Field Day in the Field!

Field Day in the Field!

Some days are more wildlife-prone than others.  We’re always on the lookout for mountain lion sign and hope this will be the day we catch a puma padding by on one of our cameras, but we always find great joy in seeing any and all of the wildlife that calls the Preserve its home.

In The Field

This morning, in addition to mountain lion sign, we hoped aloud for sightings of the bald eagles that are in the area, and also a coyote.  The wildlife spirits must have been with us because we hadn’t been out 15 minutes before we saw a bald eagle perched in a small tree overlooking one of the ponds where coots and waterfowl were watchfully foraging in the chilly early of the day.

A Bald eagle surveying a winter pond where ducks and coots were doing their morning foraging. Erin Hauge

As we watched, the eagle flew from her perch and cruised the ponds, causing coots and ducks to take wing in a panic to stay far away from the eagle’s sights.  We didn’t see the eagle catch anything but she circled the wide pond area and landed in a tree on the far side of the pond. It sure seemed like she was looking for breakfast.

We headed out to our cameras and found the roadways and surrounding landscape were green even with the winter dieback of all the understory vegetation in the oak forests that includes blackberries, poison oak and viney wild grapes. Spring will bring back the lush cover that forest birds and mammals use for shelter and for food.

Across the slough is the Tall Forest, and once spring is sprung, we won’t have the ground visibility to see as far back into the tree stands as we now do. Erin Hauge

Sparse winter foliage cover can be better for spotting wildlife as we make our way on foot into some of the more remote cameras. We again saw lots of deer tracks and there were some good camera captures of deer moving around the camera we have on that telephone pole that’s being used by bucks for an antler rub. One of the does was caught sniffing the pole, no doubt gathering information on ‘boys’ in the neighborhood – the bucks who pass by!

Four does who are regulars on this camera, passing by the scratching post. Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management


Note the doe at the scratching post, collecting some scent information on the bucks in the area. Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

One crew member also spotted some wild asparagus growing right up out of the oak leaf duff in an open area next to the slough where one of our cameras is deployed! It was just the two stalks of green growing straight and tall in the sunlight with no other stalks to be seen. Not quite enough to fill the pot but it was good to see those stalks peeking up there. How did that asparagus come to be there at the edge of the Tall Forest?

Wild asparagus! Erin Hauge

Our cameras are mostly facing north and northwest so as to get the least amount of direct sunlight to avoid glare and washout. Today was a particularly bright day, maybe because of the clear air from windy days we’ve had recently or refraction from moisture or dust particles? And on bright days like this when the sun slices through the bare branches and open spaces that would have denser understory cover in other parts of the year, it’s extra important to have your trail camera positioned properly to get the best and clearest images of passing wildlife. Our crew commented on this as we donned our sunglasses and hats!

One of our cameras on a bright winter day. This one is facing mainly north. Erin Hauge


Crew members Patrick and Rick walking to the next camera! Erin Hauge

The crew checking the Outer route took a gander at the low flow dam, our gauge for how the river runs, and, not surprisingly, they found that big old snag still resting comfortably right there in the middle of the low flow. The snag itself is formidable and one of our crew again posed for a ‘scale’ shot. The good news is it is again a wildlife corridor, a bridge across the Cosumnes for as long as the water level stays below the low flow.

Crew member Richard gives some scale for just how big this snag is. Richard’s arm span is about six feet! Courtesy of Chris Llewellyn

Coming back along one of the roadways, a crew member spotted a coyote who was peeking out, well-camouflaged behind some dead, standing vegetation in a field, watching us. We stopped to observe him and he watched us a moment longer before turning to walk over a hedgerow and out of sight into another field. But it was pretty amazing to see how this coyote blended in with the landscape. Coyotes are not only intelligent, they’re superbly adapted to fit in just about anywhere! We’d have missed him completely if not for our crew member’s eagle eyes!

‘I see you!’ Coyote keeps an eye on us while remaining ‘under cover’ as we pass by. Erin Hauge

We also saw a lot of raptors out today, which is very good news and may be a harbinger of an exciting spring! In addition to the Bald eagle, we saw and heard red-shouldered hawks, several black-shouldered kites, an American kestrel and several pairs of red tailed hawks calling as they circled in the sky – maybe an adult showing a juvenile the hunting ropes?

Red tailed hawk soaring. There were two in the sky and they called back and forth – maybe a hawk in training? Erin Hauge

Coming back along the muddy bank of a slough we saw a lot of great tracks, mostly raccoon and Great blue heron. Take a look at the photo below. Who do you think came along first, the raccoon or the heron?

Raccoon and Great blue heron share the shoreline of a slough. Can you guess who walked by first? Erin Hauge

Here’s a fun ‘mystery photo’! Our job of interpreting the photos is a serious one and we look at every photo carefully. No guessing or assumptions – we have to know what we’re looking at! That includes the edges of the photos and the shadows and branches that create the visual patterns where a mountain lion or other mammal could be standing or moving by. Here, we did some inspecting to see just what we were looking at. What mammal do you see in this image? Look further below for the answer!

Mystery photo! Can you find the mammal in this picture? And what is it? Answer below. Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

We also came across some pretty hefty owl pellets just under a Preserve sign post. It may be that a Great-horned owl is using the sign as a perch and regurgitating pellets of undigested bone, feathers, insect carapace and fur from previous meals before going off to hunt again. Owl pellets look different from scat because they’re generally grey and felty, oblong in shape and can be easily broken apart to reveal bones – mouse and gopher jaws are a common sighting!

Big owl pellet! Possibly from a Great horned owl. This pellet was pretty fresh and there were feathers and some bone we found when we broke it apart. Owl pellets break apart easily and have a felt-like quality that intersperses undigested fur, bone, teeth, insect parts and feathers from past meals. You’re likely to find a mouse skull, part of a gopher’s jaw bone or a beetle’s glittering carapace! Erin Hauge

It was another great day in the field.  No mountain lions yet but we’re always on alert for puma tracks, deer kill caches, scratch and scat – anything that spells LION!

Crew members Erin and Emma, packing it up to head for the next camera – another day, another trail. Courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management

Mystery Photo: There’s a North American river otter in the mystery image above in the middle of the right edge of the image! Just barely in the frame is his or her face that gives it away.

Mountain Lion 411

Check out World Wildlife Day this year on March 3. The theme of the day is dedicated to all of our big cats, including mountain lions, now under threat due to habitat loss, human persecution and climate change.  Follow the link below to post a selfie on Saturday and stand in support of big cats everywhere!

World Wildlife Day: Big Cats-Predators Under Threat

Saturday, March 3, 2018

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Critter Camera Captures

Black Phoebe swooping for an insect meal! Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management


Coyote out and about in the early morning. Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management


A covey of California quail! We don’t see these on the cameras very often. Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management


Bobcat. Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management


Doe checks out our camera! Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management