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CRP Mountain Lion Study

CRP Mountain Lion Study

Frosty Fingers, Frosty Tracks!

It was downright chilly this morning and no fooling! Our rig’s temperature gauge read 30 degrees for a good bit while we were starting out. The sunrise was a misty orange glow and we were bundled up tight and fumbling with cold fingers to open access gates for some of our cameras.

Early morning misty glow. Erin Hauge

The low-flow dam is our barometer for sort of knowing what to expect each week in terms of river level and behavior so it’s no wonder that we eagerly head out there each week to see what’s going on.

Morning at the low flow dam on the Cosumnes River. Erin Hauge

Our river watch also brings us great track and scat viewing on the sandy banks there and this morning we weren’t disappointed! There was actually frost in the tracks because the depressions made by animals passing tend to hold moisture and are more protected from any warmth the daylight brings.

Frosty tracks! We identified coyote, domestic dog, deer, raccoon, otter and human. Erin Hauge

And even the scat was frozen this morning, or at least old piles had a good layer of frost on top. One scat pile had no frost and so we figured that one had to be fresh laid this morning. It looked like coyote!

A coyote scatsicle! Twisty, hairy and frosty. Erin Hauge

We also saw some tracks on the river bank that were probably made earlier in the morning before we arrived. Lots of otter activity but they’d moved on by the time we showed up.

Otter action on the bank of the Cosumnes River! You can see both front and hind tracks here. Erin Hauge

We had a large enough crew this day that we were able to divide into three crews with three drivers.  We have 11 cameras deployed right now and we divided up the routes so that two teams had three cameras each on the Outer route – cameras that are deployed in areas that require driving on local surface roads. The third team took the five cameras deployed along the Inner route – cameras in areas near unpaved roads of the lower Preserve that are fairly close to the Visitor Center.  Three teams makes for a shorter day usually.  When we have two teams, one takes the Inner route (5 cameras) and one takes the Outer route (6 cameras.)

Crew member Drew checks one of our cameras along the Outer route.  This camera monitors an unpaved road that is used by a number of entities including local agricultural operators, utility services, The Nature Conservancy, the BLM and CDFW and of course, wildlife. This camera regularly captures deer, coyotes, bobcats, raccoons, squirrels and the occasional opossum! Several mountain lion sightings have occurred along this road. Maybe no surprise, as it runs next to the dense riparian corridor of the Cosumnes River and heads out towards some remote old oak forest terrain so there’s good cover nearby.  We currently have three cameras total deployed along this road. Erin Hauge

One of our cameras glowed in the pale morning light, hanging on a split trunk oak tree. We found we had just over 450 images this week. We feel like 200 to 500 images is a good showing and likely to hold some promising animal images. When the cards get to over 1,000 images, we’re probably going to be looking at human activity and/or some wind-related brush action. Although the wild turkeys and the deer can give us a good run for the money if they decide to browse and forage right in front of the camera! In those cases we can get up to several hundred images of the same animals that go on for a few minutes or more.

This camera is off-road on active game trails and when we reviewed the images back at the Visitor Center we found there were deer, squirrels and raccoons in addition to a Black Phoebe using the camera as a hunting roost.

One of our cameras in the frosty early morning glow. Erin Hauge

We often get tail and wing shots of Black Phoebes – small, nimble insectivorous birds – as they bank and dive for moths and other flying insects they detect while watching from their perch. After they make a hunt dive, they’ll often return to the same perch area to continue the hunt watch. Another way we can tell that a Phoebe is using a camera for a perch is if there’s a lot of bird droppings plastered on the top of the camera casing!

Great image of a hunting Black Phoebe returning to a camera perch from earlier this year. Photo Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

We finished camera checks quickly on this day because of our three crews. So even with our usual careful observations for tracks, scat and sign at our camera locations we were all back at the Visitor Center within about two hours. And checking the SD cards went quickly. No mountain lions today.

Crew member Richard doing the ‘lion walk’ on a camera check last month! Photo Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

But we are seeing a lot of deer activity so there’s plenty of food for a lion as soon as one can make it to the Preserve.  We are hoping that this will be the year that a mountain lion pads past our cameras, which will trigger action from the Department of Fish and Wildlife to trap, collar and track the lion, enabling DFW to gather never-before collected data on how mountain lions move through the Central Valley from the Sierra Nevada to the Coast Ranges.  A tracking collar and DNA will tell us more about these important native big cats and help develop working strategies for public safety and conflict prevention.

Mountain Lion 411

Check out Panthera’s fascinating blog by Dr. Mark Elbroch highlighting study findings on ‘mountain lion neighborhoods!’

Read it here: Neighborhood Watch: The Role of Male Mountain Lions in Structuring Social Behaviors

The study team’s findings take direct reciprocity – food sharing among mountain lions –  a step farther, showing that mountain lions tend to be social and share kills more readily with individuals from their own neighborhood or boundary area.

There is still so much to learn about mountain lions – their behavior, their social organization and their contributions to the health of native ecosystems.

Meet the Crew

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

Meet Diana Lakeland, CRP Citizen Scientist and Biologist at Mountain Lion Foundation, and Broxton, citizen scientist-in-training!

Crew members Diana and Broxton

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

I love being around people that are so passionate about wildlife! Every time we go out to check the cameras, the crew members are excited be out in nature and eager to get back to see what animals have been passing by the cameras. It’s like opening a new box of chocolates every week; you never know what animals you are going to see! It is also a weekly opportunity to slow down from the usual hustle and bustle of life and to proverbially stop and smell the roses, or in this case, stop and look for signs of wildlife by searching for scat and tracks and, when we are lucky, seeing wildlife crossing the road in front of us, or watching us from between the trees. Lastly, it is a wonderful opportunity to introduce my baby to nature and conservation!

The Mountain Lion Foundation received a generous grant from the Sacramento Zoo which allowed the Foundation to loan the Cosumnes River Preserve ten trail cameras for the Mountain Lion Project.

Mystery Photos

Here’s a few ‘mystery’ photos from this week’s cameras!  There are clues in all three pictures that will tell you who’s likely in front of the camera. Answers are below.

Mystery Photo 1: Looks like an ear. What else do you see? Photo Courtesy of Bureaus of Land Management

 

Mystery Photo 2: This is a dark shot. What’s clear is what appears to be a long, light-colored back. Photo Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

 

Mystery Photo 3: What’s going on in this picture? Photo Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

 

Mystery Photos Answers

Photo 1: It’s a doe! See the others in the background? Something to consider is that, as we’ve seen in previous photos, sometimes more than one species will be captured in an image depending on who’s traveling where, and when. So an unidentified ear could also be a raccoon or other smaller mammal or the shape could even be from one of those Black Phoebes flying up to the camera. But you can bet it wouldn’t be a mountain lion with other deer standing curiously in the background! Photo Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

 

Photo 2: Whoa, buck! That’s a big boy. Did you notice the large ear barely visible on the left side of Mystery Photo 2? Photo Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

 

Photo 3: Bobcat! Look for the tell-tale white ear marks on the backs of the ears, visible in Mystery Photo 3 above. Photo Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

Critter Camera Captures

Bobcat. Photo Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

 

Doe sizing up the camera. Photo Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

 

Coyote on the move. Photo Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management