With a new year comes an opportunity for fresh tracks! Whatever that means to you, it’s an opportunity for a fresh start, to do things differently and find out what you can find out. Our cameras continue to record a wonderful variety of wildlife out on the Preserve and while we’ve got the cameras out we’ve got stories to tell.
We’ve got good camera protocol in place right now, that means we pull cards once a week, format SD cards right in the field on the trail cameras and do a camera operations check at least once a month.
- This year we’ll devote time to moving cameras more frequently – go where the wild things are. If we’re not getting animals on a camera, if we’re getting lots of human activity or if there’s lots of false trigger images due to vegetation, shadows and/or wind, we’ll move the camera.
- This year we’ll spend some time doing exploratory searches into the remote areas of the Preserve, looking for kill caches and other signs that might mean ‘lion.’
- This year we’ll consider using scent stations and hair snares. Hair snares are not known for great success with lions or bobcats but foxes and coyotes tend to show up and this would be valuable information about species and habitat use on the Preserve.
- This year we’ll try to get more cameras out and use ‘L’ shape configurations. Where a camera is placed on a camera so we can view animals coming and going. This gives us more information to identify individuals and how they move.
- This year we’ll log bobcat sightings and begin to figure out population estimates and which individuals show up where by observing spots, stripes, size and shape.
- This year we’ll consider use of a scat hound – depending on availability and cost – to search for lion scat on the Preserve. This is another accurate and definitive method for determining lion presence.
- This year we’ll put cameras in the Cosumnes River riverbed as soon as the water dries up and monitor wildlife use along a major corridor through the Preserve during the dry months.
Last year’s impacts and outcomes included more knowledge and experience about how to look for lions, where and how to deploy cameras, and how species move and interact on the Preserve’s diverse habitats.
In the Field
A few of the hard core crew members took the ‘Camera check cancelled due to rain’ memo and threw it in the old circular file! We were out there checking some of the cameras today in the rain. And it rained all morning!
It was beautiful, wet and quiet and we had our slickers. We got wet but we got some good photos on the trail cams – no lions, but good wildlife photos. It felt good to be out in the gentle, warm rain and we’ll be out later this week to check the other route, maybe under sunny skies but still with wet and muddy roads. We do a lot of walking when the rain comes!
One of our cameras has been pulled. It was on a levee road and because of all the human activity, we were going to re-deploy it to a location that was a bit more remote. We got word today that that levee is off limits, with the rain, there’s too much mud and slick substrate and it may be flooding soon as well. We’ll wait until we get word that we can get back in because that levee road was where a mountain lion was seen walking in recent years so we know they use that corridor for movement between the old oak forest by the Cosumnes River and the lower Preserve habitats that are available just to the south.
After the Rain! Follow-up Camera Check This week
Several crew members went out later in the week to check the second camera route that we hadn’t checked on Monday in the steady rain. And it was a great day!
There were five cameras on that route and two of them were flooded with the recent rain so that they were inaccessible this week.
We’ll hopefully be able to get to them in the next week or so after the rain recedes but if it rains again in the next week, as is predicted, we may have longer term access issues. We left the two cameras in flooded areas in place and they’re in no danger of becoming submerged at the moment. The Preserve got about 3 inches of rain with this last rainstorm and it’s easy to see how winter storms can raise water levels dramatically on the Preserve in a short period of time.
It’s not just the rain on the Preserve but all the rain in the foothills and Sierra to the east of the Preserve that contributes to the rising river level. With the ground still being relatively dry so far this winter and groundwater levels not being fully recharged, a lot of the rain received at higher elevations would likely still be soaking into the ground before it reaches the Cosumnes River. That will change as more rain falls.
We had a real treat today! A coyote was seemingly unconcerned with us as we drove in to some of the cameras, keeping her eye on us but mainly hunting along the edge of one of the ponds. Coyotes mainly eat rodents but they’re dedicated omnivores and opportunistic hunters, meaning they’ll eat fish, birds, amphibians, insects, berries and other fruit they can find. During the months when wild grapes are on the vines, we see lots of coyote scats filled with grape seeds!
This coyote was beautiful with a full and colorful winter coat of browns, greys and russet. Notice the thick growth of hair around her ears that protects them from the cold.
Lots of folks have trouble telling the difference between coyotes and wolves but once you know what to look for, it’s pretty easy to tell these species apart. Coyotes have longer, narrower muzzles and extremely large ears. Wolves have stouter, shorter muzzles and smaller ears that don’t look so prominent on their heads. Size isn’t usually a good indicator as there can be large coyotes and smaller wolves. Seeing a wolf and coyote side by side would be a pretty clear way of telling the difference as wolves are usually larger and have very long legs in addition to the differences in head shape.
Coyotes will scavenge off of wolf kills and in wolf country there can be showdowns between the two predators over access to carcasses. Wolves will kill coyotes and even destroy coyote dens, killing the pups.
We also saw one of the Preserve’s bald eagles this morning, perched in a tree overlooking a couple of the ponds that host migratory water fowl. He sat quietly and observed us for awhile as we watched him and took some pictures. Then he took wing and headed out across the agricultural fields to continue his hunt.
New Camera Location
In other exciting news, we deployed a camera today overlooking one of the telephone poles we’ve been watching near one of our more remote cameras. There were fresh scratch marks high up on the pole and the wood shreds were peeled downward, which means this could be the mark of lion. We don’t know.
There were also fresh buck rubs lower on the pole at about 2 to 5 feet in height. These marks had wood shreds peeled upwards, indicating a buck rubbing antlers on the pole.
Either way, we’ll hopefully soon know as we’ll be able to take our first look at images from this camera on our next camera check. We mounted the camera at about 5 feet on a young oak tree, and the camera is angled slightly downward to catch some of the roadway but the real focus is on the telephone pole and if we can get whoever’s scratching on that thing, we’ll know who’s walking the road as well.
When we check the camera we may make some slight adjustments to it’s set for better photos but when we took some test images today it was spot on the pole. Paws crossed for lion action!
You knew we had to do it! Meet the Mountain Lion. He – or she – is what our volunteer lion team work is for, what the project’s about, and what we hope to capture on camera so we can get a collar on and some data about mountain lions right here in the Central Valley. We know they’re here, but we don’t know much about their behavior and movement in the Central Valley.
We asked a mountain lion, What do you like best about the mountain lion camera crew?
“Well, honestly, I like to watch those two-legs moving back and forth along the roads and wildlife trails. They look at something stuck to the trees or to stick things stuck in the ground, and seem to be happy and active. They walk around looking at the ground a lot, which is funny, because I spend time in the trees in good ambush spots watching for deer – they maybe should be looking up!. These two-legs are funny, though. They move different than deer and they jabber and make funny noises. I’m glad they can’t see me. But I wonder what they’re doing…”
Mountain lions are apex predators, essential to healthy ecosystems. Humans don’t survive without healthy ecosystems so that’s why mountain lions are essential. What we hope is that humans and lions can live together, with some effective deterrent behaviors from humans, a little tolerance and the great habitat available at the Cosumnes River Preserve.
We don’t know if we’ll get a lion on camera – they’re elusive, secretive and intelligent. We’ll see.
Mountain Lion 411
Where do mountain lions sleep? Scientists don’t know a lot about where they sleep but they do know that these big cats go for safe, out of the way places that are hard for competitors to find. It’s not likely you’ll ever see a mountain lion sleeping out in an open field but more likely in an area where there are trees and other other avenues that would allow a fast escape.
Read more about how lions are particular about where they sleep here: https://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/blogs/mountain-lions-sleeping-sites
Critter Camera Captures