One word. Cold! Driving out to the Preserve, the sky was aflight with geese seeking morning forage and loafing areas and their silhouettes were dramatic against the flaming background of morning colors.
It was 32 degrees with frost on the ground as the sun rose over the Sierra Nevada to the east and gave a gorgeous show through early morning clouds, sending pink, coral and soft orange hues shooting across the sky.
It was a great day to be out on the Preserve! We bundled up and started out.
In the Field
Today both teams did full camera operations checks. On our data sheets we have a checklist that we use once a month to make sure that all settings are accurate and engaged. Any information that is inaccurate on the data strip that gets stamped at the bottom of every image affects the validity of the data so it’s serious business. It’s also a fun process because team members get more experience working with the cameras, scribing our field notes and working together as a team.
We’d recommend the settings below if you’re just starting out with a trail camera on your property. Then, depending on what kind of wildlife activity you’re aiming to capture, you can adjust settings as needed to get the results you’re looking for. We’d also remind folks that these cameras have limited range so be sure you’re positioning them to get the broadest view of your area of interest – be open to adjusting and trying different locations. And test, test, test for the most effective position – you’re aiming for possums to pumas!
We check all our trail camera operations for the following settings:
Date and Time Stamp: Checking for correct date and correct time display. Accuracy is imperative for recording movement and species presence in all of the camera deployment areas.
Operation Mode: This should be set to Trail Camera setting versus Video or Timelapse. We aren’t using the two latter features at the moment. You can consult your User’s Manual to see how to engage these other settings.
Photo Quality: We set for the highest megapixel option for best image quality
Photo Delay: We set for a 5 second delay between firing sequences.
Multi-shot Rapidfire: We set for a 3-shot rapidfire sequence so when an animal walks past the camera we have a 3-shot series every 5 seconds. We have found that when animals are running we sometimes just get a leg or tail because by the time they’ve triggered the camera, they’re at the other side of the camera range.
Temperature: Set to Farenheit
Image Date strip: Always set to On – this gives us the time and date, moon phase and temperature when each image was taken.
Camera Name: We check to make sure the camera displays the correct camera number corresponding to our data sheet.
Format the SD card: We format every SD card in the camera by simply deleting all images on the camera before we redeploy the camera.
We’re also considering getting two larger SD cards, probably 32 GB each, and using these for recording video data in the field. We use much smaller cards in our cameras – 4 and 8 GB – and they’d very likely fill up between camera checks if we used the video setting with these. Especially if we get a group of browsing deer moseying through that week!
With the larger cards, we’d set one of our cameras to video format – a camera that may be getting a lot of bobcat activity, say, and leave that setting in place for a month to see what we get. Then we could switch the two large cards to another camera and take some video footage of the wildlife activity there. It will be an interesting way to get an even more intimate glimpse of the Preserve’s wildlife, how they move and pause in front of the camera and maybe even give more detailed information on identifying individuals. We could get some pretty cool critter video footage to post here once we get that rolling!
At one of our camera locations we were just leaving in the car and stopped dead in our treads as we heard the beautiful call and response of two coyotes just east of where we’d just been checking cameras! One voice was higher and bit more melodic, while the second voice, easily discernible, was lower with more short yip and bark responses. It was an amazing thing to stand and listen to what was obviously a conversation that was sharing information. It sounded apparent when the exchange ended as the melodic voice gave a down-turned intonation that seemed to finalize the exchange. And as we stood and listened, nothing more was heard from these two.
Coyote vocalizations vary widely based on social context and the messages that are being shared. Coyotes will also vocalize in ways that make it sound like there are more of them than there actually are. This may be a defense mechanism developed for when coyotes share the landscape with wolves. Wolves are a natural predator of coyotes and will take out entire dens of coyote pups. Coyotes compete with wolves for access to carcasses and other food where wolves live on the landscape. Coyotes are intelligent and social animals. They learn quickly and are very attentive parents.
Here’s a short recording of a coyote family vocalizing:
Coyote Symphony recorded by Rocky Raybell in Colville Indian Reservation, Washington State, USA via Wiki Commons
Next we found some great deer tracks out in the soft substrate by one of the cameras on a slough.
In the track on the left, we can see the deer’s dewclaw tracks as the two marks behind the hoof pads, which means this deer was likely running. And the two splayed hoof lobes indicate this was a large, heavy animal, like a buck. The two tracks on the right register the toe prints of a deer, likely a doe and they’re from the same animal with an indirect track register where her back hoof stepped into her front hoof track, but not directly.
Based on the deer activity we’ve been getting on the cameras this is likely a buck who was in pursuit of a doe, but it’s always good to consider all the possibilities. That’s why our efforts to document a mountain lion on one of our trail cameras is so very important. Because without picture proof, we can only piece together the wildlife stories here with the information we have through the signs we can find.
Back at the Cosumnes River Preserve Visitor Center, our two teams came together to read this week’s SD cards for mountain lions. This is a vital component of what we do as we are able to look at the images together, discuss what we’re seeing and learn from each other, and also decide what needs to be questioned by one of the BLM biologists – whether it’s a possible mountain lion, unidentified wildlife or a suspicious person alert.
In addition to looking for mountain lions, we keep our eyes peeled for suspicious looking characters who show up on the cameras from time to time and alert the Preserve staff immediately for verification that these folks are either legitimate or not.
Tune in next week and find out what we’ll see as we look for lions on the Cosumnes River Preserve!
Mountain Lion 411
Here’s a real treat! Conservation Northwest has an awesome citizen scientist monitoring program studying wolverine populations at a site near Stevens Pass in the North Cascades of Washington state. They bait the camera traps and in this incredible series of images, an unexpected visitor stopped by. With just a bit of work, the hard-earned snack that was intended for a wolverine was acquired! Here’s the link for more detail about these camera captures and bait protocols: https://www.conservationnw.org/cougar-steals-wolverine-bait/
Enjoy these images, used with kind permission from Conservation Northwest! You can learn more about Conservation Northwest’s inspiring citizen science monitoring efforts here: https://www.conservationnw.org/our-work/wildlife/wildlife-monitoring/
Critter Camera Captures