Watching for Spring

Watching for Spring

Wildlife on the Preserve has still been living with freezing weather as the temperature drops to mid- to low 30s and lower at night, bringing frost and extremely cold mornings. Our lowest temperature on the trail cameras registered at 23 degrees just last week! Wildlife faces daily challenges, including ways to stay warm in cold weather like this.

Wild animals spend just about their whole lives on four really important tasks: looking for food and water, looking for mates, raising young to maturity, and finding safe, warm and efficient shelter. It’s a lot of very hard work. And while we humans tend to anthropomorphize the ‘cute’ wildlife photos we see, most of these images are actually documenting important behaviors and significant moments in wild lives that can mean survival…or not.

Sunrise through the fog at the Cosumnes River Preserve Visitor Center. Erin Hauge

We headed out in the mist and brightening day with caps and gloves in place, ready for what we’d find on the Preserve this day, paws crossed for mountain lions, of course.

In the Field

At our first cameras it was quiet and frosty and as we approached we saw two Turkey vultures sitting on a pole, sunning themselves with wings spread to gather as much warmth as they could.  They watched us cautiously, continuing to sunbathe. We were apparently far enough away for their comfort as they didn’t move from their perch as we did our camera business.

Two turkey vultures taking a sun bath at one of our camera locations. Erin Hauge


Crew members Jim and Patrick taking care of business: Jim scribes the field data and Patrick changes the SD card and checks camera settings. Erin Hauge

Our next cameras are near the low flow dam so we had to take a hike over that way to see how the recent rains have affected the Cosumnes River’s water level. We weren’t disappointed! Water is once again roaring over the low flow dam, not enough to even begin to budge the big old snag but enough to stop wildlife passage along that corridor once again.

Crew member Erin, ruler in hand, stands before the great snag on the low flow amid the rising Cosumnes river! Courtesy of Jim Grimes


Wider view shot of the snag on the low flow and rapidly flowing water. Erin Hauge

We also saw some great tracks near the river. We captured the tracks of a slow-walking raccoon. The front paw registers in front here, hind paw second, and the heel pad register is not fully visible In the same image, turkey tracks appear with the front toes visible and the hind toe claw just visible in the second track. – these are tracks of two separate turkeys, a second turkey overstepped into the track of a turkey that passed by first. Note the hind toe claw register on the second track (in the red box) that occurs in a straight line back from the middle toe. Not to be confused with Great blue heron tracks, which can be similar in size but the hind toe registers offset from the middle toe, a surefire clue.

Raccoon tracks on the left and wild turkey tracks on the right. Note the rear toe claw visible on the turkey track and how it registers directly behind the middle toe. A great blue heron’s rear toe would register offset from the middle toe. Erin Hauge

Note the ‘X’ visible between the toe pads and the heel pad on the coyote track. Also the faint nail imprints above several toes. The bobcat track is rounder, with a large heel pad. The curvature on the back edge of the heel pad isn’t the typical two-lobed shape that you’d see on a canine. Also, it looks like this bobcat was moving across some wet, smooshy mud so the track almost looks a bit compacted between the toe pads and heel pad, as though the cat sort of slid forward in the track ever so slightly as he or she was walking. This is the kind of condition where you might expect to see a hint of nail on a feline track, as they maneuver slippery or inclined substrate on the landscape. The lens cap here is 58 mm, indicating the track is just under 2.5”.

Coyote track on the left. Nail marks are visible and you can see the telltale ‘X’ between the front toes and the heel pad. That is, you can draw a line between the 1st and 2nd toe pad down along the heel pad and a line between the 3rd and 4th toe pads down along the other side of the heel pad. (Try squinting at the track to get the ‘X’.) Bobcat track on the right, rounder in shape, no ‘X’ (that is, if you tried to draw a line between the 1st and 2nd toe pads down along the heel pad, you’d run into the heel pad) and the back edge of the heel pad has the curvature of a feline track. Canine would read as two distinct lobes. Left photo: Erin Hauge Right photo: Courtesy of Richard Larson

At our other cameras we looked for track and sign and found some obvious game trails popping up in the new green tall grasses. An advantage of spring and all the new growth is that we’ll be looking for more disturbance in the vegetated areas and be able to see a little more easily where wildlife is walking. During the winter when things are much more bare, we rely more on tracks that we can see in muddy or sandy areas, and scat of course!

Game trails in the new green grass. There’s a smaller trail running diagonally off the main trail that heads directly away from the camera. Erin Hauge

We wrapped up by mid morning with smiles on our faces and feeling like we’d gotten our exercise in for the day! Our farthest cameras are about 1 mile out off the main roads and we walked to most cameras today because of the wet ground after the rains. It’s actually more fun to walk to cameras because we see more wildlife activity and evidence of activity but time constraints can be a factor so we try to spend as much time out on the land as we can while making sure that everyone is having a good time and has the time to be there.

Crew members Patrick and Jim taking care of another camera. We all take turns scribing, handling the cameras and managing the SD cards. Erin Hauge

Well, guess you’ve already guessed – no lions this week. We’ll try again so stay tuned! We’ll end our ‘In the Field’ section with a few fun ‘crew’ photos captured by our trail cameras – and look for more fun photos next week.

Crew member Rick takes a backward glance at the scratching post camera! Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management


Crew member Richard in the field. Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management


Trail camera snaps a photo of crew member Erin snapping a photo of crew members Patrick and Rick! Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

Fun Photo!

How many does do you see in this picture?  Hint: There are more than two and less than four!

How many does are there in this photo? Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

Critter Camera Captures

Beautiful night shot of a bobcat, capturing the distinctive coat of spots and stripes. Every bobcat has individual coat markings, a key identification tool for establishing population numbers. Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management


Coyote on the move and mindful of our camera. Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management


Great blue heron steps past the camera. The slough is just behind the camera so he or she is only several yards from water. Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management


Two North American river otters running side by side! Four eyes and two tails give it away! Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management


Buck photo bomb at the scratching post! Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management