefers walking to any form of transport device that might hinder his ability to keep track of things.

Biologist-in-training, Broxton, helping to keep the equipment in order for the lion cameras. Erin Hauge

Along the Outer route, the crew checked in at the low flow dam on the Cosumnes River, now completely above the river level again because we’ve gotten no rain in the last few weeks. Hopefully this will change but for now, we wait and we watch.

At the low flow dam on the Cosumnes River. The water level is not increasing because there’s been no rain for the last few weeks, either in the Valley or up in the Sierra that would cause an elevation in flow level. Photo Courtesy of Richard Larson

The accessible low flow dam is good news for the lion camera project because to date, all wildlife, including mountain lions, are still able to use this corridor as a way to pass between north and south Preserve tracts using the levee roads.

The incredibly wet year last season brought an abundance of resources that meant a good year for all wildlife so a dry winter season this year could mean a harder time for potentially larger populations of wildlife.  On the other hand, if its another wet year, flooding and changing landscapes will also mean big changes for wildlife.  All wild animals work very hard to survive – to eat, find shelter and care for their young – and must constantly adapt to many changing factors in their environment.

Coyote track in the center of the image. Who do you think made the track partially in the photo just underneath that one? Photo Courtesy of Richard Larson

The Outer route crew also reported that work is being done on the levee road where we have one of our cameras and this activity is causing the camera to take thousands of pictures!  Heavy equipment moving back and forth and people walking, standing and talking in front of the camera meant that we had very few pictures of actual wildlife.

We’ll find out how long the levee work is scheduled to go on but we’ve also determined to move that camera to a side road that runs down off the levee and will likely get much less human activity.  We regularly capture deer, coyotes and bobcats on this camera and a mountain lion has been seen on this levee road in recent years. If the Preserve begins to flood later in the winter, we’ll have to move the camera back up onto the levee but for now we’re looking forward to fewer human activity images!

Crew members Richard and Christina, some of the human activity caught on our camera on the levee road! Photo Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

Mountain lions will find water, good remote cover and shelter and lots of their favorite prey – deer – right here on the Preserve and we’re counting on one of these large felines to come check it out!

Mountain Lion 411

The devastating fires occurring throughout California affect all wildlife in profound life-and-death ways.  Immediate survival for wildlife fleeing scorching temperatures and raging flames is a terrifying challenge, but when the fires are out, there is a whole new landscape to navigate and possible burns and injuries to deal with for all wild animals who survive.

Audubon Canyon Ranch has been monitoring P1, an 11-year old female mountain lion, to bring their tracking and observation information to school-age children, helping to promote understanding and dispel fears about lions.  They were uncertain how she and her kittens had fared the firestorms.

At the link below, Audubon Canyon Ranch has gotten amazing footage of P1 after the fires, along with her one surviving kitten from a litter of three.  Research shows that mountain lion survival rate is about 50% and in this case, two of P1’s kittens sadly were not able to beat the odds.

Check out this inspiring trail camera footage of mom and her 8-month old kitten.  Notice that P1 is vocalizing – calling – for her kitten – at the beginning of the video and if you turn the volume up, you may be able to hear her!

View the video of P1 and her kitten here:  https://www.facebook.com/AudubonCanyonRanch/videos/1733235170030396/

Meet the Crew

Our amazing crew is out in the field looking for mountain lions and other wildlife rain or shine!

Meet Erin Hauge, CRP Volunteer Naturalist and Citizen Scientist, CA certified naturalist, amateur photographer and writer

Crew member Erin Hauge

We asked Erin What do you like best about being on the mountain lion camera crew?

I love being out on the Preserve with folks who are equally enthusiastic and respectful of the amazing diversity of wildlife that makes its home there. Getting out to remote areas and monitoring the trail cameras for mountain lions is a privilege and I’ve learned so much!  Our crew is motivated and committed and while we haven’t captured a lion on camera yet, every day out on the Preserve is like Christmas.  I’ve seen deer, coyote, bobcats, otters, raccoons and bald eagles and I look forward to what our next camera check will bring! No two days are alike and you can expect to see anything as you drive or walk along quietly, watching for animals, tracks, scat and sign. It’s just a matter of time before a big cat pads past one of our cameras and when he or she does, we’ll be ready!

Critter Camera Captures

Two bucks perusing the hierarchy. Photo Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

 

Bobcat at a standstill on a chilly morning. Photo Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

 

We think this may be the first red fox to be captured by our cameras! This individual appears smaller than a coyote and while the image is blurry because he or she is running, the dark feet and large, bushy tail are clues. See the next images, too. Photo Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

 

When compared to a coyote, on the right, there are some pretty significant differences in these two animals. We think the animal on the left is a red fox! Photos Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

 


A family of North American river otters doing some night traveling. Note the one on the left has seen the camera’s infrared flashing! Photo Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

 

A raccoon and a buck sharing the same space in front of the camera. The raccoon appears to be noticing a smell or something to eat. The photos below show likely the same individuals having an encounter about eight minutes earlier when they were eyeballing each other, perhaps with curiousity. A deer could injure a raccoon with its stabbing hooves, but raccoons are ferocious and have formidable canine teeth. In this image, they’re already aware of each other and each goes about their business. Photo Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

 

At 5:16pm, this buck and raccoon come into the same space and eyeball each other, probably curious and not looking for confrontation. At 5:24pm on the same day it appears that possibly the same buck passes back through while the raccoon ignores him and goes on about his business. Photos Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

 

Squirrel! He’s got a bit of something in his mouth as he bounds across the roadway. Squirrels are super active this time of year, collecting resources and fattening up for the impending colder weather.  These guys are also a food resource for bobcats and coyotes. Photo Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management